Category Archives: Travel in North America

Travelogues from our North American trips

One THOUSAND!

One THOUSAND breweries. A journey that began in the late 1980s culminated earlier this month in Seattle, WA with Merideth and I visiting our 1,000th brewery.

This was never really the plan. There was no plan when I started keeping track of the breweries we visited. But “the List” began to take on a life of its own becoming the focus of our travels.

We really didn’t think about 1,000 until we reached the 750 range. Then it was just a feeling “I want to reach 1,000 before I turn 50.” Only at #900, did Merideth and I start discussing the possible the milestone brewery. Ideas ranged from some exotic locale to that brewery we always wanted to visit, Budweiser in St. Louis.

When we reached #950, I realized I needed to start planning in earnest. Reaching out to a fellow beer traveling friend, he said something that stuck in my head. Whatever we did, it needed to be special. After some thought, special to us was an Urban Beer Hike in Seattle with a group of friends.

Fast forward to Merideth and I sitting at #994. On a rainy Saturday morning, we met up with that group of friends at Brouwers Cafe, the starting point for our hike. Over a few beers and some much needed food, Merideth and I caught up with our fellow beer hikers, most we hadn’t seen in a few years. At the scheduled time, 12:30pm, our group started our trek to the first brewery in a light drizzle. Our looping journey would start in the Fremont district and end in Interbay. In between, we would hit the brewery dense Ballard and Magnolia districts.

Let’s get hiking!

Despite the rain, it was a pleasant walk as we set out along the tree-lined path decorated in fall colors. The only hazard were the puddles. There would be plenty of time for wet feet without the added soaking of stepping into one of the small lakes along our route.

First stop

Covering territory we had walked on previous beer hikes in Seattle, we passed Hales, one of the first 50 breweries visited and the new Fremont Brewing facility. Before long and still relatively dry, we were at Lucky Envelope Brewing, #995 on “The List.”

Usually, Merideth and I would order a taster set. But today wasn’t about the beer, it was about enjoying the moment, enjoying time with friends. Quickly scanning the choices, Merideth ordered a Blonde Ale. I went with ENIAC 2.0 a 6.9% ABV Mosaic-based IPA. With pints in hand, we rejoined the group at a large table and continued the banter that began at Brouwers.

With a schedule to keep, Lucky Envelope was a one and done. Thankfully, more beer wasn’t long in coming as our second stop, Stoup Brewing, was literally around corner. With the weather, their rather large outdoor seating area was empty. We squeezed into the smallish, busy tasting room and joined the queue for beer.

All smiles at our second stop

Merideth and I played true to form with our beer choices; she with their award-winning Hefeweizen, me with the Citra IPA. Beers in hand, our group scattered about the tasting room looking to squeeze into a corner or along the wall.

Despite being a non-taster flight day, traveling with our little gang afforded us the opportunity to try a number of beers that our compatriots ordered. Getting a sip of the wonderful and also award-winning Stoup Porter I decided going forward  I would temper my hophead tendencies and branch out with my beer choices.

The special moment of the day happened when Chris D. pointed out a Fraggle sticker on the wall at Stoup. Merideth and I thought it very fitting that Fraggle unexpectedly became part of our big day.

Beers at Reuben’s

In the Ballard district, ticking off breweries was like shooting fish in a barrel. After contemplating a second beer at Stoup, we again decided our schedule dictated we press on. Reuben’s Brews, our third stop, was another short walk.

A dizzying array of beer choices confronted us, 24 in all. While Merideth started with 5.7% ABV Belgian Pale I jumped off the IPA train and ordered the 6.2% ABV Robust Porter. After quick sips at the bar, #997 was officially added.

Lucky for our sizable group, a large table opened up in the crowded tasting room while we were lined up for beers. Sitting at the beer glass filled table with our friends chatting about this and that, I realized that we had made the right choice for our 1,000th brewery trip.

Maybe starting to get into a groove, Reuben’s was the first multi-beer stop. Despite my vow to broaden my horizons, I went back to the hops, ordering the Amarillo Fresh Hop Pale Ale.

Hilliard’s

Even on our 1,000th brewery day, we stuck to the code we developed all those years ago. Walking into a tasting room that the locals in our group weren’t sure met the brewed on premise rule, we verified with the bartender that in fact the beer was brewed elsewhere. I felt bad as our group of eight, who had just entered, all left.

Our backup choice and last Ballard brewery of the day was Hilliard’s Beer. It truly felt like the quiet before the storm as Merideth and I sipped on Chrome Satan, their delicious version of a California Common. Props for the name, an anagram for the well-known version from San Francisco.

With a number of beers under our belts, our hike leader, Dave,  recommended a quick stop for some food. After a few slices and pints at Ballard Pizza Company, it was time for the first of two long legs of the hike.

Darkness had started to settle in during our pizza and beer break. Bundled up, we set off through “downtown” Ballard heading towards the Magnolia district. Walking past hip shops, bars and restaurants, I felt oddly dressed in my shorts and rain gear. Thankfully, I wasn’t wearing a bright yellow rain poncho or I would have really felt out of place.

The locks at night

Through a park we came upon the Ballard locks. Officially called the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, I had no idea they even existed in Seattle. The series of locks connect Lakes Washington and Union to the Puget Sound and looked beautiful at night lit up in the rain.

The last of the triple digit breweries

Arriving at Urban Family Brewing, there was not just one but two kids birthday parties happening. Seeing no cake, I moved on to the important matter of getting a beer. Easily the most eclectic selection of beers on the day, Urban Family specializes in French and Belgian-style Farmhouse ales.

For the last of the triple digit breweries, Merideth and I both ordered the Saison, The Flowers Are Always Asleep. Other beers ordered by our crew were Limesicle, an IPA with lime zest and the deep purple colored Herr Kinski’s Blackberry Thought-Forms.

Over these beers, we squeezed in a few games of Asteroids and Missile Command on vintage consoles.

The last portion of the hike to West Seattle was another long one. In a beer hike first for us, we passed a bustling rail yard full of locomotives and boxcars. Something that I would expect to be behind a security fence, we walked past as if we were walking through a mall parking lot. If I had dreams of dropping out of society to ride the rails as a hobo, this seemed my big moment to leap on a locomotive or car and really travel. Even after a bunch of beers, I think I made the right choice to continue walking.

1000th brewery kiss

Holy Mountain Brewing was aptly named for our thousandth brewery. For me, the day’s hike to reach Holy Mountain was the end of a long beer pilgrimage that started in 1987 at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley.

For the milestone beer at the milestone brewery Merideth ordered the 4.8% ABV The White Lodge Wit. My beer to mark the moment was Three Fates, a 4.8% ABV Pilsner-style beer.

Nowhere else to be, we celebrated over many beers at Holy Mountain. Eight miles walked. Six breweries visited. Milestone achieved. We can’t thank our friends enough for joining us on our special day: Chris D, Dave, Mandy, Link, Allie, Melissa, Renee, Mike, Russ, Phillippe. Special thanks go out to Dave for not only planning the hike but also keeping us on schedule during  and Chris D for letting us invade his work for our thousandth.

It truly feels like an end of an era for us. When we started beer traveling, there was a sense of adventure, such as finding the brewery in Italy with our only directions being that it was in the village’s main piazza. Today, with the sheer number of breweries and technology, beer travel has morphed into more a matter of logistics; how many breweries can we fit in a certain amount of time. We’re not sure what thebeergeek.com will look like moving forward but it will most likely more closely resemble our Zoigl experience rather than what we have done in the past. We hope you continue to follow along as we look for new beer adventures.

Here is a little video shot to commemorate the moment.

View all the images from our Seattle trip

900th On Our 25th

Seems like June 17th, 1989 was just yesterday. That day, we were crazy young kids getting hitched. Prophetically coincidental (or coincidentally prophetic), I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) by New Kids on the Block topped the charts.

More relevant to our future lives, the “microbrew” revolution was gaining steam with the likes of Boulevard, Odell, Marin and my present employer Drake’s founded the year of our marriage. Though “The List” was still a few years away from conception, I had already visited two breweries. Merideth, not yet 21 years old, theoretically had not visited any.

Our ride for the day…

Fast forward 25 years (it seems to have gone by very fast!) and 886 breweries later, we are now well-versed beer travelers. Over the years, our adventures have taken us beyond North America to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. We have experienced great beers at the source and, most important, made many friends. It was one of these friendships that would make our silver anniversary extra special.

Posting on social media several months back about our upcoming special occasion visit, I got a response from Don with the Maine Brew Bus. On our previous visit, we had met up with him and the other fine folks behind Maine’s brewery tour company for a beer. And this time around, they graciously offered to take us around on our anniversary.

Not only would Don be our chauffeur for the day, he also arranged the visits to the two needed breweries for us to reach 900. At the appointed time, we met him and the bright green and yellow bus in Portland’s Old Port. Our “small but mighty” group were on our way for a day of beer drinking.

We started the tour at Allagash Brewing. Already on the list from our 2009 trip, Allagash was, in fact, my 500th brewery. Five years, 388 breweries and an expansion later we were back for another brewery tour.

All shiny

Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed having to jump through the brewery tour hoop. Not having to drive, I was ready to get my drink on and the tour just delayed my fun. But what a tour it was. Along with 20 or so other beer enthusiasts, we donned our safety glasses and audio equipment and followed our enthusiastic guide into the Allagash brewery.

Still smiling after 25 years…

Standing in what used to be the parking lot staring at the cool White spice injector at work on the shiny new brew kit, I felt a bit silly about my usual ‘I don’t want to go on a brewery tour’ mantra. The new facility was quite impressive. And the tour now finished with a tasting in the beautiful new barrel house.

Amongst the barrels, we tasted White, Saison, Prince Tuesday (a collaboration with Rising Tide and Maine Beer Company), and finally the limited Confluence. What a great way to start the day!

Big thanks to Allagash for the anniversary gift. We’ll save the bottle to share on our 26th anniversary. Or maybe our 50th!

One Industrial Way will go down as one of the most important addresses in Maine beer history. Five years ago, we first visited the unassuming industrial park down the street from Allagash to add the then brand new Maine Beer Company to our brewery list. Checking in on their growth two years later, we wandered to the other side of the building to see Rising Tide making a small batch of beer.  Since then, both have graduated from the location to bigger pastures. Present day, its role as a brewery incubator continues with three fledgling brewing operations joining the Maine beer scene.

Looking introspective with one more to go

Bissell Brothers was the first new brewery of the day, our 899th overall. Located in the old Maine Beer Company space, the less than year old brewery was, of course, the brainchild of two brothers, Noah and Peter.

Bissell Brothers created a huge buzz with their initial offering, a 6.5% ABV IPA called The Substance. Cans were sold and kegs were drained very quickly of this popular new beer. Coming in a 16oz can and being their only beer available brought their debut brew heady comparisons to the Alchemist’s Heady Topper.

Comparisons really end there. While Heady Topper is big, The Substance was an easy drinking IPA. Pleasingly aromatic, Merideth, the self-proclaimed non-hophead, even enjoyed it.

As we sampled the The Substance, Peter explained having only one beer was never the plan, it was something that just happened. Pleasantly surprised by demand and trying to keep up, more beers were on tap for the future.

The only disappointment was there were no cans to buy to bring home.

900!

It was a long walk next door to our milestone 900th, Foundation Brewing. Given that their business manager and owner, Tina Bonney was part of our tour group, it was probably apropos that Foundation was the chosen brewery.

Entering the small tasting room, we were greeted by co-founder/brewer Joel Mahaffey. As we chatted with Joel, he ran us through the Foundation lineup.

Five beers were available to sample, all Saisons brewed with their proprietary yeast strain. The two flagships were Eddy, described as their house Saison and Blaze, a Farmhouse IPA.

All the beers were excellent, very worthy of a milestone brewery.  Merideth pegged the lemon zest infused Saison as her favorite. Mine was Wanderlust, a 4.3% ABV dry hopped Saison. Employing five hop varieties, including one of my current favorites, Mosaic, Wanderlust had the huge tropical fruit thing going on which complimented the light body.

Our small group toasted our achievements, 25 years and 900 breweries. We thanked Joel and Tina for their hospitality and Don for making it all happen.

One of my favorite beers!

With our 900th brewery in the books, we were able to relax and celebrate our latest milestone. And Rising Tide seemed the perfect place to do just that.

Our second visit to the Rising Tide’s East Bayside location, we shared our story of the first time we met owner/brewer Nathan Sanborn at One Industrial Way. Back then, Nathan stood over his brew pot checking on his latest batch. Not able to try any beer, we chatted with him for a few minutes and promised to visit Rising Tide again to add it to the List.

Standing in the sampling area, Merideth and I marveled the brewery’s growth, and not just from the former location. The space that just last year had been empty was full of barrels and fermenters.

Amongst the seven beers to sample, I craved Maine Island Trail Ale, their 4.3% ABV summer seasonal that benefits the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA). Hopped with Simcoe and Citra, MITA was a prime example of a beer that I would describe as “in my wheelhouse.” Light, refreshing body but full of hop aroma and flavor, Maine Island Trail Ale is one of my favorite Maine brews.

Our day with Maine Brew Bus was done. Dropped back off in the Old Port, we continued our celebrations with more beer and of course, lobster. We can’t thank Don and the Maine Brew Bus enough for making our 900th brewery visit on our 25th anniversary so very special.

Anniversary dinner at J’s

View all the images from our day in Portland…

Setting Up For Our Big Day

At some point last year, I figured out that it was possible for us to visit our 900th brewery on our 25th wedding anniversary. For beer travelers like us, nothing could be more romantic. With this idea stuck in my head, the challenge became making it happen.

On the eve of our silver anniversary, we woke up in Nashua, NH. Somewhat out of the norm for our beer travels, I planned a leisurely day that would end in Portland, ME. And with the first brewery visit in Nashua itself, we even had time for a pleasant walk through the town’s park, Mine Falls.

A nice day for a walk…

Despite the relaxing start to the day along the Nashua River, there was a nervousness in the air. Well, at least I, as the planner, was nervous. To reach 900 breweries the following day, Merideth and I needed to visit all breweries on the day’s itinerary. There was no wiggle room, no plan B breweries to visit if one was unexpectedly closed. Something often goes awry on our travels and this day had to go perfectly.

The beginning of our beer day…

With that air of tension of what our day would hold, we finished our walk and drove the few blocks to downtown Nashua and our first beer stop of the day, Martha’s Exchange.

Despite the slight tinge of heat and humidity we passed on the air conditioned brewpub and chose a well-shaded table outside. With lunch plans already sorted, this was just a taster flight stop, which we quickly ordered.

Eight samples were soon in front of us. One of the more diverse set of beers we have tried recently, the octet of brews ranged from Volstead ’33’, a Golden Ale, to Velvet Elvis Vanilla Stout. In between there was an Alt, Saison and requisite IPA to name a few.

It was probably the weather talking but the refreshing, easy drinking Golden Ale stood out for me. The hopping reminded me of a German Helles, a style I really love. For Merideth, the peppery, dry Consortium Saison was her standout.

Eager to press on, we didn’t dawdle once we finished our sample flight. We quickly left Nashua in the rear view mirror heading across New Hampshire.

The first of many

For those who know of our previous New England travels, lobster and especially lobster rolls are as important as beer. Heading towards coastal New Hampshire on our way to Maine, it was time to indulge in our second passion.

Despite its touristy appearance, pre-trip research pointed to the Beach Plum in Portsmouth as the stop for our first lobster roll of the trip. Its location on our route and award-winning lobster rolls made it an easy choice.

Choice confronted us as Merideth and I stood in front of their extensive menu. Six versions of lobster roll were available including a 20oz., foot-long monster. Romance aside, we decided on the non-sharing route, each choosing the 10oz. version. Same amount of lobster meat, no competition or hurt feelings.

Preferring our lobster rolls naked, the light coating of mayonnaise was distressing to see at first. But they were quite yummy and were a worthy first roll of the trip.

It was a short drive up the road to downtown Portsmouth and maybe the surprise brewery of the trip, Earth Eagle Brewings. While I sorted the parking situation out, Merideth went into the tiny tasting room and ordered the six beer sample flight. When I finally sat down to sample, Merideth was already several tastes in.

Merideth enjoying her Gruit

Grabbing my first taste, Sputnik, a Pale Ale, Merideth said something about gruits. Not a gruit guy, I didn’t really pay attention until she added that three of the six samples were of the hop-free variety. Never having tried three gruits at once, curiosity got the best of me. Ignoring the two IPAs (which ended up both being excellent), I delved into Barelyberry, Exhilaration and Birthday Boy.

Though not a fan of the style, I could still appreciate the quality that went into the brews. I also liked that they had a forager who gathered the herby ingredients. The latter two were more what I associated with the style, earthy and herbaceous. The first, Barelyberry,  Merideth’s favorite in the set, as its name suggested, employed blackberries in the brew.

A candidate for beer of the trip was not in the sample flight. Madame Trixie, their current barrel release, was a Blood Orange, Black Pepper Saison with Brett. If that wasn’t enough, Madame Trixie was aged in Allagash Curiuex barrel for 14 months. A sucker for beers with black pepper, despite what all was going on in the brew, it all worked together deliciously well.

Crossing over into Maine, we found the final new brewery of the day in the beachside town of Wells. Hidden Cove Brewing at Fire N Brew didn’t open for another hour. Confidence was high that it was opening, so that stress I had been feeling all day went away. With time to kill, Merideth and I backtracked to Wells Beach Mini Golf.

It was a beautiful Maine afternoon for a round of mini golf. Unlike previous times we have played, Merideth rode a strong short game on the front nine to finish +2, a surprising seven stroke lead over me. Her only mistake was to hit the ball out of bounds, a one stroke penalty. This was to prove costly.

A nice day for some mini golf…

The back nine played more true to form with myself slowly eroding Merideth’s sizable lead. My par and her bogey on the last hole sealed my comeback, both of us finishing with the identical score. Despite our normal competitiveness, we thought it quite romantic on the day before our 25th anniversary.

The mission of the day is accomplished!

Back to Fire N Brew, we bellied up to the bar and chose four beers, Summer, Scully, A’Rye and Crowsfoot, from the five offerings for our sample flight. First things first, Merideth and I each grabbed a sample glass and toasted the important goal of the day being successfully completed.

Eager to get to Portland to watch the USA v. Ghana World Cup match, Merideth and I didn’t really dwell on sample flight. Our loss, since Hidden Cove was doing some interesting things in the brewhouse with local ingredients and wild yeasts. We’ll give it a proper visit on our next trip to Maine.

In Portland, I was finally able to let my hair down. After catching the inspiring USA victory over Ghana in the Old Port, we moved on to our traditional activities. First up was a lobster roll and Allagash White at J’s Oyster followed by a Maine Beer Company nightcap at Novare Res. A great ending to a productive day!

Our Portland tradition…

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New beergeek.TV Episode – Canada Eh: the Atlantic Edition

Enjoying a Cape Breton sunset…

Canada Eh: the Atlantic Edition” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.

Always looking for new beer adventures, we took the advantage of a trip to Maine to cross over into Maritime Canada to make a quick visit to Nova Scotia.

Over five days, we watched the tides on the Bay of Fundy, experienced Halifax via an Urban Beer Hike and fell in love with beauty and charms of Cape Breton. Most importantly, we discovered a thriving beer scene on Canada’s east coast.

So enjoy our first Maritime Canada beer adventure…

For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.

Cape Breton

The big decision in the planning of this trip was where to go after the beer fest in Bangor. Looking for something new to experience, we set our sights east. With its strong connection to Celtic music and natural beauty, Cape Breton, on the far end of Nova Scotia, had always been high on our list of travel destinations.

Almost four hours out of Halifax, Merideth and I crossed the Canso Causeway onto Cape Breton (it’s really an island, not a cape). Eager with anticipation of exploring an area for the first time, we expected the music and hiking to approach ‘EPIC’ on the vacation meter. The one unknown was beer. We had no idea what to expect. After a short stop at the visitor center, we turned up the Ceilidh Trail, the coastal route along the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Our home for three days…

The English/Gaelic dual language signs reminded us of our trips to Ireland. But we would quickly learn during our stay that the Gaelic heritage was Scottish not Irish. There were some Irish but the main influx came from the Scottish Highlands spurred by the social and economic upheavels of 18th and 19th centuries.

Our destination was Mabou (An Drochaid in Gaelic), a small rural village in the heart of the Celtic music country. We found our hotel on the edge of the village’s main drag just across the river. After checking in, we decided, despite the heat and humidity, to walk around and explore our base for the three day stay on Cape Breton.

A cute village with friendly people, Merideth and I finished the grand tour in only a few minutes. There were shops and stuff but it wasn’t the season yet so most were closed. And despite all the locals insisting it was a beautiful day, it was a tad humid for our dainty California dispositions. We needed to get indoors and a beer would be nice too.

We quickly found ourselves in the one pub in Mabou, the Red Shoe Pub. The bistro-like pub was adorned with all manner of music memorabilia. Little did we know that the Red Shoe was quite well known in the music community. Owned by the Rankin sisters, the pair were part of the dozen siblings who at one time or another comprised the award-winning Cape Breton band The Rankin Family.

Our first Cape Breton beers…

We were introduced to Cape Breton beer at the Red Shoe. Looking over the menu, Merideth and I were pleasantly surprised to see some of the Halifax breweries we visited the prior day on the tap and bottle list. And better yet, they were pouring two beers from Big Spruce, the island’s brand new organic brewery.

Our Big Spruce choices were Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout and Ready Yer Knot  Regatta Red Ale. Not in the mood for a Stout, I went with the Red. Billed as their summer ale, the 5.0% ABV Regatta Red had an enticing deep copper color. Light on the hops, the brew had a pleasant maltiness and refreshing body that played well with the current weather conditions.

In our normal travel routine, we usually would bust out the scrabble board or go back to our room and watch a DVD. But I had a moment of inspiration.

The happy beer travelers…

It was finally cooling off and the evening was quite pleasant. We would go back to the room but only to pick up the beers we so wisely had chilling. With brews in hand and a couple of glasses scrounged, Merideth and I headed down to West Mabou beach.

It was one of my best travel decisions ever. An absolutely beautiful evening, Merideth and I drank a few beers, skipped a few rocks, watched the sun go down and maybe for the first during the trip just relaxed. We even chatted with a friendly local who was more than happy to tell a couple of Californians about his home. Only thing that would have made it a more perfect evening was if Porter and Stout were with us. A nice way to close our first day on Cape Breton.

The beautiful Cape Breton coast…

The following foggy morning Merideth and I were on the road again heading east. Leaving the Ceilidh Trail, we crossed into the French speaking Acadian area (home to their own style of music, that will have to wait for another trip to Cape Breton to experience). Here we joined the Cabot Trail, a 185 mile long scenic highway loop. The plan for our day was to drive the loop, hike and visit Big Spruce Brewing.

The highway wraps around Cape Breton Highland National Park, a rugged landscape with spectacular ocean scenery. After a week of doing beer stuff, we looked forward to getting out on a trail. Our chosen trail was Skyline, an almost six mile loop to a headland that promised whales, eagles, moose and bears.

After consulting the signs instructing what to do if we encountered a bear or moose (and coyote as well), we were off across the scruffy landscape. Remembering what our hotel owner said a day earlier, I continually scanned the skies for any sign of clearing. She talked about the incredible views along the Cabot Trail but added “unless it’s foggy”.

Beginning as open country, we passed into a woodland. Despite the warnings, we hoped to see a moose but the closest we got was piles of scat dotting the trail every now and then. We did see a cute grouse family.

This view was the culmination of our hike

Breaking out of the trees, we headed out a board-walked path to what was the culmination of our hike, the coastal views where we would see whales and lobsters frolicking in the ocean.

And it was FOGGY. Not able to see anything, we could only imagine what this vista was like on a clear day. It didn’t help either that a park worker told us that the previous day there was a moose, easily visible, grazing on a nearby hill.

Enticed by another chance at seeing a moose, we quickly walked the short loop on the Bog trail. Shut out again, we did see wild orchids, the carnivorous Pitcher plant and a juvenile red-tailed hawk that swooped low a few feet from us.

Hiking done, we continued along the Cabot Trail. In retrospect, I am not sure this was the best decision. Maybe I should have checked my ‘can’t go back the same way’ tendencies and returned the short third. With the fog turning to rain and Big Spruce closing in a few hours, the final two thirds of the loop became more of a sprint than a scenic drive.

Big Spruce

Located on a 30 hectare farm near the town of Baddeck, Big Spruce Brewing opened in April of this year. In the heaviest rain of the day, we arrived about an half hour before closing time. Merideth and I hurried into the tiny tasting room and brewery.

Big Spruce presently brews three beers, the two available at the Red Shoe plus Kitchen Party Pale Ale which they were out of. Not wanting to try the Oatmeal Stout in the heat and humidity of the prior day, I was now eager for a sample of the dark brew in the current dreary, damp, Ireland-like conditions. Cereal Killer was just as good as the Red Ale. On the drier side, the brew had a nice roast/chocolate character plus an easy drinkability important in a Stout.

The hillside farm overlooking Bras d’Or Lake would have nice to explore especially the hop field. But with the rain still falling and muddy conditions, our visit to Big Spruce was short and sweet. For not knowing what to expect from Cape Breton beer, the island’s one brewery turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip. Unfortunately, we left empty-handed except for the logo pint glass. Big Spruce doesn’t bottle.

A Ceilidh every Wednesday night during the summer

Finally back in Mabou in the early evening, our day was still not done. After a short rest, we were of to the Celtic Music Interpretative Centre in nearby Judique for the first Ceilidh of the summer season.

Opened in 2007, the mission of the Centre is to “collect, preserve and promote the traditional Celtic music of Cape Breton Island…” A beautiful building, the Centre was part museum, part gift shop and, most important, a performance venue.

Joining  a mix of locals and fellow tourists, Merideth and I enjoyed an evening listening to Cape Breton fiddlers. Bonus points to the locals dancing for us and to the Centre for having an inexpensive lobster sandwich.

Hiking the Cape Mabou Highlands

Our last day on Cape Breton dawned glorious. The fog and humidity of the previous days disappeared and pleasant temperatures boded well for one more Cape Breton hike. Several of the locals had enthusiastically recommended hiking around the nearby Cape Mabou Highlands.

Now that is what I call a view!

Maintained by the local trail club, the network of trails follows roads as well as settlers’ original cart tracks. Our friendly hotel proprietor recommended that we hike one of these cart tracks, Bein Alasdair Bhain (Fair Allistair’s Mountain) for its stunning ocean views.

We set out from the car park for what was a four plus mile loop. While the hiking was more challenging than the previous day, it was still pretty moderate. After a fairly easy ascent through a forested area, we came out into a meadow with breathtaking sea views that spread out before us. As we crossed the field into the descent back down the hill, we marveled at the shimmering waters and brilliant blue sky as a lobster boat lazily plied its trade.

After that ‘WOW!’ moment, the return part of hike was less awe-inspiring. But as we walked along the tree-shaded access road back to our car, Merideth and I ranked the ocean views we had just seen in our Hiking Hall of Fame. I had it pretty high up there.

Seafood Chowder and an Oatmeal Stout

We celebrated our great day hiking back at the Red Shoe Pub with a late lunch and a few pints of Big Spruce Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout. And a big slab of Carrot Cake.

Our time on Cape Breton was winding down. The following morning, we would retrace our steps back into New Brunswick and eventually Maine. With only three days on the island, Merideth and I only scratched the surface of things to do and see. But from what we experienced, the friendly locals, the music, the great hiking with stunning vistas and good local beer, we can only hope we make it back someday soon.

View all the Cape Breton images…