Where I go … and what I drink while I’m there …
Susie Drinks …
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Where I go … and what I drink while I’m there …
San Juan, Puerto Rico
If there’s one thing Austinites love, it’s originality. (Ok, originality and music … and tacos … and Willie Nelson.) When famed Belgian brewer Pierre Celis opened the doors to Celis Brewery in 1992, it was Austin’s very first craft brewery, an establishment at the forefront of what’s now a thriving industry ’round these parts.
The brewery gained national and international notoriety with its Celis White, a Belgian witbier that Pierre Celis championed in his hometown of Hoegaarden, Belgium. The beer’s popularity led to the rapid growth of the brewery, which was subsequently sold to the Miller Brewing Company. In 2001, the brewery closed its doors. (Sad face.)
On Tuesday, July 11th—exactly 25 years to the day of the original brewery’s grand opening—droves of eager beer lovers gathered to welcome back one of Austin’s originals with a celebration featuring live music, brewery tours, and a special Celis-infused menu by Frank. The sweltering summer day was a perfect backdrop for the formal introduction of Celis’ first three Texas brews:
Celis White: first brewed by Pierre Celis in 1965, the signature witbier is made with the original Celis recipe including Cascade, Saaz and Willamette hops, coriander and orange peel, as well as the proprietary yeast strain from Belgium. Its slightly tart fruit flavors are balanced with light maltiness and wheat, and the citrus and spice finish delivers a refreshing taste that pairs perfectly with a summer afternoon in Texas.
Celis Pale Bock: this Belgian Pale Bock is brewed with caramel malts and Saaz, Willamette and Cascade hops, giving it a deep copper color and a creamy Belgian-white head. The Pale Bock has dry berry with caramel-malt and citrus aromas, and delicious flavors of subdued berry, malt, a touch of citrus, hints of herbs and spices, and a touch of bitterness at the finish.
Celis Citrus Grandis IPA: Celis Brewery’s first new recipe is an East Coast style IPA made with the finest Azacca and Citra hops. This zesty Caribbean-inspired brew mixes juicy citrus and tropical fruit aromatics in its hazy golden depths. The IPA pours hazy pale orange with frothy, paper-white head. The effortlessly drinkable beer has bold flavors of grapefruit, orange rind and melons followed by light peach, passionfruit and pineapple notes. It finishes with lingering piney, hop bitterness that begs for a second sip.
You can look forward to more releases in fall 2017, including Celis Grand Cru!
Christine Celis, Pierre’s daughter and partner in the original brewery, has rebuilt the legendary establishment, which features some of the original equipment from Belgium and a taproom with its majestic centerpiece, the original Celis Brewery’s massive hand-beaten copper kettle from the early 1900s which has been converted into a beautiful bar. The 22,000-square-foot brewery in northwest Austin has the capacity to brew more than 50,000 barrels per year, with a technologically advanced 50 HL BrauKon brew system modified specifically to use old Belgian brewing techniques.
Now available on tap at more than 100 bars and restaurants in central Texas, availability will expand to Dallas Fort Worth in July, and San Antonio and Hill Country in August. Celis beers will be available in bottles in retail locations in August 2017.
Swing by the brewery now for some refreshing drinks at their stunning new bar. I know I’ll be returning very soon!
Celis Brewery, founded by Christine Celis in Austin, Texas, brews Belgian-style ales and other beers, including the original witbier that Pierre Celis brewed in Hoegaarden, Belgium. The brewery is an extension of the Celis family legacy and builds on the award-winning craft beer heritage for which the family is known.
Cover picture courtesy of Celis Brewing Company
Let’s press pause for just a second on all the talk about great cocktails, new pubs in town, and all the other great things that revolve around … well, libations, and talk about cars.
I drive a 2003 Pontiac Vibe. The sister of the Toyota Matrix produced by a company that’s not even around anymore. It’s maroon with gray plastic trim and rear bumper. It does have a sunroof, which is hardly ever opened except in tilt mode when parked, and only to vent the horrific Dallas summer heat. Super-sexy right? Yeah … not so much.
So when you receive an email that says, “Do you want to drive a brand new Toyota for a week?” Sign.Me.Up. Such a cool opportunity, and one I had never driven one before. Little did I know, they weren’t assigning me a specific car, Toyota allowed me to pick between 6(!) of their models.
This is the 2017 Toyota 86. I have never been much for orange, but I love this color Toyota calls “Hot Lava”. I’ll get in much more detail, but it comes standard with 17-inch twisted spoke alloy wheels and front fender-mounted vortex generators. With its mean looking LED headlights and sleek, compact design, this is one sexy car.
Toyota also invited us to attend a BBQ meal and grilling lesson with chef Matt Pittman of TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters” and the owner of Meat Church. We started the day by picking out our own cuts of meat, too. (And I thought it couldn’t get much better.)
We started at Rudolph’s Market in Deep Ellum where we learned about different cuts of meat and were given the choice between a 6 week aged ribeye or a filet. I chose the ribeye but had a twinge of regret when this guy started cutting the filets. The meat was so tender, it actually appeared to split open before the knife even touched it.
Once the meat was wrapped we all got in our Toyotas and headed down to Waxahachie. That is where Matt Pittman lives and runs his company, Meat Church, where he makes and fulfills orders for his amazing seasonings and teaches classes. His outdoor kitchen is as big as the house that I moved out of about a year ago. It has 3 Green Eggs, a giant smoker, and what seemed like eight other kinds of grills. He also has more Yeti products than I have ever seen in one place outside of a sporting goods store. Above it all … is a Big Ass Fan. (Thank God.)
Matt showed and allowed us to taste the difference between 3 different methods of cooking a steak on our own: traditional (just throwing it on the grill), sous vide, and the reverse sear method. I have to say, I had reservations about eating a steak which most of the process of cooking involved water (sous vide), but out of the three, it was my favorite (by an extremely close margin).
Much of the class was spent describing the Reverse Sear Method. I won’t go into all the details here because you can find the entire process in detail on his website.
The quick and dirty process:
1. Kosher Salt to tenderize, sit, rinse.
2.Let the meat rest.
3. Place in oven at 275º (~40 minutes for medium rare).
4. Let the meat rest.
5. Sear it on really hot open flame (grill) if you want it sexy (his words), or his preferred method, a cast iron skillet for 1 minute on either side.
The key items that Matt claims make a huge difference when grilling:
1. USDA Choice meat. He says if you can’t afford a place like Rudolph’s, Costco is where he gets most of his meat.
2. A digital thermometer. Matt said he spent $90 on the one he uses, but the price is worth it so you don’t overcooking your steak.
3. If using a grill for indirect heat or to sear, use lump charcoal (wood). The briquets we have use ? Yeah, they’re crap.
The amazing cuts of meat were seared to perfection. When it was time to eat, we were treated to an appetizer of smoked tuna dip, and the perfectly cooked steak was accompanied by grilled asparagus.
Now. Back to the car.
**Disclaimer** What follows is the ramblings of a 34-year-old man that has only driven a couple of (moderately) fun/fast cars in his life.
All I have to say is this car is bad-ass. I read the specs before I got it, but compared to the cars that I have driven in the past, this 2.0L, 205hp Boxer 16V engine with 156lb.-ft of torque made me grip the 86’s leather-trimmed steering wheel a little tighter. This thing is FAST. For you gearheads out there, the exterior is “expertly crafted to help produce wind-cheating drag coefficient of .29 Cd.” (That just means that it’s literally built for speed.)
To complement the speed and acceleration, the 86 has Front MacPherson® Strut and Real Double Wishbone Suspension, which, honestly, I had to get used to being accustomed to my loosey goosey Vibe steering. When you open it up on the freeway, you can actually feel the way the car’s exterior design actually pushes it down to grip the road and give it better aerodynamics. This is a dangerous proposition for someone to drives fast in crappy cars. (Yes. I am ashamed to say that actually is a radar detector in my windshield. C’mon guys, have you ever driven Hwy 114 in Irving?)
Moving on. The guy I took delivery from asked me if I knew how to drive a standard. “Of course!” I said. Seemed like it was a bit late to ask that question. Little did I know, the only standard that I had ever driven (albeit for 10 years) was a 5 speed, loose, crappy transmission. This short throw 6-Speed Close-Ratio transmission was INSANE. (Don’t tell anyone, but when trying to back out of my driveway, it took me 5 minutes of putting it in first gear before I finally had to pull out the owner’s manual. Turns out there is a pull-up mechanism on the shifter that puts it in reverse.)
As for the interior…
When you first sit in the car, the racing-style seats give your hips a comfortable hug. I’m a big guy (more on that in a minute), so many of the sport-style seats are too narrow for my shoulders. Not these. I could drive this thing cross country and still be comfortable.
Combine that with the Granlux (suede-like) material accents, extensive Bluetooth features (because, safety), 8-speaker Pioneer audio system, AUX and USB input ports, and 6 standard airbags to protect you, this car is (almost) as fun to ride in as it is to drive.
My friend Wes wanted to go for a ride in this impeccable machine. His statement perfectly describes the controls in the Toyota 86: “I love how simple it is. Even the touch screen display is simple to use.” As a UX designer, I was impressed. I hadn’t thought much about it because I was just using it, not trying to find all the controls.”
Oh, and the trunk is spacious enough to fit two large suitcases and a backpack, in addition to the “back seat” space. Let’s be real, to ride in the back seat would require the front passengers to be 3′ tall … the backseat passengers, too. (So use it for storage unless it’s absolutely necessary to take additional riders.) But, for real, four seat belts mean lower insurance rates, y’all.
Two things I feel I have to mention:
All that said, neither of these would prevent me from purchasing this vehicle were I able. These are negligible to how much I absolutely loved driving it. The morning the car was scheduled for pickup, I got up early, (which I never do). I took it out for one last drive, grabbed some breakfast tacos, and received the call that it was time … they were about 2 minutes out from my house. I won’t admit to tears, but a hard sniff may have happened.
Now that I have tasted the sweetness of the Toyota 86, I kinda want to die when I get in my Pontiac. It is what I can only imagine it would be like to drive a school bus with donut tires meant for a compact car.
2 door sports car
2.0 liter, 4-cylinder 205 horsepower Boxer 16V engine
Short-throw 6-speed close-ratio manual transmission
Front-mid engine, Rear-wheel drive
136mph top speed
0-60 in 6.4 seconds
Disclosure: We were provided use of Toyota 86 free of charge. Opinions all my own.
I’ve always been a fan of Kimpton Hotels. To start, they just smell so damn good, and don’t get me started on the kitschy, Jonathan Adler lamp-filled decor. Kimpton hotels have a distinct feel, and the Hotel Monaco Denver is no exception.
In the heart of Downtown Denver, the Kimpton Hotel Monaco is a respite from the hustle of the city. (Or at least what was hustle before weed became legal.) The staff at the hotel made me feel welcome and important, and I cannot think of a better customer service experience I’ve had in recent years. To round out the stellar customer service experience, the doormen are extremely courteous and nearly make your day anytime you enter or leave the hotel. (I may have forgotten something in my room and, after remembering, intentionally walked outside before turning around so they’d chat to me briefly.)
Possibly the best part of my last stay at the Hotel Monaco was the discovery of their daily happy hour in the lobby. (Oh, did I mention that it’s a FREE happy hour?) They offer snacks along with featured wine for a couple hours each afternoon to spoil guests. The second best part was learning that they have hotel bicycles that guests can borrow … also for free.
The hotel’s decidedly western-inspired yet contemporary decor feels comfortable yet haute thanks to little touches and rich textures. Then the real comfort is realized when you first sink into their soft-as-they-could-be beds and fluffy pillows. The beds are comfortable enough that you may even forget to close the curtains, only to be woken up by the light streaming in, then refusing to get out of bed to close the curtains because you’re too cocooned-in to move.
If you can make it out of bed, this Hotel Monaco’s on-site restaurant, Panzano, is sure to please. From thoughtfully crafted cocktails to some of the best Italian-inspired food I’ve had in a while, it’s a great stop for lunch or dinner. (Just make sure to arrive in stretchy pants.)
As Kimpton hotels go, the entire experience was delightful from the aforementioned comfy bed to the plush, animal print robes. I’ve decided that it’s my new jumping off point for all Colorado ski trips going forward … and maybe a random night or two when Denver sounds like a nice getaway.
Amenities: pet-friendly, robes, on-site salon and spa, 24-hour fitness center, free bicycle rentals, yoga mats in every room
FACT: The hotel bar is coming back. Some of the most iconic and groundbreaking bartenders that not only participated in the craft cocktail movement but started it, were found in hotel bars, and we are glad to say that the trend is swinging back around. My fellow Dallasites have seen this exemplified in Midnight Rambler, Knife, and Dragonfly, but on my last visit to Denver I was delighted to visit EDGE Bar at the Four Seasons and found that it had some of the bartenders upping the cocktail game behind the bar … in a hotel.
While cocktail menus are fantastic, I’ve always enjoyed having conversations with bartenders and having them make me something off the menu. (When it’s not busy, of course. Don’t be that jerk that takes up five minutes on a busy Saturday night.) I was delighted when both of the resulting cocktails were extraordinary.
Their program is innovative thanks to options like a monthly barrel-aged cocktail feature, the use of unique liqueurs and spirits, and knowledgable bar staff. With leadership from their brand new bar manager, James Menkal, we’re sure to see more unique and innovative options from EDGE Bar. Menkal was named one of Eater’s Best Bartenders in Denver last year and one of Zagat Denver’s 30 under 30 in 2014, so we can expect some exciting things from him.
Beyond a fantastic cocktails program, EDGE offers plenty of local beers along with more than 50 wines by the glass. The bar itself is spacious and is a perfect spot for anything from a drink to shake off the work day or to shake it out before heading out. There is plenty of lounge and bar seating and the bar is complete with televisions … if that’s your thing.
After a couple drinks, we were escorted to the dining room for dinner. We started with the Beets and Goat Cheese and they were absolutely on point–a bit earthy and balanced with the light tang of the goat cheese. The highlight of the menu was, without a doubt, the steaks. EDGE smokes their meats with pecan wood and is one of the only places in Colorado using pecan wood. The result was a deliciously smoked meat with a deep flavor that left us wanting more.
To complete the meal, we ordered the Roasted Cauliflower and the Lobster Mac & Cheese. The Roasted Cauliflower was incredible and the entire table agree that we’d all order again; the texture was perfect and the light curry dusting added the perfect zing. The Lobster Mac & Cheese was surprisingly delicate and the cheese was very light.
While we were too full after our meal to have dessert, we were treated to a milk chocolate lollipop in the shape of a cow with a couple drops of white chocolate. It was an incredibly simple but perfect end to a delectable meal.
Overall, the EDGE Bar and Restaurant offered a perfect night without a single misstep. I’ll be back on my next trip to Denver without a doubt to see what Menkal had done with the bar and to have another cut of their pecan-smoked steak.
EDGE Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel Denver
1111 14th Street, Denver, Colorado
Yes, this is a booze blog. I hear you loud and clear … something seems a little weird here. BUT, I am known to DD from time to time and [GASP] … not drink. That said, I enjoy a nice drive every once in a while, and I was lucky enough to get a schmancy, brand new, fast as hell Lexus GS200t for my travels to the San Antonio Cocktail Conference last month. I’ll just say this: thanks to the car (and, sure, the company) I really enjoyed the drive.
This beauty got us there quickly (thank you, tollway around Austin!) and with an surprisingly small amount of gas. From Dallas we were able to drive to San Antonio and a quarter of the way back on one tank. The handling was also second to none, which is helpful since its acceleration is also impressive thanks to the 241 horsepower in the engine that got us up and moving to 60mph in just 7 seconds. (Ok, we didn’t test that feature … but we were tempted.)
So we’re checking boxes: fast, fuel efficient, handles like a
dram dream … but this baby is more than just performance. The inside of the car is more like a cockpit than a car thanks to the seemingly endless features, and was much more spacious than expected. The trunk alone could have fit nine, maybe ten cases of wine and my two yoga mats. (Because that’s how I measure.)
The hardest part of the week with this car has been the time since they took it back … my neighbor that I park across from just got a brand new one–black exterior, black interior, just totally sexy. And I have to see it every damn day when I back into my garage. (Talk about torture.)
In general, especially for a low emission sedan, this car really raises the bar.
Five-passenger sport sedan
8-speed direct-shift automatic “Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i) and paddle shifters”
Rear wheel drive
143mph top speed
0-60mph in 7 seconds
17.4 gallon fuel tank capacity
22 city/32 highway MPG
Disclosure: My team was provided use of a Lexus GS200t free of charge. Opinions are all my own.
Being a Texan, I’ve spent my fare share of time in San Antonio–both as a child exploring the Alamo and reveling in the bright colors and festive sights on the Riverwalk, and as an adult. Now, I can appreciate the vibrant culture, but also some different things about the city … the food, drink, and hospitality.
One of the historic hotels in Downtown, the St. Anthony, was built in 1909 and is steeped in history. One of the first hotels in the city, it was originally called “Waldorf on the Prairie”, as it was compared to New York’s Waldorf Astoria but was in a city that, at the time, wasn’t a metropolitan city (hence “on the prairie”). It’s said to not only be haunted, but also the place where Southwest Airlines was first conceived on a napkin at the St. Anthony Club …. which happens to have been the first place in the city to buy alcohol by the glass in 1959. (Bc that’s the kind of history I care about.)
I’ve stayed at the St. Anthony hotel thrice now, and each time it has been a better and better experience. My first visit was before its renovation, which took place 2012-2015. While that seems like a long time for a renovation, they did it slowly and thoughtfully as to not disturb guests too much and retain as much of the history behind the hotel as possible. And the result was goooooood.
Quite candidly, pre-renovation, the rooms were quite small and felt … tired. Now, they’re anything but with all the modern amenities that you’d expect from a luxury hotel, but also little bits of history here and there. Each hall and room have pictures and textures taken from the wildly extravagant annual Fiesta Coronation ball dresses, and event held at the St. Anthony for many years now. The rooms have more muted colors–grays, blacks, and dark woods–with pops of emerald green, the favorite accent color of Dorothy Draper who redesigned the hotel in the 1950s.
Perhaps the best of the upgrades? The beds and linens. I slept incredibly well during my stay … and I nearly refused to get dressed after cuddling up in the robes and towels. Luckily, I had meetings to get me out of the room or I may still be there.
The hotel’s long, opulent lobby overlooks Travis Park and is absolutely stunning. The piano that was once played twice daily when the hotel was first built has recently been reacquired and it’s back resting in the lobby under the lavish chandeliers that adorn the length of the lobby. Throughout we see the Draper green and furniture that’s a perfect marriage of old world, antique furniture and modern pieces.
New amenities include a heated pool overlooking Downtown (complete with cabanas and a full bar), a new, incredible restaurant, Rebelle (full review coming soon), and a craft cocktail bar, Haunt. Haunt offers some unique cocktails named after the chimeras that roam the halls (and bathrooms and libraries) of the more than century old hotel along with some less complicated options.
The service throughout the hotel was impeccable, from the room service to the valet and hospitality at the restaurants and bars. Everything was clean, well kept, and tidy. (Confession: I usually carry Lysol cloths and wipe down a room upon checking in, but I didn’t feel the need this time. Saves some time, for sure.)
My favorite hotel indulgence is morning room service and spending a lazy morning wallowing in bed. The food arrived faster than expected and it was all perfect (and surprisingly less expensive than other setups I’ve enjoyed). Humblebrag, but actually true … I think the croissant was perhaps the best one I’ve eaten since I lived in Paris.
With rates starting around $200, the location and overall experience can’t be beat. I’m personally looking forward to a return visit … especially once the spa that’s slated for later in 2017 opens.
***Many thanks to The St. Anthony for hosting me!***
In anticipation of the upcoming Breck Trek nights in Dallas this week, I stepped in to the actual Breckenridge Brewery for a pint and a tour. The state of the art brewery recently moved to a brand new facility in the Littleton neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. The beautiful mix of industrial metal and rustic wood creates the perfect atmosphere for beer connoisseurs and curious minds alike to enjoy an afternoon learning about the beer making process. I may not know much about beer, but the smell of the brewery alone was enough to make me want to start home brewing.
I started the tour with a nice glass of the Bumps N’ Jumps Session IPA, which is an exclusive and limited collaboration between Breckenridge and Vail (two awesome CO ski resorts). It accompanied the tour beautifully with light bitterness and full hop flavor. We then learned about the German-engineered tanks that are used in the facility the process and some of the things that make Breckenridge Brewery unique. My favorite tidbit was the fact that all of the spent grain (grain that the brewery no longer needs, which has been separated from the sugary liquid that will eventually be turned into beer) goes directly to a local farmer to feed his cattle. Efficiency, people.
The best stop on the tour was the barrel room, where all of the barrel-aged beer is stored for a period of time to absorb the taste and smells of the barrels themselves (much like aging a spirit). This room smelled like HEAVEN. The aromas of wood and rum and vanilla all played so well together that I refused to leave. They have several beers on rotation through the barrel room, but one beer that they always have available is their Whiskey Barrel Aged 471 Double IPA with Citra hops, which gives off aromas of tropical fruits and citrus flavors.
You may think that a brewery tour is all there is to do at the Breckenridge Brewery … EHHH! After the tour, I got to indulge myself in lunch at the Farm House, their on-site restaurant. Rustic rocking chairs, plush and comfy seating, and a stone fireplace provide for a mountain-esque ambiance. We started our meal with—what else—a flight of beer. Up for review was the Nitro Orange Chocolate Stout, the Break IPA, the Ophelia Hoppy Wheat, and the Whiskey Barrel Aged 471 Dry Hopped with Citra IPA. All were delicious and has citrus-y flavors, but my favorite was the Ophelia for its lightness and Mosaic hops.
Up to the challenge of satisfying my hunger were several plates, which we shared as to try the most items. We chose the chicken pot pie, the venison chili mac and cheese, and the salmon with risotto and asparagus. I don’t know which I enjoyed more because I didn’t stop to breathe between bites … everything was that good. As for desert, and my stomach said “no” but my eyes and my head said “OH YEAH, BABY. You have months before bathing suit season.” Guess which won? We indulged anyway and ordered the Apple Galette, a warm apple pie/strudel served in a cast iron skillet and topped with house-made vanilla porter ice cream.
This experience was the perfect lead in to the Breck Trek tour, which will be traveling across the US to give the other states a taste of the Colorado lifestyle. Live music, beer education, and of course Breckenridge Brewery beer sampling will occur at every stop on the tour. The Breck Trek will hit Dallas the week of January 16th, check out times and locations here.