All posts by Kevin Holsapple

The author of Prime Passages is Kevin Holsapple. Currently living in northern New Mexico, Kevin has traveled extensively over the years and aspires to do alot more of that in the coming years. Now semi-retired, Kevin's working life included management of a destination tourism activity, community development work, advising and training small businesses, operating recreational tours, and even operating a beer hall.

A hike and a couple beers at high altitude

Moreno Valley location in the USA
Moreno Valley location in the USA

The Moreno Valley in Northern New Mexico is as long wide bowl of grassland punctuated by a large lake.  There are unique opportunities for scenic hikes and a couple of brewery visits all at above the 8200 feet (2500 meters) altitude of Eagle Nest Lake.  High peaks up to 13,000+ feet (3960+ m) tower above the valley to the west and 10,000+ feet to the east.

location of breweries and hike
location of breweries and hike

For some reason, I got curious about what are the highest altitude breweries in New Mexico, the USA, and the world which led me to take a trip to the Moreno Valley, location of the highest breweries in NM.  Enchanted Circle Brewing Company in Angel Fire and Commanche Creek Brewing Company near Eagle Nest are both at about 8400 feet (2560 m) .  I knew I would be able to find a nice hike to work up a thirst so I packed up my tent and my bike and hit the road on a sunny June morning.

The history of the valley is rooted in old school ranching operations and as the area has become popular for tourists and vacation home properties There is relatively little public land in the Moreno Valley although there are a couple of State Parks with camp sites.  I camped near Eagle Nest Lake which meant I had a short, scenic 20 minute drive in the morning to get to the trailhead.

Clear Creek Hike route
click for interactive map of hike route

The hike I chose was on a trail up Clear Creek canyon, a side canyon of the dramatic Cimarron Canyon.  This canyon is a NM wildlife area that is part of a NM State Park.  The hike I took was about six miles (10 km) round-trip, in and out by the same route. The first half climbs reasonably gently along the stream although there are occasional short, steep stretches.  I would call it an easy-moderate hike.  The stream is crossed several times on wooden plank footbridges for most of the route although I had to wade higher up (glad I brought my water shoes).  The beauty is that you can turn around and retrace your steps whenever you want, so there is no need to worry about going beyond your abilities.  Clear Creek is a beautiful little stream that cascades over several small waterfalls along the route.  The undergrowth can be thick along the stream but thins out into nice glades of fir and aspen away from the water.  Once you turn around, it is pretty much down grade all the way back to the trailhead.  (Click on any photo in the gallery below to open a slideshow of all of the images.)

By the time I finished the hike, I was ready for a beer. Finding the closest brewery was a small adventure in of itself. Comanche Creek Brewery is embedded on a ranch north of the village of Eagle Nest. The highway turn-off is about two miles north and is well marked. You immediately are on a well-maintained gravel road heading toward the mountains to the west. Occasional rustic signs give confidence that you are going the right way. Otherwise, you would think you are in the middle of a remote ranch — and you are.

Road to Comanche Creek Brewery
Road to Comanche Creek Brewery
Approaching Comanche Creek Brewery
Approaching Comanche Creek Brewery

Approaching Coyote Creek Brewery

Coyote Creek Brewery

Coyote Creek Brewery Beer GardenAfter a couple of miles you pull up into the yard outside an old cabin with a rustic “Brewery” sign hanging under the eaves. A tin roof projects from the front of the cabin over a small outdoor seating area.   The beer garden consists of some handmade rustic log furniture and a couple of picnic tables.  A wooded stream flows by in the background and there are big forest and mountain views all around. Standing behind a counter in the open doorway of the small cabin is owner and brewer Kody Mutz. He gives me the rundown of the available beers and then draws me a Homestead Amber Ale, his flagship brew.

Homestead AmberThe Homestead Amber is a German-style Altbier that strikes a nice balance between malty and hops flavors.  It is a smooth beer that went down very easy.   In surroundings with such interesting character and natural beauty it makes for a pretty cool beer experience.

Coyote Creek BreweryThe brewery, a 3 BBL kit consumes all of the space within the old cabin.  Kody told me that his great-grandfather built the cabin back in the 1940’s to serve as a blacksmith shop for the 7000 acre family ranch that remains in family hands to this day.  Kody and his wife had been living in Colorado where he did a bit of home brewing and became interested in the idea of a brewery.  About seven years ago they decided to get serious but felt that the brewery scene in Colorado was a bit overheated.  The old cabin on the homestead in New Mexico came to mind and the rest is history.

Kody draws a beer
Kody draws a beer

Coyote Creek Brewery bottling machine

Coyote Creek Brewery OfferingsOther groups started showing up and I couldn’t miss the “wow” factor on many of the faces of finding a good beer in such an interesting and pretty setting.  A couple of the groups were people (adults) from the nearby Philmont Boy Scout Ranch (no merit badges relating to beer — I checked).  Apparently Philmont has a core staff of about 200 and hundreds of adult leaders come in seasonally from all over the country for various trainings and activities.  Another group was a couple of families from Texas — the kids played by the creek.  The beer garden is open year-round Wednesday through Saturday noon-6.  It is apropos to bring a snack or a picnic.  Soft drinks and a couple of NM wine choices are also available.  The venue is available for private events as well.

Coyote Creek BreweryCoyote Creek Brewery

Coyote Creek Brewery Ol' Smokey AleIt was time for another beer and this time I tried the Ol’ Smokey Ale, a brown ale brewed with a smoked malt.  This beer is quite dark in appearance, but not overly heavy to drink.  The smoke flavor is not overbearing and balanced nicely with the overall aroma and taste.  They keep five beers on tap at any given time and they also bottle the amber ale.  The taps rotate between a range of nine or ten different beers depending on what Kody has been brewing.  In addition to the brewery, he told me that they supply a couple of places in Eagle Nest.

Coyote Creek Brewery

So, is there anything tricky about being a high altitude brewery?  The impression I took away from Kody was that there are some adjustments to be considered, but he didn’t really see it as a big issue for him.

Coyote Creek Brewery - leaving the ranch

sign at the highway

Hells Bells HellesAfter a nice afternoon stretch at Commanche Creek I headed over to the resort town of Angel Fire at the south end of the valley for a beer and a bite to eat at Enchanted Circle Brewing Company.   ECBC is a brewery and pub operation tucked into a business strip along the highway that passes thru Angel Fire.  The altitude here is also listed as 8400 feet.  They list fifteen different beers in their range and I chose the Hells Bells Helles Lager to accompany my taco salad.  Nice, friendly service and a good, drinkable beer.  I did not have a chance to talk to the brewer, but I did get a peek into the brewhouse.

Enchanted Circle Brewing Company
ECBC does barrel conditioning for some beers

Enchanted Circle Brewing CompanyEnchanted Circle Brewing CompanyEnchanted Circle Brewing Company

Wheeler Peak across the valley
Wheeler Peak across the valley

Alot of people think of the Denver area as being high altitude at 5000+ feet (“mile high”) but most all of the breweries in Northern NM are mile-and-a-half high or more.  My internet search did not find any definitive list of breweries by altitude, but there were a few fun things.  The highest brewery I found in the USA was Periodic Brewing  in Leadville, Colorado at 10,100 feet ( 3075 m).  I think there are several others in Colorado above 9000 feet in places like Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, and Silverton.  These are downhill compared to some South American breweries in places like Cusco, Peru (11,150 feet/3400 m) and La Paz, Bolivia (11,975 feet/3650 m),

Touch Me Not Mountain across Eagle Nest Lake
Touch Me Not Mountain across Eagle Nest Lake

The question of the effects of consuming beer at high altitudes also came into the conversation, so I did a bit of research on this as well.  Interestingly, I could not find any definitive studies but I got some interesting insights that made sense to me.  Let me share a nicely written answer to this question I found on

You can think of each person’s ability to tolerate unfavorable physical conditions as a sort of “physiologic reserve” that “tanks” adverse conditions and prevents the body from tipping too far out of homeostasis too quickly and risking injury.  Alcohol requires some physiologic reserve to tolerate.  It’s a poison. A socially accepted and popular poison, yes, but a poison. If you drink too much or too fast, you’ll use up more and more of your reserve.and next thing you know you might find yourself waking up the following morning in the ER. Or a stranger’s room with a broken nose wearing a gorilla suit and wondering why you have a tattoo of a hairy tortoise on your forehead.

The thing is, altitude that you’re not accustomed to also requires some physiologic reserve too, as seen in mountain sickness in a general tourist … Altitude is pretty challenging stuff, if you’re not used to it. Your body as a whole is compensating for oxygen changes and undergoing physiologic responses to its acid-base chemistry to keep you alive and functioning. The higher you go, the more reserve you need.

So…imagine then, if you mix the two, what might occur. You have two forces competing for space in your physiologic reserve. It’s obviously going to be THAT much easier to hit the max and become hammered. It’s not just altitude’s fault, and it’s not just alcohol’s fault, but they definitely don’t make things easy for each other. If you balance carefully, you might well be just fine, with maybe even some room to spare…  …but at higher altitudes or alcohol consumption levels, it’s just so much easier to exceed the capacity of your reserves.

The key is this: note that altitude is always going to be using some physiologic reserve until you go back to sea level, meaning that you may well be drunk for a little while longer before you’re back within your physiologic reserve’s usual limits.  The extent to which alcohol will affect you at altitude depends on the following variables: 1) The size of your physiologic reserve: as you get older, the reserve available for discretionary use gets smaller, as it is increasingly used just to keep you alive despite aging. 2)  The level of altitude: 5000 feet is not going to be the same as 30,000 feet.  3)  Alcohol consumption: quantity matters.

I hope you found that as interesting as I did 🙂

Morning view across Eagle Nest Lake
Morning view across Eagle Nest Lake



Beery Days in Sheffield

Beery SheffieldEight beery days in Sheffield gave me a good tourist’s feel for why many in Britain consider this city to be one of the best beer scenes on the island.  The third annual Sheffield Beer Week provided the backdrop for a full agenda of companion events and sub-events that was impossible for me to keep up with.

Sheffield locationCity of Steel

Sheffield is located on the southwest border of the region of Britain called South Yorkshire.  The region (county/shire) of Derbyshire wraps around to the south and the west.  With a population of 570,000, Sheffield is the fourth largest city in the country — the metro area has a population of about 1.5 million.

Steel Sculpture
The Cutting Edge Steel Sculpture

Sheffield takes its name from its location on the River Sheaf which flows in from the South before joining the River Don near the city center.  There has been a settlement here going back nearly 13,000 years.  The Romans were here in their time.  Sheffield eventually became a noted center of metallurgy, steel production, and innovation.  Crucible steel and stainless steel were invented here.  The steel factories made the city a target for German bombing during World War 2 that resulted in widespread destruction.  Large scale manufacturing scaled back during the past fifty years and is a shell of its former self.  An impressive tribute to the steel history is “The Cutting Edge”, a huge sculpture made from Sheffield steel that is prominently displayed in front of the rail station.

Sheffield seemed more of a university town to me.  There are two universities: the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. The two combined enroll about 60,000 students and give the population a youthful bent.  Built on seven hills, more than half of the land in the city is parks, forests, and green belts.  I was proudly told that Sheffield has the highest ratio of trees to people of any city in Europe.  A third of Sheffield is situated within the Peak District National Park which covers much of the Pennine Mountains that begin just to the west of the city.  There is a good deal of public art scattered about — both formal and informal.  I enjoyed walking in the city, even with the formidable hills, and the bus and tram systems made it easy to get around

Kelham Island Beer Walking

Kelham Island Museum
Kelham Island Museum

The beer culture and history of the city is told at a small museum that is part of the Kelham Island Museum.  The major focus of the museum is the steel industry, but when left to my own devices I found the back corner that is devoted to beer.  Imagine the 1800’s and a time when people worked hard in the steel factories all day

Early Sheffield Brewers
Early Sheffield Brewers

only to come home to what might be a small, dark, chilly abode.  Public Houses — pubs for short — became the warm parlors where a person could relax after work, catch up with friends, and (oh yeah) enjoy a beer or two.

Beer became popular as a healthy alternative to gin and contaminated water that was supported by tax and regulatory policies of the government.  The Beerhouse Act of 1830 made beer cheaper and allowed any householder to get into the brewing business in their home.  Many, if not most of the brewers in those days were women.

It turns out that Kelham Island is a great place for a beer walk and the Museum was a fine starting place.  Kelham is a man-made island dating back hundreds of years to channel the River Don’s water into mill races.  The neighborhood has been converting from worn out factory buildings into a gentrifying area with condos and factory conversions.  It hasn’t gone so far that there isn’t alot of remaining character, and the neighborhood is home to multiple breweries and interesting pubs.  I only made it to a few.  I often heard Kelham Island Brewery mentioned as the place that kicked off the current independent brewery renaissance in the area back in the 1990’s.  The Fat Cat pub (next to the brewery) is their face to the world and is also frequently the first pub that would come up when people were giving me suggestions about where to go.  Their flagship cask ale has the cool name, Pale Rider, and is a nice pour.

My favorite stop on Kelham Island had to be the Sheffield Brewery Co.  They are housed in a vintage industrial building that once served as a factory for polishes and pastes.  The names of many of their beers are taken from those products and their marketing speaks of “finely polished beers.”  Although they host monthly and special events at the brewery, they aren’t set up for drop-by tours so I was grateful to be welcomed and shown around by Nick Law.  They feature a range of six mainstays from blonde to porter and Nick told me that the flagship is Seven Hills, a dry, hoppy pale ale.

Sex and Drugs and Bacon RollsThe Riverside, a comfortable pub on the River Don was a fine lunch stop.  They are owned by True North Brew Co. and serve the True North range as well as many other casks.  Tunes by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple were playing in the beer garden that overlooks the river.

Shakespeares is a pub that has alot of character that I stopped in on while walking back to the city center.  You are greeted by a sign the says, “Tasteless, Fizz Free Zone” which speaks to the pub’s commitment to real ales.  The friendly bar keep took me through a variety of interesting cask ales.

Kelham Island Neighborhood
Kelham Island Neighborhood – There were several other possible stops in the Kelham Island vicinity but I decided they would have to wait for another day.

Sheffield Beer Culture

Pumping a cask ale
Pumping a cask ale

There was a lot to learn about the beer culture in the city and country during the week.  Much of it was brand new to me.  Some highlights:  Although kegged ales and beers are certainly popular, I found myself attracted to the huge variety of cask ales found everywhere.   A ‘cask ale’ is different from kegged beer in that it is conditioned in the cask or firkin it is served from and is not served under pressure (no CO2 … only natural fermentation).  The beer is pumped from the cask by pulling a pump handle multiple times per pour.    Where in the U.S. the attention is on “craft” breweries and beers, in Britain it is on what are called “real ales” which include cask ales and bottle conditioned ales.  As you might imagine, serving cask ales can be a bit tricky given their shorter shelf life so there are a whole set of standards for pubs to follow to ensure the quality of the beer for the customer.

My guess is that more than 90% of the beers I drank while in Sheffield (and in Britain for that matter) were cask ales and I rarely drank the same beer twice.  Not that I couldn’t if I wanted to, but I was drawn to the opportunity to try alot of different beers and it took no effort to do that.  I guess I became part of a subculture known as “beer tickers” although not in any disciplined sense.  A beer ticker is someone whose hobby is to try as many different beers as possible.  As a Sheffield Beer Week event, I went to a screening of a movie called Beer Tickers: Beyond the Ale and learned that there are beer tickers who have individually ticked off tens of thousands of different beers.  I had the good fortune to sit and share a beer with Andy Morton, a top ten beer ticker who appears in the movie.  He likened the practice of beer ticking to “trainspotting for beer nerds” which is a great description as long as you know what trainspotting is.  The heyday of this hobby sounds like it was in the mid-nineties although I got the sense that plenty of people are still at it.

Multiple events during Sheffield Beer Week
Multiple events during Sheffield Beer Week

There are a couple of organizations I encountered that are important in the Real Ale world.  The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is a big consumer membership group that very successfully pushed back on the trend toward mass produced beers beginning back in the 1970’s.  CAMRA was often cited to me as a primary driver of the re-emergence of small, independent brewers in the U.K.  They are also big into supporting traditional pubs that serve real ales and have an excellent online catalog of pubs throughout the country.  Another organization I encountered was the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) which is the trade association for small, independent brewers.  SIBA was holding two events in Sheffield during the week that I was able to attend — BeerX (a big trade show and conference) and BeerAlive (a large beer festival and award ceremony featuring real ales from throughout the U.K.)  More about that later.

More Pubs and Breweries

Sheffield - IMG_2828.jpg
Pie and Porter

Sheffield has a load of pubs (more than 200) spread out through every part of the city. West Street is a main route running from the West End district to the city center and is home to many pubs and bars.  I tried to check out as many as I could — Fagans, the Grapes, Dog and Partridge, the Red Deer, the Bath Hotel, the Three Tuns, the Devonshire Cat, the Red Lion, the Greystones, Brew Dog, the Broadfield, the Banner Cross, Portland House, the Beer House, the Prince of Wales, the Lescar Hotel, the Beehive, and Porter Brook were all places I managed to stumble across and stumble into in addition the the places mentioned earlier and I still felt I was just scratching the surface.  There were also interesting beer shops like Hop Hideout and Turner’s.

Hop Hideout is the business of Jules Gray, a key organizer of Sheffield Beer Week, and her partner Will.  They have hundreds of bottled beers available, five taps in their tasting room, and hold many beer launch and meet the brewer events.

True North BreweryIn addition, my visits with other breweries and brewers in Sheffield included True North Brewing, Sheffield Tap, and Sentinel Brewing.  True North was particularly interesting and welcoming.  The brewery is in vintage, garage-like space in the heart of the city.  I poked my head into the big garage door to see if I might pay a visit and I was welcomed in by head brewer Dean Hollingsworth, who was busy filling and sealing casks.  Dean told me that True North operates ten pubs and that their beer production is pretty much earmarked to supplying their needs.  They also distill Sheffield Gin and make a number of infusions as well as roast their own coffees for the pubs.  Dean was gracious to show me each of these operations.  After tasting a couple of infusions I have decided to pay more attention to gin in the future — really interesting. True North has a half dozen beers in their core range including an excellent pale ale.

Sheffield Heritage Pub Walk

Another Sheffield Beer Week event was a “Heritage Pub Walk” organized by the local CAMRA chapter.  CAMRA evaluates pubs for their historical significance and there are seventeen pubs in Sheffield that are considered to be in this category.  Dave Pickersgill of CAMRA led a small group on a walk to visit a few of these and talk about the history of pubs here and in the U.K. in general.

Dave Pickersgill at Fagans
Dave Pickersgill at Fagans

The group met in the early evening at Fagan’s, a pub dating  from the late 1700’s.   There is a giant mural on the outside of one end of the building called “The Snog” by artist Pete McKee, famous here for his comic cartoon paintings.   Pub is short for public and the interior of Fagan’s (and the other traditional pubs we would visit) have the feel of a public lounge or living room — comfortable seating, cozy hearths, warm lighting, and large windows.  A “snug” – an isolated, quiet lounge for people who don’t want to be part of the bar scene is another common feature.  Over a beer, Dave told us about how pubs historically have been generally owned by breweries to serve as captive outlets for their beers.   There are pubs known as “free houses” that tend to be operated independent of brewers, but these are less common and there is no law against any pub calling itself a free house.

As we departed Fagan’s, Dave pointed out a sign above the exit that is rendered in Japanese calligraphy.  It translates to say, “We install and service hangovers.”  Fitting.

As dusk descended, the walk took us by and in and out of several of Sheffield’s pubs that hold the distinction of historic status conferred by CAMRA.  CAMRA’s heritage efforts have been important in an environment where the numbers of traditional pubs in the U.K. have been declining.   Dave told us that a variety of factors have resulted in the loss of hundreds of pubs per year in the U.K. — some of them historically significant.  A reporting team from the local radio station was along and recorded some of the thoughts — have a listen (my interview starts about three minutes in).

Sheffield Beer Week

Sheffield Beer Week was an ambitious agenda of beery events and activities including the SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) trade show BeerX and BeerAlive, their Festival of Beer.  I came for an affiliated conference held at the same venue called BeerNow which is an international beer bloggers conference.  The trade show featured more than 200 exhibitors of everything from brewing ingredients, to equipment, to packaging, to consultants and marketing.  It was interesting roaming.  The beer festival was a public event held in large tent structures and featured food, entertainment, and eight “regional bars.” The regional bars were busy draft stations each serving multiple award-nominated beers from every part of the United Kingdom.

Blogger's Conference postThe bloggers conference was the first event like this I have attended and it was great connecting with people who share an interest in talking about beer and beer culture.  One of the activities called Live Beer Blogging  provided each of seven participating breweries eight minutes to pour a beer, talk about their brewery, and answer questions from small groups of bloggers who were posting their reactions real-time via social media and blogs. Participating breweries included Twisted Barrel Ale, Sentinel Brewing Co., Abbeydale Brewery, Sharps Brewery, The Ilkley Brewing Co., Lost Industry and Thornbridge.


Azores Impressions

Azores Impressions map
Azores Location

Where do Azores impressions come from?  Where do any impressions come from?  I think they start with expectations.  I came to the Azores with few expectations.  I knew that they were a chain of islands that are part of Portugal.  I had heard that there was excellent hiking to be found, and that the weather should be nice. When I told people that I was going to the Azores I found that most people had heard of the place, but few had a solid idea about where it is and what is there.  These expectations were the basis of what became my impressions.

Azores Impressions - SATA Airlines
The Azorean airline SATA flies between islands as well as to mainland Europe and North America (Toronto and Boston)

I got on a jet at Lisbon and we were soon free of the continent and out over the endless-seeming ocean.  An hour and a half later we descended to a small, laid-back airport along the rocky coast near Ponta Delgada.  Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island is the principal city of the Azores so offers the best set of connections to the other islands.  I flew from there to Santa Maria and Faial islands during the course of my stay – short flights on good sized prop planes.

These are volcanic islands that each feature one or more prominent volcanic features — mountains and rimmed craters.  The fourth of the islands that I visited was Pico.  I traveled there by a ferry fromHorta on Faial to Madalena, the biggest town on Pico.  Pico features the highest elevation point among all of the islands.

Azores Impressions - Ponta do Pico
Approaching Madalena on Pico Island with Ponta do Pico, Portugal’s highest peak in the background


Azores Impressions - sea wall
Piles of concrete castings form an interesting sea wall structure

Although it wasn’t what attracted me, you can’t miss the ocean environment and the maritime culture.  Each island has at least one harbor and there are miles and miles of rugged coastline punctuated with the occasional sandy beach.  Whale watching boats, diving, and deep sea fishing are popular attractions.

Azores Impressions - sea wall art
They also provide an interesting setting for various art expressions

Azores Impressions - sea wall art

Azores Impressions - sea wall art

Azores Impressions - ship at Horta
Each island I visited had port facilities
Azores Impressions - Ferry
Although there are a number of ferry services, most of the islands are far enough apart that air service seems more practical. Horta on Faial Island and Madalena on Pico Island are close enough together to be an exception.
Azores Impressions - maritime history
There is a rich maritime history … Columbus stopped at the Azores on his most famous voyage.

Azores Impressions - maritime history

Azores Impressions - beach
Blue waters and beautiful beaches are also plentiful

AzoresImpressions - beach

Azores Impressions - cliff
There is plenty of rugged coastline as well

Azores Impressions - marina

Catholic churches are typically at the center of cities, towns, and villages.  Many are ancient.

Azores Impressions - church
Churches and cathedrals seemed to share a fairly common architectural style, but came in many shapes, sizes, and vintages

Azores Impressions - church

Azores Impressions - church

Azores Impressions - church

Azores Impressions - church

Azores Impressions - church

Azores Impressions - church

Azores Impressions - church Azores Impressions - church

Azores Impressions - church

Azores Impressions - church

Streetscapes are often idyllic routes of cobblestone that wind past shops and follow hilly terrain.

Azores Impressions - streetscape

Interesting and distinctive public art is common.  The art is both formal but also in the form of ad hoc street art.

Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - streetscape Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - streetscape Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - streetscape Azores Impressions - street art

Azores Impressions - cats
Life imitates art?

Azores Impressions - streetscape Azores Impressions - street art

Azores Impressions - streetscape Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - street artAzores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - streetscapeAzores Impressions - street art
Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - streetscape Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - streetscape Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - street art Azores Impressions - scooter

I happened to park my scooter next to a great bit of graffiti one day

Azores Impressions - vonzipper
I’m not sure about this business’ tagline
Azores Impressions - field trip

Azores Impressions - street art

The marketplaces can be colorful and photogenic.  The climate supports locally grown oranges, bananas, pineapple, and other fruits & vegetables.

Azores Impressions - marketplace
Marketplace in Horta

Azores Impressions - market goods Azores Impressions - market goods

Azores Impressions - market goods

Azores Impressions - market goods Azores Impressions - market goods

The old world architecture makes for romantic streetscapes.

Azores Impressions - architecture

Azores Impressions - architecture

Azores Impressions - architecture

AAzores Impressions - architecture

Azores Impressions - architecture

Cobblestone sidewalks are an art form in of themselves.  I enjoyed watching and monitoring the progress of a crew building a sidewalk over several days.

Azores Impressions - cobblestone art

Azores Impressions - cobblestone art

Azores Impressions - cobblestone art Azores Impressions - cobblestone art Azores Impressions - cobblestone art

Azores Impressions - cobblestone art Azores Impressions - cobblestone art

A “tasca” is a pub offering local specialties in a pub-like atmosphere.  Wine is certainly a Portuguese specialty, but my interest is more in beer – read about my experience with the beer culture here.

AzoresImpressions - Tasca
The name of this tasca happened to be Tasca.

Azores Impressions - Tasca

Azores Impressions - Tasca
Fava bean and pork shoulder stew with black beer
Azores Impressions - dinner
stone grilled steak

Azores Impressions - dinner

Azores Impressions - live music

Fado is a unique, entertaining style of folk music.

Azores Impressions -cafe street

I think I could have done all of my getting around on foot and by public transit, but I found it convenient to rent a scooter for several of the days I was on Sao Miguel.

Azores Impressions - author and scooter
me and my trusty scooter

Beer Culture in the Azores

AzoresBeer - DSCF9332.jpgThe beer culture in the Azores is fairly limited.  That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of beer being consumed on the islands or that there isn’t a beer history there.  But you won’t easily find any sign of craft or artisanal breweries or brewing.  Beer in Portugal in general has a long history, going back to the time of the Roman empire and Portugal makes alot of beer for its size.  A couple of factors led to there being few breweries though — one factor was the historic discouragement of beer brewing and consumption attributable to powerful wine interests; the other factor was the nationalization and consolidation of brewery businesses after the 1974 military coup.  Reprivatization did not occur until the 1990s.  The result has been that the vast majority of the beer market is now controlled by just a couple of large brewery companies.  In recent years, there is a growing craft brewing industry on mainland Portugal (read about my craft beer adventures in Lisbon here) but not so much in the Azores.

Preparing for my visit, I made contact with an Azorean named Rui Leal by finding his entertaining beer blog called Cerveja e Tremoço.  Rui told me ‘craft beer movement’ is still in it’s early days in the Azores.  There is one large, commercial brewer on San Miguel Island called Fábrica Cervejas e Refrigerantes João Melo Abreu.  In addition, there are home brewers, but only one small, artisanal brewery called Cerveja Brianda (Terceira Island) currently producing for public sale.

AzoresBeer - IMG_0846.jpgRui himself is working on a project to stand up his own artisanal brewery he calls “Quinto Toiro” ( also on Terceira Island but he tells me he is somewhat of a perfectionist so he is not trying to rush it.  “The more I try good beer (for the blog and research), the more demanding I get with my recipes.”

It wasn’t uncommon In the Azores when striking up a beerversation to hear people bemoaning the narrow range of offerings.  The two big mainland brands Superbock (Carlsberg affiliate) and Sagres (Heineken affiliate) are found everywhere in the form of what I would call macro-lagers.  Not bad beers in my estimation after a hike in the warm, sunny climate but beer snobs and craft beer fanatics definitely turn their noses up at these.

The Mello Abreu brewery in central Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island, founded in 1893,  is the local brew and their main offering is called Especial — a drinkable macro lager.  Nothing “especial” but a fine thirst quencher after a day of hiking.  Another Melo Abreu beer is a Schwarzbier-style offering called Munich —  this is a malty, dark beer with light sweetness, bittering, and carbonation.  There is also a non-alcoholic dark beer (Preta Doce) that I wouldn’t recommend (hard to drink – strangely sweet).

AzoresBeer - IMG_0900.jpgThe Melo Abreu brewery buildings and grounds look fairly shabby on the outside although a nice taproom called Cervejaria Melo Abreu provides the public face for visitors.  Melo Abreu also appears to be a big producer of soda pops.  I became enamored of one called Laranjada – a malty tasting orange soda.  This was nice on a hike for making a radler or shandy or just on its own.  It was not uncommon to see beer and soda mixed.  Beer with lemon soda is called a radler, with 7-up –  ‘panache’, with Coca-Cola – ‘diesel’, or with gooseberry – ‘tango’.

A common Portuguese snack to accompany a cold one is ‘tremoço’ which is a small bowl of brined lupini beans.  I quickly learned how to separate the edible part of the bean from the husk but gently squeezing the bean between my back teeth and I have to admit I got a little hooked on the beer and tremoco combo.  I have successfully searched out sources for tremoco back home.

A traditional tasca is a great place to search out for pairings of hearty foods and beer or wine.  I’ve included a few pictures in the gallery below from a tasca called Tasca in the old part of Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island.  The pairing of their fava bean and pork shoulder stew with rough bread and a Melo Abreu Munich was quite nice!  If you are lucky, you may even be able to catch a Fado performance … but that’s a whole ‘nother story.


Seven Day Hikes in the Archipelago of the Azores

The Azores are without a doubt a great place to hike in beautiful landscapes augmented by interesting culture and history.  There are a broad variety of hikes as well ranging from multi-day treks (read about a multi-day trek here) to wonderful day hikes – the seven day hikes I’ll write about in this article are just a sampling.  I previously wrote about the Trail of Ten Volcanoes day hike so I won’t repeat that here.

Azores Map
Azores location

I was able to visit four of the nine islands that make up the archipelago of the Azores recently and I can easily imagine a trip back for more.  The hikes featured below are spread across several of the islands.  What they have in common are the volcanic origins and geologic history, but I think of each of the islands as featuring its own unique attributes so there is no shortage of diversity between them, even if subtle.

Each of the hikes that follow are accompanied by a map of the route that I walked.  Clicking or tapping on a map will open a new map that is interactive and provides for download of GPS files.  These do not always follow the route you will find designated in information from the local tourism authority.  Also, each hike is accompanied by a gallery of pictures from the hike.  By clicking or tapping on a picture, you will bring up an enlarged views of the images that can be scrolled through with navigation keys or swiped through.

Sete Cidades

Sete Cidades rim hike map
Click for interactive map

This hike starts at a stop along the highway about 30 minutes drive West of Ponta Delgado on Sao Miguel Island.  I rented a scooter, but it is possible to take public transportation.  The route follows an unpaved track on top of the spine that is the Southern rim of a large volcanic crater containing the Sete Cidades lakes and community.  Coastal towns lie below the spine to the South and there are big views of the Atlantic Ocean.  The steep hillsides are intermittently pastures and patches of dense, lush forest.  There is an abandoned multi-story hotel structure near the trailhead that proved to be photogenic both inside and out.

Vinhas da Criação Velha

Velhas Day Hike Route
click for interactive map

This gorgeous route on Pico Island winds between pathways through old vineyards and walks along the rugged coastline.  This whole area is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Huge waves were crashing on the beaches and cliffs.  The vineyards are contained in labyrinths of rock walled corrals that often stretch to the horizon.  Ponta do Pico, the highest mountain of the Azores looms above.

I took a ferry from Horta on Faial Island to Madalena on Pico.  A short, ten dollar cab ride from Madalena to Porto do Calhau brought me to the beginning of the route.  Nice wines are still produced on Pico although I was unsure whether the vineyards along the route are active sources of the grapes.  A windmill reconstruction along the way gives a glimpse into long ago history when the Flemish were prominent settlers of the islands and found them to be appropriately windy.

Rota da Água – Janela do Inferno

Rota da Água-Janela do Inferno Day Hike Route
click for interactive map

This hike climbs up to and passes through highland fields and meadows of Sao Miguel Island.  The start is about a 45 minute drive East of Ponta Delgada.  Once again, I traveled by rented scooter but is is possible to use public transport.

The route eventually leads into a narrow valley where you follow an old aqueduct that brings water to towns and villages below.  The aqueduct (and so the trail) passes through a series of tunnels and over a series of photogenic bridges.  The forest becomes quite thick and jungle-y as you proceed up the narrowing valley.  The feature called Janela do Inferno is a cliff that is punctuated by a bunch of freshwater springs.  As you descend back toward the start, there are big views of the ocean below and of the city of Ponta Delgada.

Lagoa Furnas Circuit

Lagoa Furnas Circuit Day Hike Route
click for interactive map

This hike starts and ends in Furnas, a nice town with plenty of services that is about an hour and a half drive East of Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island.  Once again, I rented a scooter and drove although it is possible to use public transport.

Furnas is below the rim of a volcanic crater that contains Furnas Lake, so the hike starts out by climbing up and over the rim before traversing the lake.  At the north end of the lake is an attractive park and a geothermal area (caldeira) were cozidas are cooked.  Cozidas are mixed meats and vegetables (think ingredients like beef shoulder, pork shanks, sausages, chicken, kale, cabbage, carrot, yam and potato all steamed in its own juices) cooked in buckets that are lowered into steaming holes of hot rock.  They are a specialty served at several local restaurants.

As the trail proceeds around the lake I passed a series of interesting wooden sculptures, always with a beautiful lake backdrop.  At the South end of the lake is a boarded up old Gothic style church called the Hermitage of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias.  For variety, I chose a route through the countryside to return to town.

Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito

Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande-Salto do Cabrito Day Hike Route
click for interactive map

The Salto Cabrito Trail begins at a small hot springs resort about a 45 minute drive northeast of Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island.  I could not figure out any way that the start of this hike would be accessibale by public transportation.   From the resort, the route climbs past a caldeiras used for cooking by locals and the restaurant. The climb up through the fields eventually reaches a stream that has been diverted to feed hydropower plants further downstream. A side trip follows aqueducts up a scenic, steep walled canyon. Proceeding downstream you walk through pleasant forest of Japanese Cedar, Cheeswood, Acacia, and Ginger Lily and pass by a hillside that emits geothermal steam. You eventually reach a geothermal power plant where the stream narrows to a gorge that is passable on a metal catwalk and lots of stairs. The is a hydro plant at the bottom of the stairs which is also the bottom of a waterfall called the Cascata do Salto do Cabrito. From there the Ribeira Grande Valley opens up a bit as you proceed down toward the ocean before looping back to the start