Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hampshire County Brew + Bike

We spent this past weekend exploring towns in the heart of Western Massachusetts and had the BEST time. "The Other Side of Massachusetts" as their tourism board nicknames Hampshire County, swooped in like a breath of fresh air to claim my affections. I came to the conclusion early on after we'd checked into our hotel on the quaint Amherst Square and set off biking on the picturesque Norwottuck Rail Trail that I'd been missing out all this time.

Along the former Boston & Maine Railroad The Norwottuck Branch Rail Trail is an 11-mile path linking Belchertown, Amherst, Hadley and Northampton. It weaves through beautiful green farm land with grazing cows and poignantly crosses the Connecticut River via a massive steel lattice truss bridge. We biked the trail for 8 miles and then a mile through Northampton streets where we stopped in for lunch at Northampton Brewery, scoring a seat on the sun-drenched top tier of their spacious beer garden. Our lunch was solid - we shared beer battered Catfish Bites ($9), the Green Mountain Burger ($12.25), and a beautiful Chopped Kale + Cranberry Salad ($10) with cabbage, green apple, garbanzo beans, blue cheese and bacon, alongside thirst quenching pints: Spring Fling IPA, Blue Boots IPA, and a Deckbier Pale Ale.

Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail connects to Northampton’s city system and the Norwottuck Rail Trail so from here we continued the journey with ease for another six miles to check out Easthampton's brewery scene. Located in a 1910 historic mill building - Abandoned Building Brewery was a challenge to find. In thinking that keeping it hidden / underground was the point - we were assured by the lovely Kimaya who poured our beers that it's actually the landlord who has been stalling to put a proper sign out front for the last year. Thankfully there is a sign in the back parking lot and the brewery entrance doors are just around the main vestibule. Entering into a dimly lit - open concept interior, a mismatch of furniture from upholstered couches, futons and even a papasan chair lends a college apartment feel to the lofty space. A small reclaimed wood tasting counter fronts the shiny brewery tanks.
Incorporating hops from their own local hop yard, barley malts from Valley Malt in Hadley, plus the high quality Easthampton drinking water - brewer Matt Tarlecki specializes in crafting Belgian farmhouse ales and hoppy American beers. We were big fans of the Dirty Girl IPA, Lola's Saison and the spring seasonal: Trap Door Tripel. Fun Fact: Matthew named his brewery prior to locating the space after his love of exploring abandoned buildings. I guess it all worked out well for him, these old mills are about as abandoned as you can get (the space next to them is a recording studio, but the five floors above are empty.)

You encounter quite a few buildings like this out here in Western, MA - driving in from off the Pike and along certain parts of bike trail - the deserted, mysterious, Walking Dead type vibe really transports you.

I had spotted New City Brewery from the Manhan bike trail so I knew our next stop was a just across the parking lot. Here, in a game changing effort Brewmaster Sam Dibble crafts a flagship alcoholic Jamaican-style ginger beer. We arrived to the bustling, light filled, exposed brick tap room and snagged two stools in the corner of the reclaimed Fenway Park (!) bar, where manager Devin The signature ginger beer mimosa flight really took our day to the next level: ginger beer straight up - orange - grapefruit - passionfruit - lemonade - and a mule (lime). The distinctive zip of ginger lends a spicy, effervescent bite, complimented by subtle notes of pineapple, lemon and molasses with a clean, crisp finish. New City's crown jewel is a fantastic brew. With an increase in demand, look for bottled four packs now being distributed throughout New England. 

We had a delicious beer flight as well: Connecticut River Kolsch - Minuteman Pale Ale - Signature IPA, Fenway Froth - King Phillip's Imperial Stout - and Hand Crafted Ginger Soda (non Alcoholic). My favorite was the CT River Kolsch - a light bodied and true easy drinker with a pleasant bitterness lent from German noble hops. We also loved the Fenway Froth - a single malt, single hop (S.M.A.S.H.) bright, golden ale featuring Golden Promise Scottish Barley and Equinox Hops. 
We cruised back through Easthampton by a nature preserve and over little truss bridges - taking not necessarily a wrong turn but continuing straight along the same path once we reached Northampton instead of turning where we needed to double back to pick up the Norwattuck Trail. (In-spite of all the ginger beer-mosas consumed, the trail junctions here do get a little confusing....) Nothing whatsoever looking familiar in our five miles off course, it wasn't until we hit a waterfall and a gravel trail that we pulled out the GPS and knew we had to backtrack. Mostly laughing at ourselves as we peddled back, we reached our home base in Amherst clocking in a total of 36 miles biked. 

Without the detour (Florence, Leeds) it would have been 24 miles, which is more manageable / more my speed. If you were hesitant to take on 24 but still want to experience the rail trail there are parking lots in Hadley and Northampton that get you closer to the breweries! Additionally, if you don't have your own bikes or need bike assistance: Laughing Dog Bicycle in Amherst / Northampton Bicycle / Manhan Bicycle in Easthampton. 
We had such a happy, gorgeous day discovering The Other Side of Massachusetts! Hampshire County makes for an easy day trip from Boston and surrounding suburbs. I was glad we decided to stay longer though - more on our overnight up next! 

11 Brewster Court
Northampton, MA 01060
Northampton Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

142 Pleasant Street
Easthampton, MA 01027

180 Pleasant Street
Easthampton, MA 01027

Our lunch and beer were complimentary thanks to Hampshire County Regional Tourism + Massachusetts Office of Travel + Tourism.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Vancouver | British Columbia

Can I proclaim my love for Canada just one more time?! Exploring Vancouver at the end of our trip to Whistler did not go undocumented. We had 24 hours in this bustling west coast seaport city and spent our time eating incredible aburi oshi sushi and all the maki rolls at Minami to celebrate Bob's birthday, checking out the crazy all-night party scene on Granville Street, and visiting laid back local breweries the next day. We had an easy stay at the centrally located Marriot Residence Inn Downtown which was in walking distance to Minami and Granville St. The larger rooms worked out well for us, offering plenty of space to comfortably regroup and rest all our gear / bags. 

On the final day it was Bob, Leah and myself who decided to stay longer and catch the red eye home. We wandered the downtown harborfront in the fog and mist before discovering Steamworks Brew Pub in the hip Gastown quarter for fun beer samplers and tasty fish tacos. Our waitress there recommended checking out Brassneck so we hailed a cab over to Mt Pleasant neighborhood. We instantly loved the low key vibe in their contained concrete and funky wood beam space. They pour excellent beers with thoughtful names like the dry hopped Passive Aggressive pale ale and the Free Radical white IPA with mosaic and sorachi ace hops. We pulled up the map and chose our next stop close by - Main Street Brewing - which is actually just off Main in a super cute residential neighborhood. This place emits the same relaxed vibes except in an open Heritage Building with bulb lights strung from high ceilings and around leafy green trees, where tall red taps line gleaming subway tile walls. There's a wide selection of equally delicious beers and I am so glad we picked it on a whim! 

When we left it was POURING (the ridiculously cold and windy rain where an umbrella is useless) and they don't have Uber! It took what felt like forever to hail a cab and lucky for us it was a van who could fit all our ski gear (that was being stored back at the hotel). Good thing we gave ourselves plenty of time. 

It was really nice to wind down the ski week discovering a little of Vancouver. 
I highly recommend checking out any / all of these spots: 

Minami | Yaletown | 1118 Mainland Street
Minami Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Steamworks Brew Pub | Gastown | 375 Water Street
Steamworks Brew Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Brassneck | Mt Pleasant | 2148 Main Street
Brassneck Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Main Street Brewing | Mt Pleasant | 261 East 7th Avenue
Main Street Brewing Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato