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!

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.

Sad

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.

Happy?

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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Santa Brings a Therminator!

On December 28, 2009, in Homebrew Gadgets, Homebrewing, by Mark Ranes

My new Therminator!

Woohoo!  Santa brought the Lazy Brewer a new Therminator!

I’ve been an immersion chiller kinda brewer since I first starting brewing.  I’ve always liked the fact that by using an immersion chiller, most of the cold break stays in my brew kettle.  I also have really enjoyed the 15 seconds it takes to spray off my copper coil chiller.  What I haven’t liked is waiting for 45-75 minutes (depending on the current groundwater temperature) for my wort to cool.  It just leaves the wort in the potentially dangerous temperature range, susceptible to  contamination, for too long.

I have been very hesitant to use either a counter flow or plate chiller because of cleaning and sanitation concerns.  I’ve seen sheets of beerstone that have flowed out of Stephen’s counterflow chiller and it chilled me to the bone. He’s never had a batch get contaminated, so I do believe his anal retentive cleaning and sanitation methods work – it just creeped me out when I saw the beerstone exiting the chiller.  Additionally, I’ve known several of my brew club buddies that regularly use plate chillers – and read the forum posts about cleaning and sanitizing them.  Steve started with a Shirron plate chiller, and promptly moved up to the Therminator.  He has a cleaning and sanitizing routine for the Therminator where he instantly pumps PBW through both his March pump and Therminator for several minutes, then pumps clean water through both, followed by StarSan to sanitize the equipment.  Like Stephen’s cleaning regime, I’m convinced Steve has covered all the bases to make sure he doesn’t infect a batch of ale.

Steve managing the Therminator connections

In the long run, I don’t see the Therminator actually saving me any time on brew day because of the need to meticulously clean the plate chiller after use, but it will allow me to avoid putting my wort at risk during the actual chilling phase.  This is obviously a good thing.

I still need to pick up some cheap quick disconnects for my water hose connections, additional tubing for wort, as well as a sump pump for moving the various liquids necessary for cleaning and sanitizing.

I’m a creature of habit.  After 95 batches, I have my brew day processes down pat.  Integrating the Therminator into my brewing process will throw me out of sorts for a while.  Steve has suggested I do a dry run with water, learning to manage the various hose swaps necessary for both chilling and cleaning/sanitizing. This sounds like a good idea…

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NHC Wrap Up

On June 21, 2009, in Craft Beer, Family and Friends, Homebrewing, Technology, Travel, by Mark Ranes

Stephen (formerly known as Some Guy:) and I got back home from NHC shortly after 11:00 a.m. this morning.  As much as I really enjoyed NHC, it was nice to get home to familiar, comfortable surroundings and my family.

The 2009 National Homebrewers Conference was without a doubt one of the best organized conferences, on any topic, I’ve ever attended – and working in the education field, I’ve attended my share of conferences.  I was really pleased with the variety of the breakout sessions, as well as the fact that everything started and ended on time.  Timeliness sounds like a given, but when it comes to conferences it is an often overlooked aspect.    The Oakland Marriott was a gracious host for NHC and they seemed to roll well with 1100 people wandering around with ale, armfulls of brewing stuff, crazy costumes and generally eccentric people.  Finally, considering that alcohol was a key component of the conference, I was very pleased to not see a single incident of stupidness or assholiness by conference attendees.  Amazing:)

Jay and Shannon from Utah

Jay and Shannon from Utah

I had the opportunity to meet some really nice folks, like Jay and Shannon from Utah.  Rights like homebrewing are something that I take for granted, living in California, but I found out that Jay and Shannon were just recently legally allowed to homebrew in Utah.  They can now let the aromas of wort and boiling hops flow liberally from their brew house without fear of a visit from the local police department.  It amazes me there there are still antiquated laws on the books like prohibiting homebrewing in several states.  It’s really sad.  Jay and Shannon sat next to me at the Grand Banquet last night and I really enjoyed their company (and they put up with my jabs at Utah very graciously for most of the evening:)

Brett Glenna - my Twitter buddy!

Brett Glenna - my Twitter buddy!

I also got to meet up with someone I’ve been Tweeting with for a while, @BrettGlenna, and we got to visit a couple of times.  We talked about setting up a future beer exchange.  Brett has access to many east coast ales I’ll never be able to buy in California, and I found out he’s a bit of a hophead.  Boy, is he in for a treat with some of the aggressive west coast IPAs I have access to!

Stephen and I are already kicking around the idea of attending the 2010 NHC in Minneapolis.  I should be ready for a beer by then:)

Even though I previously facetiously blogged about coming home today to lovingly open arms on Fathers Day, I’m happy to report that it was indeed the case.  I had a shower of Fathers Day gifts from Brenda and DawBoy, and a nice “Happy Fathers Day” phone call from Meagan ( I drove past her apartment building, within 100 yards, leaving Oakland this morning)  this afternoon.  Brenda made a wonderful rigatoni dinner and we shared a lovely bottle of Merlot (yea, I said I was going to give my liver a break today, but Italian food screams for a glass or two of nice red wine!)

I also picked up my new iPhone 3GS, and I’m pleased to report that the migration went smoothly.  I simply backed up my previous iPhone and then restored the backup image on the new iPhone 3GS via iTunes and everything was there – even all my apps were in their same locations on the various screens.  Bravo, Apple for making things as simple as they should be!

The upgraded camera, with spot auto-focusing and metering, and 30 fps video are incredible.  The voice dialing (that should have been included in the iPhone Day 1) works perfectly and I was able to dial 3 out of 3 contacts perfectly each time, with no training.  Amazing!

Anyway, it’s good to be home:)

Here are the last couple of pictures from NHC:

Stephen, with his second wind - after a rough bout with Club Night

Stephen, with his second wind - after a rough bout with Club Night

Sean Paxton - the Homebrew Chef

Sean Paxton - the Homebrew Chef

View of Oakland from my hotel room on departure day

View of Oakland from my hotel room on departure day

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NHC – Day 3

On June 21, 2009, in Craft Beer, Family and Friends, Homebrewing, Travel, by Mark Ranes

Day 3 at NHC and I’m still alive!  Today I attended the following sessions:

Commercial Hop Production and Sales and Its Effect on Homebrewers with Ralph Olson (of Hop Union)

The Equipment Geek with Kent Fletcher

Maintaining Ideal Yeast Health: Nutrients Yeast Need with Dr. Tobias Fischborn (of Lallemand, Inc.)

Yeast: Build Your Own Library with Maribeth Raines

Yeast: Ask the Experts Panel moderated by Justin Crossley (of the Brewing Network), with Tobias Fischborn (of Lallemand, Inc.), Dave Logsdon (of Wyeast), Maribeth Raines, and Chris White (of White Labs)

My family left for home late this morning and I’m already missing them…

As promised here are some random pictures from the last 24 hours:

Charlie Papazian preparing to introduce Sierra Nevada Brewing's founder, Ken Grossman

Charlie Papazian preparing to introduce Sierra Nevada Brewing's founder, Ken Grossman

Ken Grossman leaving the stage after the keynote

Ken Grossman leaving the stage after the keynote

The Going Pro Panel Team

The Going Pro Panel Team

My favorite people at Pacific Coast Brewing for Friday night's dinner

My favorite people at Pacific Coast Brewing for Friday night's dinner

Mmmm!  Pliny the Elder and Green Flash Tripple

Mmmm! Pliny the Elder and Green Flash Tripple

BOAT - Brewery On A Trailer

BOAT - Brewery On A Trailer

Some Guy

Some Guy

The Brewing Network interviewing Charlie Papazian

The Brewing Network interviewing Charlie Papazian

NHC Club Night crowds

NHC Club Night crowds

More NHC Club Night crowds

More NHC Club Night crowds

Eddy didn't come to NHC, but I'm missing his cute underbite!

Eddy didn't come to NHC, but I'm missing his cute underbite!

The BN's Bevo and Some Guy

The BN's Bevo and Some Guy

Some Guy and Mike McDole

Some Guy and Mike McDole

Me, Peter and Some Guy

Me, Peter and Some Guy

Me, John Palmer and Some Guy

Me, John Palmer and Some Guy

Me, Jesse from MoreBeer and Some Guy

Me, Jesse from MoreBeer and Some Guy

This is what Some Guy looks like after staying one too many ales at Club Night

This is what Some Guy looks like after staying for one too many ales at Club Night

Yeast - Ask the Experts Panel

Yeast - Ask the Experts Panel

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