Why do I love visiting the United States?

Why do I love visiting the United States?

It’s not the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but I’ve been called out once again for having a holiday shortlist that doesn’t include any other countries.

It’s a little frustrating, as I think people don’t understand my reasons for visiting the same country over and over. That’s fair enough, so I’m hoping to shed some light on that topic!

Flying Solo

Many of you know that I’m one to go on trips abroad alone. I realised a few years ago that I couldn’t satisfy my continual travel itch by aligning schedules with friends and family. Thankfully, I still manage to do a couple of group trips each year, but I always end up spending a few weeks away by myself.

You might think this sounds super sad (and I get that) but I really enjoy the time to realign myself, it’s a little cliché but I always come out with a more concrete sense of self and identity (and a lot less money).

One of the first things I need to do on my travels is feel confident that I can hack it by myself, while having a fun time, and making travel companions along the way. I’m socially anxious as a rule and anything to detract from that is a keeper.

As an English-speaking country (I would make a joke about American English, but us Scots have done a good enough job of ruining the English language ourselves), the United States is somewhere I don’t have to worry about getting myself into a situation I can’t get myself out of. No language barrier, and any cultural barriers are broken as a result of almost exclusively watching American TV for the last decade.

I’d much rather enjoy other parts of the world with friends where we can figure out what the hell the signs, menus, people and animals are actually saying together.

Beer Scene

Oh my god.

The beer scene (assuming that’s an acceptable term this week) is incredible and light-years beyond the majority of the rest of the world. Sure there’s a craft beer boom in most parts of the world and everyone is getting a piece of the pie. But the US remains the world’s biggest pie factory.

There are so many breweries, brewpubs and specialist craft beer bars in certain areas of the US that you run out of time far before you run out of beer. Denver, Portland & San Diego come to mind in that sense. You can walk for 5-10 minutes in Portland and reach Cascade, Commons, Rogue and Hair of the Dog. These aren’t two-bit operations, these are international breweries we hear about across the globe. Brilliant.

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Crooked Stave – Denver, Colorado

Beer Food

I’m taking the liberty and creating another heading because this is so important. Have you tried the food at American brewpubs? It’s absolutely crazy to me that the food quality is so high. Sure, there’s the odd miss here and there, and certain cities stand out more than others, but for the most part the food is absolutely restaurant quality. Generally I don’t even have to seek out the best restaurants in town, I only need to research good brewpubs and have a bite in each.

Just to pick Portland again, there were a few stand-out meals that I still remember vividly.

  • Chile verde with pork at Bridgeport.
  • Burrito with salsa verde and assorted fresh pickles at Cascade.
  • Poutine and kobe beef burgers at Rogue.

Ask me to remember food I’ve eaten in Edinburgh at pubs and I’ll probably only remember negative experiences. +1 America.

(NB. It’s not that Edinburgh is bad for food in general, we have loads of Michelin Star restaurants – but pub food is generally mediocre at best, unfortunately.)

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Fried Chicken & Pancakes – Jacob’s Pickles, New York

General Gluttony

The American diet is not for everyone, particularly if you want to survive the upcoming zombie apocalypse or live past 50 without having a massive coronary. But can we just talk about how good the following foods are for a second, though? And in American portion sizes. Fuck me.

  • Boston Clam Chowder – this is now my favourite food.
  • Freshly ground, rare beef burgers
  • Chicago deep dish pizza
  • A loaded Chicago hot dog
  • Lobster Mac & Cheese
  • Shrimp Mac & Cheese
  • Brisket Mac & C… you get the idea.
  • Mexican food (yes, I know this sounds stupid, but Mexican food in the US is on point)
  • Barbecue – ribs, wings, brisket, pulled pork, grits, cornbread
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Lobster Tacos & Boston Clam Chowder – Row 34, Boston

Friends

Apparently the only place I have friends in the world (besides Australia, thanks to my bonza partner – strewth mate) is in the US. Many of the times I head over there I have the opportunity to catch up with mega-pals as well as some point that I’ve met on previous trips.

My friend Niall (who currently lives in California), has joined me on 75% of past trips because he’s an ultra-ledge. I also have mega-friends Amy and Tom in Chicago who have driven me around the midwest and bought me GABF tickets (great people), alarmingly I’ve known Amy for 20 years online. Who knew we’d both get super into craft beer?

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Founders Brewing Company – Grand Rapids, Michigan

Summary

I understand that constantly visiting the US may make me seem uncultured or narrow-minded, but it’s the only other place in the world that I’m so taken with that I’ve considered moving to. The life I lead in Edinburgh which generally involves eating and drinking to excess is exactly the one I lead when I’m in the US, with amplified food and beer options. I feel almost at home there even when travelling alone.

I’ve visited loads of other places in the world – Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Australia and Dubai to name a few, and I’ve had an awesome time, but for solo travels it’s USA all the way.

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Ballast Point, San Diego

Tap Aggregators Gone Wild

Tap Aggregators Gone Wild

Beer Tickers

I’m not sure I would dare to brand myself with this term, but nevertheless, methodically ticking new beers is a big part of the craft beer scene. I don’t pass judgement, as I believe everyone should be free to enjoy beer in their own way. Also, just between you and me, I meet all of the criteria.

It can be a difficult task, keeping track of all the new beer that is arriving in your city. You have to constantly scour a multitude of sources; Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and individual bar sites. It’s far too easy to miss rare and unusual beers that have gone on tap or whose bottles have been added to an online store.

As a software developer, I’ve been conditioned to identify areas where technology can provide a solution to a real world problem. That and I’m just a grumpy person that gets really frustrated with everything that isn’t straightforward. This is, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, one of the areas where software can help.

This is not an unsolved problem. There are several websites, such as Taplister and BeerMenus who have been kicking ass in this area for years, by allowing bars to list their own beers directly, push to social media, push to RateBeer and send users notifications on tap changes, which allows the craft beer hunter to excel in their acquisition of rates. Taplister even allows you to throw up a big screen TV in your bar and automatically synchronise your current taps with the display. Brilliant.

Unfortunately there hasn’t been much uptake for Taplister or BeerMenus in the UK. This includes Edinburgh, which otherwise has a thriving craft beer community and growing number of truly excellent bars. It’s a bit of a leap to expect this to suddenly change, as there’s really no expectation for bars to have a realtime online presence in the UK.

Taps Aff

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OK, so, that’s more than enough preamble.

I’ve decided that the way to help get us moving along this digital timeline, from the dark ages to the cyber ages, is to create something that meets somewhere in the middle.

While hungover on the 1st of January, 2016, I threw something together that scraped Twitter and various APIs and websites to aggregate all of the tap data that we do have exposed by the various bars in Edinburgh.

Some bars didn’t have structured tweets/posts (e.g. one tweet with all taps and a way to identify these tweets consistently) and some simply wouldn’t keep their otherwise high fidelity data up-to-date. The really crap joke here is that it’s the same bar. Though I’m hoping that they heed my request to start keeping this up-to-date, as they do have some brilliant beer.

I did however, manage to include The Hanging Bat, Spit/Fire, Brewdog and Bottledog, which I think is a terrific start. You can get over there now and have a look!

Looking Forward

As I said above, this is really just a jumping off point. My hope is that Taps Aff becomes modestly popular in Edinburgh and encourages bars to:

  • Post structured tap listings.
  • Keep their tap listings up-to-date.
  • Ideally replace image based tap listings with textual ones (to support sending notifications, search, analytics, etc. in the future.)
  • Ultimately move to a more manageable platform like Taplister (which will also be supported by Taps Aff.)

This should be of great benefit to the craft beer community as a whole, but is particularly for the tickers. Happy ticking.

Joe

NB. If you’re a bar owner in Edinburgh and want your taps to show up on Taps Aff, shoot me an email. This is a totally free service and simply involves keeping a list of taps up-to-date on your company blog/site or ideally setting up a free Taplister account and posting them there.