When I returned home from the Texas leg of the tour, I was greeted by the overall shittyness of the Cincinnati winter that prompts me to tour the South as much as possible. Grey skies. Grey grass. Dead looking trees. Cold and wet, but not enough to amount to a significant snow or anything you could work or play with... just miserable, cold, wet, and dreary.
As is my routine, I tour for a couple of weeks, then come home for the end and beginning of each month, then head out again. While home I play some shows in the region, and so I did this time as well... my more-or-less monthly show at Little Miami Brewing Company, another non-brewery show or two, and on this night a regional gig... heading up to Cleveland for my first visit to Railroad Brewing Company in Avon, OH. Avon is a community just west of Cleveland, right on Lake Erie... not exactly the place you go to avoid winter in February, but I digress...
Railroad Brewing Company – Avon, OH (just west of Cleveland)
A wide selection of the brewery's own beers, as well as some guest beers, are available on tap at the brewery. Growlers are filled as well.
To get to Avon from Cincinnati, you head up I-71, and just past Mansfield, OH you jump off the interstate and take some smaller routes due north until you get to Lake Erie. Mansfield, by the way, is an interesting stop as it his home to the gothic looking prison where Shawshank Redemption was filmed. The prison is no longer operational, but it is open for tours, and during the Halloween season it's open as a giant haunted house. I've never experienced the tour nor the haunted version, but I couldn't think of too many better locations for a haunted adventure.
This north-central portion of the state is very rural, and home to quite a few Amish communities. You'll pass signs on the roads warning you to look out for their black horse-drawn buggies, and I encountered more than a couple just on this drive up. The sun was setting as I headed north through Amish country, and then a pretty heavy mix of freezing rain and (mostly) snow started. Ah, winter at the Great Lakes!
About 30 miles south of the venue, on this rural 2-lane highway, in the dark, with freezing rain and snow, I blew a tire on the tour van. Now, on the one hand I can't really complain, as I've had the van for just over a year, put about 25,000 miles on it during that time, and this was the first problem of any kind that I had experienced. On the other hand, it was dark, snowing, I was in a rural area with less than ideal amount of shoulder on the road, about 90 minutes before my scheduled start time at the brewery... and I had to change a flat for the first time on this van.
My primary car is a 2008 BMW 535XI that I've had since she was a baby, and while I've never had to fix a flat on it, if I ever need to all I'd have to do is pop the trunk, and the car's entire over-engineered tool set and flat would be right there and easy to access. This Chevy Express extended conversion van? Not so simple. I figured out the spare was mounted to the bottom of the vehicle, but figuring out where the interface was to lower it was another matter. The manual didn't say, and YouTube/Google showed me every damn variation of a Chevy truck or van except for mine. I eventually figured it out, and also found the tool kit, after unpacking a bunch of camping gear that I keep in the rear of the van under the bed. The tool kit was not well thought out, it was like digging a ditch with chopsticks, but it worked (after what seemed like a lot of unnecessary effort). Oh, I forgot to mention that before locating the tools and figuring out the spare I did call ahead to the brewery, let them know the situation, and we agreed that I'd keep them updated on my status.
I'm not going to bore you with all the little mishaps and frustrations that went into changing the tire, but just to give you the general idea here's a nice example: I mentioned I had to remove camping gear to get to the tool kit, and I mentioned there wasn't much shoulder... well as I put the rolled tent, camping chairs, etc. on the side of the road the weight of one of them caused it and the others to roll off the shoulder, down a 10ft dropoff, into a wooded ditch. And I mentioned that it freezing rain and snow, so you can picture how easy coming back up to the road was while carrying the camping gear. Get it?
Anyway, the whole thing probably took 45 min, and then I was back on the road. I made it to the brewery just after my 7pm start time, so we decided to just push everything back an hour so I could set up, calm down, and be in an appropriate headspace for my sets.
Luckily the scene at Railroad Brewing is very chill, and it took no time at all to put the flat tire behind and get comfortable.
The taproom has been open for about a year and a half, with the brewery having been founded by a local group of friends with a passion for making their own beer and a dream of starting a brewery in the area. The brewery and operations actually started in 2016, when they moved into their 4000 sqft facility with a 10 barrel system, and the taproom opened in October 2018. The taproom features a very long bar that runs most of the length of the facility, and a nice wide open room with plenty of tables and games and such. Musicians set up near the brewing vats towards one end of the long room, and play out towards the rest of the room.
The beer selection was large, quite varied, and the brews top notch. When I first arrived I paired the Nut Job (5.6%) Peanut Butter Brown Ale with a Jameson, to take the edge off. Due to the new start time I had the opportunity to sit at the bar for a few minutes and savor the beverages while getting to know the staff (both of whom were very friendly and knowledgeable of the brewery's history and the various options of the beer selection). The Nut Job Peanut Butter Brown Ale was quite delicious and pleasantly surprising, as I'm generally a big fan of brown ales supplemented with various nuts, but sometimes “peanut butter” rather than “peanut” can mean a certain sweetness is evident, which can get to be a bit much as you work your way through a pint. No such problem with the Nut Job, as it definitely carried a peanut aroma and flavor on the sip, but balanced well with the underlying brown ale, making for an easy drinking yet flavorful crisp drink, without being too sweet.
83 North (8.3%) Imperial IPA was aptly named not only for the road I drove in on, but also the brew's ABV and IBU (what luck!). While technically an Imperial West Coast style IPA, the pour had a slightly hazy medium amber hue and a light head. Medium bodied, this IPA offers a motherload of hoppy complexity, without being overbearing or “too hoppy”. Considering it's made with Apollo, Chinook, and Simcone hops in the boil and then Amarillo, Challenger, and additional Appollo dry hopped, we have here a fragrant and tasty IPA that leans more on the flower and citrus side than the piney, with hints of grapefruit and and perhaps slight orange peel coming through. And for it being 8.3%, it was a smooth and easy drink. Be warned!
The other particularly memorable pint of the night was the Choco Blonde or Chocoal Stout (5%) blend, which combines their Coal Train Stout with their Choco Blonde. The name confuses me a bit, as it seems like it should be an “and” instead of an “or”, but that's the way the menu read, so I'll just assume I'm missing something. Regardless, this was a nice dark drink that delivered a darker (stout) brew's flavor with the lighter body you'd more expect from a lighter beer (blonde ale). The Coal Train part of the equation is an American Dry Stout bringing to the table a darker roasted, molasses and dark chocolate character, and the Choco Blonde is in fact a chocolate blonde ale, bringing its own hints of chocolate, but in a lighter and somewhat hoppy wrapping. They mixed well, giving you the richness of a stout's flavor, with a lighter body, a bit more of a crisp delivery, and a slight hoppy finish.
Railroad Brewing was a nice, relaxed atmosphere, with a clientele that ran the gamut from an age standpoint, and included some youngsters and canines. Food was available via a food truck which on this night served a decent variety of options, all of which looked and smelled terrific but I did not get a chance to try for myself. The staff were very cool, and made a point of helping me shake off the cold and frustration of the incoming flat tire.
Due to the tire, and then the late start, I finished later than planned, and hadn't eaten. A local restaurant/bar with a kitchen that stayed open past midnight was recommended, so I went there to eat. The place was PACKED, and much to my delight I soon learned that it was packed with cops, having some sort of charity chili cook-off. Of course by the time I got there the chili was long gone, and what we had left was a bar packed with drunk cops. I sat by myself and enjoyed an iced tea and my late dinner while watching drunk cops stagger out to their cars to drive off into the rainy night.
The next morning, which was Super Bowl Sunday, I headed to a local WalMart as soon as they opened to get new near tires before hitting the highway. The first WalMart couldn't help me because they were afraid their new lifts would ruin the side running panels on my van (evidently they'd already had trouble with someone else's). So another half hour down the road I stopped at another WalMart, and they realized that not only did they not stock heavy load tires required by the weight of the van, but they noticed that my front tires were not heavy load tires either (which were sold by a WalMart back home last summer)... which means I could have blown out a front tire and had real danger at any time ever since! So I had to drive home on the spare, and WalMart did replace all four tires and made good on the front ones.
After this show I had one more show at my local Little Miami Brewing Company before heading to Florida for a string of mid-February shows. Stay tuned for that story...