Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dock Street: bare bones place, stylish beer

I finally got to the new Dock Street Brewery, out at 50th and Baltimore in Philly. I apologize to all for taking so long, especially to myself: because it was really good.

I stopped in around lunchtime and started with a glass of Rye IPA. I'm told that this is going out into bar accounts (carried by Origlio, for whom I do some freelance writing, in the interests of disclosure), and you should keep your eye out for it: snappy, clean, hoppy and peppery, a very refreshing and bold beer.

Once I got my beer, I looked around. I hadn't been here since the celebration of their license, when things were pretty bare and sparse. Things are still pretty bare and sparse -- concrete floor, high unadorned ceilings, a bar and a minimal open kitchen -- and I found that I really liked that. I've said before that brewpubs need to be more varied: not just pub-grub places, not just family-friendly places, not just white linen fine dining, even. This one takes me back to the old days, when brewpubs were dodgy enterprises thrown together on a shoestring. I loved that era; I'm a dodgy enterprise myself some days.

There's a big difference, of course: the beer's totally solid. Scott "The Dude" Morrison is back in the brewhouse again, with competent assistance, and the three beers I had were excellent. I also had a Gold Stock Ale, which was one of the best pale ales I've had in quite a while, not overly hopped and with a bedrock maltiness to it; and a Cuckoo's Nest Red Ale, a malty soother that grew on me as I sipped it. I also got a nip of the Barleywine, which was not a typical "American-style" barleywine/double IPA, but a rip-roaring fire-well of malty depth.

The food's not bad either. There's a lengthy menu of pizzas well outside the normal range, including the return of Dock Street's Alsatian beauty, the flammenküche pizza, which is what I got; hell, I had to. It was outstanding: caramelized onions, creme fraiche, and some delicious double-smoked bacon. Big surprise: the cook was none other than Jeff "Dock Street" Ware, brewpub owner Rosemarie Certo's husband. Jeff in da house!

I spotted Rick Nichols in the house as well; the Inquirer's food writer stopped in with a friend for a beer. Smart move, and one I think I'll be making more often, even though this location is way off my usual haunts. It's worth the trip.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Finally... Baltic Thunder

I'm going to take Patrick Mullin and Steve German at their word: Baltic Thunder, the Victory-brewed revival of Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer, will officially launch on January 5th at the Drafting Room in Exton. And not alone, either, it's a veritable Baltic Blizzard of Beer, according to Mullin:
Also pouring on draft that day:
Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer 2006
Heavyweight Lunacy 2006
Heavyweight Baltus OVS 2006
Victory Abbey 6
Victory Hop Wallop (cask-conditioned)
and perhaps other Victory surprises...

Available in bottles (while supplies last):
Victory Baltic Thunder
Heavyweight Biere d' Art
Heavyweight Black Ocean
Heavyweight Doug's Colonial
Heavyweight Jakeldricka
Heavyweight Slice of Bread

No admission, pay as you go. The kegs will be tapped at noon and will continue to flow until they're gone. There should be plenty of Thunder to last through the weekend. Bill Covaleski will be in attendance, and I have contacted Tom & Peggy with the hope that they will be able to join us as well.

Well. I suggest to all of you that you get as much of this as possible, because the lagering on this batch will probably never be repeated!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sam gets some Elk Creek Ale

Just got the following report on Elk Creek Cafe + Ale Works from my correspondent and friend in central PA, Sam Komlenic. Sam graciously allowed me to reproduce it verbatim.

I'm happy to report that the Elk Creek Cafe + Ale Works is officially on line. I stopped in on Saturday to find the doors locked at 3 p.m., but it turns out that they were still running on pre-beer hours. After two beers at the tavern across the street, we stopped by again to find Tim Bowser coming through the back door into the cafe. He unlocked the door and offered us a sampler while he attended to other business.

They currently offer five ales: Winkleblink ale (kolsch-ish), Great Blue Heron pale ale, Elk Creek copper ale, Brookie brown ale, and Poe Paddy porter. All good, some REALLY good (I especially liked the copper and porter). Tim gave us a tour of the place, and I was pleasantly surprised. They have a very attractive 8.5 bbl Cask
system with six fermenters and a nice cold room with bulk tanks from which the beers at the bar are served. Big, beautiful kitchen, and a menu to match using as many local foods as possible, though we were there too early to partake.


Once Guy Hagner opens, I think a trip to upstate is in order: One Guy, Elk Creek, and Bavarian Barbarian...more on that last one soon.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

One Guy, One Week

One Guy Brewing is that close to opening. Pretty much just waiting on arrival of papers at this point. The plan is for a soft opening on a couple weekends to shake things down, followed by a mid-January grand opening. What about that Christmas beer, the spiced dunkelweizen? Well, says Guy Hagner, it works as a winter beer, too.

Monday, December 10, 2007

John Harvard's Wayne closes

Once again, Uncle Jack scoops the area at the Beer Yard site: John Harvard's in Wayne has closed.

This hardly comes as a surprise to anyone who's been watching the slow contraction of the once far-flung JHBH empire. I find it hard to cry, to be honest. JHBH, with a few tiny exceptions, is about the lowest a chain brewpub could go and still be "good." This set of brewpubs was once a force to be reckoned with, a brewing gut-muscle. Now they're just waiting around.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tom Baker to open brewpub in Philly

Uncle Jack's got the dope at the Beer Yard: former Heavyweight Brewing one-man show (which was always a man-and-woman show with wife Peggy Zwerver) Tom Baker will be opening his long-awaited brewpub not in New York, not in New Jersey, but in Philadelphia, in Mt. Airy, to be exact.

Tom Baker told The Beer Yard this morning that the brewpub he and wife/partner Peggy Zwerver promised to open when they shut down Heavyweight Brewing last year will be located on Germantown Avenue in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia and that he hopes to open the doors by the end of March 2008.
"We have a signed lease and will be moving our equipment into place as soon as possible," Baker said. "We also plan to relocate our residence to the area and hope to become a part of the neighborhood and a destination site for beer lovers."
The new pub, to be named Earth, Bread & Brewery will feature flatbread and Baker's beers, along with guest craft beers. "We have a full liquor license but won't use that right off the bat. We'll take things slow and get them right."
Earth, Bread & Brewery will be located at 7136 Germantown Avenue, a few blocks south of McMenamin's Tavern.

Well, that's a load off my mind. Jack promises more details.

Out of their minds

The New Drys are, to quote Spike Milligan, out of their tiny little minds with bullshit. They extrapolate policy out of the thinnest tissue, they find evil everywhere they look, they are filled with a holy zeal of righteousness that is frightening at close quarters. But they've really gone over the top now. Check this out. This isn't even about booze or drugs: it's mints.

They're giddy with their success at getting A-B to withdraw Spykes, a nauseating but basically harmless "beer additive," essentially 1 oz. of intensely fruity/spicy 12% malt beverage that you could pour into your Bud Light to jazz it up. The New Drys screamed bloody murder on this. It's fruity and sweet! This supposedly appeals only to teens, not adults. It's small enough to smuggle into a dance! Adults like to carry their booze in large, bulky packages...like half kegs. It looks like a bottle of nail polish! Booze should all come in bottles that look the same? All this screaming got people so riled up that A-B withdrew them from the market. I gotta tell ya...I suspect they were withdrawn from the market because they weren't selling worth a damn. But between that, and the tax hike on malternatives in California, the New Drys feel a wave of success coming on, the kind of giddyness they haven't felt since they killed Joe Camel. Which has led them to get hysterical about ... mints.

This is why people have no respect for these idiots. They're really backing a good cause at the heart of it: they want to keep people, often kids, from ruining their lives with alcohol. Look: it happens, it's real, and we do ourselves no favors by pretending it doesn't. But they do themselves no favors by worrying and fussing and screaming about...mints.

FRAP trax

We found these odd circular tracks in the new-fallen snow this morning, like someone had been running an RC 4X4 in circles in our yard. It only took a moment to determine that they weren't car tracks, rabbit tracks, or miniature railroad tracks...they were FRAP tracks.

FRAP is a Corgi enthusiast term we found back when we were thinking about a new puppy. It means "Frequent Random Acts of Play...more scientifically known as Frenetic Random Activity Periods." The best explanation I've seen comes from CorgiPants, a blog by a woman named Jenna:
Most dogs, when they are puppies, race around excitedly for seemingly no reason, flailing and turning, racing in circles and figure eights at top speed, only to stop mid circle and crash onto the ground like nothing happened. And most breeds discontinue this activity once they leave their puppy teeth on the carpet. This is called a FRAP. Corgis...FRAP their whole lives.

And believe me...Penderyn does. He was FRAPping like mad in the snow, little legs churning madly and crisp white powder flying out behind him in a twin roostertail. It was something to see.

Okay, back to booze!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"Our long national nightmare is over."

Okay, that was actually Gerald Ford talking about Nixon's involvement with Watergate. But it just as easily could have been said about this. Lord almighty, yes, it could.

Happy Day of Repeal, Americans! Let's lift a legal glass and celebrate.

Elk Creek open for dinner, beer coming soon; others close behind

Heard from a reader (thanks, Sue!) that Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks in Millheim, Pa. is now open for dinner in a BYO mode, and they expect (scratch that, they hope) to have beer by December 8. It all depends on paperwork at this point.

Heard separately that Conestoga Brewing is very close to opening, and Hanover Brewing is slowly moving along, and One Guy is probably going to open sometime in the next 6 weeks.

Things keep popping in Pennsylvania!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

New Jersey Breweries, Tröegs, & Iron Hill Lancaster

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.

Monday, December 3, 2007

He's a Hero to Me

I was working downstairs today about an hour after lunch; I had heated up a can of soup. Penderyn comes downstairs, trots over, and nudges me in the thigh; which usually means he's got to go out.

"Do you want to go out?" I asked, expecting him to run for the stairs. He just looks at me, intently, excited and quivering.

"Do you need water?" Quiver.

"Do you want dinner?" (Way too early, but I was baffled at this point.) Quiver!

Okay, I got up, and headed upstairs, Penderyn charging ahead of me. He gets halfway across the kitchen, stops, looks at me, and looks at the stove. I'd left the gas on, and the flame was out. That's when I realized that the whole first floor smelled of gas; it must have been on for almost an hour. I was amazed.

So was Pen when I scooped him up in my arms and hugged him (after opening the front and back doors!). He saved my life today. That's why he's working on a big rawhide bone right now.