You may be wondering why STAG shut down for a week. Well, New Jersey Breweries was all wrapped up, but I had a ton of Malt Advocate work to get caught up on, a lot of house and family things had backed up, and I had two trips to get in. The one, last Friday, was to give a talk on Prohibition to a group up near Harrisburg, a commitment I'd made months ago. The other, last Wednesday, was more beery.
I've made a tradition out of hand-delivering the manuscripts of the Breweries books to my editor, Kyle Weaver, at Stackpole Books in Mechanicsburg, Penn., starting with the first edition of Pennsylvania Breweries. This one, as Kyle pointed out, marked 10 years that we've been working together. So after I dropped off the chunk of paper, and told him a few stories about putting the book together, we went out to lunch at the Pizza Grille in Camp Hill I had a Tröegs Pale Ale -- actually, we both did; Kyle's onto good beer now too, and always seeks out the locals when he travels -- and a really different mushroom pizza, with smoked mozzarella, and a wild mushroom puree instead of the traditional tomato sauce. Delicious, and the beer was great.
It was so good, in fact, that after I said good-bye to Kyle, I steered the Passat over to Tröegs. I wanted to taste the latest Scratch Beer, #6, loosely patterned on a Dortmunder Export. I caught Chris Trogner just leaving, and he turned around and poured me a beer (he was headed for the bank, and was willing to put that off). Well, you know, I like Exports, and I liked this beer, quite a bit, actually, but... No, it's not precisely an Export. It's got the heft, and the color, but it's hopped a bit more like a pilsner.
And that was where we took off when John Trogner joined us. Is that a problem, that it's not a helles, a hellerbock, an Export, or a pilsner? No, we both agreed, it wasn't, what it was was very interesting. We had a beer that didn't fit in the traditional spectrum of lagers that everyone seems to have set in stone. About the only thing anyone's done is to lighten the color of Festbier and make that bastard "imperial pilsner." That hardly seems to be tradition-breaking. But then, lagers are things of subtle differences, at least...traditionally.
Makes me very interested to think about what could be done to a lager. Folks weren't shy about experimenting when the process was quantified in the 1800s: we got schwarzbier, erlanger, budweiser, pilsner, wiener, helles, dunkles, bock, doppelbock, eisbock, rauchbier, braunbier...and then what? A couple damned world wars come along, the communists slap down the production quotas, and brewers stop thinking of anything except how to make more of it cheaper? That's nothing but embarrassing. I left Tröegs with thoughts buzzing in my head.
Down the road to my last stop: the official opening day of Iron Hill Lancaster. I'm a Franklin & Marshall College alumnus (as is Cathy, my wife), and it was weird and wonderful to see Iron Hill right across the street from Williamson Field, where I used to march with the band at football games. It was also weird and wonderful to see Iron Hill folk like Kevin Finn, Mark Edelson, and Lancaster head brewer Paul Rutherford (and publicity gal supreme Jennie Hatton) up in my old stomping grounds. I love the idea of Iron Hill in Lancaster -- not sure how Lancaster Brewing feels about it, but two brewpubs is good for a town in my experience, and often good for each of the brewpubs, too.
The beer? I had a red lager (hmmm, red lager? Map that one) that was smooth and malty, a short sip of a sweet and aromatic Belgian Pale Ale, and a glass of Dubbel that I had to leave part of because of alcohol intake -- it was plenty good enough to drink, believe me. Wish I could have stayed for dinner, but I had to run on down the road and pick up Penderyn at the folks' (I couldn't leave him in his crate that long, and it was too cold to leave him outside), and then get on home.
And that's some of where I've been and what I've been doing.