Normally in January I’m working in my brew house at Seabright Brewery in Santa Cruz, California and not visiting cold cities across the country. This year was an exception as my mom and I decided to participate in the Women’s March on Washington. That event served as the starting point for my journey.
As a brewer and general beer enthusiast, any type of trip I take morphs into a beer drinking and brewery tour odyssey. Over the course of ten days I found myself in breweries and beer bars in Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Chicago (D.C. was a just a tad crowded to go hunting for a pub). I met so many wonderful people (and a couple crummy ones). We talked about beer, yeast, hockey, and what it was like visiting the nation’s capital for the very first time during one of the largest demonstrations in history. It was a very American experience for this California native.
Baltimore: Fascinating! So Many Tasty Brews
I have been through Maryland by way of the Appalachian Trail, but I had never been to Baltimore. What a fascinating city! It is both beautiful and gritty with so much history, and so many great places to drink. We first stopped at the Pratt Street Alehouse which offers plenty of English style ales. There I met an old roommate who is now a homebrewer. Like other locals, he suggested The Brewers Art for their well-crafted and impressive beer selection. I loved the speakeasy feel of their below the street entrance. Since my roommate and I hadn’t seen each other in a decade I remember the conversation better than the beers we shared.
The following day my mom and I ventured over to Heavy Seas Brewing, one of the first craft breweries in Baltimore. Here I was introduced to the very popular Loose Cannon IPA but the real gem is Siren Noire, an imperial chocolate stout aged in bourbon barrels. It has the viscosity of dirty diesel fuel, and that’s just how I like it. My mom will drink a couple of 4oz tasters and call it a day. As we bonded over our brews I noticed that she leans heavily toward dry and bitter red ales. Of the many bars we visited in historic Fells Point, I must give a shout out to The Wharf Rat and their bartender AJ. He hooked me up with a killer flight (I let him pick the beers after outing myself as an IPA loving Californian). The winner had to be Yards Brewing Company Poor Richards Tavern Spruce. I’ve been working on a spruce ale, and hope that it can come close to the quality of this particular beer. After a fun few days getting to know Baltimore through its craft beers my mom flew home and I headed to Milwaukee. Baltimore – you have not seen the last of me.
Milwaukee: A City of Surprises & Friendly Beer Folks
I try to visit Milwaukee every year. The city is beautiful and clean, the people are friendly (I don’t get California hate like I do in some other cities), there is cheese and more cheese, and it’s the birthplace of beer in America. I love Milwaukee! This trip the first brewery I visited was new to the city – MobCraft. I loved their Ode to Sahti juniper berry ale (like I said, I’m working on something similar myself), but their unique business model perplexed me. Instead of deciding to make beers they like and they expect their customers will like, MobCraft crowd sources its recipes. The public nominates a recipe idea online; the recipe with the most votes gets brewed. As a professional brewer who prides herself on her ability to design crowd pleasing recipes, I have trouble being enthusiastic about this practice. From a homebrewer’s standpoint – this is killer! Your recipe brewed by a professional brewer and purchased by MobCraft’s customers – it’s like seeing your name in lights! By producing an amateur brewer’s innovative recipe MobCraft benefits by gaining a whole new crew of fans, all the people who voted for the recipe and their friends. Apparently the model works for them. The bar was busy.
I work on a small brewpub system at my brewery so I had to visit D14. The guys there were friendly. We had good conversations about yeast and logistics in tiny spaces on small systems. They gave me some helpful tips for serving off a keg through my 75 foot draught system while working on the tank.
On this trip I finally made it to Milwaukee Brewing Company. Their production manager, Kurt, gave me a tour and we had a few beers together. I like checking out things like draught line manifolds and steam generators because…I just like those things. MKE Brewing makes their own biodiesel, which they use to run one of their steam generators. That type of innovation is laudable. They have an awful lot going on in their space, another thing I really appreciate. Standout beers were the Hop Happy, and the very discreetly boozy Grand Madame barley wine (aged in sherry barrels). Milwaukee has so many new breweries I didn’t have time to visit my regular stops, but there’s always next year.
I must give additional Milwaukee shout outs to Wanda at Uber Tap Room (who serves me every time I come into town), and Bailey at Ale Asylum, who was not only friendly and knowledgeable but she stashed the beers I had collected throughout the day so I could get through security and watch an Admirals game. Thanks ladies!
Chicago: Cold City, Cool People
Because I’m a weenie about flying I wanted a direct flight back to the Bay area. Best option, hopping on Amtrak to check out The Windy City for a couple days! This is the way to go, and I will visit Chicago every time I visit Milwaukee from now on. Chicago is home to Revolution Brewing, which is home to Will Turner, who was the head brewer at MY brewery “back in the day”. So of course I went to visit. He gave me a tour of the gorgeous pub, brewhouse, and cellar. I delivered some of Seabright’s Blur IPA and Oatmeal Stout, just in case he missed them. Revolution’s most popular beer is the Anti-Hero IPA, but my favorite was Deth’s Tar, a barrel aged Imperial Russian Stout. Typical for January, Chicago was only 20F degrees and snowing; unreasonably cold for California coastal me. Maybe that’s why I kept leaning to the dark and heavy beers.
Will pointed me toward Haymarket Brewing, and I am so glad because not only did I love their beers but the staff was delightful. They helped me out with printing my impulse buy Blackhawks ticket, put me on their free shuttle to and from the game, and had a fabulously rich The Sun Comes Up Tomorrow coffee IPA for me to enjoy (repeatedly). I even made some new friends at their bar. For my nightcap I chose Indignant Bourbon Imperial Stout and I slept like a baby.
Not gonna lie, I had a bit of a hangover when I woke up in my hostel the next day. I spent the morning exploring the Riverwalk, downtown, and strolling around the shore of Lake Michigan where my beach dwelling body went completely numb in the frigid wind. I went on the giant Ferris wheel at Navy Pier because the bubble was heated – even though I have a fear of Ferris wheels. That afternoon I flew back to San Francisco then drove to Santa Cruz, where a nice breeze and a warm sky greeted me. It’s hard for me to take time away from my brew house, and it is stressful to return and play catch up. But it is so worth it. Not only did I participate with my mom in a powerful demonstration of unity in our nation’s capital, but I met old friends, I made new friends, I expanded my professional network, and I had some killer and inspiring beers. I’ve also added to my list of places I think are great and need to revisit. Should you find yourself in my town, and I hope you do, please come by and say hello!
Cat Wiest is the head brewer at Seabright Brewery in beautiful Santa Cruz, CA. Before joining the brewing industry she was a baker, a commercial fisherman, and a bouncer. She started brewing professionally in 2012 following a bout of desperate unemployment during which she received her quarterly Bitch magazine containing an article titled “We’re Here, We’re Beer, Get Used To It”. She found inspiration in learning that women were the original brewers, priestesses of the fermented beverage. Inspired, Cat started making her own beer! Just a few months later she was hired as a shift brewer at a large production brewery, and has been brewing ever since. Her favorite recipes to write are for hoppy red ales. She loves drinking thick viscous stouts, high and dry IPA’s, floral pales, and face puckering sours. In her occasional free time, she is a beach bum, a triathlete, and a hockey fan.