All of the best foods are fermented: bread, cheese, wine, cured meats, sauerkraut, and of course beer. Fermentation occurs when yeast converts sugars into acids, gases, and/or alcohol, depending on your (and more so the yeast or bacterias) intended outcome. Food artfully coerced into controlled decay to transform into complex delicacies. Wheat dough comes to life with expelled CO2, sugary wort infuses with bitter alcohol and natural carbonation.
Cabbage when dehydrated with salt will create its own fermentation environment. A natural bacterium on the outside of the vegetable infects the water expelled after salting, dropping the PH and increasing the acidity so that only it is able to survive. It is then free to happily digest all the sugary enzymes it wants without competition. Bacteria is a wonderful ally in a world of bratwurst and schnitzel.
Beer just so happens to pair well with all of these fermented delights. Sauerkraut and sausage with a German Oktoberfest is a pillar of culinary perfection. Just about every style of cheese can find a partner, Geuze beer and goat cheese, Belgian Tripple and brie. Beer, at its essence, is grain fermented in barrels. Cheese is grain (often the same varieties) fermented in cow stomachs. The tastes and flavors that came out of the fermenters have stayed with humanity ever since this beautiful decay was discovered. Although the methods have vastly diversified, giving us endless variety and style, the basic principles are still there. It is valuable to note that anyone can capture this magic with a few tools of the modern kitchen and an internet recipe.
Sorry for the radio silence. The trip has met it’s end in Carlsbad California. After traveling south out of Portland, east over to Sacramento, and finally through the Central Valley our train hit the coast. The beauty of this final stretch of track inspires a somber reflection on the distance I have come. Over 120 hours of total train time spanning 15 days. I have called these trains my temporary home. They brought me to family and friends, showed me stunning landscapes, and let me completely relax the entire time. I feel indebted to have had such an amazing experience and not had to lift a finger to get where I’m going.
I’m picked up in Los Angeles at around 9 pm tired and dirty. We drive the I-5 the rest of the way to Carlsbad. Highway just isn’t the same, the personality is gone. Instead of meandering across the rolling hills we eat the pavement like there is someplace else we would rather be. That is part of the allure of train travel. The entire time I spent in transit I never felt I had to be anywhere or had to do anything. I could sit in peaceful bliss and read a book, or just kick back and watch the trees pass by if I so desired. There is nowhere to go but the dining car, nothing to be but free.
This will not be the last train I ride. With all the miles I covered there are still plenty left unseen. With all the beers I drank there are more out there to try. My goal for the ride was to drink good beer with good people in every city I went. That was definitely accomplished. I had fantastic pale ale in Chicago, Geuze beer and French cheese in DC, pilsner and Helles in Florida, and of course an IPA in Portland. But just think of all the cities I missed. Beer Meccas like Denver, New Orleans, and San Antonio. I haven’t yet enjoyed an ancient ale in Delaware or an irish stout in Green Bay. There is much more rail to explore and plenty of time to get there. The Brewtrain has come in to station but this is by no means the final destination
“I knew I was going to take the wrong train. So I left early”
Northwest IPA’s pair beautifully with Indian cuisine. How fitting, seeing as this style was originally brewed for long distance transport to India. Without refrigeration beer often spoiled on its long journey from England to British soldiers stationed there during colonization . The solution was the addition of more hops to British pale ales which acted as a natural preservative in the beer. The British soldiers loved the taste of these new hop heavy brews and the style remains.
I now sit at an Indian restaurant drinking an Oregon local Bridgeport IPA with chicken tikka, goat curry, and plenty of naan. A bold American hop aroma sits on top of the beer which pours a bright gold with a thick foamy head. Floral citrus flavors match the complex spices in the tikka as the heavy hop character is able to slice through the chillies in the curry, just bitter enough, and with a smooth dry finish. The lifting carbonation cools the flames, preparing the palate for the next bite.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw Bridgeport on the menu but I still was. When you typically walk into an Indian or Chinese or Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, the beer list is severely lacking. Usually 2 domestics (bud or bud light) followed by two “imports” which taste exactly the same as the domestics. Chang, 33, Tiger, Asahi, Sapporo, I guarantee they all taste exactly like everything coming from Anheuser-Busch. In fact some of the above are brewed by Anheuser-Busch. Bland Pilsner has taken over the world. Portland is fighting back. The front lines are restaurants like these. Non-beer centric venues that are still willing to serve great brew. As I take another perfect sip of Bridgeport I wonder how it took me so long to get out here.
Fresh baked bread. Enjoy hot out of the oven with butter, honey, and a German Weiss beer.