Annual Beer-y Roundup, 2020 Edition: Preamble

Our first night out in DublinIt would probably be more accurate to include ‘whiskey’ somewhere in the title as well, since the various lockdowns here in Ireland have had the useful side effect of introducing me to many interesting whiskeys as well as beer through numerous virtual tastings. But before we dive in to an (almost) entirely non-hierarchical ‘favo(u)rites of the year,’ it’s probably worth noting that A Few Big Things Happened in 2020:

In January, we moved from Seattle to Dublin. Although my role is technically Dublin-affiliated, my colleagues are largely based in Basel. I spent our first few weeks ‘in’ Ireland mostly shuttling between New Jersey and Switzerland for midweek meetings. I do not recommend this approach for settling in to a new city and country, especially when attempting to find schools and housing. During a brief stint of my not traveling just before the Irish election, our teen went out to see Neil Hannon, my forever-favo(u)rite artist, play a few songs on Grafton Street; I had a meeting, but assumed I would have plenty of similar opportunities, now that we were living in the same country, so decided not to skip the call. I should have skipped the call.

In March, we got in just under the wire to obtain our IRP cards – the residence permits that let us funny foreigners live officially in Ireland – before everything locked down in response to COVID. While my at-home workdays became much longer, the abrupt cessation of travel was, for me, quite welcome. Our smaller child had perhaps 3 weeks in school (and our teen would not have *any* in-person contact with ‘people who are not us’ until September), but the pivot to Home School Hub on television helped her continue to adapt – and to get a lot of her videos screened for the nation. We spent the next several months being horrified at what was happening in our home country (even more than usual) and feeling extremely fortunate not to be there.

Careful now.Throughout the first lockdown, virtual meetups and tastings were the key to some kind of normal life, though we spent several of those first few months without real furniture. All our worldly goods had arrived via sea from America, but they were quarantined at the port. We were sleeping on inflatable beds and had only a rapidly-deflating couch in the living room throughout that time. We had managed to get some cheap plates and silverware, but knowing that our books, PELOTON and actual, solid furniture were within our 2KM radius but could not come to us was frustrating (not to mention not great for one’s back). Nevertheless, the Beer Ladies kept us sane through weekend Zooms.

Toward the end of the first lockdown, we were finally reunited with our ‘stuff’ – and working at home became much more comfortable as I was no longer simply sitting on the floor with my laptop (and I could actually work out again – my knees can only take so much running). And, as previously detailed, when the lockdown lifted, I got to see my virtual friends in person. We had a few drinks and started a podcast, but more on that in a moment. We had the opportunity to visit Galway and Kilkenny – so far, still the only places outside of Dublin I’ve been able to visit since moving to Ireland.

We spent much of the summer looking at houses to buy (renting in Dublin is, to use a technical term, hella expensive, even by the standards of other places we’ve lived, and it’s a nightmare with pets). We finally had an offer accepted and began the incredibly slow process of moving toward actually getting the keys…which we hope to complete early in January. We very much look forward to getting out of our Celtic Tiger-era rental, which manages to be both very expensive and incredibly cheaply-built, and into an actual house.

Beer Ladies PodcastAutumn brought the return of in-person school (and a return to semi-lockdown, though again, I’ll take anything happening in Ireland over the disaster that is the US) and also saw the launch of the Beer Ladies Podcast. We’ve managed some fantastic episodes with our rotating cast, and have had some great guests; I’m particularly proud of our session with Lynsey from Whiplash, and I’m excited about what we have planned for 2021. Like and subscribe!

In summary, it’s been a lot. I miss theatre, concerts and museums, though at least we managed to get in to some of the best local ones during lighter periods of lockdown. I miss (personal) travel and seeing other people, but I’m also glad I’ve had the chance to discovery so many new-to-me beers and whiskeys.

And, given that’s probably what you came here for in the first place…on to my best discoveries of 2020…

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!

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!

Hawaii: Oahu Beer Options – Waikiki and Beyond

Bonus still-life with teenagerThanks to advantageous flight and Airbnb pricing because of the still-erupting volcano several islands away, we recently made our second trip to Hawaii. While we also went back to Disney Aulani, because the pull of The Mouse (and included babysitting) is strong, we spent some time in (suddenly-affordable) Waikiki, and got to know a bit more about the local beer scene. There’s a lot to like, and, I suspect, an interesting recent history to be unearthed.

Particularly relevant to my interests is the fact that every local brewery seems to have a really good brown ale in their lineup; on our previous trip, we also found a number of solid porters and stouts (both with coconut and without), plus some excellent pale ales, most calibrated at a more ‘British’ than ‘American’ ABV/IBU profile. Additionally, good bottle shops stock a wide variety of excellent ‘normal’ European beers that are harder to find than they should be on the left half of the US mainland (more on that below). And while I haven’t had a chance to delve deep into Hawaiian beer history to know the real reasons why, these all seemed like potentially plausible notions:

  • Local coffee culture could mean people want roasty flavors with their beer as well. As a non-coffee person, I have no idea whether this is even vaguely true – nothing tasted much like coffee to me – but locals and visitors do seem very committed to the idea that Kona coffee is superior, and it may bleed over into beer.
  • With so many (often excellent) fruity drink options, those seeking out beer want it to taste like, well, beer.
  • Supply chain realities may make brewing stranger, higher-ABV beers simply too expensive in many cases.
  • Tourists from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China, of whom there are many in Hawaii, may prefer traditional beer varieties.
  • Hawaii brewers might hail from the first and second waves of US craft brewers (microbrewers!), and those beers tended to be more British-inspired.

Again, the real driver(s) may be a mixture of those thoughts, or none of the above, but for a fan of a well-brewed beer that seems to have missed the high-ABV arms race on the US mainland, there is a lot to like. Without further ado, here are a few standout breweries:

Waikiki Brewing Company
As mentioned, the English Brown Ale was the standout for me, but I also very much enjoyed the Ala Moana Amber. I didn’t try the Hana Hou Hefe straight up, but did have to go for a beachy beer cocktail with it as the base; it was quite delightful. Although it was a hot evening and the bar is largely outdoors, it was quite temperate; perfect lanai dining. The lineup here is not huge, but everything was worth trying.

Maui Brewing Company
While certain of their beers are ubiquitous in cans around Oahu, we were very glad to visit one of their (air-conditioned, indoor) brewpubs, which had an excellent lineup of local one-offs, seasonals and kid- and adult-friendly dining options that were certainly a step above some of the very touristy Waikiki options. Once more, their brown ale, Lahaina Town Brown, was very good, but their Pueo Pale Ale may have been my favorite; it was very fresh, perfectly balanced and well worth a second. I later enjoyed their Pineapple Mana Wheat poolside back at Aulani – the adults-only pool area is ideal for enjoying a refreshing drink with a book – it would make a fantastic go-to beer on a hot day. But I loved the Pueo Pale Ale so much I bought the (beautifully-designed) t-shirt – it was an all-around excellent beer.

Honolulu BeerWorks

Honolulu BeerWorks
This (pictured) is now our favorite Hawaiian brewery – in fact, we liked it so much we bought several prints of their labels to frame and hang up next to some of our ‘vintage’ Dogfish Head posters. It was still island-casual, but with a large rotating taplist, excellent merchandise options with fits for all genders, ages and sizes, and plenty of games for the kids to enjoy while the grownups had a sampler tray or two. Again, there was a fine brown ale in the Makakilo Brown, and a fantastic gose under the name Meyer Lemon Sour. CoCoWeizen is exactly what you think it is, and it’s very tasty indeed, and really, everything we tried was to a high standard. I wore my tank top with pride as we climbed Diamond Head the next day (which, if you’re keeping score at home, was very easy for our 3-year-old, and asking nearly the impossible for her teenaged brother, because reasons).

Of course, good beer (and tropical drinks) are found in many places beyond breweries, and I can highly recommend these bars:

Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room
This is a great little bottle shop and taproom inside the Salt complex – a really nicely-planned example of creative re-use of older industrial buildings, full of interesting food and retail. It’s almost like a little bit of Portland dropped into Honolulu, and it’s a welcome break from the largely-uninspired high-rise hotels along the beach, with murals and other street art all around. The well-curated taplist was very much to my liking, even if it’s a little bizarre that I have to fly 2500 miles across the Pacific to find one of my favorite British beers, Ridgeway Bitter, on tap. They also had Timothy Taylor Landlord in bottles, along with a great variety of Aussie and Kiwi beers (all of which are nearly impossible to find in Seattle). It’s a BYO food establishment (with kids welcome during the day), but there’s an outstanding butcher shop upstairs that makes one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. While not within walking distance of the main drag in Waikiki, it is well worth the Lyft or bus ride over.

Monkeypod Kitchen
Moving from Waikiki to Ko Olina, where Aulani is situated, you’ll find Monkeypod Kitchen in a small shopping center across from the resorts. The knowledgeable staff is fantastic at recommending a local beer or two, and their tropical drinks are the real deal – the Mai Tai is beautiful and complex, not a sugary mess. The food is also very well-executed, with options for kid and adult appetites. I had more from Honolulu BeerWorks and a few from Aloha Beer Company – their Hop Lei IPA was vastly better here, where they clearly look after their tap lines, than in the bar in the airport; having the same beer in the airport was like an object lesson in Doing It Wrong, but it was very nicely-kept by the top-notch staff in Ko Olina.

The ‘Ōlelo Room
Olelo Room delightThis is cheating a bit, since it’s on Disney property, but their specialty mixed drinks (right) were once again fantastic. The beer isn’t quite as exciting (some reasonable beers from Kona Brewing, though supplemented by Maui Brewing in cans), but the cocktails and Drinks You Can Get in a Pineapple are lovely – including the non-alcoholic ones. The ‘Ōlelo Room is only open in the evenings, but its exclusive drinks and snacks are worth the wait, and you can learn a little of the Hawaiian language while you relax by the koi pond.

If only I could score more vacation time (and an unlimited vacation budget, and so on), I’d love to explore the other islands…

Disney Aulani: Water, Entertainment & Spa Delight

Welcome back to the final installment of our Disney Aulani musings and protips. Today’s wholly-unsolicited-but-largely-positive thoughts are on the pools, beach, entertainment and (amazing) spa. Dive in.

Pools & Beach
Surly teen is actually having a good time.The pools and hot tubs at Aulani are set around the ‘volcano’ in the center of the resort; the volcano in question houses two waterslides and is surrounded by the lazy river. There are a few adults-only pools and hot tubs, while most welcome the whole family, but the distribution seems to be close to ideal; I never had a problem finding a calm, quiet, child-free zone when looking for that, and I also found plenty of room to take my kids into beautiful pools and hot tubs, some overlooking the beach and ocean, and one hidden in a bend in the lazy river. As with other Disney resort pools, you show your room key to get a wrist band for pool access and a towel (and vest, for the not-quite-swimming smaller child), though finding a place to put them while you’re actually swimming can be a bit of a challenge. There are cubbies next to the snorkeling facilities at Rainbow Reef – also right in the center of the resort – but for the pools, you are left to your own devices to find an empty pool chair to set down your towel and anything else you might have (sandals, etc.). More cubbies would be wonderful; I rarely needed a chair, but would love to have had a convenient place to stash my sandals and towels near the pools.

That would have been especially useful for the (really quite long) periods of time I was watching my smaller child on the Menehune Bridge (more on the Menehune themselves below), which she thought was the best thing that has ever been created – she would have happily stayed there all day. Aimed mostly at the under-5 set, it’s a climbing/splashing/sliding structure with a seemingly endless ability to hold the interest of young children. It’s not especially restful for the adults, since monitoring kids on the bridge involves a lot of moving back and forth (there’s not a single spot that gives you a line of sight across the whole structure, so it’s not a question of just relaxing in a pool chair while they splash, especially if they can’t swim) – you may be carrying all your things with you while they play. But given that you also have the option of dropping them off at Aunty’s Beach House, this need not be your entire vacation, and the kids adore it.

I could have happily stayed on the lazy river in the center of the resort for hours if I didn’t need to constantly re-apply sunscreen, and the Volcano Vertical waterslide was gentle-yet-exciting enough for the 3 year old to go on with me. We spent less time at the beach (though it was beautiful, and we did look at it frequently at it from the restaurants, pools and hot tubs), but it was also wonderful. Chairs (with umbrellas) are free for Aulani visitors, and you can borrow sand toys and boogie boards at no additional cost. The Four Seasons part of the beach, only steps away, was nearly always deserted, despite the calm, warm waters and beautiful setting; there seemed to be much, much more to do on the Aulani side.

Music & Entertainment
At the luauWhile I was not expecting a Love Boat-style luau – although that was probably my primary exposure to the concept as a child – I was very impressed by the performances at the (optional add-on) Ka Wa’a luau. Granted, this is Disney, and they generally do a great job of getting top-quality performers at the parks (and, of course, in their wildly successful Broadway shows), but it really exceeded expectations. There’s just enough exposure to Mickey and Minnie to keep the smaller children happy, but the full performance is thoughtfully constructed and expertly performed; no one is phoning this in. The actor playing ‘Uncle,’ in particular, reminded us very much of Brian Stokes Mitchell, at least vocally – for Broadway nerds like us, this was fantastic. The more traditional parts of the performance were the highlights, and they even manage to work in some mild references to colonialism not being so amazing for the native Hawaiians; Song of the South this is not (although it is a little odd to hear a Hawaiian-language version of ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ in the hotel elevators – I get that it’s hard to repackage any intellectual property from Song of the South for a modern audience, but it’s still a bit jarring to hear).

But back to Ka Wa’a – the food is also very good, and the pre-show activities, including taro pounding and ‘tattoos’ were very engaging for the kids (even the surlier teens); the performers do an amazing job of patiently dealing with children and adult tourists before putting on a physically-demanding show, as well as posing for photos before and after.

Hawaiian culture, filtered through Disney magic, is also aimed squarely at the kids via the Menehune Adventure Trail(s). There are two options: a shorter version that’s largely indoors (mostly in the lobby), and a longer one that winds through the pools and gardens in the center of the resort. The conceit is that the Menehune, Hawaii’s mythical craftspeople, are quietly working their magic around the resort, and that with the help of Aunty and some positive thinking, you can glimpse some of their hidden influence.  Once again, the actors in what could have been a very cheesy prepackaged entertainment segment were really wonderful; fully committed to the storyline, and educating everyone along the way.

You check out a tablet from the Pau Hana Community Hall (between 10-7 for the shorter one, and 3-7 for the longer one – unless, of course, you are a DISNEY VACATION CLUB MEMBER*, and then you have more options – plus sparkly pool bracelets) and follow the video instructions from ‘Aunty’ to trigger the magical effects, many of which are really quite wonderful. You’ll also learn a little bit about Hawaiian history and culture along the way.  The indoor trail was just about the right length for a 3 year old, and while she enjoyed a lot of the outdoor effects (as did I), it was probably a little too long for her attention span; it would be great if you could pause and resume where you left off, but as the tablets are a little glitchy anyway, that’s not currently an option. That point aside, it’s really well-designed and absolutely worth doing, even for teens and adults.

We also enjoyed storytelling by the fire pit (both my children probably inaccurately consider themselves experts on Maui lore now) and there are a wealth of activities and talks on traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts in the Pau Hana Community Hall – another option I wish I’d had more time to check out.

Lanawai Spa & Gym
I am a spa nerd; I wish I had more time and disposable income to go to amazing spas all the time. Lanawai Spa is one of the best I’ve ever been to; it’s very close to perfection. The spa at the Grand Californian (just to keep things in a Disney context) is very pleasant, but Lanawai is a proper world-class spa. The treatments are amazing, the staff top-notch and the water garden absolutely fantastic. I loved the range of soaking pools and showers outside, and appreciated the variety of relaxation rooms, both single-sex and co-ed, available for pre/post-treatment Doing Nothing. The infused waters were delightful, and the bite-sized snacks much appreciated. In addition, the tables in the treatment rooms were the most high-tech I’ve ever personally experienced – amazingly comfortable and versatile. The variety of scents and scrubs perfectly reflected the Hawaiian setting, without going overboard. I tried to talk my older child into the Painted Sky teen spa, but alas, he refused, despite the range of options specifically aimed at young gentlemen; perhaps another time.

The gym next door to the spa was also very well equipped, and surprisingly empty when I’d roll in around 5 am; I assumed it would be full of similarly jet-lagged people, but there was never a problem finding open equipment. The instructor-led fitness classes sounded fantastic, but were (relatively speaking) late in the morning; if I hadn’t been doing the Aunty’s Beach House lunch line or having an early character breakfast, I would have tried a few out.
Another would-be-nice – how about a runDisney race, since there aren’t any on the west coast for the foreseeable future? Between Moana and Lilo and Stitch, there should be enough locally-themed Disney intellectual property to support different characters for the 5K/10K/half marathon options (though I’m sure finding enough road for a half marathon would be problematic), but it would be amazing. Perhaps someday…

Disney loveSummary
This was the ideal first trip to Hawaii for us; as always, Disney made everything easy. On a future trip, we’d like to explore some other islands as well (and, indeed, other parts of Oahu), but Aulani offers a great introduction to Hawaiian culture.  The balance of Hawaii-to-Disney is clearly very carefully weighed and considered, and on the whole is a very effective presentation. We’d happily go back any time we aren’t juggling work/school/preschool/etc. – it was, on the whole, a wonderful experience.

*The DISNEY VACATION CLUB manifests itself in four stages on any Disney vacation:
1) Oh, that’s funny – I forgot they will try to upsell us on the Disney Vacation Club.
2) *checks numbers again* There is no possible ROI on the Disney Vacation Club, but it’s nice to easily re-confirm that.
3) I wonder what the research is on how they position the Disney Vacation Club information stands, it seems really deliberate – oh, hey, the DVC-exclusive merchandise is really cool!
4) EVERYONE SHOULD BUY INTO THE DISNEY VACATION CLUB, IT JUST MAKES SENSE.

Disney Aulani: Aunty’s Beach House, Tech & Merchandise

By the koi pondWelcome back to another batch of unsolicited Disney Aulani protips and suggestions.  We last reviewed (mostly) food and drink, but today is where we really get into the Disney ‘tribal knowledge’ end of things – knowing When to Line Up and What to Buy.

 

Aunty’s Beach House

Aunty’s Beach House is the kids’ club at Aulani; there are freeplay and ‘premium’ activities for potty-trained kids ages 3-12 – you could, in theory, leave your children there from morning until night for your entire vacation. Although we have Young People at both ends of that spectrum, the larger one skipped any of the structured activities the resort offered, despite the wealth of tween and teen options; our little one, though, fully embraced the Aunty’s Beach House lifestyle and did not want to leave. As with many Things Disney, a little tribal knowledge goes a long way; some of these suggestions aren’t necessarily spelled out on the website, so it’s worth doing a little digging and advance planning:

 

  • Register online before you go – you’ll still need to bring your child and your printed form to finish registration, but this will get you in the system; once you arrive, stop by as soon as you can to complete registration – you’ll also need to provide a secret codeword to pick them up, so be sure to think of something memorable.
  • Call to book premium experiences in advance – they fill up. You’ll have another *opportunity* to purchase photos from the event (more on photos in a bit). We did Kakamora Chaos with Moana, and it was a much-loved activity (including facetime and photos with Moana, plus some really quite nice crafts to take home) – we got the last spot by calling about a week in advance, and the other premium activities that week were completely full when we got around to calling.
  • If you want Aunty’s to serve your child lunch or dinner (for an additional fee), line up outside before they open to make sure they can get a lunch or dinner ticket. We found arriving around 7.40 am was a good time, and our daughter loved the food.
  • The open house from 8-9.30 is the only time you can go into Aunty’s Beach House with your child (and take your own pictures) – but if you want to make sure they get in immediately when it opens for drop-offs at 9.30, it’s worth leaving a little early to go line up (again) to check them in.
  • If you want to do an evening dropoff, you may need to get them there in the later afternoon – it was filling up by 3.30-4 pm.
  • While you can send your child to Aunty’s Beach House in a swimsuit and coverup, they do need to be dry – make it a pre-pool or beach activity, rather than a post-water one, unless you’ve had them change.

 

Moana fun at Aunty's Beach HouseOnce you get through the administrivia, Aunty’s Beach House is a breeze – your child has a special green bracelet they can use to scan in and out (they can keep it or you can give it back at the end of your stay for a refund, if you kept your receipt), and there is plenty to do. Characters like Stitch come by to dance and play, there are Hawaiian crafts including lei-making, there’s a very nice (fenced) outdoor play area and an enchanted living room (there’s the occasional ‘storm outside,’ similar to the Tiki Room at the Disney parks) with child-sized furniture for watching, say, Moana. The Aunty’s Beach House staff were excellent – they kept the kids happy and engaged for hours. Our daughter keeps asking to go back, and compares it favorably to her much-loved pre-school.

 

Tech Quibbles

If you’ve been to Disneyland in the past few years, you know that the Disneyland app is incredibly useful – you have a map, ride wait times and character events, plus the ability to book and track dining reservations. The PhotoPass feature in the Disneyland app is also great; it’s simple to access your photos and a relatively low-cost add-on. There is no Aulani app, alas; it would be fantastic to make speedy dining, spa and Aunty’s Beach House reservations from your phone, but the real miss is the DisneyPhotoPass situation. Your Aulani photos are much, much more expensive than your Disneyland photos, and they are not nearly as easily accessible; you can’t get them in the Disneyland app, and on your phone, trying to log in to the DisneyPhotoPass site dumps you in to the Disneyworld login screen; it really only works properly on a desktop computer, so you’ll need to save the wristbands you get from the various photographers and add the codes manually once you are back home (unless you are a terrible person who brought a laptop to do work on vacation). You can preview your photos from the TV in your room, or have them added to your account from Kālepa’s Store, but it’s not nearly as seamless (or affordable). It seems like it would be a straightforward add – you’d assume all the Disney photo experiences use the same codebase – but having worked in Big Tech forever, I know that’s an unsafe assumption.

 

Beyond the DisneyPhotoPass pictures, you’ll also have other *opportunities* to buy photos – the luau and character dining photographs are also available, albeit for a separate charge, and they arrive via CD(!) – we had to really think whether or not we had a working CD drive before buying them. As always with Disney photographers, the pictures themselves are usually great and very flattering (I suspect that’s the real Disney magic), but not having one single digital location (and the additional upcharges) is a bit of a pain. However, there is some pretty interesting metadata on the photos – you can confirm your suspicion that the luau photos of the performers were taken a few years ago, presumably with ideal lighting and weather, and not on the evening you went, but given the team has about an hour to process and make up the photo CDs, it’s a reasonable tradeoff.

 

Additionally, the wifi is not amazing, but you’re on vacation, right? Of course, if you are, say, nearly 13 and want to spend your beach and poolside time streaming music and TV (FOR EXAMPLE) this is a bigger issue, but if you don’t care about eating through your parents’ data plan, you are fine. Just saying.

 

(not really) ALL THE PINSMerchandising, Merchandising

This being a Disney resort, there are certainly opportunities to take home a bit of the magic, whether that comes in the form of t-shirts, bags, Mickey ears or, of course, Disney pins. (A slight aside for the uninitiated – Disney pins are A Thing, whether you simply buy and collect them or go all-in on pin trading – find out more here). I was actually slightly surprised that there are really only two shops – one with a fairly broad array of merchandise, including essentials like sunscreen, and a higher-end one that focused more on purses and the like. Neither shop is as heavy as they could have gone on Moana items – indeed, while Moana is a prominent character in person at the resort, the range of items for sale is practically restrained by Disney standards. There is a strong focus on the characters that are popular in Japan and China; Gelatoni, Shelliemae and Duffy, all hailing from Tokyo DisneySea, are on offer. I also discovered a secondary Lilo and Stitch character I knew nothing of – one Angel – and now that we are home, we’re (naturally) looking to find her in the many and various Lilo and Stitch spinoff properties that seem to exist, since we picked up a not insignificant number of Angel-related items.

One thing has always puzzled me about Disney merchandise – why does Disney not have a dedicated coffee table book division? I would have absolutely made room for an enormous, photograph-heavy hardcover book detailing the design and evolution of Aulani, with a focus on the business decisions, cultural considerations and planning of the resort. I’d equally buy similar books on many of the classic Disneyland attractions – there’s an excellent book on the Haunted Mansion, but there could be equally-detailed ones on, say, It’s a Small World, the Enchanted Tiki Room, Space Mountain, etc. – there’s a wealth of amazing documentation that’s is beautifully-arranged in the Walt Disney Archives that would be more accessible (and remuneratively-rewarding) in a fancy book – someone at Disney Publishing should get on this.

 

But hey, we did get some really nice pins.

 

Next up: pools, beaches & entertainment

 

Disney Aulani: Getting There, Eating & Drinking There

Beautiful jet lagWe’ve just returned from a much-needed (if barely-planned) trip to Aulani, Disney’s Hawaiian resort. Although we’re relatively recent coverts to the Disney vacation lifestyle, having a bit of Disney-specific knowledge helps make the vacation even more stress-free and relaxing for the whole family. In that spirit, I offer more than a few entirely unsolicited protips and suggestions.

Setting & Rooms
Aulani is a 20-ish minute drive from the airport in Honolulu; we used the recommended Hele Hele shuttle, which is essentially the equivalent of the Disneyland Express bus that runs from LAX and John Wayne airports to the Disneyland and ‘good neighbor’ hotels. It’s not a large, branded bus, but a van (carseats are included for the smaller kids); the service was prompt and friendly. We arrived at night, and the resort is lovely even in the dark – the tree-hung lanterns and torches created a positive impression, even on very tired children (and adults). Despite the late hour, we were warmly greeted with leis and infused water (we didn’t notice the Hidden Mickey in the water until the next day), and check-in was very speedy.

The lobby, largely open to maximize the warm breezes, is amazing day or night, though during the day it’s possible to take a tablet-driven self-guided tour of the art and design features that provides much more detail and context. Aulani has the world’s largest collection of contemporary Hawaiian art, and it’s thoughtfully displayed everywhere in the hotel. There are, of course, even more Hidden Mickeys – and Menehune (more on them, and the art tour, later) – to be found all over the property.

We booked at the last minute, so had relatively few room options, but even our standard room with ‘limited’ ocean view had a great vantage point from which to see the ocean and the amazing pools and landscaping below. We ended up with two queen beds, which was a little tight with two kids with a huge age/size gap (and they don’t have the extra sofabed that similar rooms have in the Grand Californian – though perhaps we’ve always just lucked out?), but certainly very do-able for our short stay.

Our flight home was late at night, well after check-out, but the luggage room is very straightforward and there’s a suite with lockers to shower and change, so you can fully enjoy your entire day (and you can still charge things to your room until midnight, so no need to carry around your wallet if you’re swimming – have that last Dole Whip).

Food & Drink
Olelo Room delightSpeaking of Dole Whips, Aulani offers the Dole Whip Twist, which cuts the pineapple with vanilla, and it rather was wonderful – I wish they offered them at the Disney parks. At the resort, you can get them poolside or beachside. But perhaps my favorite spot at Aulani was the ‘Ōlelo Room; only open in the evenings, it had amazing cocktails and food – even great vegan tacos (and I say this as a non-vegan who happens to like good vegan tacos).  The Hawaiian-language theme and design of the Ōlelo Room was well thought-out and beautifully-executed, and I enjoyed their specialty drinks that weren’t available at the other resort bars (or, for those that were available at the poolside bars, were much more expertly mixed and presented – the others weren’t actively bad, just not quite up to the same standard).

There were one or two reasonable Hawaiian beers from Maui Brewing Company there as well, but most of the ‘locals’ were from Kona Brewing Company, and no different from their mainland offerings. For more interesting beer, you had to LEAVE THE RESORT and go across the street to Monkeypod, which had friendly, knowledgeable staff and a good selection of locally-brewed beers. I was intrigued to see more brown ales, stouts and porters than I usually see in the Pacific Northwest, so that was a pleasant surprise. There were a few other restaurants and shops in the same complex, so it was handy for cheaper sunscreen and basic groceries.

But back to Aulani: the Ulu Café, the quick-service restaurant, has quite decent breakfast wraps, and the quality of the tea was another positive surprise – it was rather good! It was even good enough to drink without milk or cream, which is important when your ‘cream’ option is of the shelf-stable cartridge variety, so perhaps best skipped. For the caffeine addict, you can buy a refillable mug for $18.99 that gets you ‘free’ refills on tea, coffee or soda throughout your stay (soda refills are located throughout the resort; tea and hot water are at the Ulu Café checkout, and coffee is outside the café); we did find this useful, given the 3-hour time change.

Your dining viewWe went to ‘Ama ‘Ama for a few of our ‘fancier’ meals, both with and without our smaller one (it’s right next door to Aunty’s Beach House, discussed in an upcoming post, so very easy to manage a child-free meal) – the brunch was outstanding, and the lunch and dinner options were also wonderful, though just enjoying the beach view from the tables (some covered, some open) was a major factor in enjoying the meal.

While I’m not normally a fan of buffet-style dining, Disney usually makes the effort worthwhile – and the breakfast and dinner buffets at Makahiki were both fantastic. We did a character breakfast, as is our wont at any Disney property, but this had much, much better food than the versions at either the Disneyland Hotel or Grand Californian; of course, there are the standard Mickey waffles, but the Hawaiian breads (and the French toast made with them – with amazing coconut syrup) made things a little more interesting, as did the Asian breakfast options. It’s possible we have now developed a need for taro bread. We enjoyed seeing Mickey, Minnie and Goofy at breakfast, and an appearance by ‘Aunty,’ leading the smaller children in song, dance and activities around the restaurant was incredibly well-done. Across the board, the performers at Aulani are outstanding.

The dinner buffet was also excellent; the mix of Western, Hawaiian and Japanese options made it more interesting than usual, and the food was well-selected and properly-prepared, which I rarely find to be the case at non-Disney buffet restaurants. The range of desserts was amazing, and I appreciated that they were (nearly) bite-sized; it made it easier to try more of them. As with the rest of the resort, Makahiki has striking Hawaiian artwork throughout, and once again, I’m glad we were able to take the art tour to find out more about the artists and their inspirations for the pieces.

Taro bread joyAnother Disney protip: make dining reservations, especially for character breakfasts which are often packed, before you travel; while this is a lot easier at the parks via the app (again, more on that in a future post), don’t be the party of 10 that showed up behind us without a reservation. Yes, you’ll need to call (or arrange it when you arrive), but it’s good to be prepared. There are plenty of places you don’t need a reservation (Ōlelo Room, ‘Ama ‘Ama,Ulu Café, the poolside bars), but for Makahiki, call ahead.

Of course, this is Hawaii, so you can also get a shave ice (with or without Mickey ears, though the Mickey ears option isn’t amazing when it comes to structural integrity); I can only compare to the slightly-less-tasty ones I’ve had in Seattle, but I was pleasantly surprised by the flavors – yes, they were sweet, but they weren’t overpowering, and there were more than a few more unusual options to add that made it well worth seeking out. An extra towel from the pool area may be useful if you are supervising a small person with the Mickey ears version.

All told, you can eat and drink well without leaving Aulani – and there’s still much more to talk about.

Up Next: Aunty’s Beach House + other activities

London (Beer) Loves

Best coaster ever. TFL FTW.The jet lag may still be lingering, but getting back to London is always worth it. While much has changed since I first moved there in the 1990s – most notably, that everything is so clean, which was absolutely not a feature of so-called Britpop London – it was lovely to see some of my old stomping grounds in a new (visible) light. It’s probably fair to say that I drank ‘reasonable,’ albeit cheap, beer as a postgrad/early career adult back in the day; lots of pints of Directors at my local Wetherspoons, but there wasn’t much beyond that, at least so far as I was aware.

Fast forward to the present day, to a (I have to say it again, very clean) London where specialist beer bars and small breweries abound, and there is so much choice that it requires some navigation; for that, we relied on Des De Moor’s excellent guidebook, plus regular last-minute Twitter ideas from Melissa Cole and Pete Brown (though we never did make it to his Stoke Newington ‘hood – I looked at a cheap bedsit there nearly two decades ago and would love to go back to see it now, though I’m sure I’d lament not having had the wherewithal to buy some portion of it then, when I had £25/week to spend on rent – I ended up getting something for the same amount in East Ham instead, which had the distinction of being near The Who Shop, though little else – but I digress).  We upped the degree of difficulty by having our kids in tow, and while our older one claims he could easily pass for 16 (and he’s probably right), finding a place with great beer that is also reasonably welcoming to a 3-year-old is a trickier challenge.

With that in mind, we were thrilled to have great experiences at The Rake, CASK Pub & Kitchen and The Craft Beer Co. Covent Garden. Each one had a fantastic lineup of CASK ALE (I miss real handpumps so much) and a variety of interesting kegged options. They also had friendly, deeply knowledgeable staff and a largely non-bro-y clientele, which was very pleasant indeed. We found traditional pubs a bit more hit and miss (though I’m mindful that we were often firmly in Tourist London, which can veer toward the more generic), but thoroughly enjoyed The George – re-reading Pete Brown’s book on the plane was useful – and The Lamb, which was an occasional hangout spot of mine as a student; visiting as an adult with children was a very different experience, as its proximity to Coram’s Fields was a major selling point in ensuring a less-fussy meal – and I had one of my best beers of the trip there.

With that segue, I’ll again call out the range of cask beer on offer, essentially everywhere we went, which is absolutely not an expectation in Seattle (though I wish it were – it was much more readily accessible in Philadelphia, but there you go). Particular standouts included the aforementioned beer at The Lamb – Jack Brand Mosaic Pale Ale from Adnams was one of the best pale ales I’ve had in recent memory, and certainly the best cask pale ale I enjoyed.  And as it’s a Young’s house, the Winter Warmer was firmly on the agenda, and as lovely as I remember it. Another favo(u)rite was Barnsley Bitter from Stancill Brewery, which is exactly the sort of beer I wish I had as a regular go-to; it was very nearly perfect. Moving to the dark side, Glamorgan Brewing Co’s Welsh Cake Stout was delightful, as was Truman’s Brewery’s Original Porter – finally, a good porter! Also of note was a black IPA from Windsor & Eton, Conqueror; ironically, the style seems to have vanished from our home in Cascadia, so it was very pleasing to find a well-crafted, hoppy/dark beer elsewhere. We had two historical beers from The Kernel, and while both were very fine, the edge went to their Export Stout London 1890, which was absolutely fantastic though the Imperial Brown Stout London 1856 was also excellent.

Obviously we did some non-drink-related things too – you may have heard of a can-do little musical called Hamilton, and I have nothing but praise for the talented London cast – and the Harry Potter exhibit at the British Library is well worth a visit. We also made some discoveries and rediscoveries. I’ve long been a Foyles partisan, but we didn’t have a chance to make it to their (still new to me) headquarters. We made up for that omission by taking over Daunt Books and buying up as much of their stock as we could carry (including Boak & Bailey’s 20th Century Pub, at long last). Persephone Books made themselves more even more dangerous by ensuring we left with a catalogue, and I enthusiastically recommend the London Transport Museum. While I’ve been there before alone, there is no better place to take an alternately happy, clingy, angry and curious jet-lagged toddler, and the current exhibit on women artists is spectacular. The kids get to touch, climb and play while adults enjoy the exhibits, and everyone comes out happy (if lighter in the bank account). They also had quite reasonable tea, though the dearth of good tea in London may need to be its own post – why did so many otherwise-good hotels, restaurants and pubs want to foist their Twinings supermarket tea upon us? I realize we may not be the target tourist market, in that there is really great tea everywhere you go in the Pacific Northwest and so we expect it, but it did seem odd that we had to seek out teas we’d normally consider passable, rather than really good.  If any venture capitalists are looking for a new vertical, let’s get top-quality fair trade tea to become A Thing – only the museum cafes delivered.

Finally, I’ll recommend two very different experiences: the London Mithraeum, well-preserved and well-presented underneath the new Bloomberg building, may be one of the best public archaeology installations I’ve seen. I won’t say that no expense has been spared, as I’m sure there’s been some sort of trade-off, but it’s really very impressive, and should serve as some sort of model for other developers. And as it’s only a temporary happening, you should make your way soonish to the Southbank Centre for ABBA: Super Troopers: The Exhibition. If you’ve ever wondered what an immersive ABBA-themed experience, narrated by the dulcet northern tones of Jarvis Cocker, would be like, wonder no more. It is utterly delightful (and my 12 year old will vouch for this as well).

Out of the many places I’ve lived, London and New York are still my favorites – hardly surprising for a city-obsessed theatre nerd, but London does edge out New York when it comes to beer; I wish I had more excuses to get back to both more often (ideally, of course, on someone else’s dime, but who wouldn’t want that?).  All outrageous job offers happily considered!