Vancouver’s Coffee Scene On Par with Seattle and Portland’s

We don’t think of Vancouver as part of the Pacific Northwest because it’s in another country, but in reality, there are some aspects to the city that will remind you of Seattle and Portland beyond the weather.

The sheer amount of stylish and quality coffee places is intense. Two of them are within eyeshot of each other. It reminds me of that joke in Best in Show, “We met at Starbucks. Not at the same Starbucks but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other.”

The first one I visited on my first morning (after drooling all over Purebread) was Revolver, located in the tourist-hub Gastown section.

It’s not a roaster, but they have a huge selection of the best micro-roasters in British Columbia. Thus, you pick your pour over coffee or espresso-based drink from a rotating menu of beans. The menu has all the coffee nerd-like flavor profiles — notes of hibiscus, butter tarts, bubblegum and toasted bagels.

The roaster I went with was Bows & Arrows from Victoria. I loved it so much I took a box home. I probably picked it because it had handsome packaging.

For my espresso choice, I went with Phil & Sebastian from Calgary, just because it was almost sounded like the band Belle & Sebastian.

The space has a small bar area with some fancy, brass equipment with a exposed brick background. The other room has a communal table with a library of art books to browse while you sip.

After that, I headed about 40 steps to Timbertrain Coffee Roaster. Similar in look in feel of Revolver, it’s a little bit of an industrial chic look with woodworking that’s similar to the Scandinavian/Japanese minimalism.

The coffee selection also relies on a menu of pour overs, just from their own blends and single origins.

On the second day, my first stop was at Nemesis Coffee, my favorite of the bunch. It’s another Scandinavian/Japanese minimalism with the light wood booths and counters with level and straight edges all around.

This places you show all your coffee geek tricks and jargon. It goes something like this:

Barista: What flavor profile do you prefer?

Me: I like everything. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I like bright and floral, other times, earthy and chocolatey. I’ll do earthy.

Then, while I’m drinking my coffee and eating toast and house jam, the barista came over and offered me small tasters of everything. It worked because I bought a couple of bags.

If you visit, make sure you use the bathroom so you can see this:

For my afternoon fika, I headed to the Kitsilano part of the city for 49th Parallel & Lucky Donuts, a sort of hyrbid coffee and donut joint. Even at 4 o’clock on Monday, all the tables were filled. There are two other locations downtown and Mt. Pleasant. And you’re damn right I took donuts to go to have the next morning before my flight.

Churchill Downs Without Crowds or Horses is Interesting, Creepy and a Little Sad

The Kentucky Derby is one of the premiere events in all sports. The yearly horse race is just as iconic as World Cup, Indianapolis 500, Super Bowl, Wimbledon, the Olympics and The Masters.

May 5th will be the next running of the Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a chance for rich people to wear fancy dresses and outlandish hats and place $1,000 bets on the ponies.

The other 51 Saturdays at Churchill Downs does have races without the pageantry. The other weekdays, the place becomes a ghost town which you can walk through without any barriers. There is OTB operating in the concourse, but it’s best just ignore that lot.

As you can see, if you’re the only soul around like I was, you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to be the last person of earth. Gone are the horses, the crowd and the energy. Without all the mass of humanity, you see that Churchill Downs is a far less glamorous than you see of TV.

I’ve been to Happy Valley Race Course during the races and it’s a over-whelming experience. Being at Churchill abandoned, feels like being left out of the party.

Nevertheless, if you’re curious about what it’s like, feel free to park and walk around for 5-10 minutes. You can pretend that The Rapture happened and they left you out.

 

A Coffee Shop, A Beer Bar and A Liquor Store to Visit in Nashville

Let’s round out my Nashville visit with some odds and ends. All three of these places I’ve deemed worth of a visit.

While Barista Parlor will be your go-to breakfast and late-afternoon pick-me-up destination for coffee and a pastry, an alternate shop to consider based on your location is Steadfast Coffee. The clientele is distinctively Nashville (or any upscale gentrified shop frequented by people in fun hats), the aesthetic is different.

Borrowing from minimalist Danish design, the second floor shop in the Germantown section makes its bones (or brews in the case) with a variety of coffee drinks. With my welcoming smile, I told my barista how much I enjoyed single origin coffees. As a result, she offered me a free serving of their single-origin coffee soda. Not what I’m into at 8am, but I went for it.

The place does off a full breakfast, but I went for a pastry. I spent my time there staring at the lightbulbs and overhead lighting.

It’s highly recommended that you take some beans home.

For the beer travelers who are out late after the local breweries are closed, head over to just westside of downtown to Hops & Crafts. Located in an unassuming blocks of businesses (think of an upscale strip mall), the bare bones bar has a who’s who of Tennessee craft beer. You have Honky Tonk, Bearded Iris, Smith & Lentz and Czann represented.

No food in the place, so you can just focus on the well-balance selection of styles — not all IPAs or pale ales. Afterwards, you can catch a gig at the legendary Station Inn across the street.

Say who want to load up your road-trippin car with some local brews that you can’t get back home. I headed over to CorkDorks. Yup, I love the name, too. You can grab your six-packs, but cruise the single bottle section to make your own six-packs. That’s the way to go so you can try every one of Tennessee’s craft breweries.

 

Beware Smelling the Hot Mash on the Jack Daniels Tour in Lynchburg, TN

The drive from Atlanta to Nashville is a leisurely, straight-forward three hour, 45 minute to four hour journey. Leave after breakfast and you get can be honky tonking by lunch.

Thus, a side journey to the world famous Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee can be easily pulled-off with a little planning.

Here’s the first piece of advice, the first parking lot you see — that’s not the one to use, it’s the larger one on the opposite side on the street just a bit further down. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.

While getting a tour reservation in advance is the best route, depending on the day, you can stroll up and hop on one right there. As for what tour to get, I went with the mid-level baller tour or The Angel’s Share, it’s where you get five tasting flight of the rare, single barrel whiskys. At $22, it not that much more than the low baller The Flight of Jack Daniels tour where you get a flight of their flagship whiskys that you an get anywhere. The low budget, no drinking Dry tour is for idiots who bring their kids on a whisky tour.

As they will say repeatedly on the tour and on the grounds, Lynchburg is the only place where they make Jack Daniels. So the Jack Daniels they drink in Japan is the same one you drink at the Appleby’s in the Orlando Airport.

As far as tours goes, it’s good that it keeps moving, so you’re not standing around listening to a tour guide going through their talk. The highlight of the tour before you start drinking, as people will tell you, is smelling the mash.

What does is smelling like? It’s not so much a smell but the sensation of putting lava hot bullets in your nostrils for half a second. You’ll loose consciousness for a brief second. Sounds fun, right?

Along with the temporary brain damage, you’ll learn some fun trivia about Mr. Daniels, like he died from kicking a safe when he forgot the combo. He broke his toe, then lost his leg and then seven years later, his life. It wasn’t a romantic death like drinking to death on his own product.

Like with any distillery, winery or brewery tour, you have to wait until the end to start drinking. They giving you notes on how to properly taste whisky, what to look for and the barrel process. For this single barrel tour, you taste the No. 27 Gold, Sinatra Select (their priciest), Single Barrel Select, Single Barrel Proof (their highest alcohol content) and Single Barrel Rye. Since I am a man of high taste, the $100 a bottle of the Sinatra was my favorite.

Now, I still don’t understand how Lynchburg is a dry town, but you can buy Jack Daniels in the gift shop in the main hall. It’s something like they sell you the bottle, and they but in the whisky for free. Whatever, just change the damn laws. Get with the 21st Century. In any event, there’ no exclusive whisky you can’t get anywhere else, but they have limited edition gift boxes and glass bottles that you can etch with your name. Not my thing.

Plan about 2-2.5 hours for this side trip. You can skip the trip into the block of the town of Lynchburg where the gift shop is if you’re short on time, Everything they sell you can get online, but I picked up whisky scented candles and a coaster made from barrel wood.

Two Craft Beer Places in Atlanta to Visit That Are Within Walking Distance

While Atlanta is not a craft beer destination like Portland, Seattle or Denver, you’ll only need a handful of great beer bars to discover locally brewed beers. Krug Street Market has bottle shop and bar Hop City, which has plenty of local goodness, there’s two places you can tell your Lyft or Uber driver to head to for something after hours.

The Porter Beer Bar is in the funky Little Five Points area, which historically has been its “artsy” area (code for upscale hipsters that wishes it was like Williamsburg and West Village NYC). Surrounded by tattoo parlors, cafes and other trendy bars, PBB has an extensive draft and bottle and has that Belgium beer bar decor. With a high turnover of taps, it always seems that I pick the drafts that juuuuust kick … or they are too lazy to reprint the beer menu that morning or install a chalk board.

In any event, they have a excellent selection of local, regional, Canadian and Belgium beers. It’s not a question of what to have, it’s what NOT to have (stuff you can get anyway).

Here’s what I had while admiring the vintage luggage:

  • Jekyll Brewing — Southern Juice IPA
  • The Southern Brewing Company — Wild Wanderings
  • Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! — Équinoxe du Printemps

No need to taxi over, just a five minute walk down the street is one of the few brewpubs in the city, Wrecking Bar Brewpub. Even better, it’s housed in an old mansion that dates back to 1900. On the downside, it was featured in Guy Fieri’s abomination of a travel shows, Diners, Dives and Douchebags or something along those lines.

Grab a bar stool or, like I did, grab a couch and a pint and drink your way through their beer line-up.

  • Just the Tip of the Cap English Mild
  • Sow Your Wild Oatmeal Porter
  •  Breaking Bob Kölsch

The Why Am I Not There? Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers 2017

Time to get out those credit cards because were spending some cheddar this holiday. I believe it was the great philosopher Madonna of Michigan that proclaimed, “Holiday … it can be so nice.”

These gifts will be practical to the intrepid traveler or will inspire their wanderlust. Even better, they are below $100. So no $295 travel size of room spray or $150 lip palm made from alpaca saliva.

Passport Wallet — These things are essential  for business and leisure travelers.  Now that some airports will need more than a driver’s licence to prove that you’re not a terrorist, you’ll need something to hold your most valuable documents. There are slots where I keep my frequent flyer cards, GlobalEntry and foreign currency. Pro Tip — never put your extra money if your carry-on, always have it on you.

The counter argument is that they are bulky. I say that’s a good thing because you always know that it’s on your person.

I always gift these passport wallets from Fossil because they have a bit of retro flare while having handsome colors of leather for both sexes.

$42 – 90: Fossil.com

Travel Cord Roll — This is a neat little way to keep your tech cords in one place so that everything is in order. It can cause panic with the amount of cords that ones needs to keep you charged up and on the go. Just for myself, I have to brings cords for the laptop, phone charger, Ipod charger (yes, I still have one), camera chargers and charging brick.

This fun roll-up from Uncommon Goods is made from leather and felt. It has plenty of room for your cords, a pouch for wall charger or international converters and a string to tie is all together.

$20: UncommonGoods.com

Mini-Travel Charger — There are so many different sizes and capacity of travel chargers to choose from. There are high-end one that can power your laptop for a few days to one that are the size of a lipstick that can charger your phone on the go.

On my last trip, I brought a mid-sized Anker charger that I could get three charges from my phone. I then paired with a triple-speed wall charger so it was no sweat to get it at full capacity overnight.

This one from Anker (PowerCore+ Mini 3350)  is the about the size of a roll of Lifesavers and fits in your jacket pocket. You can even put it in your front pocket so that people can use the line “Is that a roll of quarters in your pocket or are you happy to see me?” In any event, this can recharge your phone fully for a whole day if that’s all you need.

$15 — Amazon.com

Japanese Notebooks — Many travelers like myself still carry a small notebook or notepad and pen in my carry-on. Either just to write down reminders or just to have a sketchbook to pass time.

I have a few goofy ones, but I love these vintage-style ones made by the Japanese stationary company, Apica. They come with different colors, have a fun calligraphy font, different page counts and choices of hard or soft covers.

You can find cheap ones from ebay that come from U.S. sellers. The funkier ones come from Japan and might take a while to arrive.

$5-$15 — Ebay

Izola Tote Bags — I refuse to use a backpack while traveling. I don’t care how stylish they come, I still prefer a cross body, messenger-style bag or a shoulder bag.

These somewhat unisex travel bags from Izola have fun saying on them (Keep It Together, Off the Grid) and are perfect for a weekender, a carry-on or the beach.

$75 — Izola.com

“I Sleep With Strangers” Eye Mask — If you need a stocking stuffer from a travel companion, these are good for a good chuckle.

Flight 001 also makes one that says “Wake Me for Champagne” for those who roll in Upper Class.

$8 — Flight001.com

Monogram Luggage Tags — You can never have too many luggage tags. It’s a sure fire way that some idiot doesn’t accidental take your bag on the luggage carousel. Please don’t wrap your luggage in color masking tape or put an X on it in duct tape, which is a TSA red flag.

Myself, I have a recycled denim tag, a puffy one in the shape of a hamburger, a few disposal paper ones with vintage travel ads as on them and a few leather ones. I put a few one of my luggage so I an quickly pick them on among the other black or red suitcases.

Pottern Barn makes ones that you can splurge a bit and have some initials monogrammed on them.

$20: PotteryBarn.com

The Wayfarer’s Handbook: A Field Guide for the Independent Traveler — I thought this was a neat read and a good spin on the “How To Travel” guide. Author Evan Rice included info-graphics and charts. It’s not condescending or faux-inspiration, so it relies on a witty ideas and advice. Even if you’re a know-it-all, some of his opinions and stories had me chuckling.

$15: Amazon.com

 

Asheville’s Smaller Breweries — Lexington Avenue Brewery, One World, Ginger’s Revenge and Twin Leaf

The final post about Asheville … until the next trip.

I’m just going to plow through some of the smaller breweries in the area that might not be well-know beyond the town or state. During my final night, I was trying to get as many flights in that time and my tolerance would allow.

The Lexington Avenue Brewery is on, ummm, Lexington Avenue. Also known as LAB, the spacious  brewpub has a more modern, industrial space that overlooks one of Asheville’s popular streets downtown. They were about to close an hour early then I showed up, and the bartender was about to give me the stink eye until I asked fun questions about the beer to gain trust. Next thing I knew, she was giving me samples of everything and saying, “You need to try this … and this … ohhh this is new, let’s try this together.”

What I had:

Thumper Belgian Triple
1st Gear Cream Ale
The Knuckle Oatmeal Stout
Eleanor’s Rye
White Pony White IPA
Far Out Session IPA

One World Brewing was cool in a dorky way. Its a subterranean brewery, located in the basement of the Farm Burger eatery. Just follow the signs to the alley, follow the hippie music and head downstairs. Since it’s below street level, it’s actually a bit cooler and comfortable.

I had to roll my eyes at the gray-haired, pony-tailed tie dye cover band playing “Spirit in the Sky” and “Give Peace a Chance,” but ultimately, you just have to roll with it.

As part of their peace and love theme, they had a hemp beer, called Hempin’ Ain’t Easy. I couldn’t tell that it had hemp in it.

Chocolate Truffle Stout
Czech Yourself Before You Brett Yourself Saison
Hempin’ Ain’t Easy
Patcha Mama Coconut Porter
Citra Bomb IPA
Ashevegas Pale Ale

Ginger’s Revenge exclusively brews alcoholic ginger beer, but not a single redhead in the place. What gives? They had just had their grand opening when I was in town.

Basically, they have their base ginger beer, then there are added flavors. I found it delightful and enough ginger spice kick. This one to keep an eye on when they start canning.

Lime Agave
Orange Mint
Honey Chamomile
Original

Finally, Twin Leaf is in the middle of all the action south of the city center. Within eye shot is the Funkatorium, Green Man, Burial and Catawba. By the end of the night, I was using the bathroom every 30 minutes and all the beer was tasting the same. In any event, the milk stout was damn good.

Dark Matter Oatmeal Stout
Udderly Amazing Milk Stout
Luminosity Belgian Tripel
Hibiscus Wit
All You Feel Is Sound Saison
Elevensies English Bitter
Brett’s Last Batch Saison