Considering that …
(1) I’ve known Editor ‘Arris for going on 20 years (gasp) and Costa for about half that
(2) We’ve often ridden together in that time, doing our best to have some fun while finding places you would love to go
(3) We all appreciate/love good beer (Costa less than ‘Arris and I, but to make up, he loves good scotch)
… it’s amazing that one of us didn’t come up with the idea of a Brewpub Tour before. But ‘Is Editorship came through this year, and off the three of us went to New England, looking for the best beer, roads, and accommodations out there.
Why New England in October? Why not? Great roads, lots of pubs, and more or less central for the three participants – Editor ‘Arris is on the New Brunswick/Nova Scotia border these days, Costa is in Montreal, and I’m near Napanee, Ontario, a bit west of Kingston.
We needed touring machines, of course. ‘Arris had the CMG long-term Yamaha Super Ténéré, Piaggio was good enough to drop off a Moto Guzzi Norge at my place, and Costa collected a Can-Am Spyder RT, the touring version of Bombardier’s oddball three-wheeler. More to come about these bikes, but I’m just going to focus on the trip for now.
‘Arris did a net search for brew pubs in New England, fiddled with Google maps to find a reasonable loop to catch a few at each day’s end, then arranged accommodation – within walking distance of each brewery, of course to allow for a for sampling (a full map and details of pubs and accommodations to come).
October can always bring chancy weather in the mountains of New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. We ended up with four mostly cloudy days, bit of rain and wet pavement now and then, but mostly good riding conditions and not too cold (we’ve seen snow and ice before) – no complaints. Most of the roads were familiar to one or the other of us, with a few newbies thrown in, so that was all good.
Note about the roads: a couple of those new road finds were detours. Five weeks earlier Vermont and New Hampshire were pummeled by the remains of tropical storm Irene moving up from the Gulf of Mexico, and the devastation in upstate New York and southern Vermont, in particular, was absolutely shocking.
Bridges and houses ripped loose and tossed aside, huge piles of sand and gravel washed up at every turn of a creek or river, hasty repairs to damaged roads everywhere, piles of destroyed trees – very spooky stuff. It’s like a war zone down there; must have been terrifying to live through.
We met in the charming little town of Bristol, Vermont on the Monday night, with rooms booked at the Crystal Palace B&B. I’ve stayed in some nice B&Bs over the years, but this place is fabulous; it could do double duty as a Victoriana museum.
If you’re heading for the area, call to see if they have a room and stay there (they only have three and are also the only accommodation in town). Hosts Steve & Stacie are terrific, the house and contents are amazing, and Caesar the dog is way cool. Sadly there’s no wireless internet, but the library right next door obliges.
The Bobcat Café & Brewery down the street is excellent. Superb beers, great food, and seriously friendly service – we spent as much time chatting with the staff as eating. I might also add that the bakery across the road serves the best espresso I’ve had since being in Europe a few years back.
The Bakery also offers wireless, if you need it, and is a great spot for breakfast, although if you’re at the Crystal Palace you’ll be way too full to care (Stacie’s eggs Benedict, following the fruit, yogurt, cereal, and more, definitely set you up for the day). Burp.
THE LONG TRAIL TO THE MOAT
Tuesday we headed for North Conway, New Hampshire, to meet with Dan and Judy Kennedy, who own Whitehorse Press/Gear.
We crossed Molly Stark Mountain east of Bristol, stopping once to collect a saddlebag that jumped off the Guzzi (the luggage design needs some work, to be polite) and again to do some riding/action photos. The clouds, light drizzle, and forecast made us grab the first photo opportunity.
The trip had been planned around any roads that were still closed courtesy of Irene, but one bridge that we’d expected to be operational by the time of the tour was not and forced us to take a detour which had the fortuitous effect of taking us right by the Long Trail Brewery at just about lunchtime.
Lunch at the brewery was an unexpected treat after a morning being shocked by the flood devastation in southern Vermont. The brewery (great beer and food, I might add) parking lot was still covered with dirt and sand from the flooding a month previous.
After ‘Arris got us well and truly lost thanks to the detour, we finally found our way to the spectacular Kancamagus Highway and North Conway, just as the rain cleared. That was a blessing for two reasons: (1) the road sucks in the fog and wet (that would be experience speaking), and (2) ‘Arris had buggered off ahead of us on the Guzzi, with my rain gear.
In North Conway at Whitehorse Press/Gear, the Kennedys insisted we stay at their place instead of finding a motel. “We’re 10 minutes from The Moat brewery and have lots of room!” Well, thanks very much; done.
Great hosts, plus fine beer and a good meal at The Moat followed by a big breakfast prepared by Judy in the morning; how could you do better? Two days out, two bulls-eyes.
Wednesday morning and our route takes us back west towards Stowe, Vermont via the White Mountains (after a stop for some very worthwhile shopping at Whitehorse, I might add).
We backtracked a bit along the Kancamagus to catch the Bear Notch road, one of my favourites anywhere. Thank Dog it was mostly dry, and the colours were about the best we saw all week (not a great year for that, actually; been too dry this year most places).
From there we followed ‘Is Editorship to Stowe. It’s always entertaining following Rob; it’s sort of like being the ball in a pinball game, trying to follow the way he darts about, changes direction, and generally takes the wrong turn when there’s any possible way to do so.
Of course we were late getting to Stowe (and would have been much later if the road up Mt. Washington wasn’t closed due to weather and we’d climbed the damn thing as Rob wanted).
It was a panic run to check into an old favourite, the Stowe/Snowdrift Motel, get the bikes hosed off, and try to get some beauty & detail pix before the sun dropped behind the mountains.
A quick wash down at the only carwash in town and we zapped a few quick shots at an abandoned warehouse complex before the sun finally vanished. Then it was off to The Shed pub & brewery for dinner, a 10-minute walk from the hotel. *
We all enjoyed our beer and dinner, but when the four-piece amplified group joined our living-room-sized pub area, we sadly decided that the place was just too loud for a bunch of old guys trying to talk about bikes and roads, and wandered back to the motel.
Fortunately Costa had picked up a bottle of Abalour scotch and was foolish enough to bring it to the motel room. Rob and I did our best to convince him it was a good choice while minimizing the amount he’d have to declare at the border going home.
Thursday morning finally saw blue skies but with it the cold and we killed some time with more photos until the frost melted off the bikes and roads, then split ways – Rob and Costa heading north through Smuggler’s Notch to Montreal, while I went west to get across Lake Champlain and then northwest back home.
In keeping with the pub theme of the trip, I had a wonderful discovery when I stopped for lunch in the middle of bloody nowhere at the Baxter Mountain Tavern & Grill, on Hwy 73 between Keene & Lake Placid. Seen it before, finally happened by at the right time for lunch.
Great choice of draft beers including Long Trail Ale, and remarkably good food – I don’t mean “good for a little bar in the middle of nowhere,” I mean “absolutely bloody shockingly good”. Whoever’s cooking there seriously knows his stuff. Watch for it.
After leaving Stowe about 9 a.m., I was home in time for dinner, not bad over the distance including lunch and fuel stops, plus several stops for still more photos.
Musing over a locally-brewed (of course) Church-Key Northumberland Ale that evening, I thought about the places we’d stopped. On a pub trip you have to choose a favourite, right?
I’d say I enjoyed the Bobcat Café most as a place, but for me the best beer on the trip was that of the Long Trail; amusingly, the brewery that wasn’t on the original plan. All the pubs we tried make excellent beer, but Long Trail somehow has that extra touch of magic.
As I mentioned, it was also on tap at Baxter Mountain, and that made a perfect ending to a good week of touring.
* After returning home we discovered that The Shed, sadly, is closing at the end of October due to lease problems, but the owners are looking for new premises. In the meantime, there are two other brew pubs within 10 minutes of Stowe’s motel area, at the Trapp Family Lodge (yes, the Sound of Music family) and The Alchemist in Waterbury.