Tasmania: Grain to Glass

Tasmania: Grain to Glass

This is a story that starts with malt and ends with beer. “Grain to glass” is a phrase that’s thrown around a bit these days in beer and distilling, the beer version of the now ubiquitous “farm to table”. In the strictest sense “grain to glass” means that the brewer or distiller controls each step of the product supply chain. Ya gotta do everything ya damn self – from roasting your own malt, to controlling every aspect of production from recipe development through to packaging.

To me the spirit of the phrase is that you’re not taking any shortcuts – you know exactly what’s in your product, and can vouch for the quality and consistency of everything that goes into it. I’ve spent (arguably too much) time on the “glass” side of this equation, and in Tasmania I got to look under the hood to see the many people and ingredients that make good beer great. My time in Tasmania reminded me that beer is more than just the sum of its parts – it's just as much about the hands that go in to making it as what it tastes like. I had some of my favorite beers of the trip in Tassie, but I also met some of my favorite people. And that's what it's all about.

Why Tasmania?

In Melbourne, Tasmania came up over and over again when I mentioned that I was interested in learning about Aussie craft beer. Before this trip I didn’t even know that Tasmania was a real place, it occupied the same spot in my mind as Narnia. Since I had no idea that Tasmania even existed, you may not know too much about it either. Here are a few fast facts on Tassie (like everything else in Australia, it has a cheeky nickname):

  • Tasmania is an island state off Australia’s southern coast, first "discovered" by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642. The earliest British settlement in 1803 consisted mostly of convicts from Sydney and their military guards (the convict island of the convict island! Wouldn't mess with these dudes).
  • There are two major port cities a few hours apart by car: Launceston “Lonnie” (north, smaller) and Hobart (south, bigger, frustratingly not nicknamed Hobie). There's a healthy competition between the two cities, both between sports teams and historic breweries. If you're in Lonnie you're a Boag's drinker, in Hobart it's Cascade.
  • The government and brewers association of Tasmania recently donated several hundred thousand dollars to support beer tourism. Tassie has 20+ microbreweries (tas beer trail), 11 cideries (?!) (tas cider trail), 10 distilleries (tas whiskey trail), and 112+ vineyards (tas winery trails) for it's 500,000 people, making it the region with the most buzzed residents per capita in the southern hemisphere (maybe it is Narnia).
  • Tassie's got nature for days: stunning waterfalls, beautiful untouched beaches, national parks, a ton of animals I also thought were fictional, and even a gorge or two. 
 View from my hostel in Lonnie seemed like a good omen. This whole row of buildings belongs to Boags, Lonnie's oldest and largest brewery.

View from my hostel in Lonnie seemed like a good omen. This whole row of buildings belongs to Boags, Lonnie's oldest and largest brewery.

 The gorg Lonnie gorge, just a few minutes walk from my hostel. This place was a cross between the California Delta and the Cliffs of Insanity, so naturally I loved it.

The gorg Lonnie gorge, just a few minutes walk from my hostel. This place was a cross between the California Delta and the Cliffs of Insanity, so naturally I loved it.

 Stunning waterfall at Mt. Field National Park near Hobart.

Stunning waterfall at Mt. Field National Park near Hobart.

Another reason to make the trek to Tassie is that traveling solo forces me to interact with and meet new people. Weird, serendipitous encounters just tend to happen when you're traveling alone. While you’d think that traveling to hostels with two guys in their 20’s would be very conducive to meeting people and tasting craft beer, it's usually tough to pry me off the hostel beer pong table. After about a month of traveling with the guys and with my leg injury finally behind me, I was excited to strike out on my own for a craft beer pilgrimage. And boy did I get one.  

That time I met a maltster

I flew to Launceston with no plan and no place to stay. Luckily for me, people are freakishly friendly in Tasmania. The man that sat next to me on the plane noticed that I was writing about craft beer, gave me a few tips on where to start, and offered to drive me to a hostel in town. It seemed so incredibly genuine that I accepted, though in what’s becoming a (semi) running joke I did send my mom a photo of the guy with the text, “If I die, this guy murdered me.”

After checking in to my adorable Victorian hostel, I walked through Lonnie towards St. Johns, the highly recommended local watering hole. The town is stunning, it’s got that Northeastern, idyllic, Abbie Kimball in Woodstock thing down pat. 

 One local said that mainland Australians don't tend to do a good job preserving their history, flattening historic buildings to put up shiny new modern ones. In Lonnie, original buildings and important looking plaques are everywhere. This street has mostly original buildings from the 1890's. 

One local said that mainland Australians don't tend to do a good job preserving their history, flattening historic buildings to put up shiny new modern ones. In Lonnie, original buildings and important looking plaques are everywhere. This street has mostly original buildings from the 1890's. 

So here I am on a Monday night a few thousand km's from Antarctica on a craft beer quest to learn about “grain to glass”, and GRAIN walks in to the bar. Yep, in walks a craft maltster, as in a person that produces malt from barley and sells it to breweries. Matt was on an agricultural scholarship traveling to different beer countries to learn about the barley supply chain (boy did I go to the wrong school). After we got to talking he mentioned that he was driving to Hobart in a few days, and would I like to tag along to some of his meetings with brewers and distillers? I immediately agreed and resent the above text to mom.

 Tandy's Alehouse, which turned out to be my favorite craft beer bar in Australia. You'll only see Tasmania brews on the tap list, and the owner Byron closes shop whenever people are done drinking.

Tandy's Alehouse, which turned out to be my favorite craft beer bar in Australia. You'll only see Tasmania brews on the tap list, and the owner Byron closes shop whenever people are done drinking.

 Goat and haloumi sandwich at St. Johns. Sweet mother of God. I don't like repeating meals while traveling but I couldn't get over this thing and had it two nights in a row.

Goat and haloumi sandwich at St. Johns. Sweet mother of God. I don't like repeating meals while traveling but I couldn't get over this thing and had it two nights in a row.

 The tap list at St. Johns (Ale Smith was their fancy import beer that night!). I came away from Australia with so much love for the local beer bar. Especially when you’re in a smaller town, it’s a great source of information on the beer scene. And hey, it’s easier to meet people when you’re a little buzzed.

The tap list at St. Johns (Ale Smith was their fancy import beer that night!). I came away from Australia with so much love for the local beer bar. Especially when you’re in a smaller town, it’s a great source of information on the beer scene. And hey, it’s easier to meet people when you’re a little buzzed.

This generosity was the beginning of a multi-day crash course in grain to glass. I ended up meeting some incredible people including Dr. Evan Evans, aka "the beer doctor", a botanist with a PhD in malt science (dream job) who introduced us to his local contacts and even ended up hosting both of us for the duration of our stay in Hobart. Yes, this was my real life Willy Wonka. I ended up tagging along with my new crew for behind the scenes visits to a few wineries, a hop farm, and too many breweries and beer bars to count. Below are some of the highlights, but first let’s take a moment of silence for my liver.

 View from the deck of our host's home in Hobart.

View from the deck of our host's home in Hobart.

Day 1: Redlands and Lark Distillery

Nothing like a taste of un-aged whiskey at 9 am to jumpstart your day. Redlands distillery is an example of an operation done right – the old way, the slow way. We spoke to Robbie, the delightful and very Scottish brand manager for Redlands. I learned that making beer and whiskey pretty much starts out the same way. First you "mash" malted barley by adding warm water to extract soluble sugars from the malt. The warm, sweet "wort" is then cooled before being passed into large tanks called "washbacks" where yeast is added and the fermentation process begins. At this point the wash could technically be brewed into beer, but is instead distilled into whiskey. In fact many of the local breweries we would visit in the coming days contract their equipment and services to create the wash to send back to distilleries.

Because of the investment by the government in Tasmanian beer and whiskey, the number of craft producers has grown quickly, and Robbie gave us some insight into how Tasmanian distillers have come together to make sure that quality of Tas whiskey remains high. As he put it, "one cowboy could come in and ruin the Tas whiskey reputation for everyone". In order to officially be labeled "Tas whiskey", the product must use Tassie water, be aged in the region for at least two years, and use only endogenous enzymes from barley to convert starches to sugar for fermentation. Additionally the distilleries have agreed to send samples of their product to an independent laboratory annually to test for certain quality markers.   

This introduced an interesting question, when is a label like "Tas Whiskey" a clear marker of quality and when is it just a marketing gimmick? Robbie also shared that when comes to whiskey, age can be just a number. Macallan and other brands have helped propagate the notion with their marketing that the longer a whiskey is aged, the better it is. It turns out that's not always true. How long a whiskey should be aged depends on a number of factors including climate conditions and barrel size (surface area contact with the wood). There's a point of diminishing returns with aging any spirit, and it is possible to over-age a whiskey. For the particular whiskey we were tasting, 5-7 years is the sweet spot. Redlands is just now getting product to shelves, which made me realize that even if you're "only" aging whiskey 5-7 years, that's a whole lot of barrel time before you have anything to sell. Anyone making whiskey this way isn't doing it for the money, they just love what they do. 

 Welp, finally met my soulmate.

Welp, finally met my soulmate.

 The still at Redlands.

The still at Redlands.

 A couple of whiskey lovers at Redlands: Robbie, myself, and Evan.

A couple of whiskey lovers at Redlands: Robbie, myself, and Evan.

After visiting a distillery that was just getting off the ground, it was a nice contrast to visit Lark Distillery, one of the stars of the Tasmania craft industry. Bill Lark is known as the grandfather of Australian whiskey, and seems to be the guy that gave many promising young distillers their start. While he is now retired, we were lucky to get a behind the scenes tour with Lark's head distillery manager Craig. His single malt whiskey is quite the decorated pony, recently winning all kinds of awards including “best peated young whiskey in the world.” It's hard to even find Lark's whiskey for sale in Tasmania – they're still making small batches by hand and it's backordered everywhere.

As we walked into the distillery Craig mentioned that unlike a brewery, this place isn’t all that clean. They aren’t going for sterile. Their unique approach to whiskey involves a relatively long 7+ day fermentation. They leave the tanks open and actively encourage lactose and bacteria into the fermentation process to create sour notes and complexity of flavor. The funky stuff will be burned off in the distillation process, leaving a complex, nuanced product behind. And while the buttery notes of diacetyl from infection are avoided like the plague in beer, whiskey wants some of that flavor and mouth feel into the finished product. The staff writes their initials on the big open vats along with their colorful tasting notes with descriptors like "Sour pineapple, sourdough, and cabbage." Yum. While the tour alone was worth the trip, they're also a crew you'd want to hang out with after hours, which also makes things a little more fun.

 Craig explaining their mashing process and open fermentation. Fun fact: Craig owns a cidery in the California Delta near Discovery Bay! Crazy, right?

Craig explaining their mashing process and open fermentation. Fun fact: Craig owns a cidery in the California Delta near Discovery Bay! Crazy, right?

 Business idea: hotties of the Australian distillery industry calendar.

Business idea: hotties of the Australian distillery industry calendar.

 Tasting notes from the Lark team, including "Sour pineapple, mustard, and cabbage," yum.

Tasting notes from the Lark team, including "Sour pineapple, mustard, and cabbage," yum.

 "We're making whisky by hand in small batches relying on our senses to make our cuts and our natural environment when concocting our brews. All very hands on, all very innovative. Every day is a school day as we get to grips with our process and craft making some of the best new make and mature spirits in the world." - Craig

"We're making whisky by hand in small batches relying on our senses to make our cuts and our natural environment when concocting our brews. All very hands on, all very innovative. Every day is a school day as we get to grips with our process and craft making some of the best new make and mature spirits in the world." - Craig

Day 2: Hop Farm Harvest

Hop farms are the new vineyards, you heard it here first. We arrived at Hop Products Australia, home of the famous Galaxy hop, a few weeks before harvest, and got to tour the absolutely stunning farm with fields of climbing vines that put every vineyard I've ever seen to shame. As someone who recognizes the names of hops like Galaxy and Topaz from the sealed foil packets in homebrew shops, it was pretty darn neat to be half way around the world learning about the history of and R&D process for Australian hops. Apparently introducing a new hop into the market is a long and arduous process: the beer version of getting FDA approval. Hop breeders develop new strains and grow them on experimental plots. They then enlist breweries to test out the new hops and report back on how they hold up in different brews and storing conditions. Galaxy alone took nine years of development before her commercial debut.

Quick hop lesson: High alpha acid hops are used early on in the boil primarily for bittering, as the aromatic oils are burned off during the long boil process. Lower alpha acid hops are typically added towards the very end of the boil, where less aromatic oils are lost to evaporation, imparting kickass flavor and aroma characteristics. 

At HPA they've been making Australian hops for over 150 years, but only recently have they found their niche in aroma hops and become a huge Tasmania success story. They are now in the midst of a rapid expansion, and export almost 70% of their hops (much of it Galaxy), with half of the exported product going to the U.S. Owen told us that back in the day Australian hop farmers were trying to emulate popular high alpha acid bittering hops in the US or European style like Saaz and Hallertau, and they just weren’t able to compete. It wasn’t until they were close to folding that they decided to take a risk and cross these high alpha Aussie hops with aroma hops that they landed a winning combination: the high alpha, extremely aromatic and versatile flavor hop. Galaxy, Topaz, and Ella are all HPA products, and part of a new wave of hop breeds known for their intense citrus and tropical aromas.

It was great traveling with a maltster because I got to hear his perspective and industry questions at each of our visits. For example, while a lot of craft beer people can name their favorite hops, very few know much about what malt is in their beer. Malt is the backbone of beer! Why is it not as sexy as the hops? The hop industry has done a great job of co-marketing and branding their hops. One small example, Pirate Life Brewery partnered with HopCo to feature their New Zealand hops on an outrageously popular beer called HopCo IPA, which has been a great co-marketing opportunity to promote Hopco and it's hop line. Matt and I discussed ways that the malting industry could potentially start to highlight craft malt and make it top of mind for consumers. Ironically it has taken me to quit my marketing job and travel the world to learn that marketing, does in fact, matter.

 View of HPA hop farm from the road.

View of HPA hop farm from the road.

 Walking through rows of Galaxy at Hop Products Australia.

Walking through rows of Galaxy at Hop Products Australia.

 Being basic with a galaxy hop cone.

Being basic with a galaxy hop cone.

Day 3: We've made to glass

Like a kid on Christmas, I was excited to see all this local barley, hops, and Tasie water in action. I believe we ended up visiting 10 beer bars and/or breweries in Hobart, but these were my favorites:

Moo Brew

Before baller rich guy David Walsh opened the stunning Museum of New and Old Art (MONA) in 2011, he launched a brewery in 2005 on the gorgeous Moorilla estate property. Now Moo Brew has expanded to two locations, led by brewer Dave Macgill. While the beer was very solid – traditional styles done right, I was fascinated by their packaging. They were one of the only breweries I had seen abroad that had fully embraced cans, and their bottled beers were packaged in 330 ml champagne style green glass bottles with labels created by local artists. They just felt special. While Dave confirmed they are much more expensive to produce, people just love them – another proof point that packaging matters.

Hobart Brewing Co. 

Hobart Brewing Co. is a sprawling beer paradise right in the middle of Hobart. Though he opened HBC just last year, Colorado-trained head brewer Scott Overdorf spent the previous 5 years at Moo Brew before deciding to open his own shop. When I professed my love for barrel-aged beers, Scott even sent me on my way with one of his barrel-aged Saisons, aged for 4 months in gin and port barrels. Though I wouldn’t consider myself a saison guy, this spicy, woody beer ended up being my favorite beer in Tasmania. 

Shambles 

Matt and I loved everything about this brewery. Everything on the tap list was exciting, from the rye golden ale to the rich, malty marzen. And Dances with Hops finally gave me an IPA that I just couldn’t get enough of. With a nice outdoor deck and a beautiful full bar with copper details, Shambles is a place you could hang out for the whole afternoon. Even better, the Winston and two other microbreweries are just a stone throw's away, just begging you to make it a beer crawl.

The Winston

The Winston was the craft beer bar in Hobart. Owners Kris and Caroline are never far away, and hanging out there on a Friday afternoon, it was littered with industry guys. I only planned on having a beer or two there on my last day, and I ended up sampling all 12 taps and their BBQ brisket, getting to my gate a little toasty just a few minutes before it closed. A great way to close off my time in Tasmania.

 Matt, Dave, and I at Moo Brew.

Matt, Dave, and I at Moo Brew.

 Hobart Brewing Co's outdoor patio a few minutes before it opened.

Hobart Brewing Co's outdoor patio a few minutes before it opened.

 The Moo Brew canning line.

The Moo Brew canning line.

 God damn gorgeous copper bar at Shambles.

God damn gorgeous copper bar at Shambles.

 A few of my favorites at Shambles.

A few of my favorites at Shambles.

I'll be back Tassie. 

Beverage Break in Bagan

Beverage Break in Bagan

With my first few days back on my feet after my motorcycle accident I found myself in Bagan, one of the most gorgeous and spiritual cities in the world. While Myanmar certainly has beer, Bagan served as a much needed beverage break after Hong Kong, and was decidedly the most low-key of the backpacker destinations I’ve visited so far. Our hostel had a curfew and there was strictly no alcohol to be consumed near the temples, which were everywhere. In fact, the go-to activity in Bagan was to rent a motorbike and get lost in the thousands of ancient Buddhist temples sprinkled all across the city. Oh, great, more motorbikes.

Luckily I found a local willing to taxi us around to the temples for about $20 for the day. Here’s a taste of what we saw on our real life Temple Run.

 Straight off the 12 hour bus from Yangon ( which would come back to bite me later ), I figured I may as well make the best of being up at 4 am and check out the sunrise. 

Straight off the 12 hour bus from Yangon (which would come back to bite me later), I figured I may as well make the best of being up at 4 am and check out the sunrise. 

 My sunrise spirit animal. He took me to his favorite sunset spot that could only be accessed by scaling an abandoned building. We were the only two there.

My sunrise spirit animal. He took me to his favorite sunset spot that could only be accessed by scaling an abandoned building. We were the only two there.

 I love visiting cities that have a very distinctive sky color. Myanmar had these subtle and stunning slightly salmon sunrise and sunsets, with that blood red east asian sun. 

I love visiting cities that have a very distinctive sky color. Myanmar had these subtle and stunning slightly salmon sunrise and sunsets, with that blood red east asian sun. 

 Balloons over Bagan at sunrise.

Balloons over Bagan at sunrise.

 ok I lied about the beverage break, we did a mini booze cruise through Bagan to celebrate Nik's birthday on our first night.

ok I lied about the beverage break, we did a mini booze cruise through Bagan to celebrate Nik's birthday on our first night.

 Our sunset cruiser driver is livin' the dream. Plus he was Czech, so he basically just took us out into the middle of the channel and opened a handle on the boat to pass around. My kind of cruise.

Our sunset cruiser driver is livin' the dream. Plus he was Czech, so he basically just took us out into the middle of the channel and opened a handle on the boat to pass around. My kind of cruise.

 What better way to celebrate your birthday than with a table candle, the banana crew, and a friendly game of King's Cup?

What better way to celebrate your birthday than with a table candle, the banana crew, and a friendly game of King's Cup?

 A few decent humans in Bagan, Myanmar.

A few decent humans in Bagan, Myanmar.

 Nik found the best view of the day.

Nik found the best view of the day.

 As far as I was willing to climb with the giant boot.

As far as I was willing to climb with the giant boot.

 This feels like a metaphor for something. 

This feels like a metaphor for something. 

 Real life temple run.

Real life temple run.

 I can't imagine him not in a skirt now.

I can't imagine him not in a skirt now.

 For scale, I'm about the height of Buddha's earlobe. It’s no joke to mess with the Buddha. We heard hostel stories of someone who was deported for having a Buddha tattoo, and someone serving  years  of hard labor for using a likeness of the Buddha on a flyer to promote a bar.

For scale, I'm about the height of Buddha's earlobe. It’s no joke to mess with the Buddha. We heard hostel stories of someone who was deported for having a Buddha tattoo, and someone serving years of hard labor for using a likeness of the Buddha on a flyer to promote a bar.

skyline.jpg

While I ended up getting to spend less time exploring Myanmar than I had hoped due to my injury, I’m glad I decided to make the trek to Bagan. Many locals expressed that Bagan was changing with the influx of tourists, and that soon visitors would not have free reign to explore the temples. So it might not be a bad idea to bring Bagan to the top of your bucket lists.

- Sarah, 3.1.17

Dumplings & Beer in Hong Kong

Dumplings & Beer in Hong Kong

I had a spirited discussion with an American turned Australian in Sydney last night debating whether wine or beer pairs best with food. We each landed a few punches, but we came to a delicate truce; wine and beer clearly both have their moments. Scratch that – this is my blog, beer won.

To paraphrase God (Garrett Oliver) in the bible (The Brewmaster’s Table), beer has a few unfair advantages when it comes to the art of the pairing. Balancing hop bitterness, palette cleansing carbonation, and a beautiful yellow-brown rainbow of malt roasts provides beer with incredible range and versatility to pair with food.

 A rainbow of craft beers in Hong Kong.

A rainbow of craft beers in Hong Kong.

"Wine is wonderful. But let's be honest – it can't do everything. Real beer can do everything. Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Cajun, Middle Eastern food, and barbecue, are far better with real beer than wine. Even with traditionally wine-friendly foods, beer often shows superior versatility and flavor compatibility. The range of flavors and aromas in beer is vast – it's deep and wide and tall, and it easily surpasses that of wine."  - Garret Oliver, A Brewmaster's Table

To put it in Superman terms: wine has a kryptonite, but it’s really tough to stump beer. And nowhere are beer’s pairing strengths more on display than with the dumpling. Hop bitterness cuts through the fat of crispy fried dough, while refreshing, effervescent carbonation lifts heavy oils right off your tongue, resetting your palette and readying it for that next rich bite (I blame beer for making it so difficult to STOP eating dumplings). My fellow amuse boozers and I love the pairing so much that creating unique craft beer and dumpling combinations is a concept we’re playing with as the next evolution of our supper club.

If beer is dumpling's soulmate, Hong Kong is where they’d honeymoon. You can’t throw a dumpling in Hong Kong without hitting another place to eat dumplings. From time-honored, traditional white tablecloth dim-sum to hole-in-the-wall dumplings to-go in a subway station, you can dumpling anywhere at any budget. The Hong Kong craft beer scene is also really taking off, though perhaps a little too quickly. While I found plenty of quality brews in Hong Kong when I knew where to look, I also walked into a few places that had clearly hopped on to the fad, writing checks their beer couldn’t cash. I’m excited to come back to Hong Kong in a few years to see how the market matures.

 That breathtaking Hong Kong skyline. I'm happy to report the tram to the top is wheelchair accessible.

That breathtaking Hong Kong skyline. I'm happy to report the tram to the top is wheelchair accessible.

To keep my Amuse Booze pairing muscles limber, I’ve matched three of my favorite Hong Kong dumplings from the trip with three unique Hong Kong craft beers. I might even convince Sonya to help me recreate a few of these in the Spring, so stay tuned. Now let's make it rain Michelin star dumplings & craft brews.

1. Din Tai Fung Xiao Long Bao & Young Master Ale's Yellow Mare Black Stallion / 驪黃牝牡

The Dumpling:

To the uninitiated, xiao long bao is a soup dumpling. As in, soup inside of dumpling: a juicy pork and ginger drop of heaven cradled by broth inside a delicate dough home artfully erected by the elusive DTF wizards. After being introduced to DTF xiao long bao in their Seattle location by my foodie friend and soulmate Hannah, I knew I needed to trace this dumpling to the source and visit the mothership in Hong Kong. Let's just say I was not disappointed.

 My Xiao Long Bao feast (left), a and few DTF artists (right).

My Xiao Long Bao feast (left), a and few DTF artists (right).

 DTF racks up Michelin stars as casually as I consume dumplings.

DTF racks up Michelin stars as casually as I consume dumplings.

The beer:

My favorite source of knowledge when exploring craft beer in a new city is the local watering hole. At The Globe and The Roundhouse, my two favorite Hong Kong beer bars, I instantly gravitated toward Young Master Ales on the tap list. Any brewery in SE Asia with a cask ale, a gose, and a barrel-aged rye on tap at the same bar is going to get my attention. I sampled a few of their beers and fell in love; their beers were unique, complex, and most importantly, delicious. 

 My mom flew in to hang out with me to help me recover from my injury. Since I couldn’t walk, I had about a week where I was wheeled alternately between dumpling destinations and craft breweries. Here we are sipping brews at the Roundhouse, our favorite craft beer bar in Hong Kong.

My mom flew in to hang out with me to help me recover from my injury. Since I couldn’t walk, I had about a week where I was wheeled alternately between dumpling destinations and craft breweries. Here we are sipping brews at the Roundhouse, our favorite craft beer bar in Hong Kong.

My mom and I decided to make the ten minute trek by car to Young Master from Wan Chai the very next day. When we arrived, we were greeted and taken through a flight by Ashley and Ronda, two ladies that were incredibly passionate and knowledgable about beer. We enjoyed them so much that we stayed well over the hour that we had allotted, and tasted every beer on tap (at least once). We learned that since 2013 Young Master has helped to define and refine the craft beer scene in Hong Kong, bringing Hong Kong it's first barrel program and commercially available sour beer. Ronda is working towards a BJCP (beer judge) certification and starting up a group for female craft beer enthusiasts in Hong Kong (rad!). I liked everything about the brewery from the beers to the ambience to the people, and I was such a fangirl that I even left with a sweet Young Master zip-up that I've been rocking here in Oz. 

Oh yeah, I'm supposed to talk about a beer. My favorite brew of the day was Yellow Mare Black Stallion / 驪黃牝牡. It was labeled an "imperial pilsner" – two words I had never heard together before. This lager was delicate but potent, and loaded with American hops (my first whiff of mosaic in 2017). Even though it was incredibly flavorful, I would never have guessed the ABV was over 6% (7.1% in fact); it went down real smooth. 

 A tasting room separated from the brewery by a few barrels. Good vibes.

A tasting room separated from the brewery by a few barrels. Good vibes.

 Ashley & Ronda, the ladies of Young Master Ales.

Ashley & Ronda, the ladies of Young Master Ales.

The pairing:

Xia long bao is a delicate flower; there’s a reason Tsing Tao & Kirin pair so well with it – the beer makes the soup broth shine. I want to mess with this classic pairing only slightly. The Yellow Mare is crisp and drinkable but packs a punch (7.1% ABV, 150+ IBU). It's flavorful for a pils but still restrained, and won't overpower that melt-in-your-mouth fantastic soup dumpling. DTF doesn't carry craft beer (yet), but a girl can dream.

 Pilsner + Dumbpling: A match made in heaven.

Pilsner + Dumbpling: A match made in heaven.

2. Cheung Hing Kee Truffle Dumpling & Black Kite Oh Bacon! Raucbier

The Dumpling:

Cheung Hing Kee is a hole-in-the-wall street restaurant that specializes in shengjianbao, Shanghainese pan-fried soup dumplings. Pilsner is to stout, what xiao long bao is to shengjianbao. They're pork soup dumplings on steroids, with a thick, juicy skin and a crispy fried underbelly. These dumplings require motor dexterity and full attention. I was fully covered with pork broth after our dumpling session, in a state of savory, finger-licking dumpling nirvana. Cheung Hing Kee also has a truffle dumpling option that is fantastic if you don't have to, you know, move for the next few hours. Break one open and you can see the black truffle in the filling. Beautiful. An order of four of these Michelin star dumplings will run you $3.60 USD, about the price of Happy Meal at Macca's (sorry I'm an Aussie now). 

 Nik's patented stare as he contemplates ordering from Cheung Hing Kee, Hong Kong. 

Nik's patented stare as he contemplates ordering from Cheung Hing Kee, Hong Kong. 

 Truffle dumpling. I REPEAT, truffle dumpling from Cheung Hing Kee. Photo from  Will Fly For Food.

Truffle dumpling. I REPEAT, truffle dumpling from Cheung Hing Kee. Photo from Will Fly For Food.

The Beer:

Just around the corner and up 11 floors (!) up from Young Master is Black Kite Brewing. Dan and Dave are the founders, brewers, and owners of Black Kite, named for the birds of prey that can be seen all over the city. The brewery doesn't have an official tasting room per se, but if you send them an email they'll give you a tour of the brewery and let you taste some beers straight from the brite tank. Turns out they are quite enjoyable to drink beers with, so they've chosen the right profession. Dan and Dave have perfected the Oh Bacon!, a raucbier made with Beachwood smoked malt. It's big and bacony, yet surprisingly light and curshable – my kind of beer. As we were leaving we were asked, "Do you want a bacon beer roadie?" and that's when I knew I wanted us to be best friends.

 Dan, Dave, and I tasting brews at Black Kite. They've learned from and taken over for their former German head brewer Johannes Lux

Dan, Dave, and I tasting brews at Black Kite. They've learned from and taken over for their former German head brewer Johannes Lux

 Black kite brewery on the 11th floor. Apparently all of the fermentors were brought up the freight elevator, which caused quite a headache moving in. Since I had a hurt leg, I appreciated that the brewery was located in a small space. I could do the full tour from my seat.

Black kite brewery on the 11th floor. Apparently all of the fermentors were brought up the freight elevator, which caused quite a headache moving in. Since I had a hurt leg, I appreciated that the brewery was located in a small space. I could do the full tour from my seat.

The Pairing:

Bacon and truffles...what's not to like? The earthy, smoky quality of the smoked malt will highlight the black truffle, while the malty backbone of the beer will play beautifully off the pork. The beer is big enough to stand up to that thick charred dumpling skin, but not so heavy that it'll put you in a coma. Bonus: this is a pairing you could actually enjoy in real life! Go pick up a bottle of Oh Bacon! from Black Kite and an order of truffle dumplings to-go from the window at Cheung Hing Kee. BAM! A decadent, boozy, Michelin star meal for under 10 bucks. Even if this one doesn’t quite work, you just had beer, bacon, and truffles, so…you’re welcome.

3. Tim Ho Wan Cha Siu Bao and Young Master Ale's Cha Chan Teng Gose / 鹹檸酸啤

The dumpling:

I never met a BBQ pork bun I didn't like, but all dumplings I eat will be compared to this one. Tim Ho Wan is known as the cheapest one Michelin starred restaurant in the world (I guess because Cheung Hing Kee isn't technically a restaurant?). They're famous for their cha siu bao, or crispy BBQ pork bun. It's got deliciously sweet BBQ pork hiding inside a golden, lightly crunchy bun cave. And we really had to work to try this bad boy. My mom and I got a bit lost on our way to Tim Ho Wan, and doubled back a few times before we finally found it. Keep in mind I'm in a wheelchair at this point, so we had to navigate all kinds of sidewalks, roads, elevators, and escalators before finally making it to the basement level restaurant located in a transit station. Annnnd it was closed. Since it was so late we ended up just heading back and sitting in silence shame-eating microwavable dinners from 7-11. The next night we tried again and were victorious. Those sweet BBQ pork buns were all the sweeter for the blood, sweat, and tears we put in to the journey.

 BBQ pork buns at Tim Ho Wan. Photo from  danielfooddiary.com .

BBQ pork buns at Tim Ho Wan. Photo from danielfooddiary.com.

The Beer:

I'm saying it, I think Young Master's Cha Chan Teng Gose / 鹹檸酸啤 is the best gose I've ever had. I love when you taste a beer that's brewed in a unique local style or with locally available ingredients. You won't find that beer anywhere else, and that's what it's all about. Young Master's gose is brewed with house-made preserved lime. In Hong Kong salted lime is traditionally served in lemon sodas at cha chan tengs (translates literally to "tea restaurants", ie restaurants where you are served tea upon arrival). You can really taste it in the beer. It's light and refreshing, with a delightful savory saltiness.

 Salted lime at Young Master.

Salted lime at Young Master.

 A few of Young Master's core beers, from left to right: Classic Pale Ale, Rye on Wood "Oaked" Rye Ale, 1842 Imperial IPA, Contemporary Pils, and Cha Chan Teng Gose.

A few of Young Master's core beers, from left to right: Classic Pale Ale, Rye on Wood "Oaked" Rye Ale, 1842 Imperial IPA, Contemporary Pils, and Cha Chan Teng Gose.

The Pairing:

I mean, c'mon, sweet and sour pork, this one writes itself. The saltiness of the beer is the perfect compliment to the sweet, candy barbecue pork. The light, effervescent gose plays well with the sweet and crunchy bun, while teasing out some of the more delicate notes in the pork (see I'm getting good at this). My mom can't take more than a few sips of tart beer, so I'm aware this might not be everyone's cup of tea. A solid alternate would be a nice porter or stout. Garrett Oliver waxes poetic about how toasty, carmelized malts can be a flavor hook to make sweet meats like BBQ sing. Moonzen is another up and coming Hong Kong brewery that has a porter with honey and espresso notes that just might do the trick. 

 Can you tell I love Young Master Ales? Their name pays homage to old Hong Kong, referencing the 1980 film directed and starred in by Jackie Chan.

Can you tell I love Young Master Ales? Their name pays homage to old Hong Kong, referencing the 1980 film directed and starred in by Jackie Chan.

 Rocking my Young Master hoodie on the beach with my Mom and Aunt Maggie in Repulse Bay, a 15 minute drive from Wan Chai.

Rocking my Young Master hoodie on the beach with my Mom and Aunt Maggie in Repulse Bay, a 15 minute drive from Wan Chai.

 Mother and daughter on top of Hong Kong, matching head tilts and all.

Mother and daughter on top of Hong Kong, matching head tilts and all.

Thanks for indulging my craft beer and dumpling fantasy! Even if you can't necessarily try these pairings in real life (and therefor can't prove me wrong), enjoy my dumpling and craft beer bucket list for the next time you hit up Hong Kong:

Hong Kong Dumpling and Beer Bucket List

Eat, Pray, Sip: Beverages of Bali

Eat, Pray, Sip: Beverages of Bali

My friend Nik eloquently and efficiently articulated the difference between travel and vacation when he said, “Travel is fun but tough. Vacation is vacation.” And after my “Intro to Backpacking” crash course in Vietnam, I wanted me some vacation. Hey, I’m allowed to ease in to this shit I’m almost 30. So when I heard a group of rowdy friends from SF were going to spend a week in Bali over New Year’s and rent an outrageous Airbnb, I jumped at the chance to join even though I knew it would decimate my travel budget.

Going from a $3(!) a night hostel where I shared a bunk room and bathroom with 11 other people to one of the nicest villas I had ever seen was absolutely bananas psychologically. The size of my bathroom (that I shared with ZERO other people!) seemed absurd. And the shower was not directly above the toilet but all the way across the room on the opposite wall. And air conditioning! I could go on forever.

Quick Break for Villa Porn:

 Our badass Ubud villa, complete with four suites, this pool, and around the clock staff. Not exactly backpacking.

Our badass Ubud villa, complete with four suites, this pool, and around the clock staff. Not exactly backpacking.

 Casual outdoor bathtub with koi pond moat.

Casual outdoor bathtub with koi pond moat.

 Stop looking at me, swan.

Stop looking at me, swan.

 Infinity pool + beer = a happy Sarah, out in the wild.

Infinity pool + beer = a happy Sarah, out in the wild.

Even though I was in full vacation mode, I found that Indonesian culture, and particularly the beauty of Hinduism, permeated absolutely everything. I started to notice the small offerings of flowers, food, and incense that would appear as if by magic at temples, public places, and even in our bedrooms. It was impossible to miss the incredibly intricate carvings and handwork on everything from local temples and statues to the silver jewelry native to Bali. We’d see locals walking down the street in white, red, or gold ceremonial dress on religious days unique to each village. Several times per day Indonesians would also pay respect to their ancestors at the beautiful temples adjacent to their homes and workplaces. As one local put it, “religion is life”. 

 The kecak at Uluwatu at sunset: A choir of men chanting, telling, and singing the story of Rama, Sutra, and Ramahan in front of the gorgeous Uluwatu temple.

The kecak at Uluwatu at sunset: A choir of men chanting, telling, and singing the story of Rama, Sutra, and Ramahan in front of the gorgeous Uluwatu temple.

 Small offerings on a street corner in Bali, photo from  Indoneo .

Small offerings on a street corner in Bali, photo from Indoneo.

 Handmade silver rings from Bali.

Handmade silver rings from Bali.

 Le crew at a local temple. Note: Women are not allowed to enter many places of worship during their time of the month. With four girls in the villa, we pretty much couldn't go in ever.

Le crew at a local temple. Note: Women are not allowed to enter many places of worship during their time of the month. With four girls in the villa, we pretty much couldn't go in ever.

 Padang Padang Beach: fun fact, Eat Pray Love was filmed here. Sammy and I walked out of the theater after "eat", but apparently Julia Roberts prayed or loved here.

Padang Padang Beach: fun fact, Eat Pray Love was filmed here. Sammy and I walked out of the theater after "eat", but apparently Julia Roberts prayed or loved here.

Given the importance of religion, Indonesia has a complicated relationship with alcohol (had to make the transition somehow). While the island of Bali has a Hindu majority, Indonesia is majority Muslim. The government is secular, but heavily influenced by the Muslim majority. Bali is the main tourist destination of Indonesia, and compared to the other islands disproportionally relies on being able to sell alcohol to tourists, who are boozehounds like me. The government has been tightening liquor laws at the same time that tourism has been taking off in Bali, which has created some problems.

Local restaurants, warungs, and small shops were banned last year from carrying alcohol, and imported alcohol is taxed at 200-300% in Indonesia. I repeat, imported alcohol is taxed at 200-300%! That means that buying a fifth of Jose Cuervo (as I unfortunately now know from experience) will cost $75 at the grocery store. That’s insane by U.S. prices, and especially by SE Asia prices. Even worse, local bars and clubs, especially in tourist “party” areas like Kuta, Seminyak, and Gili Trawangan cut corners due to the high price of and high demand for imported alcohol. At best drinks are watered down, and at worst spirits are cut with arrack, a homebrewed liquor, or even rubbing alcohol. When amateurs and jabronis try to make liquor, methanol is often an unintended byproduct. Methanol poisoning is a huge problem in Bali, and dozens of tourists and locals die every year from it. If you plan on visiting Indonesia and want to go out, know that you get what you pay for. Don’t buy liquor at dive bars, and keep in mind a cocktail should be fairly expensive, or it likely does not have imported spirits in it. Better yet, stock up on duty free before you arrive, or save a few bucks and check out some of the other local beverages of Bali.

Luwok & Balinese Coffee:

While not an adult beverage, Balinese coffee is unique enough to be worth a mention. Bali coffee is made by mixing very fine coffee grounds in hot water, no milk added. The texture of the grounds can be a bit off-putting, but it's strong and cheap. My kind of beverage.

Luwok or "cat poop coffee" is another beverage marketed as the most expensive coffee in the world, though we had a small taste for a few bucks. A cat-like Indonesian animal called a civet eats the coffee beans and proceeds to do its thing. Some poor soul collects the cat feces with the partially digested beans, and then cleans, finishes, and makes coffee from them. COME ON, who thought of that. The Luwok coffee plantation we visited seemed to be kind of a tourist trap. They had like a 9 foot bat that tourists were taking photos of and the whole thing felt a bit like a Disneyland ride. I didn't meet a single a local that had actually tried Luwok coffee, so I started to think it was just a big practical joke. "We can make tourists drink cat shit and charge then 10x for it!"

 An ordinary cup of coffee, except it's made from cat feces. 

An ordinary cup of coffee, except it's made from cat feces. 

 This bat was HUGE. Shout out to bat child.

This bat was HUGE. Shout out to bat child.

Bintang:

Good old Bintang, my beverage of choice in Bali. It’s solidly up there with the cheap commercial beers of Asia, and costs about 30k Rupiah, or a little over two bucks.

Stark and 1945 beer:

There IS craft beer in Indonesia. Stark brewery (stark means “strong” in German and Valyrian, probably), claims to be Indonesia’s only craft brewery, with “Brewed in Bali” proudly stamped across each bottle. The brewery was started by Bona Budhisurya and Jacob Suryanata, both long-time residents of Indonesia with a history of international travel and experience in the hospitality industry. It seems as though the brewery has just gone through a rebranding and has started to step up their local marketing. After becoming familiar with their beer I saw billboards and signs for the brews all over Bali. While the beer is brewed in North Bali, Stark does not yet have a dedicated tasting room. I messaged the brewery on Facebook and they promptly replied with information about where I could find their beers. They have 6 “Stark” branded beers, as well as 1945 beer, a pilsner made with Balinese rice, and named after the year that Indonesia declared independence from the Dutch empire (they had an empire, apparently). I bought all 7 from a grocery store for 33k Rupiah each (not much more than a Bintang) and set up a mini tasting and embarrassing beer photo sesh for myself by the pool.

 While Stark beer doesn't have a tasting room it's easy enough to pick up a few brews at Bintang Seminyak or Ubud Supermarket and set up your own tasting by the pool. Recommended pairing for the mango ale: www.soundcloud.com/natalie-dillon.

While Stark beer doesn't have a tasting room it's easy enough to pick up a few brews at Bintang Seminyak or Ubud Supermarket and set up your own tasting by the pool. Recommended pairing for the mango ale: www.soundcloud.com/natalie-dillon.

Beer review: I thought the wheat beer was really nice, and the lychee and mango ales were incredibly crushable and refreshing for a 90 degree plus day by the pool. They were very consumer friendly, almost radler-like, but still above 5% and not overly sweet. I didn’t love the IPA, but to be fair it had accidentally been frozen and re-thawed by the time I got around to drinking it, so take that with a grain of salt. I asked a fair amount of locals about Stark beer and no one seemed to have heard of them. 1945 beer was, however, available in lots of places, including surfer bars in Bali and Lombok. It seems Stark is just getting started, so it will be interesting to see how they do in the next few years, and whether more breweries follow in their tracks.

Arrack:

Arrack is homebrewed palm or rice liquor found in India, the Phillipines, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia among other countries. Indonesian "arak" is distilled from cane sugar, and is akin to a rum. There are different grades and quality of the beverage. Homebrewed "moonshine" arak might be mixed casually with coke or redbull, while some arak is used strictly for ceremony purposes. After my questionable rice wine in Vietnam, and due to the aforementioned methanol issue, I decided to stay clear of any homebrewed liquors, but it's nonetheless an important part of Bali beverage culture.

Indonesia Booze Bucket List

Below are all the spots that carry Stark beer or just have an epic sunset view to sip on a brew. I’ve found that typically restaurants that carry craft beer have excellent food because they care about high quality ingredients and supporting local merchants, and Bali is no exception. That being said, don’t just hit up hipster craft beer and cocktail spots, the best (and cheapest) food I had in Indonesia was from locally recommended warungs on the side of the road that sell dishes like Nasi Goreng that will run you a few bucks. And grab some late night corn post rager: it's the new victory dog, you heard it here first.

Bali - Kuta, Seminyak, Canguu

1. Bintang Supermarket Seminyak: Carries Stark and 1945 Craft Beer

2. Beer & Co. Kuta: Retail shop that carries Stark and 1945 Craft Beer

3. Potato Head Beach Club: Stark is the house beer at Potato Head Beach Club, an outdoor amphitheater/club complete with swim-up bars and party pools. 

 Potato Head Beach club (left), and pre-beach club getting ready for NYE (right). Photo from  Larch Studio .

Potato Head Beach club (left), and pre-beach club getting ready for NYE (right). Photo from Larch Studio.

4. Old Man's (especially on Wednesday's) - Becomes a big sweaty dance party on Wednesday nights, with a pre and after party at the sand bar. 

Sunset drinks on the sand before heading next door to Old Mans.

5. Pretty Poison: Cool skate park bar with a buzzing weeknight scene.

Bali - Jimbaran, Uluwatu

6. Rock Bar: Four seasons prices with a view to match (see cover photo). Stupidly gorgeous sunset, worth a stop just for a drink here in Jimbaran.

7. Single Fin (especially on Sundays): Single Fin may be my favorite night of the trip so far. Come around 5 pm to get a good seat to watch the surfers and for the stunning sunset show. After sundown, Sunday Sessions begins, with a live DJ and dance party. Drinks here aren't cheap, coming buzzed is highly encouraged.

Unedited sunset shots from Single Fin:

 Tequila + Sunset = :)

Tequila + Sunset = :)

 Bar-goers watching surfers at sunset (top), and Single Fin dance party (right)

Bar-goers watching surfers at sunset (top), and Single Fin dance party (right)

Bali - Ubud

8. Bintang Supermarket Ubud: Carries Stark and 1945 Craft Beer

9. Night Rooster: My favorite spot for bougie cocktails (they also carry Stark Beer). Try the 

10. Kismet: Another fancy cocktail spot in Ubud, their bloody mary hit the spot.

Gili Trawangan

11. The Exile: Probably the most 'gramed spot in Gili T. Guilty.

 One of my favorite sunset spots from the trip. A quiet moment before the snapchatters descended.

One of my favorite sunset spots from the trip. A quiet moment before the snapchatters descended.

12. Casa Vintage: Yummy Mediterranean food with an unbeatable sunset view. I came here for dinner two nights in a row. It was also the first time in a long time that I was able to get relatively decent wine. 

 Menu with a view on Gili Trawangan.

Menu with a view on Gili Trawangan.

Note: This doesn't include the Gili T rager spots. Each night a different bar hosts the whole island to party, just follow the stream of people.

Lombok

13. Surfer's Bar: A dive bar with a nice laid-back vibe, and the only bar I made it to before I took a tumble and had to curtail exploring. They served 1945 pilsner, a refreshing change from weeks of Bintang.

Been to Indonesia? Any I missed? Let me know :)

- Sarah, 2.14.17

The Hospital Traveler

The Hospital Traveler

*Cover photo: view from my hospital window in Yangon, Myanmar

“It isn’t a matter of if I will get in a motorbike accident, it’s a matter of when,” I said ominously to Danny and Nik after my maiden 4+ hour motorbike journey to Ninh Binh in Vietnam. If the following was a fictional short story instead of what actually happened, I’d give myself an “F” for sophomoric levels of foreshadowing.

A few pre-fall notes from my travel journal:

  • December 20, 2016: “Rode a motorbike for the first time from Hanoi to Ninh Binh – HOLY F***, that was terrifying.”
  • December 22, 2016: I tempt fate on Instagram: “What do we say to the god of death?”
  • January 12, 2017: “Many people in Indonesia are afraid of flying. On the way from the airport I tried to argue to my driver that you are much more likely to die on a motorbike than on a plane, but he wasn’t having it.”
 I tempt fate on Instagram in December: “What do we say to the god of death?”

I tempt fate on Instagram in December: “What do we say to the god of death?”

For that first ride in Hanoi I insisted on the dorky, globular full shield helmet, long sleeves, and an unrelenting death grip on the bike. While I initially planned to motorbike sparingly, I continued to add more and more remote destinations to my conquest list that had no other (cheap) transit options. Towards the end of my time in Indonesia, I was visiting stunning waterfalls and secret beaches on a motorbike almost every day in flip flops and a sundress. My healthy fear of motorbikes gradually faded as I became Sarah, seasoned super traveler, impervious to danger. Pride cometh before the fall, and man did I fall hard.

My last day in Indonesia I rented a motorbike to join some locals in a tour of Kuta Lombok’s beaches. Another girl from my hostel asked if she could ride with me and we set out for the day. It may have been that it just rained, or the additional weight of another person, but very soon into the ride we took a tumble going around a downhill bend. The fall started a three week (and counting) saga involving three hospitals in three countries not known for their hospitals. What's the point of fancy shmancy unemployed person international health insurance if you're not going to use it? Without further ado, here’s my hospital review of SE Asia.

3 weeks, 3 countries, 3 hospitals, and a well-deserved beer

1. LOMBOK, INDONESIA

Hospital bill: $120 for wound cleaning, stitches, Grade: B

What happened: After the fall we were cut up pretty bad. I could still walk around fine and I was pretty sure I hadn’t broken anything, but looking down at my knee there was clearly a hole. Stitches were mandatory, and I had ripped most of the skin off my right leg from my toes to my knee. My travel buddy also had a deep knee cut, but was luckily spared the road rash. Some guys came over and took us (on motorbikes) to the one medical clinic in town.

The medical clinic was one room and a couple of guys hanging out in tank tops. Since we both needed stitches, they went to fetch the doctor in Lombok. For the most part the treatment seemed sanitary and well done given how full of road my leg was. I got 9 stitches: 5 in the knee, three in the ankle, and one under the pinky toe. I had local anesthetic for (most of) them.

One very visceral memory was one of the guys saying, “this is Chinese Iodine, this will hurt. It is ok to scream.”  I knew the two people holding my leg down was a bad sign. It did hurt and I unleashed such a torrent of expletives that we all couldn’t help but laugh a little. Pretty sure I said some not so nice things about the makers of Chinese iodine, and of course, ironically, Chinese medicine would hold my fate over the next few days.

Fun fact: Instead of a Neosporin equivalent I was given Bovine placenta to dress the wound. 

 Making the best of our afternoon post hospital visit.

Making the best of our afternoon post hospital visit.

 Recovering in the hostel: I've made the strategic decision not to include any non-bandage foot photos. If you want to lose your lunch, let me know and I'd be happy to send you a few.

Recovering in the hostel: I've made the strategic decision not to include any non-bandage foot photos. If you want to lose your lunch, let me know and I'd be happy to send you a few.

2. HONG KONG

Hospital bill: $5000 for X-rays, surgical leg debridement, anesthesia, hospital stay, Grade: B+

What happened: Danny, Nik, and I had been separated for the past few weeks and we were set to reunite in Hong Kong the day after my accident. It turns out this separation had been disastrous for all of us.

Danny via Facebook on January 17th:

Lesson learned, never leave the squad. I had a flight out to Hong Kong the next morning, which I was determined to make. I was in a pretty sorry state limping through the Lombok airport at 5 am with blood soaked bandages. I honestly can’t believe they let me on the plane. I remember thinking, “If this doesn’t get infected, I don’t know what would.” I started to get chills and a fever on the plane ride over. Bad sign.

My mom was able to arrange for me to see a good Hong Kong doctor the very next day. He did not look pleased with me. I will add that while he turned out to be an excellent doctor, bedside manner was not his forte. He cleaned and dressed my wound and said matter of factly that my foot was very infected and that I should have surgery to open everything up, clean it out, and re-stitch the foot. And just like that I was admitted to the hospital.

On the intake form the hospital asked for my religion. Whether it was because I wasn't sure how "n/a" would go over, or I was making some last ditch appeal to God before I had to have surgery in a foreign country, I wrote "Christian." After a few hours of hanging out in my bed in a dark fear spiral, certain that my leg would have to be removed during surgery, a NUN STOPS BY MY BED, habit and all. This does not assuage my fears.

 Passed the X-ray test in Hong Kong.

Passed the X-ray test in Hong Kong.

It was, however, reassuring that the nurses and doctors were constantly asking me to confirm my name and injury. Until I was wheeled in to surgery and saw "leg debridement" written in large letters across the whiteboard. I had never heard the word "debridement" before and my aforementioned paranoia and years of Grey's Anatomy training made me certain that I would wake up without a foot. I came to groggy and drugged from anesthesia, sent a few loopy texts, and had the best night of sleep I'd had in days. I rented a wheelchair and Nik and Danny wheeled me straight from the hospital to the ferry station. We were headed to Macau, the Vegas of China, to drink and gamble the pain away. 

 Me and my two handlers in Macau, the Vegas of China.

Me and my two handlers in Macau, the Vegas of China.

 Mush!

Mush!

After terrifying my parents my Mom decided to fly out to Hong Kong to keep my company and help with the dressing changes after the boys left. 1 week later I was out of the wheelchair and walking well enough that I decided to meet up with Nik and Danny in Myanmar. Things were looking up, and I was certain that my SE Asia hospital days were behind me.

 Sometimes you just need your mom. We hung out for a week in Hong Kong, pretty much just doing this. This was one of our favorite craft beer pubs, the Roundhouse.

Sometimes you just need your mom. We hung out for a week in Hong Kong, pretty much just doing this. This was one of our favorite craft beer pubs, the Roundhouse.

Fun fact: My hospital bed had one of those swivel-y T.V.'s that had an around the clock anime channel.

 View from my hospital bed.

View from my hospital bed.

3. YANGON, MYANMAR

Hospital bill: $240 for IV, ultrasound, hospital stay, Grade: GET ME OUTTA HERE.

 Me in Yangon. I was pretty over this injury. GET ME OUTTA HERE.

Me in Yangon. I was pretty over this injury. GET ME OUTTA HERE.

I landed in Yangon and immediately went to the bus station to catch a 10 hour bus ride to Bagan, the religious center of Myanmar. This turned out to be one of my favorite stops of the trip. Think palm desert with over 4000 temples from the 13th century that you can climb and explore. After a full day of temple run with my trusty cane, my calf was pretty sore. After video Facetime-ing my parents to help me clean the wound, I mentioned that my leg was very swollen and sore from the day. They were immediately concerned about a blood clot in my leg, especially considering that I had taken a long bus ride in an upright position the night before. They kept referring to DVT, a diagnosis that unfortunately wasn't covered in ten seasons of Grey's Anatomy. A quick Google search revealed: "DVT is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the leg. Complications include pulmonary embolism (which can be fatal), phlebitis and leg ulcers."

OH SWEET. The symptoms are, pretty much everything I've been feeling: soreness and tenderness in the leg, pain on extending the foot, and swelling of the lower leg, ankle and foot. The risk factors were recent injuries and long distance travel. I once again thought, if I don't have this, who does? So I had to get to a hospital to get a venous ultrasound to rule out the blood clot. I was unfortunately a 10-hour bus ride away from the nearest hospital. I was able to get a flight back to Yangon the next day, and after another 36 hours of imagining a blood clot slowly travel to my lungs and/or brain, I was admitted to my third hospital in three weeks.

I've heard people say don't go to a hospital in Myanmar, and I would tend to agree, though I made the best of it. A few high and lowlights:

1. I got to try snake. About half of the hospital menu contained snake, which had me dreaming of a hospital basement snake farm. It was actually really good, a cross between fish and chicken.

 The hospital menu. So much variety! You could literally have snake for breakfast (snake porridge, anyone?), lunch, and dinner.

The hospital menu. So much variety! You could literally have snake for breakfast (snake porridge, anyone?), lunch, and dinner.

2. First world problems but there was no wifi and I had no cell phone data. After 12 hours with nothing to do, I almost ripped my leg off just to have something to break down the door to get out of there. 

3. Great view out my hospital window (see cover photo). I had a big two room suite, though I did notice the sheets weren't the cleanest.

4. It took over 24 hours to get my test results so they had to proceed with the DVT treatment in case I had it. Oh what's the treatment? FOUR DAILY SHOTS TO THE UPPER ABDOMEN. Are you kidding me? 

5. They cleaned the IV line the same way I clean keg lines on my keezer, by running some cleaning fluid through it into a bucket in front of me. 90% of the time my beers turn out just fine, so I was my crossing fingers for a similar IV infection rate. 

 Cleaning the keg, I mean IV lines.

Cleaning the keg, I mean IV lines.

6. It was really tough to get out of there. Even after they ruled out the blood clot, they wanted to keep my for two more days to get a few rounds of IV antibiotics since they thought my foot was reinfected. My parents wanted me to leave after I sent them the keg cleaning IV method above, but it's tough to leave when the nurse won't take the IV out of your arm. 

Eventually I got out of there and back to the hostel in Yangon. I think I've made it pretty clear I was drinking this whole time, but that first beer back in Yangon when I didn't fear imminent death was pretty sweet. I had a Myanmar Black Shield Stout, brewed by Myanmar Brewery and Distillery. It was not bad for a commercial beer, and the 8% brew mixed with the antibiotics made for a great "out of the woods" cocktail.

Fun fact: Every country has their own way of taking your temp: in Myanmar it was armpit thermometer, in Indonesia it was the ear machine, and in China it was a radar gun to the head, quite jarring when someone approaches you point blank in the airport.

 (Left) Been hit with a few shells, but I don't walk with a limp. I got a pretty sweet cane that I started to fill with stickers from Hong Kong breweries.  (Right) My hospital squad. Because I couldn't get the wound wet, I did not shower from January 16th to Feb 3rd. Danny and Nik deserve a god damn medal of honor for traveling with me. Thanks for spending some of your precious travel hours in third world hospitals.

(Left) Been hit with a few shells, but I don't walk with a limp. I got a pretty sweet cane that I started to fill with stickers from Hong Kong breweries.

(Right) My hospital squad. Because I couldn't get the wound wet, I did not shower from January 16th to Feb 3rd. Danny and Nik deserve a god damn medal of honor for traveling with me. Thanks for spending some of your precious travel hours in third world hospitals.

Update: I’ve made it to Australia and can safely say I will not be visiting any more hospitals (for this injury at least). 

 - Sarah, 2.8.17

Traveling Post Trump in Indonesia

Traveling Post Trump in Indonesia

That’s right people, I’m getting political.

 Note: this was written in early January in Indonesia, post Trump’s inauguration, pre the week from executive order hell. Danny’s post about traveling the red states during election season inspired me to write down my thoughts, so give his post a read.

 I’m contemplating retiring my American Flag shorts while traveling – and it feels a little sad and symbolic. They just don’t leave a great first impression. Frustratingly but I suppose not surprisingly, stars and stripes have become synonymous with Trump abroad. I learned early on to say that I’m from California and not the USA when asked where I’m from. Answering that question with “USA” will often elicit warily, “hmm, America, what do you think of Trump?” On the other hand, California seems to be recognized as its own little mini country of weed and movie stars, and that answer will usually get a chuckle or a vaguely familiar movie line.

It’s incredibly revealing to be living in a country with a Muslim majority during Trump’s inauguration month. “Muslim ban” is a phrase that every Indonesian has heard, which is a little bit heartbreaking. I watched Obama’s last address and Trump’s first news conference on YouTube from a hostel in Lombok, and it felt surreal, like I was watching the news about someone else’s country.

For the most part locals are genuinely curious and hungry for information about what is happening in the U.S. (join the club). Here are a few of the questions I’ve been asked by Indonesians:

  • “Is it true that all Muslim people will be asked to leave the US when Trump becomes president?”
  • “I saw a YouTube video that showed a person speaking English with an Arabic accent being beaten. Is that happening?”
  • “If you have an Arabic accent does everyone think you’re a terrorist?”
  • “How would you feel if we said Americans couldn’t enter our country?”

I don’t have great answers for these questions. I find myself trying to explain the election and assign “fault” for why Trump was elected, and feel myself falling into the same geographic, socioeconomic “Us vs. Them” reductionist trap that got us in to this situation in the first place.

A lot has been said this election cycle about insulated news environments and the propensity to seek like-minded information circles. Even though I’m currently writing this from an Indonesian hospital (more on that later), I’m incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to travel, especially now. In his last address as president, Obama quoted Atticus Finch, “you never really understand a person until you walk in their shoes,” and warned against retreating into our familiar bubbles. One of my favorite things about backpacking is that I’ve interacted with people outside the Princeton bubble, the SF tech bubble, and the Bay Area bubble. I’ve met young people, old people, people from developing countries, people without a bank account, people that didn’t go to college, and people that don’t think their doggy daycare app is going to change the world.

It’s opened my eyes to how limited my exposure is to opposing viewpoints. One small example – I happened to be in London on a business trip during the Brexit vote, and everyone that I met had their minds blown with the outcome. I didn’t meet a single person that had voted to exit the EU in London. In Indonesia a few days ago I made a flippant remark comparing Trump’s election to Brexit to a few Britons (just learned they were called that). They went silent – “we voted to exit.” Whoops. It wasn’t even in the realm of possibility to me that they would respond that way. They were not from London, and they had quite a different perspective on life in the EU. As it turns out they weren’t terrifying isolationists or ignorant xenophobes, and we had a great conversation. It’s amazing what you can learn when you really listen.

In some ways it seems the world has never been more connected, but in others we couldn’t be further apart. The majority of people I’ve met native to Indonesia have never left the country, and half way around the world, their information about Americans is pretty limited to the headlines they see on T.V. and tourists that visit their country. I started to make parallels with how little I knew about Islam and where my source of information about Muslim countries comes from. As someone who started a beer blog I also can’t help but wonder how it must feel to work in the tourism industry on Gili Trawangan (the party island off the coast) as a Muslim from Lombok, seeing tourists spend exorbitant amounts of money by their standards on a substance prohibited by their religion.

My route through Bali and Lombok: I first traveled around Bali, the tourist capital of Indonesia, and then traveled by boat by Lombok. While Bali is predominantly Hindu, Lombok (and Indonesia overall) is majority Muslim. The government is secular, but there are still policies influenced by a Muslim majority, like the high tax on imported alcohol. 

I read an opinion piece recently with the basic thesis of, "Bush tried to do too much with foreign policy, and Obama too little." I’m not going to pretend to have the chops to weigh in on Obama’s international relations strategy, but it’s incredible to see how Obama is viewed in the two countries I’ve visited so far. In Vietnam, “Obama’s restaurant” is a stop on the Hanoi city walking tour. The restaurant was literally just visited once by Obama, and the owner changed the name to “Obama’s restaurant” with a big picture of him eating there on the front. Indonesia is fiercely proud of Obama. Obama’s step-father was Indonesian, and he went to primary school here. Someone told me that the airport and roads were updated and some were even constructed prior to his first visit as president. People just light up talking about him. It’s clear just from watching their faces fall when Trump comes up next that we’ve already done irreparable harm to our international reputation before his first day in office.

 Obama's Restaurant: Hanoi, Vietnam.

Obama's Restaurant: Hanoi, Vietnam.

The past month has been a rollercoaster of alternately feeling proud and ashamed of the U.S., a country that elected Obama, and a country that elected Trump. A country where I feel safe to travel freely and decide if and when I start a family, and a country on the verge of taking that away from so many others. A country with cutting edge medical services and healthcare, and a country where it is prohibitively expensive to all but a select few (very top of mind for me right now).

So, jury’s still out on the shorts. On reflection, most of the tough conversations I’ve had about religion, marriage, immigration, and politics here have been wearing my flag shorts, for the simple fact that they tend to spur discussion about the U.S. And while those conversations aren’t always the most comfortable, they’ve been some of my most meaningful moments of the trip so far. So I may just hold on to them a little while longer.

-Sarah, 1.15.17

12 Hours of Beer in Saigon

12 Hours of Beer in Saigon

After landing in Central Vietnam and traveling with a group of backpackers north to Hanoi, I figured I would just skip going back south to Ho Chi Minh City (still colloquially referred to as Saigon). But once I found the craft beer community in Hanoi and started tasting a few brews, I realized I’d be majorly missing out if I didn’t visit the country’s craft beer capital. Meeting a member of the Saigon homebrewers club at a bar sealed the deal – I made a tipsy ticket purchase that gave me just under a day and night (Saturday night, baby) to explore Saigon before my 8:00 am flight out of the country (sounds like a good idea).

While Hanoi is the epicenter of government activity, Saigon is the commercial capital of Vietnam, home to over 10 million people and a burgeoning start-up culture, including an active entrepreneurial expat scene. Case in point I was able to connect with a family friend and serial entrepreneur living in Saigon who offered to meet me for a beer and give me some much needed context on the Saigon craft beer scene.

 Almost 3/4 of the people living in Saigon are under the age of 30; Saigon felt lively, young, and full of hustlers (in a good way). 

Almost 3/4 of the people living in Saigon are under the age of 30; Saigon felt lively, young, and full of hustlers (in a good way). 

We met at BiaCraft, the Saigon craft beer Mecca, or I should say "Meccas", because as it turns out there are now two of them. BiaCraft was started by Mark Gustafson, who seems to have become something of a local legend, at least in the beer world. Dubbed Saigon's "Prince of Pork" (did we just become best friends?) in 2014 after opening American BBQ restaurant Quán Ụt Ụt, he started by introducing small batches of homebrewed beer and Platinum Brewery beers (then the only craft brewery in Saigon) to the menu. After an overwhelmingly positive response, Mark and his partners decided they wanted to create a dedicated space to build up new craft breweries in Vietnam, including their own. With the craft beer scene still in its infancy, he decided to prove out the concept before going all in, something a lot of San Francisco entrepreneurs could learn from.

The original BiaCraft opened in 2015 in District 2, the epicenter of the expat community. Mark estimates that while Ụt Ụt clientele is 80% Vietnamese and 20% foreigners, the original BiaCraft has the inverse distribution of customers due to its location. They absolutely crushed it, and quickly expanded the number of taps and seating. With this win under their belts, the owners opened a new BiaCraft just a month ago in District 3, which seems to be a young and hip local hood. Reflective of their growing confidence in the concept, this beer bar is positively massive, with 30 taps and a sizable indoor and outdoor seating area.

Walking in to the brand new BiaCraft in District 3, I immediately noticed that the crowd was predominantly Vietnamese. After having been to several breweries that clearly cater to an expat community, it was rad to see so many locals enjoying craft beer. BiaCraft has done a good job of being cool; they have the modern industrial brewpub look down, and most of their house beer names contain Vietnamese swear words or slang. Their signature pale ale Dung Choc Tao translates to "Don't f*ck with me," and is plastered playfully on the menus and walls. On a Saturday evening the place was packed. My friend put in to perspective what a feat this was – this beer is 8-10x more expensive than Bia Saigon or Tiger. What would I say to someone in SF that tried to sell me a beer for $40? Some version of "Dung Choc Tao," probably.

 BiaCraft beers and their english translations, photo from  Vietcetra magazine .

BiaCraft beers and their english translations, photo from Vietcetra magazine.

The quantity of local beer available was almost overwhelming. BiaCraft has 5 beers on tap, and 25 guest taps, 90% of which were Vietnamese brews from Pasteur St., Tê Tê, Heart of Darkness, Fuzzy Logic, Lac, Platinum, and Saigon Cider. While I admittedly only could sample a fraction of the beers, Pasteur St. and Heart of Darkness beers really stood out to me. I thought Pasteur St.’s Jasmine IPA,” nailed the west coast IPA, something I hadnt seen yet in SE Asia. The addition of jasmine also gave it a little local flare and was quite unique. I had already cheated a bit and sampled some of Pasteur Sts beer at their tasting room for lunch, and had to order another one of their award-winning toasted coconut porters for dessert. The porter is made with fresh coconut from Ben Tre, and has a huge toasted coconut flavor and aroma backed up by dry coffee bitterness and a nice mouthfeel. Heart of Darkness had a big and hoppy Colombus and Cascade IPA that I enjoyed called Kurtz Insane. If I go back to Saigon, I'll definitely pay the brewery a visit.

 Toasted Coconut Porter at Pasteur St. tasting room in Saigon.

Toasted Coconut Porter at Pasteur St. tasting room in Saigon.

Our servers were quite knowledgable about all of the breweries on the menu; the session was in itself a succinct lesson on the Vietnamese beer scene. BiaCraft is clearly cultivating an all boats rise together mentality, and the beer community seems incredibly tight knit and small, even by beer people standards. In talking to my local friend it was also apparent that the beer scene was a microcosm of the larger business climate. Saigon seems to be a place that motivated people can make things happen. Local business people seem to support each other and lift each other up; everyone wants to see Saigon succeed. The expats in Saigon also seem to have an incredible quality of life, with great weather, a lively atmosphere, and affordable everything. With my MBA program on the horizon, it really got me playing out scenarios in my head. Who knows Saigon, I may be back.

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur, but here are some of the other spots I managed to visit or scout (in case you were wondering, I made my flight):

12 Hours of Beer in Saigon

1. BiaCraft (The Original)

The place to get indoctrinated to local beer in Saigon.

2. BiaCraft (The New One)

Bigger, badder version of the original.

3. Quan Ut Ut

Good (really) American BBQ and craft beer.

4. Pasteur St. Brewing

The most well know brewery of the region, and one of the only breweries that has distributed out of the region. In Hanoi I saw their beers at every craft beer bar that I visited and their beers have been consistently great everywhere. A sign of a brewery that means business is taking care of where and how your beers are served. A+ on that one guys.

5. Lac Brewing Co.

6. Heart of Darkness

7. Astrobrew (TeTe)

Finding Craft Beer In Hanoi

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Finding Craft Beer In Hanoi

Before arriving in Hanoi, I didn’t find out much in my research about the beer scene in Northern Vietnam, though one thing seemed clear – the Vietnamese love their beer. Vietnam has the third highest consumption of beer in Asia, behind only Japan and China. Imported wine and liquor is taxed heavily and there’s a ban on advertising spirits in Vietnam, so bia (beer) really is the affordable choice at well under a buck a glass. Rising incomes have also caused triple digit growth in beer consumption in the past 10 years, though it was unclear to me what percentage, if any, was craft or locally produced beer. I couldn’t find any online evidence of a craft beer community in northern Vietnam (Saigon is a different story). But I had this feeling that once I got to Hanoi and started drinking beers, I’d find my people. Just like world’s greatest hand model J.P. Prewitt once said, “if you pull at the thread, the whole thing will unravel.” Here’s my breakdown of the beer scene in Hanoi:

Skip to: Bia Hoi – Commercial Beer – German and Czech Microbreweries – Rice Wine – Craft Beer

Bia Hoi

Besides the constant barrage of motorbikes, the first thing I noticed about Vietnam were the tiny, brightly colored stools on every street corner filled with people drinking beer. And if it wasn’t Tiger or Bia Hanoi (mass-produced commercial beer), it was “fresh beer,” or bia hoi.

Bia hoi is a 3-4% light, straw-colored homebrew lager found in small shops and street corners all over Hanoi, accounting for about 30% of all beer consumed in the city. It’s brewed daily in small steel barrels, and may be the cheapest beer in the world at between 7,000 and 15,000 VND for a glass (about $0.25 - $0.50 USD). One of the many efficient and brilliant things about Hanoi is that similar shops are often clustered together geographically. Need pants? Check out pants street. Cleaning supplies? Christmas decorations? There’s a street for that! So while bia hoi is available all over the city, Bia Hoi Corner (on what I called “beer street”) seems to be the spot to grab a bia hoi, post up on a stool, and mingle with locals and other tourists. At night this area becomes the center of nightlife in the Old Quarter and is a rip-roaring good time. And while the taste of the clean, lightly carbonated bia hoi may be nothing to write home about, it’s incredibly refreshing on a hot day and it’s cheap enough that you can easily find yourself drinking it every day.

Where to Drink: Bia Hoi Corner (See Map)

 Bia Hoi Corner:  20 Tạ Hiện, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam.

Bia Hoi Corner: 20 Tạ Hiện, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam.

 Bia Hoi Corner by night. Recreational drug use is strictly prohibited in Vietnam and comes with very harsh penalties, though we saw locals all over the city inhaling nitrus oxide out of balloons aptly nicknamed "funky balls."

Bia Hoi Corner by night. Recreational drug use is strictly prohibited in Vietnam and comes with very harsh penalties, though we saw locals all over the city inhaling nitrus oxide out of balloons aptly nicknamed "funky balls."

Commercial Beer

The beer market in Vietnam is dominated by three companies: Sabeco Brewery (Bia Saigon, 333 beer), Vietnam Brewery Ltd. (Heineken Asia Pacific, Tiger), and Habeco (Bia Hanoi). In the north Bia Hanoi is fairly ubiquitous, while in Saigon – you guessed it – Bia Saigon reigns supreme. Bia Hanoi runs you about 25,000 VND (~$1 USD), while Tiger beer owns the “premium” beer market at a slightly higher price. As you can imagine, Bia Hanoi and Bia Saigon are your typical mass-produced and highly filtered light beers, though for some reason (maybe because I had like a billion of them) I preferred Bia Hanoi which has a slightly sweeter, maltier, and less metallic taste to it. Refrigeration is not a given in Hanoi, and it’s quite common for your beer to be poured over ice. I resisted this for a few days since I remembered the travel clinic warning me about ice made from local tap water, but I eventually decided that I’d rather get giardia then drink warm beer for a whole month.

I also don’t recall seeing a single Vietnamese woman drinking a beer in Hanoi, and I read later that according to the WHO under 2% of Vietnamese women drinks alcohol at all. I got some amused looks showing up to local establishments alone drinking beer, but overall people were overwhelmingly friendly and helpful in answering my questions about the local beverage scene.

Where to Drink: Literally anywhere

 A rainbow of commercial beers available in Vietnam. from  City Pass Guide

A rainbow of commercial beers available in Vietnam. from City Pass Guide

 Romantic boat ride for two at Tam Cốc with my date Halida, a commercial beer available in Vietnam.

Romantic boat ride for two at Tam Cốc with my date Halida, a commercial beer available in Vietnam.

German and Czech Beer Halls

One by-product of strong ties between Vietnam, the former GDR (East Germany), and Czechoslovakia seems to be beer. There are 15+ German and Czech beer halls in Hanoi (see the comprehensive list at beervn.com), typically offering imported Czech and German lagers at fairly high prices by Vietnamese standards, and a few styles of beer brewed on the premises.

My beer journey brought me to Hoa Viên Brauhaus, a Czech style beer hall offering imported beers like Pilsner Urquell and two Hoa Viên homebrew lagers, one light and one dark. Just over a decade old, the brewery was rated best of Hanoi in 2013. I had the Hoa Viên premium pils, and after a week of bia hoi I was pleasantly surprised at the mild hop bitterness and fruity, citrus tang that followed my first sip. The clientele appeared to be local businessmen and other white collar professionals, reflecting the 2-3x price increase of these beers over bia hoi.

Amused that I was taking photos of my beer, a group of Vietnamese men invited me to drink with them. While I spoke no Vietnamese and they spoke no English, a few beers break down all language barriers. Through a combination of gesturing and the Google Translate app, I gathered that they were a policeman, a lawyer, a businessman, and a construction worker (seemed a little made up, who are they the Village People? But whatever I’ll go with it). We spoke the international language of drinking game and I learned a few phrases that would be useful the rest of my time in Vietnam.

một, hai, ba, zo! - Cheers! Or literally: 1, 2, 3, cheers!

một trăm phần tram - 100%, as in drink 100%. When someone points to your beer and says it, you have to down the glass.

I love the communal feel of drinking in Vietnam. The next round would not be ordered until everyone finished their beers; it was peer pressure at its finest. My new friends also insisted on picking up my (not small) tab, one of many examples of generosity and hospitality I encountered in Hanoi.

Where to Drink: Hoa Viên Brauhaus (see map)

 My new drinking buddies at Hoa Viên Brauhaus.

My new drinking buddies at Hoa Viên Brauhaus.

 Drinking beer in Vietnam is always accompanied by beer snacks, typically salted peanuts. At Hoa Viên Brauhaus snacks were a perfect blend of Vietnamese and Czech. My favorite was this string cheese (?) that you dipped in hot sauce. FAN.

Drinking beer in Vietnam is always accompanied by beer snacks, typically salted peanuts. At Hoa Viên Brauhaus snacks were a perfect blend of Vietnamese and Czech. My favorite was this string cheese (?) that you dipped in hot sauce. FAN.

Rice "Wine"

I’m sick and tired of wine taking credit for alcoholic rice beverages. Unless I’m missing something, beer is any alcoholic beverage made by converting starches in a grain (eg. rice) into fermentable sugars. Anyway, like alcohol consumption in general, drinking rice wine seems to be a decidedly male activity, and is consumed out of small shot glasses, usually from a communal bottle. The style and quality of rice wine seems to vary widely, and is for the most part homebrewed. At Ray Quán we tried delightful flavored rice wines from green mango (not as much my style) to pink lemon (fire) while sitting on a small patio just a few feet from passing railcars. At our homestay in Mai Châu we had lovely coconut rice wine enjoyed scorpion bowl-style out of a communal pitcher with long straws. When asking for it at another not to be named establishment, we were served the beverage out of an old water bottle from the back room. After about two and half of days of heartburn and googling “can you die from Vietnamese rice wine,” I learned that yes, you should actually be very careful about where you consume rice wine as a tourist. Homemade rice wine can contain methanol and is linked to all kinds of scary outcomes. Luckily the treatment for severe methanol poisoning is ethanol (really), so I was preemptively treating myself for most of Vietnam. 

Where to Drink: Ray Quán (see map)

 Ray Quán's patio is just a few feet from passing freight trains, photo credit:  HanoiVietnam.fr

Ray Quán's patio is just a few feet from passing freight trains, photo credit: HanoiVietnam.fr

Vietnamese Craft Beer

Just when I had given up on finding craft beer in Hanoi, the group of 15 backpackers we had slowly collected in our #Vietfam decided to get a large Airbnb together for Christmas. This brought us out of the Old Quarter and into what I dubbed “Hipster Hanoi,” the beautiful area around West Lake that was a hub for the (mostly government) expat community.

 Nik, Danny, and I (in matching banana outfits of course) along with the rest of our #Vietfam on the roof of our Airbnb before Christmas dinner. Side note: Hanoi is a surprisingly festive place for Christmas! There was even a whole street (we nicknamed it Christmas Village) dedicated to selling Xmas decorations.

Nik, Danny, and I (in matching banana outfits of course) along with the rest of our #Vietfam on the roof of our Airbnb before Christmas dinner. Side note: Hanoi is a surprisingly festive place for Christmas! There was even a whole street (we nicknamed it Christmas Village) dedicated to selling Xmas decorations.

I had made a note to check out a place called Furbrew in this area, a beer bar that showed up on Google maps but not much place else. I walked in on Christmas day with Nikola and we found out that Furbrew is a full blown microbrewery with a 3 barrel system and 10 rotating taps. Thomas, the Danish owner and former homebrewer, set me up with a flight (why not try all ten?) and gave me the lowdown on the craft beer scene in Vietnam.

Hanoi seems to be a few beer years behind Saigon, the business and commercial capital of Vietnam, which has received some recent press for its craft beer renaissance. Thomas credits Baretts as the first craft beer player in Hanoi a few years ago (in 2014? Don't remember, those high ABV beers hit me hard after weeks of bia hoi). Then came Furbrew, and most recently C-Craft Corner, right down the street from Bia Hoi Corner. So far they’ve primarily seen business from the expat community, but Thomas acknowledges that to continue to expand they will have to do more to attract the local Vietnamese population. His goal is not to bring a European style of brewing to Hanoi, but to help build a new wave of Vietnamese craft beer that highlights local traditions and ingredients. It’s clear talking to Thomas that he thinks they are on the verge of something big, and I have a feeling that if I were to come back to Hanoi in a year, the number of breweries will have blown up.

Ok, back to the beer. I first got excited about Asian flavors in beer when homebrewing with Korean inspired ingredients for an Amuse Booze supper club dinner. We made a brown ale conditioned on toasted black sesame seeds that was a crowd favorite, and I was surprised that I couldn’t find any other homebrew recipes online that leveraged Korean ingredients. Furbrew’s beer confirms my prediction that Vietnamese flavors and ingredients would go excellently in beer. While I have to imagine that exotic hops are difficult to get in Vietnam, exotic ingredients are not in short supply. My three favorite beers from Furbrew were:

1. Dồng-Hương (7.3% ABV, 35 IBU, translates to "countrymen"): A Boston IPA made with local Vietnamese rose. It had a smooth malty backbone and an overwhelming floral nose; a bit perfume-y, but not in a bad way.

2. Cà Phê Bia (10.6% ABV, 21 IBU, translates to "coffee beer"): I lost my shit when I saw that Thomas made Vietnamese coffee (cà phê trứng) into a milk stout. I've waxed poetic about this coffee in a previous post, but Thomas was able to capture the liquid tiramisu goodness while still creating a dry and not overly sweet beer.

3. Lemongrass wheat ale (5.7% ABV, 52 IBU): This beer spoke to the brunch + barry's Marina girl in me. Tasting it my mind immediately went to wheatgrass and a freshly cut lawn (putting my Somm hat on here). It was slightly tart, insanely crushable, and gone within minutes when I brought it back to the house.

 The board at Furbrew. When I asked Thomas why he named the brewery Furbrew, he pulled down the collar of his shirt and pointed to his chest hair. "It was my nickname as a homebrewer, and it just kind of stuck." 

The board at Furbrew. When I asked Thomas why he named the brewery Furbrew, he pulled down the collar of his shirt and pointed to his chest hair. "It was my nickname as a homebrewer, and it just kind of stuck." 

 All ten Frubrew beers plus a cameo by Nikola's tropical SSBD.

All ten Frubrew beers plus a cameo by Nikola's tropical SSBD.

In addition to serving me delicious beer Thomas sent me on my way with a few growlers to share at Christmas dinner and a couple more craft beer spots to add to my Hanoi Beer Bucket List (see below).

The Hanoi Beer Bucket List: Where to drink beer in Hanoi

1. Bia Hoi Corner: The place to try bia hoi, a light (3-4%), cheap homebrew lager. 

2. Hoa Vien Brauhaus: One of the highest rated Czech beer halls offering imported pilsners and two homebrew lagers. 

3Ray Quán: A delightful place to end the day with flavored Vietnamese rice wines. 

4. Furbrew: A microbrewery and tasting room offering ten rotating taps. A flight of all ten beers costs 120k VND, or about $6.00 USD. The area that it's in (Tay Ho) also has a lot of restaurants that serve Vietnamese craft beer. We spent Christmas eve dinner at Cousin's, which I would describe as a very nice "Western Fusion" restaurant.

5. C-Craft Beer Restaurant: C-Craft is a fairly new operation that appears to be locally owned with seven beers and one local cider on tap, including an ale aged in whiskey barrels. I didn't make it here on this trip, but it's top of my list for next time.

6. Standing Bar: A great bar right on West Lake to try craft beer from northern and southern Vietnam. Their tap list includes Furbrew and Barretts as well as beers from Saigon including Pasteur Brewing, Phat Rooster, Platinum brewing, Te Te Brewing, and Fuzzy Logic. It's also a beautiful place to watch the sunset with a brew.

7. Hằng Vui Craft Beer Restaurant: I didn't make it here (it's a bit out of the city), but apparently this is the place to try Barretts beer, the first craft beer player in Hanoi.

8. Hanoi Ale House: A craft brew pub that seems to have a strong local following and hosts lots of events. They have a great local tap list as well as other surprises like Delirium Tremens from Belgium and a house homebrew adorably named Homie.

9. Hanoi Social Club: Of NYT 36 hours in Hanoi fame, Hanoi Social Club is really more of a cafe, but they serve Pastuer St. beers and delicious cocktails. It's worth a stop if you need somewhere to unwind with a beer or do some work in the Old Quarter. You can also use your credit card here (crazy!).

10. A Taste of Hanoi Craft Beer Tour: A Hanoi craft beer tour led by two Aussies (of course). It seemed a little expensive to me ($60-70 USD for 5 hours, 4 stops, and 12 beers), however they have a great trip advisor reviews and it looks like you stop at many of the places I listed above if you want to knock several off the list in one night.

Looking for more Hanoi? check out my photo journal highlights of Hanoi or my liquid love letter to this fine city. Want to learn more about beer in Saigon? Shockingly, I've boozed there too. Know any I missed? Let me know in the comments.

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My Liquid Love Letter to Hanoi

My Liquid Love Letter to Hanoi

It was love at first site, Hanoi. Let me set the scene. Me, a few days in to my trip, four flights deep after finally locating my nomad friends. I had just spent three days in Hoi An in Central Vietnam, which was literally underwater. We had to wade waist deep to access more remote parts of the town – cue Ollie from Family Guy, “It’s raining Sideways!”. After thoroughly soaking everything I owned I finally made the call to fly to Northern Vietnam.

It was dry. It was beautiful. It was insane. It was Hanoi.

Hanoi is order in chaos – a chorus of horns in a sea of motorbikes that defies all traffic laws or lights but somehow just seems to work. There’s never really a break in the endless motorbike stream, you kind of just have to walk into oncoming traffic and hope for the best. Crossing the street is like putting your hand through a school of fish, – just when you think you’re going to make contact bikes magically pass within inches of your body. In contrast to San Francisco where Apple earbuds are more commonly worn than shoes, pedestrians in Hanoi are paying the fuck attention. Outside the hustle of the old quarter, Hanoi has a vaguely European feel. Walking along Hoàn Kiếm Lake lined with lit up cafes and bridges, we could just as easily have been in Paris. From fancy coffee to baguette bánh mìs, 70 years of French occupation left its mark.

 This is a street in Hoi An during a rare rain-free moment. Nice legs Dan!

This is a street in Hoi An during a rare rain-free moment. Nice legs Dan!

 Motorbike traffic in Hanoi,  Talk Magazine

Motorbike traffic in Hanoi, Talk Magazine

Which brings me to the food. Oh man the food. It’s mind blowing that you can get an amazing meal for $2 consistently, especially if you stick with the liquid diet. From hot pot to pho to bún chả, Hanoi is just killing it with the soups. Since so many dishes are broth based, I also noticed it was actually not very common to see a local with a full meal and beverage (adult or otherwise). I was initially frustrated by this this as an exhausted and dehydrated traveler, but as the jet lag subsided, I realized the beauty in the beverage being an activity in and of itself. You’d see people sipping egg coffees at cafés or posted up on little plastic stools sipping bia hoi on the street corner at all hours. Drinking is a deliberate activity in Hanoi, and I’m down with that. That being said, here’s my ode to the Hanoi liquid diet:

How to drink for 12 hours in Hanoi (I promise it’s not all booze).

9:00 am: Fresh Coconut Milk

Sure the hostel “hand grenades” (tequila + Jägermeister + Red Bull to the uninitiated) seemed like a good idea at the time, but the roadside coconut cures all and always seems to appear when you need it most.

10:00 am: Vietnamese Egg Coffee

Fun fact, Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee exporter, behind only Brazil. Luckily that means it has been fairly easy to maintain my crippling caffeine addiction in Vietnam. Cà Phê Trứng is Vietnamese egg coffee, made with Robusta coffee, whipped egg yolk, sugar, and condensed milk. Think liquid tiramisu, rich and creamy, but not overly sweet. I highly recommend making your way through the back door of a silk shop and up a spiral staircase to spend an afternoon at Café Pho Co, a low key rooftop café with a beautiful view of the city.

 Cà Phê Trứng at Café Pho Co, 11 Hang Gai (4th floor), Hanoi

Cà Phê Trứng at Café Pho Co, 11 Hang Gai (4th floor), Hanoi

12:00: Pho

Technically pho is a breakfast food, but try as I might I just couldn’t break the soup barrier until noon. Pho originated in northern Vietnam, and differs significantly by region. Less sweet and fishy than Saigon Pho, Hanoi Pho really hit the spot for me. I also loved these fried, doughy breadsticks pho was served with. On their own they were a little dry, but perfect when dipped in the broth. It’s hard to go wrong but Pho Tai (rare beef) at Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su got the Hoff stamp of approval.

 Pho tai (rare beef) at Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su,  10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi

Pho tai (rare beef) at Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su, 10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi

2:00 pm: Fruit Mango Smoothies

Juice often seems to mean smoothie in Vietnam, and it’s amazing. Fresh fruit smoothies literally made from just blending fruit are everywhere, and go great with hostel vodka in a pinch.

5:00 pm: Bia Hoi

I’m saying 5 pm because my parents are reading this, but when you’re unemployed, anytime is bia hoi time. Bia hoi is a 3-4% light, straw-colored homebrew lager found in small shops and street corners all over Hanoi, and may be the cheapest beer in the world at between 7,000 and 15,000 VND for a glass (about $0.25 - $0.50). One of my favorite activities in Hanoi was posting up on “beer street” at Bia Hoi Corner and people watching. 

6:00 pm: Bún Chả

Bún chả was our go to meal in Hanoi, it's basically make your own pork noodle soup. You're served white vermicelli rice noodles, grilled pork, lots of greens, and spicy sauces to fashion a bowl to your liking. I think Danny ate here 6 times. After our 10-hour brush with death on motorbikes (maybe a little dramatic), we melted into our chairs at our favorite bún chả place and everything was ok again.

 (Left) The Old Quarter, (Right) The crew enjoying bun cha in said Old Quarter: Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim.

(Left) The Old Quarter, (Right) The crew enjoying bun cha in said Old Quarter: Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim.

8:00 pm: Rice Wine

Rice wine is a traditional Vietnamese beverage made from the fermentation of rice starch, and clocks in at a hefty 20-25% ABV. End your evening sipping on rice wine at Ray Quán, a bar and restaurant that serves Vietnamese fusion food and rice wine just feet from passing freight trains. 

Thanks for the memories Hanoi, I may never eat solid food again. Check out my beer journey in Hanoi or my favorite moments from Northern Vietnam in photos.

Photo Journal: Vietnam

Photo Journal: Vietnam

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so enjoy this 32,000 word essay on Vietnam.

 My first stop on The Great Adventure was Hoi An in Central Vietnam to meet up with Nik and Danny. Unfortunately, it was pretty much underwater and rained the entire time. Locals were not phased – roads instantly turned into rivers, Venice-style, with boats waiting in the wings to replace motorbikes.

My first stop on The Great Adventure was Hoi An in Central Vietnam to meet up with Nik and Danny. Unfortunately, it was pretty much underwater and rained the entire time. Locals were not phased – roads instantly turned into rivers, Venice-style, with boats waiting in the wings to replace motorbikes.

 One positive from Hoi An, we got tailored matching banana outfits made in one day for 15 bucks each. And the small banana squad was born.

One positive from Hoi An, we got tailored matching banana outfits made in one day for 15 bucks each. And the small banana squad was born.

 Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam.

  Our walking guide said, if you haven’t seen Turtle Tower at  Hoàn Kiếm Lake , then you haven’t been to Hanoi.  He also said it was good luck if you saw a turtle out on the island, but I'm pretty sure he was fucking with us.

Our walking guide said, if you haven’t seen Turtle Tower at Hoàn Kiếm Lake, then you haven’t been to Hanoi. He also said it was good luck if you saw a turtle out on the island, but I'm pretty sure he was fucking with us.

 Our first night we walked around the lake, Turtle Tower was lit up and the streets were closed around the lake for families to eat and ride hover boards, strangely enough.

Our first night we walked around the lake, Turtle Tower was lit up and the streets were closed around the lake for families to eat and ride hover boards, strangely enough.

 Sunset over  "hipster hanoi' as seen from Standing Bar, my favorite craft beer bar in the city.

Sunset over  "hipster hanoi' as seen from Standing Bar, my favorite craft beer bar in the city.

 Vietnamese wedding chicken in a Hanoi market. No explanation needed.

Vietnamese wedding chicken in a Hanoi market. No explanation needed.

 The Furbrew board in Hanoi at X-mas. My favorite beers were Dồng-Hương, a boston IPA made with Vietnamese Rose, and Cà Phê Bia, Vietnamese egg coffee in beer form.

The Furbrew board in Hanoi at X-mas. My favorite beers were Dồng-Hương, a boston IPA made with Vietnamese Rose, and Cà Phê Bia, Vietnamese egg coffee in beer form.

 But why male models? Nikola staring off into the distance as he does on our motorbike ride to Ninh Binh.

But why male models? Nikola staring off into the distance as he does on our motorbike ride to Ninh Binh.

 Sunset at Tam Coc, Vietnam. We took a romantic boat ride for three.

Sunset at Tam Coc, Vietnam. We took a romantic boat ride for three.

 Aaaand here's us on the boat. Our badass boat driver is ROWING THE BOAT WITH HER FEET.

Aaaand here's us on the boat. Our badass boat driver is ROWING THE BOAT WITH HER FEET.

 Coming out the mouth of a cave by boat at Tom Coc. Reminds me of a Rorshach test.

Coming out the mouth of a cave by boat at Tom Coc. Reminds me of a Rorshach test.

 We haggled for Christmas decorations in Christmas Village, a street in Hanoi that was exclusively selling Christmas decorations.

We haggled for Christmas decorations in Christmas Village, a street in Hanoi that was exclusively selling Christmas decorations.

 Blurry redeye photo that we sent to all the fams for Christmas Eve dinner. I'm smiling really big because we found a place that served wine after weeks of beer.

Blurry redeye photo that we sent to all the fams for Christmas Eve dinner. I'm smiling really big because we found a place that served wine after weeks of beer.

 Merry Christmas from my Vietfam! The group of backpackers that we met in Vietnam decided to rent an Airbnb and have a potluck style dinner on the roof of our building.

Merry Christmas from my Vietfam! The group of backpackers that we met in Vietnam decided to rent an Airbnb and have a potluck style dinner on the roof of our building.

 Season's greetings from the small banana squad.

Season's greetings from the small banana squad.

 Danny drinking rice wine at a restaurant a few feet from a passing train.

Danny drinking rice wine at a restaurant a few feet from a passing train.

 Ladies drank free at the hostel that night, so we had to.

Ladies drank free at the hostel that night, so we had to.

 Pretty sarongs in Mai Chau. One woman about to be married, said she needed to make these for the entire husband's family before the marriage could take place. I would clearly be single in Mai Chau.

Pretty sarongs in Mai Chau. One woman about to be married, said she needed to make these for the entire husband's family before the marriage could take place. I would clearly be single in Mai Chau.

 Reppin' the west coast on a bike ride through Mai Chau.

Reppin' the west coast on a bike ride through Mai Chau.

 Chasin' waterfalls in Mai Chau.

Chasin' waterfalls in Mai Chau.