Friday, August 27, 2010

New brewpub in Bloomsburg?

Just heard that there's a PLCB application sign for a brewpub at the old Harry's Grille location (20 W. Main) in Bloomsburg. Anyone heard anything about this? If so, PLEASE encourage them to get in touch with me! Thanks...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bourbon, Beer and Bryson Festival: this Saturday...

Hey, a reminder: the Bourbon, Beer and Bryson Festival is this Saturday at the Allentown Brew Works! If you're thinking about going, well, the weather's going to be great: low 80s, sliding into the 60s as the night goes on. The event starts at 5:00, and there's plenty o' bourbon:
  • Buffalo Trace, the Eagle Rare Single Barrel, and Blanton’s Single Barrel, which I'll be featuring in my tasting seminars.
  • Woodford Reserve and Gentleman Jack, which will be featured in the “Art of the Bourbon Cocktail” with mixologist Donna Scott.
  • Try the NEW Maker’s 46 stave-aged bourbon from Maker’s Mark (and Knob Creek).
  • 4 Roses Single Barrel, their 4 Roses Small Batch Bourbon, and the 4 Roses Yellow Label.
  • Three selections from Wild Turkey - Wild Turkey 101, Wild Turkey Rye, and Wild Turkey American Honey.
Great chance to try some excellent bourbons, right? (Have you had a shot at Four Roses? Had the Maker's 46 yet?) But this is a bourbon and beer festival, and you know what that means: rich, rolling barrel-aged beers. Brew Works master brewer Beau Baden will have a Bourbon Barrel Porter, a cask bourbon-aged beer, and a Cassis Lambic to work magic with the bourbon-laced food you'll be tasting. Bethlehem brewer Lewis Thomas will have an infused cask to tempt you. There will also be beers from Yards, Weyerbacher, and Stoudt's.

Plus ham, brisket, plantains, corn bread, and Pecan Foster...damn! It's not a huge fest, but you won't see many combos like this. Allentown Brew Works has a ton of room, it's a solid place, and if you haven't had Lewis and Beau's beers...you need to. Besides, folks: bourbon! Perfect bourbon weather, perfect bourbons, and we can all sit down and talk whiskey for a while. Oh, and a separate cigar cabana, with cigars supplied by Tobaco Village in Whitehall. It's $45 for the drinks and the food: pretty good deal! Tickets on sale here.

Come on out; I'll see you this Saturday.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    That Saab I mentioned...

    I mentioned that we'd bought a 1984 Saab 900 as a car for the kids (Thomas is 18, Nora's 16). Although Thomas leaves for Boston University in 12 days, Nora's learning to drive, and will probably be driving to school fairly often, which will take the pressure off Cathy and I to get her there. Anyway, the Saab was bought with 28,300 original miles on it; it's been sitting in a garage for 10 years, apparently only being driven to the garage to be maintained and inspected. We put a set of new tires on it, had to replace a frost plug, and we put a 'real' stereo in it. Cathy's happy (she bought a 900 as her first new car, and that's what she was driving when we got engaged...I was driving a Volvo diesel, and soon traded it in on a Jetta...sense a trend here?); I'm happy (the kids' car is slow (1.7 liter V4 automatic) and built like a tank); and the kids are happy (their car has character and a kickass stereo).

    It has its problems: a Saabish tendency to overheat, mediocre gas mileage, and it is cruelly slow. But it is comfortable like many cars today are not, handles mountain roads quite nicely, and it does feel solid on the road. Hell, the AC even works!

    I miss the Passat, but this is fun, too, in its own way. We'll probably get a replacement for the Passat -- we need a more dependable long-distance cruising vehicle -- but for now...the Saab's carrying the load.

    Backyard Ale House in Scranton (and a couple more bars for fun)

    I was up in the Poconos with the family last week, resting and relaxing (and having a great time riding the D&H rail trail: I rode every day of the vacation but Thursday, when it poured rain). Wednesday it got hot, and I decided that there were things I'd rather do in the afternoon than ride...like go to bars. Our family friend, John Lelak, went along with me in the Saab (I don't think I mentioned that: we bought a 1984 Saab 900 (28,000 original miles!) for the kids, which became our second car when Thomas had an accident in the Passat in late June). We went back into the hills, a mile up a dirt road, to Chet's Place.

    Chet's Place is a sprawling complex of entertainment. Besides the bar, there's a dance floor, a softball diamond (for the bar's team, still alive in the playoffs), volleyball courts by the lake...like the sign said, "Welcome to Chetsville." We went in, sat at the bar, and ordered draft Yuenglings. I'm not sure what we did get, but it wasn't Lager: maltier, with a strong note of caramel. Not unpleasant at all, but not Yuengling Lager. I ordered a bottle of Lager to be sure, and clearly got a different beer. Honey Brown, maybe? Dunno. But things got real pleasant when the fellow down the bar asked, "Are you the guys who came in the old Saab? That thing is cherry, real nice. What is that, an '84?" Wow, good guess! So we talked cars for a while, had a good time, and then we headed out.

    We drove down into Dickson City. I got a swimsuit (apparently I packed all mine away!), a gaudy pink flowery surf model (no, there are no pictures) that was on close-out for $3.75, and then we hit a Starbuck's where I got caught up on e-mail using their WiFi (and got caught up on sleep by abusing their caffeine). After that, it was into Scranton, where we dropped anchor outside the Backyard Ale House, right across the street from the county courthouse in the middle of town.

    We thought we were alone in the place; the front barroom, cool and clean, was empty except for a bartender. John and I sat down and I started looking at taphandles, then asked her for a list. As she handed it to me, she started asking me what beer I liked. "I like all kinds," I said, "I just want to see what you have." She kept after me, making suggestions (most of them, like the ones of the people who would follow her, were IPAs or double IPAs). I wanted something light -- I was driving -- refreshing -- it really was hot -- and not too outrageous -- John's pretty new to craft beer. Ha! "Two Palms," I said. The keg blew during the first pour. Crap, back to thinking! By this time, we had three other people behind the bar trying to help out. I made it quick: Franziskaners! Keg was just put on, and all she got was foam.

    I was already looking at the bottles by now, and got John a Newcastle (which he really enjoyed), and a can of Mama's Little Yella Pils for myself. Perfect. Then we strolled out back, and that was great! Open patio, felt more like the shore than downtown Scranton. We sat at the very nice outdoor bar, along with a bunch of business casual-types from across the street, and relaxed. When it was time for my next beer, I decided to keep the can theme going with something I hadn't had a chance to try yet: 21st Amendment's Back in Black dark IPA. Unfortunately, I think I got an off can; there was a sourness to it that went beyond huskiness. The bartender agreed. (I do not mean to sound critical of BYAH here; we liked the place, they just had a bad run of luck on the beers I happened to choose, and their instincts were right on the continued trying to find me a beer; I'm not a normal customer!) I left the remainder, and we headed to our next stop, an old hotel bar I had once spotted quite by chance on a drive through Scranton, and had been hankering to try out: the Hotel Sun.

    Before we got there, though, I spotted the returned Coney Island of Scranton! I pulled the Saab in under the railroad bridge, and dragged John into the place. The Coney Island burned in April, 2008 (a still unsolved arson, sad to say), but they've recently re-opened, with a larger kitchen, but painstakingly restored black-and-white tile floor and wooden booths. And the Texas Hot sauce (greek sauce, 'chili,' coney island sauce) was superb on the custom-made split, short wieners. I love it when a place is good. I was wrecking my diet this week (I'd wind up gaining back a little, despite all the biking), but it was worth it.

    The Hotel Sun...I don't know why I like places like this. Smokey, run-down, foul-mouthed patrons, crap booze selection (but almost always clean, fresh draft Yuengling); it could be any of a number of hotel bars I've been to in PA. But it's so solid, so real, so authentic, I just can't help myself. This is, as my friends would say, a Hunt bar, a place we can walk into and feel comfortable, a place where you could get a shot of spearmint schnapps and not worry about what your cocktailian friends might think (er, if you wanted to; I didn't actually, though I almost got Rock n Rye). We had one, and headed home.

    Postscriptually...we all went out to Arcaro & Genell's in Old Forge for dinner on Saturday night (at the advice of Scranton native and good friend Rich Pawlak). We got the famous Old Forge pizza (plain red and broccoli white, again on Rich's recommendation), and it was delish. We also split two pitchers of house Chianti, which was tasty and went great with this classic red-gravy Italian menu. Definitely recommended if you're in the area (don't even ask about the beer...); as Pawlak said, "My mom's pick every time." Smart woman.

    Surprised in the Boonies

    James Carville truly earned my enmity when he coined his famous evaluation of my home state: "Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between." (Apparently, it doesn't still apply, if it ever did; see this study of the evaluation by political pollster G. Terry Madonna.) As someone who grew up in between, I take that personally. No slant on Alabama -- oh, hell, yes, it is a slant on Alabama, and I think you know why!

    Be that as it may, the beer scene out in the hinterlands -- with worthy exceptions like the state's excellent crop of small breweries and brewpubs like Elk Creek, Berwick, Sprague Farm, Bullfrog and the like -- is pretty damn sad. Yuengling, Schmidt's, and an ocean of Coors Light is what you'll find when you get off the Interstates north of I-80 and west of the Susquehanna till you get to Pittsburgh or Erie (with the booming exception of the Wyoming Valley, and a couple islands like State College and Williamsport).

    At least, that's what I thought until last Friday. I was in Nicholson, PA, with my bro-in-law Curt, picking up a bookcase Cathy had purchased the day before at Endless Collections (neat little antique store that also carries Endless Mountains Coffee, which I heartily recommend). We got the bookcase in the back of the Jetta, and then wandered down the hill into town; there was a florist there (The Pinery) that also sold local cheeses, and we got some LeRaysville XXX-Sharp Cheddar that was just fantastic. Two doors down was The Office, a local bar, plastered with Coors Light banners in anticipation of the town fair that night, and they were advertising 13 taps in the window, so we figured, what the hell?

    Hey, you can see the picture above; you know what we were expecting. 13 taps of Lite, Light, and more Light, Yueng-thing, probably Busch and Keystone, with buckets of Slim Jims and smoke. Take a look at the picture here: it was smokey (there's an exemption you can work around in PA if your food sales are under a certain percentage of your total take), and there were a fair number of missing teeth (really, it was obvious, and the sign made us wonder about how they went missing: "Warning: if you are involved in a fight here, you are out of here! For Good!") but we were dead wrong about the taps. The taps behind the bar were just what we expected, but at the end of the bar, right out in the open, were seven free-standing taps that the bartender was happy to serve us from: Tröegs Trogenator and Pale Ale, Allagash White, Hoegaarden, and Ommegang Witte (hey, it was HOT!), DFH 60 Minute, and ... wait for it...Steenbrugge Tripel.

    What the... We quickly got a glass of each Tröegs ($3.50 for real 16 oz. pints!), and found them to be cold, reasonably fresh, and delicious. We didn't get any weird looks (although the bartender was a little confused about the Tröegs/Trogenator thing), we didn't catch any crap. Maybe they just put it on, Curt wondered, but I think the chances of us just happening to walk in as that happened were slim.

    That's pretty awesome. When you consider that the convenience store down the road from our rental had a pretty respectable sixpack selection (AND sold gasoline...sorry, MBDA, that really isn't illegal in PA), you start getting the idea that things are going on that make the continued growth of craft beer both unsurprising, and likely to be sustainable. People like this stuff. I'm not sure who's drinking it in Nicholson (which is not a tourist town by any stretch of the imagination, although the bridge is breath-taking), but clearly someone is. This is a pretty big deal...in a pretty small town.

    Craig LaBan Gets It (and Kraftwork does too)

    I'm back from vacation (more on that later), back from an absolute crapstorm of work that piled up while I was burying my father and recovering from that, back from Tales of the Cocktail (more on that, too), and I've been going through all the stuff that happened while I was away: the whole BrewDog super-beer thing (Eh. It was a statement, and that's cool: no one would pay attention if they'd written it, but this got things going.), the sale of De Koninck, SEPTA's renovation of Monk's Cafe's front room, and all that jazz...and the first thing I want to write about is Craig LaBan's review of Kraftwork.

    Why's that such a big deal? Because this is, to the best of my knowledge, the first LaBan review in which the beer has really taken the driver's seat. Read this opener:
    Craft ale is the oil that fuels the "Fishtown Express," as Adam Ritter calls it, and the neighborhood is rapidly picking up speed on its journey from blue-collar roots to a present and future as hipster central. With the addition of Kraftwork, you can now count 25 more taps blasting away with cold brew propulsion at East Girard and Montgomery Avenues, as wee heavy Scotch ales, sprightly Belgian saisons, and powerful Imperial IPAs christen the area's latest gastropub draw in sudsy style.
    Okay, for the record: I still hate it when beer is called "suds." Period. But...go read the piece. He's seven 'graphs into it before he mentions the food. Okay, he's got a real thing against PBR (why bother, Craig: it's better if you don't even mention it), but he's clearly grooving on the beer here, and not just the taps that were on when he visited: he's seeing that the beer is the place's raison d'etre, not a grace note to the food. He gushed about the beer at Memphis, but not like this. This is a watershed moment, even for Philly (and, of course, PhillyMag has, after a brief (apparently involuntary) spasm of beer coverage, gone back to their ignorant ways).

    And the review doesn't even mention their beer menu, which is, hands-down, the best-done one in the city. There's brewery, beer, type, ABV, size glass it comes in and price per serving for every draft, plus the same info for the upcoming keg on that tap line. Revolutionary, at least for Philly (I've seen it elsewhere, but not often). (My good friend Lari Roebling also did a review of Kraftwork, in the Daily News; more about the food...but I'm working on her!)

    Whew. All this, and a review of Maker's 46. I love what this town does to people.

    More to come.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Parker's Heritage Collection #4: 10 Year Old Wheated Bourbon

    Ten years ago, Parker Beam started mashing wheated bourbon at Heaven Hill (well, okay, at Bernheim, the distillery Heaven Hill bought after theirs burned in 1996). The distillery had bought the Old Fitzgerald brand, and that is a wheated mashbill, so...Parker made wheated bourbon for the first time.

    The Parker's Heritage Collection -- fine whiskeys from Heaven Hill's warehouses, selected by Mister Beam himself -- has put forth some real beauties lately, like this one. But this year, the Collection backs down from the extreme -- amazing -- age of the the last two (and backs down in price quite a bit, too), bringing us a 10 year old bottling of those first runs of wheated bourbon. This sample is non-chill filtered, and bottled at 127.8° of barrel proof, and it's just drinkable at full strength, which is pretty impressive. I know, I know...you guys can all drink uncut Stagg, whatever. I'm talking about a seriously overproof whiskey that you can actually drink without wincing.

    So what do I get when I do? Sweet youthful corn, King syrup, sweet grass, and just a touch of mint make up the nose. The whiskey is overproof hot, but yields oak spice, cornbread, vanilla, and more mint on the end. Let's be smart and add some water. Much the same, without the heat; more enjoyable, good balance. You know...I screwed up and added too much water, and this whiskey didn't fall apart. Good sign.

    I'm tasting it with some other wheated bourbons, like Very Special Old Fitzgerald (which I reviewed ten years ago here), Maker's Mark, Weller Antique, and a 19 year old W.L. Weller from Sazerac's Antique Collection. Let's make some comparisons. The VSOF (12 years old and 90° proof; made at Bernheim, but not by Parker) is richer, but simpler at the same time: the sweetness is more pronounced. Maker's Mark is the sweetest of the lot, though it still holds up well at around 6 years of age. Weller Antique has more of the overproof bite at 107° proof and about 7 years of age; the wood is a bit more forward on the higher proof, but I still love this one. The 19 year old Weller, though, doesn't hold up well in this relatively young company, tasting decidedly old and woody.

    Back to the Parker's...decided difference here. I'm recalling that Parker likes them "high and dry," from the hotter floors, not sappy, with a firm wood note. It's here, and I think they caught it before it got too big. That's really pretty nice right at full-bore.

    There's a similarity (not to say 'sameness'!) among these whiskeys, and it's not a lack of rye spice, but rather a firm sweetness; not sugary, but like that King syrup, or light molasses, a more mature sweetness. I should have maybe trotted out the bottle of Bernheim...maybe another night. I do think you'll like this one. I do.