Friday, September 16, 2011


The Chevy Camaro I had in high school
The Control and I spent much of our high school years driving around trying to get lost. As a result of doing this quite often, we couldn't get lost in New Jersey anymore, even if people wished we would. The only way for us to comply with the myriad requests to get lost was to head out of state. But we never really did that until recently. Our most recent road trip was rife with beer-related activities.

We had decided to head up to Providence to idle some time away in their two brewpubs, but that somehow turned into a trip to Newport, RI. The revised plans included a beer store stop in New Haven, CT, lunch in Mystic, a brewery visit near the Connecticut-Rhode Island border, a brewery visit in Newport followed up by dinner at a brewpub just up the road from that brewery. Connecticut and Rhode Island beers were the concentration as was trying whole belly clams and stuffed quahogs, or "stuffies" as the locals call them. We had a lot planned and set our goals high, but we held low expectations for completing all of them and thus we set out.

When I travel it isn't exactly off-the-cuff. I am a incessant over-the-top planner...a devil-in-the-details planner. I need to know as much about a place before I go there as I can. Some say that it ruins the sense of discovery and adventure, but I feel it's necessary and it actually aides in the fact that we spend less time trying to find the things we're looking for and wind up with extra time to find things we didn't know we were looking for. You can read that last statement a few times, but it will be more clearly illustrated as the trip unfolds.

Getting a delivery, but not beer
We almost delayed the trip a week, but the weather forecast for that Friday was remarkable and we decided to take advantage of it and proceeded as originally planned. We set out at 9:00AM to avoid rush hour and headed over the Tappan Zee to the Hutch and from there took the Merritt Parkway all the way into New Haven and easily found Amity Wine and Spirits. The purpose here was to hunt down some Connecticut beers and stuff I can't find in New Jersey. The beer aisle is right in front of you as you walk in and featured much of what I see in New Jersey except for the expected larger representation of beers from New England. Thomas Hooker and Cavalry were easy to find, but I had to do some searching for Olde Burnside and New England Brewing Company (NEBC). Our timing was bad as none of the highly-sought after NEBC's were there. I also came away with a bottle from Berkshire Brewing in Massachusetts which was the best of the lot I purchased that day. Nothing else really special other than some beers from Maine I had not seen before and few Rogues that didn't make their way onto the shelves of my most frequented beer store.

One of the most impressive aspects of Amity Wines and Spirits was their tequila selection. Yes, this is a beer blog, but I do enjoy a really nice tequila from time to time and their selection was overwhelming. It's entirely possible that it was huge only because they seemed to stock every intricately blown-glass vessel of tequila they could get their hands on. The tequila inside may have been a lot less impressive than the bottle, but there were some in plain bottles that neither The Control nor I had ever seen. We were loathe to purchase any without doing a little research first. We may need to go back for when NEBC ships Imperial Stout Trooper and to pick up some tequila.

Notice, no Julia Roberts, or Eric either
There was a Sam Ash next door and we spent some time in there, but then hit the road again and wound our way through New Haven, past Yale University and then to Route 95 North. We were making really good time but encountered our first batch of traffic at the 395 interchange, but then it was clean sailing all the way into Mystic. We exited Route 95 before we crossed the Mystic River and came into that quaint-little-fishing-village-turned-vacation-destination via Route 1 North and as soon as we got into town we came to a dead halt. It was the scheduled time for the drawbridge across the river to go up. So we waited, parked just shy of Mystic Pizza. No, we did not see Julia Roberts and did not stop in for a slice.

Fried clam bellies = Blech
The bridge finally went down and we drove through to the other side of town to our lunch destination: Sea Swirl Seafood. Here is where we got to try fried whole belly clams and I can sum up the experience in one word: blech. These are obviously an acquired taste as the mouthfeel is as if you've bitten into a pussy eyeball and the taste is that of the sea floor. We used most of our large sodas to wash them down. However, the fried clam strips were the best I have ever had and we eagerly gorged, luxuriating in the fact that they were not in the slightest way rubbery. Worth the trip for those.

We finished lunch and looked at our watches and realized we had some time to kill...we were a full hour and a half ahead of schedule! So we decided to backtrack and go into town. As we found parking we realized that those large sodas we downed needed to be addressed. Across the road from where we parked was a place called John's with Irish flags flying outside and a small group of people and a dog huddled outside. We decided to stop in for a pee and a pint. Stepping inside we noticed we were the only people there, that is until the group that was huddled outside all filed in, dog and all, and one of them went behind the bar to serve us.

I love these places: Small, local, casual, friendly and serving local beer. They had a Newport Storm and a couple of Cottrell Brewery offerings on tap along with Irish pub standards Guinness, Harp and Smithwicks. Perfect! We eagerly used the facilities, each had a pint and then headed out to see the town a little, saying we'd probably be back in half an hour. The looks we received were friendly, but seemed to say, "Not likely."

Very similar to Cottrell's Mystic Bridge IPA label
We farted around town a little, entering some of the shops and galleries and skirting the rest of the tourists, trying not to throw any of them off the bridge. It wasn't all that crowded, but the commercialism was heavily evident. We decided to head back to John's to kill the rest of the time we had until our next destination was due to open. As we entered John's we were greeted with an incredulous, "You're back." To which I replied, "We learned that this is the only real place in town". We were congratulated for finding the "locals' watering hole" and were poured a few more pints and entered into conversations ranging from the French, America's early wars, bar jokes, John's bartenders past and present, why flags were flying at half mast in the state and the use of dictionaries in bars. We made friends with Rowdy, that was the dog's name, and then then departed with a really nice, warm feeling that we knew did not come from the clam bellies.

As we drove east out of Mystic on Route 1, we were grateful for four things: 1) that the traffic on the way to Mystic was really light, 2) the clam bellies didn't do anything to upset our bellies, 3) we found a place to pee after downing 24 ounces of soda to wash down the clam bellies and 4) that the place we found to pee was John's. We were fully aware that the experience there (not the peeing) had put us in a frame of mind that would allow us to just roll with whatever this roadtrip put out there for us. The planning had come in handy and we were right on schedule and we would stay right on schedule. What weren't aware of was that this roadtrip had a few more pleasant surprises in store for us.


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