I've been a fan of Barley Creek brewpub in the Poconos, often in the face of negative reviews. Well, hell, folks, most of the negative reviews were about the food or service, and I've never had a problem. The food changed, but that's just evolution. The beer? Honestly, the last time I was in, I liked the beer just fine...but that was over two years ago. So when owner Trip Ruvane invited me to stop in and meet his new brewer, Joe Percoco, I thought it was, well, you know...my duty to drive up to the Poconos and spend an hour tasting new beers. Heavy burden and all, right?
We moved on to the Black Lager (good, but a bit muddled; needed focus), Rescue IPA (very nice: dry-hopped in the serving tank after a lot of late addition hops to a malt-slippery, sweet/bitter beer with the classic American Cascades and Centennial piney/citrus aromas), and ESB (Nitro-poured and double-hopped; i.e., with American and English hops; great earthy/citrus hops flavor, a touch of bubble gum aroma, and a hugely bitter finish to clean it all up).
Then Joe went big on me. We started with a Bourbon Vanilla Cream Stout that Joe said he'd planned...and then trashed the recipe at the last minute and formulated a new recipe on the fly (he should stick with his instincts: this rocked, rich and full without being sticky, lots of vanilla and pit fruit, and scary drinkable). Next, a Chocolate Porter that was Hershey's syrup and chips added to a "good porter" (real milk chocolate character, and light enough to sup easily; not my favorite, but I could easily see others loving this).
Do you remember SuperHOP IPA? That used to be Barley Creek's IPA, and it was...well, a beer with hops in. It's more than that now: SuperHOP is a "triple IPA," at 13.1%, and let me tell you, it hides it well. I'd have guessed 8% at most. It's bitter but not crushing, sweet but not sickening, and believe you me, it's warming.
But my favorite beer of the tasting, easily, was the awkwardly named Double Mocha Latte Imperial Stout, made with cocoa powder and cacao nibs, and Kona and Colombian beans ground right into the mash. Sounds gloppy-gross, right? I was apprehensive, but this tasted like Joe had somehow crashed his brewery into a great espresso bar and filtered the wreckage into a serving tank: very adult drink, not overly rich, dry cocoa character, and solid coffee background. At 10% you'd want to watch yourself, but you'd also want at least two. This was one of the best coffee beers I've ever had, and one of the best chocolate/cocoa beers I've ever had. The coffee and chocolate were unrestrained, but sweetness that usually comes with them was not a factor. I like my coffee with a bit of cream (and plenty of crema) and no sugar; this hit me right between the eyes. Nice, nice job. And it's undoubtedly gone by now, but...he's gotta be making other good stuff.
I did get a tank sample of the 70 Shilling he had coming, a lightly-peated sub-4% session beer, and had that with lunch, the pork pot roast, and you better believe that gave me some ideas for cooking. Sat there with Trip, and we talked about the season, and the whiffleball stadium (Pint-Size Park), and he finally asked me...how do I get someone like you to talk about these beers, because this kid -- Joe; he is pretty young! -- is doing a great job? Easy, Tripp: make good beers, get me to taste them. Done.
Weyerbacher on the way home, had some of that Big Ern IPA they do for Uno's...and it was just pretty damned tasty. Might as well mention that, too, and tip the hat to that new logo they've got.