Put some miles on the car last Thursday; drove down to Wilmington for the opening of Ernest & Scott Taproom (902 N. Market St.), the new beer bar in town. It's a whopper, too; restaurateur Scott Morrison laid down some serious bucks to outfit this large, balconied space. There's a solid commitment to cask ale, which explains why I ran into Paul Pendyck there (I had just seen Paul on Tuesday; took my mother to dinner at his Bulls Head Public House in Lititz and enjoyed two fine cask ales).
The beer engines weren't actually operating (someone had screwed up getting the breathers there), but there were seven firkins pouring, and I got stuck right into some Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA, poured by Sam Calagione. Sam's been consulting on the beer program, and since is such a big deal for beer in Delaware, that's no surprise. The beer scene in Wilmington has been an on-again off-again proposition for years (except for Iron Hill on the riverside, and the excellent Washington Street Alehouse), and Delaware and area brewers would love to see this city in Philly's backyard pick up the pace.
It's a handsome place, solidly built (it's a former bank), and the beer engines are ready to go. The food I sampled was quite nice, and the beers... Yards ESA, in about as fine a condition I can recall; an excellent Stewarts IPA (poured by brewer Ric Hoffman himself, and thus much more tasty), and a tasty Evolution altbier that was tucked away in a neat little space upstairs.
Okay, just one other thing. I liked the place, and I wish it well, but trying to get around in downtown Wilmington just about did me in. Some idiot planner thought it would be a good idea to narrow all the streets, and push parking out to the edge of the commercial area, and just generally make it inconvenient to drive. Well, forget your suburban traffic, guys, and there's not enough city there to make this work. Wilmington's got to be more welcoming to visitors, because after this experience...I don't really want to go back, no matter how cool this place is.
Once I got the hell out of Wilmington (which wasn't easy either), I ran up to Philly (which I'd never thought of as particularly car-friendly before...) and stopped off at London Grill, where Terry Berch McNally was throwing a little fling for outgoing Sierra Nevada rep Patrick Mullin (actually, he's pretty much outgone already; he's running sales at Sly Fox now, and congrats to both of them), pouring her last keg of our Exportation porter from Sierra Nevada Beer Camp, the three SN Ovilas (Dubbel, Saison, & Quad), and the new Ruthless Rye.
Briefly: the Exportation is a mildly sour version of a mild Baltic Porter, and was quite tasty and easily enjoyed, not a smack in the chops or a pucker in the cheeks. Ovila Dubbel is a nice example of the style, rich but not sticky; the Saison is spicy and brisk, very enjoyable. And the Ruthless Rye was great, a battling mouthful of beer, shot full of spicy rye character that blended marvelously with the bold hops. A very nice beer indeed.
We spent some pleasant minutes talking, getting caught up (me, Terry, Exton Beverage's Greg Ramirez, Scoats of the Grey Lodge, Patrick, and Brendan from Memphis Taproom), then I asked Terry to take me to Paris. We got there in about 45 seconds; Paris is the new wine bar Terry's opened in the adjoining building. It's small, intimate, and the wine is on draft; a popular form of dispense in Europe and gaining momentum in the U.S., presumably for the same reason: freshness, ease of service, and of course, the excellent environmental advantages. This is, I believe, a first for Pennsylvania; best of luck to her!
I'd like to say I went home after this, but...I stopped at the Grey Lodge for just one more (honest, Ernest & Scott were just pouring 3 oz. samples!). It's still pleasant to stop in there, and I do it often on my way home from Philly events to wind down.