It’s a beautiful, sunny day on the Great Lake Erie here in NE Ohio. Unfortunately, it’s also brutally cold with far too much ice and salt on the roads- so the motorbikes are staying in the garage today. That means it’s time for another favorite column to bring a bit of virtual riding and, hopefully, a bit of warmth to your day. This is from Midwest Motorcyclist, March of 2013. If you happen to follow the link to the magazine, please take a moment to fill out the Reader’s Survey- we’d love to hear more from you.
Oh, for those wondering- yes, I do still have the Goldwing mentioned in the article. Somehow, it grabbed hold of me and became a keeper.
Beer, Bikes & a Beautiful Ride
I love it when a day comes together, and this particular Thursday did so perfectly and effortlessly. My calendar was clear and I had a new (to me) bike I’d gone over and needed to shake down. The forecast was high-60s and sunny (heading into winter?), about to turn miserable over the weekend, so a ride was mandatory. The only thing missing was my wife, stuck grinding away at work on such an ideal touring day. Had we known this would be the last nice ride before Hurricane Sandy ripped the last autumn colors from trees this far inland, she might have awakened a bit “ill” and less inclined to work…
Despite the title, this was not a barhop ride- it was a restocking run for my favorite drink after Mountain Dew. I won’t drink if I’m riding, but I love a good beer, particularly a stout or porter, after riding. There’s something about guys in a garage full of bikes or cars that begs cracking open a couple bottles and bench racing for a few hours. My garage fridge was humming on empty as I was thinking of where to ride, when it hit me: The trek to Cellar Rats Brewery in Madison, Ohio happens to be a beautiful ride through Ohio’s wine country. Now I had my destination, so I grabbed my gear and pushed the bike out of the garage.
Somewhere along the path of looking for a new bike, it seems I’m becoming a collector of 80’s bikes. Bikes I wish I could have afforded then, and are now too good (and too cheap) to pass up. Turns out, this is an affordable way to ride some very cool bikes, and a great deal of fun, too! The downsides (so far) seem to be a bit more maintenance time (carburetors???), reduced performance by today’s standards, and the added time at every stop for the “I had one of these…” folks who want to share stories- pretty minor issues, if you ask me. Among the upsides are inexpensive to buy, cheap to insure, new enough to find parts (also cheap), solid performers and still (mostly) great looking bikes. If you don’t mind tinkering on your own bikes, this is turning out to be a terrific way to quickly fill a garage with a bucket list full of bikes. My latest addition, a nice one-owner ’82 Goldwing Interstate, is a bike that was never even on my radar. Interesting bike, right price, right seller, right time- you know the situation. When it happens, you just have to do it, and in this particular case I’m glad I did. I took some time to go over and refresh the long stored bike, restoring it to relatively dependable roadworthiness, now it was time to put that long-distance comfort and copious luggage space to use.
The ride to the brewery is actually fairly straightforward, with County Highway 12 basically a turn or two off I-90 and SR-528- which is great if you’re in the cage driving after reading this in the middle of winter. My ride was a bit more convoluted, and took me on a 150-mile jaunt along the rural roads of the Grand River Valley surrounding the winery. Roads in this area vary from rugged dirt/ gravel to beautifully maintained twisty concrete and asphalt, and the scenery on this ride was painted with the full stroke colors of the autumn brush. It also didn’t take long for me to understand why folks who ride ‘Wings swear by them- and mine is 30 years old. This old bike, while a bit underpowered from what I’m used to, scoots along quite nicely, and I regularly find myself well above posted speeds without realizing it. When it comes to the curvy bits, the ‘Wing is no sportbike- but I found myself regularly scraping the reasonably placed pegs and having a great deal of fun on an old bike that seems like it should be handful to muscle around.
Cellar Rats brewery is actually part of Chalet Debonne Vineyards, an internationally known and respected local winery owned and run by the Debevic family of Madison, Ohio. Cellar Rats has its own building toward the rear of the Debonne complex, as well as a separate brew pub in the main building. This works well for most of my riding buddies, as they typically prefer a beer while their wives would prefer a glass of wine. Throughout the warmer months, the winery hosts a number of events, including their famous Hot Air Balloon Rally, Classic Car shows Jazz fests and R/C airplane events. Most events are whole-day affairs, so you can make the ride in the morning, have a few award-winning beers (or sample wide array of terrific wines) with gourmet snacks, then spend the day outside on the grounds and be back in riding shape for the evening ride home.
When I arrived at the winery, I was met by Joel Sandrey. Joel is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Chalet Debonne Vineyards and Cellar Rats, as well as a co-owner of the brewery. We stepped into the Cellar Rats brew pub in the main building for a brief history of Cellar Rats, as well as a quick rundown on the different style brews available. Cellar Rats came about in 2007, being officially established in 2008. Looking through a narrow window in the floor (ladies, beware if you’re wearing skirts!) visitors can view the first brewing system used by Cellar Rats, still being used for small batches of pub-only specialty brews. We took a walk downstairs to see the 3-barrel direct fire brewing system. What was striking to me was just how beautifully artistic the system is, a feeling that stuck with me even with the newer, and much larger, equipment in the main brewery. I’m a bit of a fan of the whole “Steam Punk” look, and the all the polished copper, brass and stainless materials that made up the brewing systems could have come straight from the animated movie Steamboy. Very cool, indeed.
Cellar Rats has a top-quality bottled brew for nearly any taste, including the “standard” Rat Tail Ale, The Piper IPA, Field Rat Wheat and my favorite Black Rat Imperial Stout. For those making the trip to the brew pub, there are always a few seasonal specials brewing that can only be enjoyed by the pint at the bar, or to take home in a refillable half-gallon glass growler. As all Cellar Rats beers are brewed on-site with the freshest ingredients, the adventurous taster is guaranteed to be rewarded by something extraordinary. I was fortunate enough to leave with a growler full of a one-off brew made in collaboration with Great Lakes Brewing Co. using only locally grown hops. Absolutely one of the finest beers I’ve ever had, a feeling shared by the friends lucky enough to have shared it with me. If you’re hoping for a specific style, you might check the website to see what’s on tap before making the trip- though I’d suggest just taking a chance and trying something new.
After briefly showing me around the grounds, we walked back to the main brewery and bottling building, where Joel continued to educate me on the finer points of quality brewing. Fermenting in two of the shiny “bright tanks” was the latest batch of Black Rat, as well as a few upcoming seasonal “surprise” beers in the others. The smells in the brewery were strong and wonderful, but not in an overpowering way, and I was salivating like Pavlov’s dog so close to those giant tanks of my favorite stout. The vision of cartoon Homer Simpson in the Duff Beer factory tour kept popping into my head, swapping with the scene from Strange Brew with Bob McKenzie saving the girl by drinking all the beer filling the tank they were trapped in. Unfortunately, I was never given the opportunity to lay beneath the open tap like Homer and Barney! I met briefly with Tony Debevic, Jr (of the Debonne Debevic family), Head Brewer and co-owner of Cellar Rats, but he was quickly off and running to attend to other business. After seeing the grain room and conveyor system, we walked to the tiny but efficient bottling line to watch bottles of temptation being filled, capped and labeled. Like being in heaven for a beer drinker! I was surprised by how few people are capable of doing so much work to keep a microbrewery like Cellar Rats humming- kudos to the terrific staff, and keep my Black Rat coming!
Too soon it was time to shake hands with Joel, pack my growler in the Goldwing and be on my way home. A beautiful morning ride, new-found knowledge of my favorite elixir and a great ride back home with the smell of fresh brewing beer still on clothes and in my helmet. Perfect. If you’re looking for a cool riding destination, or a warm place to sit out a cold winter day, be sure to consider Cellar Rats Brewery/ Debonne Vineyards as a nice place to hang for an afternoon. And if you happen to see a really tall guy with prominent ears and a giant smile, that would be Joel. Tell him Mike sent you, and ask if he’s got time to show you around- it’ll be worth it!
Please remember to drink, and ride, responsibly- and if you happen to catch me at Cellar Rats be sure to stop and chat!
Be seen, ride smart, stay safe and I’ll see you on the road!