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.

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…

We Wants It, Precious: Real and Manufactured Scarcity in Craft Beer, 1992-2012

Gollum. Gollum.I’ll confess: I’m fully aware that’s a ludicrous title, but it’s absolutely what I’d use if I were to write a slightly overwrought academic monograph on the subject. We’ve arrived here because I kept intending to write something about beer and ‘authenticity,’ but that was too pretentious even for an overloaded title like the one above. I toyed with writing about the phenomenology of the beer landscape, but know that would appeal to the three, perhaps four other beer nerd ex-archaeologists who had to read Chris Tilley’s A Phenomenology of Landscape back in the 1990s, I decided that, too, was impractical. But I still wanted to land in a similar space: how has beer evolved over the past two decades, and how has the way we experience it changed?

Back in the day – say, 20-25 years ago, at least for the US – the prevailing themes of craft beer* were around rejecting bland, macro-brew lager (recall, microbrew was the preferred term before ‘craft’ took over) and championing independent small businesses. Commercially-available craft beers had evolved from what was relatively easy to homebrew, so more ales than lagers in general, and there was often an emphasis on British styles; every brewpub seemed to have a brown ale as their flagship, and a pale ale as their entry point. Edgier ones would throw in something vaguely ‘Belgian’ (really, usually just something a bit yeastier), and those that were more confident in their abilities had German styles that were clearly distinguishable to the first-timer from the dreaded watery lagers sold at your local ballpark. Occasionally someone would really push the boat out, for example, Nodding Head’s add-your-own woodruff Berliner Weisse** – a beer I sorely miss – but even double IPAs were relatively rare. It’s easy to look back and decide that ‘we’ – the self-identified group that’s decided that caring about quality beer is worth our time and, to some extent, allegiance – have succeeded. As consumers, we can get flavorful, reasonably ‘interesting’ beers everywhere from the ballpark to the high-end restaurant (though, perhaps, getting the dive bars to serve the local craft brew was the last holdout). But while in many cases the maturity of the beer market has meant you can get a good IPA at the airport, it’s also led to the odd experience of *only* being able to get an IPA at the airport; the promise of endless variety has, rather ironically, led to more and more similarity.

Regional differences abound, however; in the Philadelphia area (where you can’t buy beer at most supermarkets, convenience stores or similar retail outlets, because THINK OF THE CHILDREN), there is still certainly a focus on local and regional breweries. Despite that, it’s much easier to find beers from further afield, whether that means from across the country or the other side of the world. The local emphasis makes plenty of sense economically and from a freshness perspective, but I had no trouble there finding excellent beers from my current coast – there’s always Pliny the Elder if you want it, or many San Diego-brewed beers – or British favo(u)rites from Adnams or Coniston, not to mention good representation from Belgium, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and even Brazil. Popular styles fluctuate, but you can always count on being able to find a good lager from Victory (or Germany), an excellent bitter from Conshohocken Brewing Company, a great mild from Yards, or something experimental-but-fabulous from Tired Hands. Yes, everyone also brews an IPA of some sort, but they aren’t necessarily company flagships. Local confidence in a great product seems to invite imports and collaboration, rather than a trend toward homogeneity and endless hazy IPAs.

By contrast, many – though not all – breweries here in the Seattle area seem to be playing follow-the-leader; there’s variety in the IPA (and now, New England/hazy IPA) labels, but the beers are very much the same, and frankly not (again, with a few exceptions) amazing. Finding anything that’s not a Fill-in-the-Blank ‘IPA’ or ‘sour’ can be tricky. I could write a very long, tedious piece on how ‘sour’ as a catch-all term is Not Particularly Accurate Nor Useful, but you already know that, so we’ll take it as understood, but I’ll also happily accept not buying someone’s poor-sanitization accident in exchange for having Reuben’s Gose or Dogfish Head’s Seaquench readily available. But even at my favorite local bottle shop, which has friendly, knowledgeable staff and an interesting selection, there are far more refrigerated cases dedicated to ‘sours’ and ‘IPAs’ – 8 of sours alone, to 5 IPA, if you’re keeping track at home – and about a quarter of a single case with ‘malty’ – the few local milds, porters and stouts still available, and many, if not most, of those stouts are ‘imperial.’  No doubt this scene is replicated in bottle shops across the US to a certain extent, and this may be part of the shift in tastes that is leaving former ‘white whales’ on the shelf.

While 10 years ago it would not have been remarkable to see people lining up to buy Goose Island’s Bourbon County Breakfast Stout, it’s now something that sits on supermarket shelves. Some of this is, one presumes, in response to In-Bev’s purchase of Goose Island; one wouldn’t want to be seen drinking a Secret Macrobeer, because Craft Beer Is Part Of Your Identity. And shifting tastes are no doubt at play to some extent as well, but I suspect two other factors are also in play: novelty and availability. When it was hard to find, either because of true logistical constraints or by design, it was Important and Special. Now…not so much.

Great Notion Beer: I will take all the tasters from the hatersI’m certainly just as guilty as any other beer nerd of wanting to try All The Things; if it’s new to me, it’s got to be worth a try, right? While this is a lot of fun at beer festivals, and fabulous when traveling, it also means that the number of Really Terrible Beers consumed gets to be a lot higher than the number of Really Good Beers. I’m absolutely convinced the uptick in ‘sours’ is largely because many newer breweries have not mastered the basics (though, interestingly, they managed to get themselves funded by some means – there’s another avenue to explore), and slapping a ‘sour’ label on a large percentage of your offerings is a great way to attempt to cover this up. And, frankly, in an industry where a lot of people aren’t making a lot of money, but there’s a high cost for ingredients and distribution, it’s hard to blame them. I’ll reiterate that there are breweries that are doing absolutely fantastic things in this space – but more and more of what’s generally available in these categories is not even good, and then they don’t produce anything basic (or, perhaps to some, ‘Basic’) like a pale ale or pilsner (I know not to even both looking for a bitter from most producers around these parts). For too many of my local breweries, their current lineups seem to all have 2 hazy IPAs, something ‘sour’ with fruit, something ‘sour’ without and maybe, just maybe, a straightforward (albeit 7%-ish) IPA. If there’s a stout or porter, it’s most likely barrel-aged and around 12%.

Once again, I’m all for people who do those things well doing them – but it would be great to see them as a seasonal or otherwise special creation, rather than the only thing available. I recently went out to a new beer-focused restaurant in the area that had 22 taps – not one beer was under 7%, and the vast majority were either hazy IPAs or what I can only describe as fruity nonsense, with no real tie to any particular beer style. I had real trouble finding anything I wanted to try, let alone have more than one of. It seems we’ve officially jumped the shark on beer styles and variety – there’s certainly the illusion of diversity, but when you take a closer look, it’s the same thing, again and again. To be clear, I don’t believe all hazy IPAs are bad, by any means; I’ve had some that were very good. My issue is that I can’t seem to find ANYTHING ELSE of late…it was so refreshing to be back in London over the holidays, where the variety of beer on offer was a lot closer to what the US had in the early 2000s, and there were, of course, many more beers under 5% (even under 4%!).

Craft Beer CycleI’m not entirely certain whether this is just Where We Are in the beer cycle, or if this is a regional quirk; when we go to Portland, there is certainly plenty of variety and the quality bar is very high, thanks to a very sophisticated local consumer base (and, one presumes, a lot of cross-pollination from brewers moving from one local company to another), and our trips elsewhere on this coast have turned up more pale, cloudy IPAs than I would prefer, though also a wide selection of local stalwarts making things that are recognizably beer to the casual observer. Even tiny Bellingham, up near the Canadian border, punches well above its weight in terms of beer quality and variety. Nevertheless, it still seems that at least locally, in the rush to brew unique beers that appeal to the more hardcore – and much more fickle – beer nerd audience, everyone has managed do exactly the same thing.

But it’s not all doom and gloom in Seattle, by any means; it’s just a bit harder to get the good stuff than it should be. Machine House makes absolutely outstanding English-style ales, and I’m excited they are opening a second location, but alas, the fact that it won’t be family-friendly means I’ll have perhaps an annual chance to visit. Their existing brewery does welcome the whole family, but there’s not a useful way for us to get there via public transit, so it’s also something that means a special trip, not a regular weekend visit (although it’s only 10 miles away in the south part of Seattle, it would nearly be faster to drive to Bellingham and walk from brewery to brewery there while enjoying a hotel getaway – but at least that will be less of an issue when our smaller child is old enough to Lyft and/or the older one responsible to babysit – someday). Fortunately, Machine House’s cask ales do make an appearance at two bars that are walking distance from my office from time to time – though again, that’s something that needs additional planning – but they are often the guest cask at nearby Elliott Bay Brewing, which does welcome the kids, so it’s somewhere we may actually visit for a weekend meal. I’m still crossing my fingers that The Shambles, the excellent newish fancy bar across the street from me, will eventually get a hand pump or two; even though they are also adults-only, it’s much easier to wander over for an hour when it’s steps away. Additionally, Cloudburst makes outstanding IPAs and they are now quite easy to find all over the city, and Reuben’s Brews does everything well, goat visits included.

And while much of this probably seems curmudgeonly (and you’re not wrong to think that, by any means), although I’ve never seen a glitter beer in the wild, I’d absolutely try one, at least once – I’d just like to follow it up with a great ESB.

* Why I stick with the term ‘craft beer’ (for now): although I agree with the sentiment that it’s largely meaningless to beer nerds, it does mean something to the wider public: seeing ‘craft beer’ listed on your airplane menu card or at the racetrack is at least a guarantee that you can get something better than a Bud Light – it may well be a ‘crafty’ beer owned or distributed by InBev or another global conglomerate (most likely, in that case, a former independent brewer), but it does mean that your bump up to business class is going to taste better than it might have.

** And a bit more about Nodding Head’s Ich bin ein Berliner Berliner Weisse – they were brewing it back in 2000, long before most breweries anywhere in the world realized there was such potential in a once-obscure German beer style. They’ve always kept it traditional; your woodruff or raspberry syrup is on the side, to add to your taste, and when we lived in the Philly area, it was something I looked forward to every summer at their now-shuttered brewpub (though their excellent beers continue to be brewed elsewhere). While I’m very pleased that there are now a lot of Berliner Weisse-style beers generally available, I wouldn’t classify them all as Berliner Weisses.

So many come pre-loaded with fruit flavors of every kind, and there is the inevitable wave of ‘imperial’ takes on the style that just don’t appeal to me (though, clearly, they must appeal to someone) that it makes it harder to find something closer to the real deal, though I’ve just been reliably informed that Stoup Brewing has just released theirs, and it sounds delightful (but finding it beyond the brewery with the woodruff option will likely be tricky). I also want to make a special mention of Cactus Wins the Lottery from Ex Novo Brewing in Portland – it’s a prickly pear Berliner Weisse that has similarities to nearly everything I’ve just complained about, but it’s absolutely glorious. If you’re going to go weird, do it right.

Thus concludes my slightly ranty footnote on Berliner Weisses.

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!

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