You never know what you’re going to get driving into the heart of a giant landmass. –Aaron I credit my Dad for turning me on to good beer, and so it was with pride that I got to show him a slew of great watering holes on our transcontinental tour of the Interstate system. Let the record show: we are extremely lucky. Mere hours after we had battled severe rain between Terre Haute, Indiana and St. Louis, Missouri, several tornadoes caused I-70 to shut down in the area. Significance junkies would wrestle with the whys and hows of our fortune, try to decode reality as Carl Jung would interpret a dream. As for Dad and I, a beer was in order. Let the record also show: Colby, Kansas is not the place to be a beer snob. Negra Modelo is awesome, especially when you are in the Mexican restaurant-in-a-hotel-across-the-street-after-10-hours-driving. Thankfully, we had a cooler with some East Coast reserve bottles stashed back in the room. That’s all I have to say about that. Day 3 got us into Denver, Colorado: the most centrally located Beer Heaven in the country. If you can find your way around (I suggest a detailed map), there are wonderful suds to be had. Vine Street Pub, the Denver outpost of Boulder’s Mountain Sun consortium, is tucked into a neighborhood with great old bungalows and Craftsman homes. The atmosphere is decidedly homey in the just-out-of-college sense; classic concert posters adorn the walls, and the menu is simple and tasty. My first experience with Mountain Sun beer, on a road trip in 2005, was revelatory: Colorado Kind Ale on Nitro gave me shivers back then, and it is still one of my all-time favorites. It is extra smooth and malty from the Nitro, but a good dose of bitterness and classical American hop sensations keep everything in balance.
These days, the most desirable beers tend to be the least available, especially of the wild/sour variety. Crooked Stave, the brain/love child of Chad Yakobson, is a particularly tasty example of this phenomenon. Yakobson, following a Masters dissertation on Brettanomyces, brews all of his beers with some combination of Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, and/or Lactobacillus. Many are fermented in large oak barrels, some are dry-hopped or otherwise augmented. Our final beer destination (aside from landing in Eugene) was Bend. Bend is beer country. Actually, Bend and Eugene are beginning to share a desirable trait when it comes to microbreweries: proximity. You can walk less than two miles in Bend and hit at least 5 breweries (Silver Moon, Bend Brewing, 10 Barrel, Good Life, Boneyard); Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood has just gotten a sudsy facelift; now you can walk from Ninkasi to Oakshire to (in a few days) Hop Valley. From Whiteaker it’s just a short jaunt downtown to Steelhead (where I’m waiting for brewer Ted Fagan to make another round of awesome lagers), Falling Sky, the Rogue, McMenamins, and of course the Bier Stein (or you can just come here– we’ve got it all!). Finishing the trip was bittersweet, but well-punctuated by pints of tasty homebrew (home is where the homebrew is). Thanks to the wonders of wireless internet, our six days of travel didn’t leave us lacking good beer, even in the middle of nowhere.