ON AND OFF THE BEATEN PATH :: Got Beer? Will Travel – One (or is it 7?) From the Road

by David Daugherty on December 27, 2013

High Desert Brewing Co., Las Cruces, NM 8-2-2013  (2)Seems like when I travel, I cannot go anywhere without stumbling into a craft brewery. It almost seems a given that either the destination or the drive develops into one really long beer run. Take the last half of this year for instance; driving back to Phoenix from Texas, I made a really nice discovery in Las Cruces New Mexico. I stopped at the High Desert Brewing Company (“None of our beers suck,”). This turned out to be an awesome stop. It wasn’t right off the I-10, I had to drive into Las Cruces a bit but it was worth the drive off the beaten path. The brewery itself is very small, only a couple brew kettles and a few fermenters and the pub was small as well, but it didn’t matter because the beer was nothing short of BIG!

Since I still had a long drive ahead of me, I opted for the sampler. Of the eight beers I tried, my favorite was the Rye PA. There was a nice maltiness to the aroma and when I took that first sip, I found a sweetness that really worked. There was an overall hoppiness that was citrusy with the rye shining through. This is a satisfying summertime beer, I found myself wishing was available outside the brew pub. If you find yourself in Las Cruces, hit this place up, it may be small but a fine beer experience.

Tony Packo'sAfter resting a day in Phoenix, I had to board my flight to Ohio for the purpose of moving more stuff home to Arizona. As usual, I incorporate some work into the trip. I visited Tony Packo’s Cafe in Toledo Ohio an interesting hot dog and chili shop that opened in 1932, still in its original location. There are autographed buns littering the wall signed by celebrities including one from my favorite hometown (Youngstown) boxer, Ray “Boom Boom’ Mancini. Ray Mancini bunIt was made famous nationally when Toledo native Jamie Farr, aka Corporal Klinger of the TV show M.A.S.H. mentioned on an episode about how good Packo’s Hungarian hot dogs were, and if ever in Toledo, you must visit. I was able to get my hands on a 1 pint 6oz bottle of Tony Packo’s 80th Anniversary Ale brewed by the Great Black Swamp Brewing Company in Toledo Ohio, after indulging in the excellent hot dogs. Now there seems to be a lot of chatter hereabouts as to whether or not this was a novelty beer, jusy something to promote Packo’s. I have to say that it may have indeed been a novelty beer, in that respect. but I thought that this ale was pretty good.  Poured into a pint glass, the color was a golden yellow showing very little head or lacing. The aroma was malty with a hint of citrus. It’s presented as an American Pale Ale and the taste does have some of those characteristics. I get the, not too hoppy, citrus taste, a little bit floral on the tongue, and a mix of malt and hop. To me, the taste was all over the place as well as the palate but that was fine. ABV came in at 6.07% and being a commemorative, it was only brewed once. Not one of my favorites, but I would not turn away another bottle.

Missouri Hick BBQSo, after a couple weeks of visiting with family and friends and packing some stuff up to load on a big rental truck, I was ready to get on the highway. I had the truck packed tight and headed west! Now, I have done this drive many times but because the truck was so heavy and governed to go no faster than 65 MPH, it took 4 days to get home. Anyone who knows me knows how impatient I am, so the drive was excruciating! Going through Missouri, I sspied this sign for the “Best BBQ” in the state. I was close to the exit and I was hungry. BBQ sounding awesome, I dragged that 26 foot truck off the highway thinking it would be right off the exit. Not so lucky. The signage was good but I felt like I was driving forever!  It seemed like a good hour went by (It was only about 20 minutes), but true to the signs I pulled into the lot at Missouri Hick BBQ on old historic Route 66 in Cuba, MO. The restaurant opened in 1977 and has been serving up award winning BBQ since. I ordered the 3 meat platter; beef brisket, pulled pork and pork ribs. The meats are smoked overnight for 12 hours in their special dry rub. I was in heaven, the meat was tender, smoky and delicious and the BBQ sauces were outstanding! I was surprised to see that not only do they make really good smoked meats, they brew their own beer! I was happy to hear they sold the bottles to go because, otherwise, it probably would have taken me much longer than 4 days to get home. They preoduce 4 styles so I bought six doubling up on two I thought I would like, got back in the truck and continued my slow journey home.

Yup, you guessed it. Yadkin Creek.

Yup, you guessed it. Yadkin Creek.

Finally back in Phoenix, the truck emptied and returned to the lot, it was time to crack open that Missouri Hick beer. I started light to dark as I usually do. First up, Yadkin Creek Lager. Color was a very light yellow and cloudy. It had a malty aroma with a hint of yeast. The taste was very light and malty with a yeast flavor coming through. Overall, this is a very refreshing beer and even though I am not a big fan of lagers, I wouldn’t turn down another one.

Next was River Buck Ale, a Belgian Style Dubbel, full bodied with notes of dark fruit. The color was a light brown and cloudy. The aroma was fruity, like plums. The first taste came in sweet with hints of molasses and somewhat bitter on the back of the tongue. Hints of raisins and plums really come through in this brew.

Third was the Downhome India Pale Ale. This was very good with wonderful flavor. It poured a clear yellow color and the aroma was immediate, floral. It tasted exactly as smelled, floral with citrus notes. This is a full bodied IPA, just the right level of bitterness, (60 IBU) using three varieties of hops.

Huzzah Smoked AleI saved the smoke beer for last figuring that it might destroy my taste buds for the earlier three. Hazzah Smoked Ale. As with smoked ales I have had in the past, as soon as I poured the liquid into the glass, a smoky aroma took over. The color was brown and to the nose, smoky malt and, surprisingly enough, citrus. The flavor, besides the smoke, was floral. Amazing how these flavors mixed with and cut through the smokiness. There was a nice malty, hop and citrus flavor going on. The smoke flavor was enhanced by the use of chocolate, black, and smoke malt. This really took me back to the restaurant in Missouri and, of course, made me want to get some BBQ right away! I liked it, and wanted more. I opened the fridge and how about that! Another smoke beer from a collaboration by Stone!

The Perfect CrimeThe Perfect Crime! A Black Smoked Saison developed by Stone, Evil Twin and Stillwater Artisinal Ales. It poured black into the glass with a sweet, smoky aroma. The taste was nothing short of incredible. As I’ve made it clear time after time, I like smoke beer, and I like saison, but the two of them together? Genius! The taste was what I expected, smoky malts, coffee, Belgian yeast and woody. Overall, another good smoke beer. I just never tire of trying this style. As with everything Stone does, there is a nice bitterness that is warranted in this particular style. This is brewed only once and I hope someday they tweak it and resurrect it!

True to the name of my writings, being on and off the beaten path is exactly where I like to be.  As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room, two days before Christmas, in Lake Havasu City, AZ overlooking the lake and mountains and enjoying the best beer Lake Havasu has to offer.

Here’s hoping everyone of you has a wonderful Holiday Season and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

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