Wednesday, December 31, 2014

San Diego is Amazing, Part 1: Because, Stone

"Why don't more people live here?"  That's what I was thinking the entire visit.  I had heard about west-coast weather in general, but I didn't realize there was a major city with perfect weather that wasn't on an island in the middle of the Pacific. 

I joined Tabitha on a work trip and had the opportunity to spend four days exploring just a few of the parts of San Diego that we like to share on this site: food and beer!  We managed to hit the top points on our list, and one place in particular was so overwhelmingly awesome that we found ourselves there repeatedly.

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station

The most unassuming entrance.
Stone Brewing has a few locations throughout the San Diego area.  Liberty Station is a really neat place near the water that used to be owned by the U.S. Navy.  Now, it's a beautiful complex of restaurants, shops and businesses.  The Liberty Station Stone location is quite large, with a huge outdoor garden in addition to a really nice, large interior.

You'd better recognize the logo.
I love good beer.  And I love the outdoors.  I also love good food.  And most importantly, I love other people bringing me good food and beer while I'm outdoors.  The idea of a beer garden then, is  particularly compelling to me.

Paradise awaits - a view from outside the beer garden.
I've enjoyed many a beer, brought to me by someone else, at an outdoor area, some of which were called "gardens."  I visited a beer-lovers amusement park at Ommegang.  But if there is a paradise, I know it looks like the beer garden at Stone Liberty Station.

My lunch.
The food was fantastic: creative, good quality, and affordable. For example, three house-made sausages (pork, lamb, and chicken) on three kinds of pickled cabbage with bread, gershkins, and a side of Cali-Belgique IPA mustard.  That's an appetizer.  Add a side of crazy good fried olives and a bottle of Quadrotricale and I had the best lunch ever.

All tables should have secret beer menu compartments!

One of the comments Tabitha made was how incredibly pleasant and happy everyone in the service industry was in SD.  On our last night there, Tabitha's colleagues gathered at Stone for a goodbye dinner.  Even though it was probably mid-60s, they surrounded our table with large portable heaters.  The server was incredibly good, and even split the ticket about twelve ways without being asked, and without adding a mandatory gratuity. 

I want this in my next house.  On a smaller scale.

Viewing area in the waiting-for-a-table room.

So, the Liberty Station outpost was impressive. But what about the mothership?

Stone Brewing Co. Headquarters

They don't advertise. Not just no ads. How strongly they embrace this concept isn't apparent until you actually try to find their headquarters. There are no signs, anywhere. We followed our GPS an hour or so outside of SD to Escondito. The main brewery and restaurant / beer garden is located in a very nice but nondescript commercial complex that I would have mistaken for an office building. We would have driven right by it (we did once, actually) if an employee in a Stone shirt wasn't walking in the parking lot.

Inside is where it gets impressive.  Like the Liberty Station location, it's big on the inside, with an amazing beer garden.

Above the bar.  I consider it art.
We sat at the inside bar this time (how much perfect weather can you take, really?) and tried a couple smaller pours and some light food while waiting for the tour to start. No pictures, but a quick review: Asian BBQ ribs: awesome.  Mac and beer cheese with sausage: awesome.

Sitting behind the bar, looking out onto the garden.

Stochasticity Project: Master of Disguise.  A 9.7% Golden Stout.  Yes, it's a stout.
One of the most interesting beers I've had in a while was the Imperial Golden Stout called "Master of Disguise."  Looks like a golden ale, with strong initial stout smell and flavor of roasted barley.  Not quite the heavy mouthfeel of a full stout; instead, a little lighter on the tongue.  The barkeep said the trick was to add the specialty grains only briefly at the end of the brew, before they could change the color of the beer.  Great taste and well-balanced, especially for a nearly 10% beer. Wish we could get this back home.

First tour I've been on that was wired for sound.

As for the tour, well, it feels like we've been on a million of these things, but I still like to go.  Not to learn "how beer is made," but really to get a feel for the culture behind the beer. For me, good people make good beer, and it's always neat to see how the people match up with what they create. 

It was no surprise then that the tour was great.  Comfortable and fun, are the two words that come to mind. I felt like I was being entertained, not just informed, which was a little different. 

Also, a word about their operation:  I have never seen a cleaner brewery.  Seriously.  I think you could eat off the hardest-to-reach pipe fitting on the back side of the tallest vessel.  I believe I heard said that they dedicate one day a week solely to cleaning. That may be common practice, but I have never heard it mentioned in any other brewery, and it stood out to me.

The lab.  All the best breweries have them, I'm told.

What's with the gargoyles?  The question was asked on the tour.  Then answer: gargoyles were historically added to buildings to guard against evil spirits and protect what's inside.  The Stone logo's purpose, therefore, is to guard against evil spirits (e.g., bad beer) and protect what's inside (awesomeness!). 

Sometimes, fizzy yellow beer is good! But they have an image to uphold (arrogant, strong, brutal beers) so I'll give this one to them.

At this point, it goes without saying that Stone is a must-visit if you're in San Diego. If you missed it, go back!

Check back soon for Part 2!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hiwassee River Paddle: 14.1 miles of fun!

A few weeks ago we joined a group of other paddle junkies for a float down the Hiwassee River.

Our group arrived early on a foggy morning.  It was a beautiful drive in as well.

This is one of my favorite types of paddling trips.  The river is dam controlled, meaning normally the river is too low to take a boat of any kind down it, but the power company releases water, usually on the weekends for recreational purposes, that brings the water level up high enough to take a kayak or canoe down.

Cool, clear water.  You can see right to the bottom.

What it also means is that there is a nice current to carry you down the river at speed, meaning you can cover more ground, see more stuff, and generally feel good about how far you've traveled.

Looking upstream, waiting for the dam release.

On a hot summer day, the cool, clear water from the dam is most welcome.

Looking downstream near the put-in point.

On this particular weekend, the TVA apparently didn't quite keep their published schedule, as the dam release was a little late. 

Stuck in a shallow area, waiting for the rising tide.

This created some delays, and also meant that instead of the expected fast-moving but plenty deep water, we had some shallow rocky areas to contend with, as well as some rapids.

Hanging out the the shade waiting.  Is it time to get moving?

Getting moving!

Aside from a few scrapes on the bottom of our boat, we made it through unscathed. 

Pumping out the boat after a big rapid.
One of the best parts about traveling with a good group of people is the leadership and planning that the organizers provide; it inspired confidence to travel with an organizer who had scouted this trip in advance.

Tiny fishes!
Eventually, the water release really caught up with us, and we really were able to enjoy the river.

Canadian geese, eh?

Peeking through the river bank at some hills.

This is what it looks like when a big group of paddlers stops for a break.

The leader scouts ahead.  (I like this photo.)

That's a cliff!

Apparently not all trees need soil.

The armada.

The muddy slalom of a takeout.

The takeout point was a steep boat ramp covered in three inches of slippery mud.  Despite most everyone wearing shoes that were far from conducive to the task, everyone pitched in and helped each other get out and get up the ramp.

The trip map computed by one of the organizers.

In a way, that was a fitting end for the trip: humping boats up a muddy ramp for people you barely know but shared a great experience with.  I can't wait to do it again.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Smokies in May

In May we wrote no posts because we were too busy traveling! With Tabitha's family visiting, we embarked on a three week epic traveling event.  We started by renting a cabin in the Smoky Mountains. 

Cabin in the Smokies

We rented a 4 bedroom cabin in Wears Valley, one of our favorite places.   The unincorporated, pastoral valley is located just outside the National Park.  It's a pretty, peaceful location that's away from the traffic and chaos of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.  Lyon Springs Road, in the middle of the valley, cuts south across the ridge and into the park, connecting up with Little River Road.  Or, you can go to either the east or west end of the valley and head south to enter the park.

Well-appointed kitchen.  Picture taken before we started cooking!

The cabin we stayed in, like all rental cabins, had a name.  Ours was "Dawsey's Dream," and we rented it from Cove Mountain Realty.  We've rented from Cove Mountain for years, and have never had a bad experience. 

Southeast view from the two-level, wrap around porch.

Their cabins are solid, well-furnished, and affordable, and if you look for it, they often have pretty good specials. Their office is right smack in the middle of Wears Valley, so if you're staying in Wears, it's very convenient to the cabin.

Southwest view.

Now, not every cabin has a view (you can specifically request one, or use the search on their website). Dawsey's Dream is situated high up on the northern side of the valley and commands a spectacular south-facing view of the Smoky Mountains. It was definitely one of the prettiest perspectives we've had here.

Looking straight south.  I could get used to this view.
With the exception of one rainy morning, we were blessed with great weather.  With such a great-looking base of operations, and with seeing family for the first time in a long time, it really was easy to linger and hard to leave the cabin and get out into the park. But we did.

View out the front windows.  Dining table on the left.

Driving around the park

I love driving down Little River Road, and enjoy taking friends and family to see it. Here are just a few pictures from that trip.

Little River.

Canadian geese: they really don't give a *@%#.

At one funny moment in the drive, we were stopped Little River Road, and a pickup truck narrowly avoided hitting a pair of Canadian geese that were landing on the road in front of him, whether he liked it or not.  These geese were amazing, in that they let us walk right up to them and take pictures.  I've since learned that these geese are notorious for their poor manners and indifference to people. 

View from Maloney Point, I believe.

Laurel Falls

We wanted an easy morning hike, so after the rain that wet the land one morning stopped, we headed out for a trip to Laurel Falls.

Laurel Falls Trail.

Laurel Falls is one of the most popular trails in the area.  The trailhead is very well marked, on Little River Road, with a good deal of parking.

View from the trail.

It's less than 2 miles to the falls, on a mostly paved trail with a steady, gentle incline.  When I was walking on the paved trail, I couldn't help but think of how much work it must have been to pave, probably by hand.

Laurel Falls
The falls themselves are probably as wide as they are tall.  There had been recent rain, so I assume the flow was up a little bit. 

It really is quite a drop.  But there is a sign in case you missed that.

Worth the walk.

After the Smoky Mountains, we headed east to North Carolina, then hopped a plane down south to do the tourist thing in Orlando.  More on that to come!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Upper Tellico Paddle

Tellico Lake

A great tip from a friend and near record-high temperatures brought us and our kayak to the upper Tellico Lake for a delightful paddle last Sunday.

The blue sky over my shoulder.

The water was clear, the sky was blue.  It was a bit gusty on the water; when the wind blew, there was a decent chop and plenty of spray off the paddles.  But then it would subside to total comfort for minutes at a time.

TVA sign about the archeological site on this island.

We chose to paddle out around the shallow islands first.  One had a sign indicating it was protected archeological property.  Someone told us that it was the site of an ancient Native American burial ground.  That of course didn't stop TVA from flooding the valley.

Underwater treelines.

For those that don't know, Tellico Lake, a.k.a. Tellico Reservoir, is a man-made lake created by the Tennessee Valley Authority via the Tellico Dam.  In parts you can still see the stumps of old treelines sticking up through the water. 

Old trees want to snag your boat.  Don't let them!

What that means for boaters is keep a sharp eye out for hidden sticks ready to ruin your day.  It also means there are plenty of shallow areas to explore that motorized boat traffic can't reach. 

A really serene channel three islands back from the boat launch.
We even had to get out a couple times to move the boat along.  It also made for challenging work on the rudder.

Not another soul on the water.

The best part was we had the entire lake to ourselves.  There were a few cars at the put-in, but the entire time on the water we saw only one boat.

Sunlight off the water at the end of the day.

Ramp in, ramp out.
As we were heading back to take out, I realized that although I've lived in Knoxville for almost 12 years, I only recently discovered that the ability to paddle beautiful bodies of water like this, especially on a weekend in early April, is the best part of living in East Tennessee.  I'm really looking forward to next weekend and many more trips this summer.

Loaded up.  Heading home.