Exploratory Amtrak Pub Crawl

On January 21, 2010, in Brew Pubs, Craft Beer, Family and Friends, Travel, by Mark Ranes
Amtrak Ticket

Pub Crawl Ticket

Our homebrew club, the Central Valley Brewers Guild, is looking into a Sacramento pub crawl, where the participants are delivered, and returned home, by Amtrak.  We are looking for alcohol responsible methods of transportation to ensure that our crawlers are returned home safely, as well as not endangering the public at large.

The CVBG Founders have been discussing this for some time now and we finally decided to make a trial run to see if an Amtrak pub crawl is feasible.  We checked train schedules and made reservations (a bit funky as you can’t print tickets made by web reservations – come on Amtrak, it’s a new century!) by phone.  The train departed at 10:34 pm on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive in Sacramento at 12:30 pm.  The return train departed at 4:55 pm, so we knew going in that time would be tight.  Four and a half hours, and four potential pubs in downtown and midtown Sacramento sounded just short of undoable.  Additionally, we were looking at moving 18-20 blocks either by foot or exploring public transportation options.  Our idea was to head out to the farthest pub on the list, Rubicon Brewing Company, and then work our way back towards the Amtrak station.  Our fear is that keeping 30+ pub crawlers somewhat organized, and moving between pubs with such a tight schedule, will be similar to herding cats.  The possible pubs on the list included Rubicon Brewing Company, Pyramid Alehouse, Brew it Up and River City Brewing.

Hop Sauce

Rubicon's Hop Sauce

We arrived at the Denair Amtrak station about fifteen minutes before the train was supposed to arrive.  Once we boarded, we paid the conductor for our reserved outgoing tickets.  We were told to just pick up the return tickets when we hit the Sacramento station.  About twelve minutes later we picked up Steve at the Modesto Amtrak station.  Modesto has a relatively new, and very nice Amtrak station with a ticket counter, so we will probably buy advance tickets there for the real rail pub crawl.  All went well until we were about eight miles out of Sacramento.  They were working on the tracks, and we sat for almost twenty minutes while workers moved equipment and allowed a freight train to pass.  That kind of delay on crawl day would be a huge blow to the agenda.

Once we arrived in Sacramento, we lined up to buy return tickets and burned probably another fifteen minutes.  We discovered that Regional Transit buses would get us within a couple blocks of Rubicon Brewing Company.  Better yet, the Amtrak conductors could provide us with free transfer passes for the buses.  You just ask for them before you leave the train.  Too bad we didn’t know that.  Stephen was able to get four passes and we had to pay for the others.  We arrived at Rubicon about 1:30 ready to imbibe.


Mmmmmm! Bacon Cheeseburger!

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Rubicon had their wonderful imperial IPA, Hop Sauce.  It is served in a 10 ounce goblet and they will only serve you two. I started with a Hop Sauce, followed by a couple of Rubicon’s exceptional IPAs. Rubicon’s IPA is definitely in my top five IPAs for its wonderful flavor and drinkability.  Stephen went all Belgian on us and even introduced Brenda to a sour beer she really enjoyed.  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and picked our waitress’ brain on bringing 30+ crawlers in on a Saturday afternoon.  We decided that the curb-side outdoor seating would probably best fit our group.

After lunch and ales, we headed back over a block or so to a RT bus pick-up area and rode a bus back to the head of the Westfield Mall and one of my favorite brew pubs, River City Brewing.  RCB has awesome food, decent ale (but no IPA…) and great atmosphere.  I particularly enjoy grabbing and ale or two on a warm day and sitting in their outdoor seating and watching the mall traffic wander by.  Time was getting short, so we ordered up a round of ales and headed outside.  Strangely, while we waited at the bar for our beers, one of the folks sitting there asked if we were on a pub crawl.  Go figure!  After a quick ale, it was time to head back to the Amtrak station to hop on board the 4:55 pm train home.  The ride home was uneventful and we had one last ale on the train to cap off the day.


Feeling Empty and Sad...

Looking back, my impressions of the day are as follows…

I was surprised how many people actually ride Amtrak in California’s central valley.  Pleasantly surprised:)

Four and a half hours is a pretty short timeline for a pub crawl.  Even without our 20 minute Amtrak delay, we’ll probably need to cut the pubs down to three to fit the alotted time.  Rubicon is a must (they have the best ale of the four pubs, in my opinion:), as well as River City, since it is only two blocks from the Amtrak station and it will be pretty easy to move a lubricated crowd onward on a moments notice.  That leaves either Pyramid or Brew it Up to axe.  Since we didn’t have time to visit either one, we may need to go back and do further research.  I’m sure both of the establishments have their upside so we really need to enjoy a pint or two in each to get a feel for the atmosphere – and their ability to handle a group our size.


Feeling Full and Happy!

Additionally, I was really impressed with the friendliness, and helpfulness, of both the Amtrak conductors and the Sacramento RT bus drivers.  They could tell we were “out of towners” and offered friendly advice freely – all with a smile.  I was pleasantly surprised:)

Finally, we are seriously considering two paths for the day of the pub crawl.  One is the 4.5 hour run of three brew pubs. The other, for folks more dedicated to the ales, is a “Crawl Over” where we stay at the Capitol Plaza Holiday Inn – literally crawling distance from River City Brewing company:)

We’ll be presenting this information, as well as doing more research, for a late spring pub crawl to our homebrew guild. We’ll also have some work ahead of us setting up the logistics of the day with the various pubs we visit.  We’re hoping to have a couple of the brewers on hand for tours and Q&A.  Not exactly sure how that will play out on a Saturday, but we want to give it a shot for the good of our guild.

RCB Guys

River City Brewing Guys

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Brenda and I received a gift certificate for a local department store when we got married 28 years ago, and we used it, plus a few extra dollars, to buy a Weber kettle barbecue that I used extensively for seven or eight years.  Many, many wonderful meals were prepared on that kettle and it actually lasted for over ten years as it was taken to school and used for reward meals for my science students.  I’m on my second Weber Genesis gas grill and once you get the grill seasoned with a few BBQ sessions, the food is great – plus, I love the convenience of gas.  You can light the grill and be cooking in ten minutes.  Gas grills are also wonderful for the large pieces of meat I cook for holiday meals like turkeys, New York strips and prime rib.

Weber's Smokey Mountain Cooker

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker

Lately though, I’ve been hearing the call of charcoal and wood chunks – and wonderful slow cooked and smoked meats.  For the last year or so, I’ve been casually checking out smokers, but now I feel the need to move forward on a purchase.  I saw a tweet today on Twitter from a gent in Washington (hi Normskibrewer!) who uses Weber’s Smokey Mountain Cooker for his BBQ endeavors.  He highly recommends the smoker, as do several hundred people who’ve posted reviews over at Amazon.  There seem to be some manufacturing issues with same of the individual pieces of the cooker, but everyone seems to get those ironed out either with Amazon, or Weber itself.  Norm recommended checking out Virtual Weber Bullet web site for more info and it is a wealth of information for the unit itself, as well as cooking/smoking procedures and recipes for various cuts of meat.  I’m sold!  I’ll be picking up a Weber Smokey Mountain Grill this week, either from Amazon, or a local vendor.  Amazingly, a small, independent BBQ shop opened in the last couple weeks less than a mile from my home.  I don’t mind spending a few extra bucks to support local businesses, but I don’t know if they carry the Weber Smokey Mountain Grill, and how much more it may be above Amazon’s very low price.

I want to break in the new smoker over the Labor Day weekend, so I need to get my ducks in a row tomorrow before I head out of town with Stephen on my Summer of Music Tour to see Dave Matthews at Raley Field, in Sacramento.  The show may be a bit of a somber event as one of DMB’s founding members died last week from complications from an ATV accident in late June.  Hopefully, before I have my first Hop Sauce at Rubicon Brewing Company about 4:30 tomorrow afternoon, I’ll have purchased the new smoker.

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Mystery Date

On August 16, 2008, in Craft Beer, Family and Friends, Food, Music, by Mark Ranes
Eric, Becky and Brenda at the Concord Pavillion

Eric, Becky and Brenda at the Concord Pavillion

Our good friends Eric and Becky took us on a Mystery Date yesterday.  Basically, you just get in the car (you don’t know where you are going) and give up all control to the person in charge of the Mystery Date.  Those of you who know me know that giving up all control kills me:)  The Summer of Music was to expand, unbeknown to me!  We headed west right after work and started our adventure at the Macaroni Grill in Pleasanton. I had a really nice plate of Veal Marsala.  Neither Brenda or I had been to a Macaroni Grill before and we were both really impressed.  Decent prices and great food.

Next we headed over to Concord to the Concord Pavilion (it’s now called Sleep Train Pavilion, but I’ll always call it the Concord Pavilion – I hate the commercial sponsorship of stadiums and arenas!) to see a show.  It opened with Joe Cocker, who can still kick ass, and was closely followed by a couple hours of the Steve Miller Band.

The Steve Miller Band at the Concord Pavillion

The Steve Miller Band at the Concord Pavilion

Both acts were really good, and they both still play very tightly – just like thirty years ago!  Unfortunately, we had some late twenty-somethings sitting two rows in front of us that stood and danced, drank and smoked pot for most of the show, blocking our view.  They were pretty much the only people in our section who stood throughout the whole show, and unluckily for us were right in front of us.  Karma came through about two thirds of the way through Steve Miller’s set when one of the guys basically passed out and had to be carried out by all his dancing buddies.  They didn’t return. 🙂

I had a couple of really large Black Diamond Amber Ales.  Good stuff!

Stephen and I are off to Raley Field, in Sacramento, next Monday to see The Dave Matthews Band.  We’ll be kicking off the evening with dinner and ales at Rubicon Brewing Company.  I’ll have a Hop Sauce, thank you!  Yum!

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