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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry (Monk's Cafe) Christmas (Dinner)!

I haven't been to a Monk's Cafe dinner in a while, so when the invite came, I shuffled my schedule (more about that shortly) and said yes! I was not disappointed. I left home Tuesday night in a blowing snow shower -- I'd driven out of it within ten minutes and only had the cold wind to contend with. I stopped on the way at the Grey Lodge Pub; that was the schedule I had to shuffle. Scoats had put together a 'holiday mix,' 24 cases of Christmas/holiday/winter beers, 24 people, mixing cases so we each got one of the 24 beers (hey, it's a Pennsylvania thing!)...and I had picked up Cape Anne Navigator (a holiday doublebock) and Wachusett Winter (an ESB, this year) when I was in Massachusetts last month, so I had to drop them off to be mixed. I headed on down to Monk's from there, figuring to leave the dinner a bit early to get back for the mix.

Traffic was bloody awful -- I hate the lights on the Boulevard -- so by the time I got the beers dropped off and got parked in Center City, I was at Monk's ten minutes late. No big deal, they were just serving the warm-up beer, De Ranke Pere Noel. I saw there was bouillabaisse coming, so decided to hold off on the De Ranke, and got a glass of Tripel Karmeliet to tide me over. Saw friends and said hi to Bryan Kolesar, Jeff Linkous, and my NJ Breweries co-author Mark Haynie (congrats on upcoming retirement, and happy birthday!), then sat down with George Hummel and Nancy Rigberg at the back bar to get ready for fun.

The promised bouillabaisse was -- hey, it's Monk's -- crazy. Big shrimp hanging over the side, lots of creamy-textured fish inside, and a toasty crust with cheese jammed in there. The De Ranke was...okay. Good beer, dry, tasty, but not sure about how it worked with the feesh. The next pairing more than made up for that (and the best was yet to come): Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi and a rabbit terrine (What's the diff twixt terrine and pate, I asked George. 'The shape?' he speculated, and looking at the goopy goodness I assumed was an additional small portion of pate on my plate, I guessed he was right.) The beer, tasty and yet restrained, was the perfect foil for the rich bunny meat, easily matching and mediating the delicious fattiness.

Next up was the Mikeller Red/White Christmas. Good beer, but I'll admit: I pretty much forgot the beer when I tasted the next course: pork loin stuffed with pancetta on apple sauerkraut, with a nice knob of roquefort on the side and sweet potato straws on the top. That was delicious. Then came another Scandinavian beer: Nøgne Ø Holiday Ale. It was a seriously spiced beer, with sage and juniper, and I didn't know what they were going to pair this one with to make it sing...because honestly, it was a bit overpowering.

The pairing was genius. Butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter, topped with fried sage leaves. This is what beer pairing is about: the two together changed each other. The ravioli came alive, and the beer mellowed into spicy richness. I exclaimed out loud (no, really, I did), and enjoyed this one terrifically. Unfortunately, I had to leave at that point to get to the Grey Lodge, and there were three courses yet to come! (Cassoulete w/Corsendonk Christmas, cheeses with T'sjeeses Reserva, and the traditional buche de noel with 2009 Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper and a jeroboam of Mad Elf). Thanks, Tom Peters: he made me up a take-home plate of the cassoulete!

Up the road to the Lodge, where I stayed till 11 PM, talking with old friends, and drinking a glass of Sly Fox Rauchbier, and a sample of this year's Philly Brewing Winter Wunder (nicely done, guys). A very nice night indeed.

Thanks to Bryan Kolesar for scanning the menu and sending it to me: I left mine on the bar!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rumors of an Iron Chestnut...

There are rumors on PhiladelphiaSpeaks about a new Iron Hill slated for Chestnut Hill. Before you get all excited and start blogging... I contacted the folks at Iron Hill, and got this response: no comment. No surprise, Iron Hill never makes comment until things are signed and sealed, and there have been possibles in the past that never happened. Doesn't mean this one won't, but...that's about all it means. Keep waiting: Iron Hill still has money in the bank, and they're not done growing.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2001

Heaven Hill filled their six millionth barrel of whiskey today, on the 75th anniversary of the very day they filled their first barrel of whiskey, way back in 1935. Congratulations to my good friends at Heaven Hill -- the largest independent, family-owned distiller in America -- on this landmark accomplishment, and on this auspicious anniversary. I have to say that Heaven Hill is doing great: their other spirits brands are selling well (and get excellent reviews on quality and value, a Heaven Hill hallmark), and their whiskey is getting more well-deserved attention than ever.

Which seems like a good excuse to crack open this fresh bottle of the new Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2001 they sent me and have a taste. It will be out on the market in January, at a suggested retail of $26 (see what I mean about value?). Let's get at it.

First I had to wait for the whiskey to warm up -- I'm a cheap bastard when it comes to heating the home, and when it's just me here in the house during a working day, I keep the thermostat at 62 or lower. Not a great temp for tasting bourbon! So, warmed in my hands, the EWSB is starting to express itself. It's a markedly sweet nose, almost candy-like and tinged with vanilla, with a hint of wood spice, a touch of cedar, and real Heaven Hill/Parker Beam character. It's creamy on the tongue, like hot oil, and definite with corn, with a strong flip of spice on the end. This is not a cloying bourbon, not a lush one; the wood takes a firm hand. But it's not drying and astringent, either.

There's a very nice balance here between these two major bourbon components. There's a tendency among crazed bourbon aficionados to get 'Scotch envy' and go for the older, woodier bourbons; the Japanese, apparently, take that to an extreme. I've had some excellent older bourbons and ryes, but...there's a sweet spot here around 8 to 12 years that I'm really getting to like, though I'll happily admit that I love the Van Winkle 15, too. At 9 years old, this vintage, single barrel whiskey is hitting it right between the eyes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Finally someone does a beer breakfast in the area

Sly Fox has been celebrating their anniversary with crazy releases of multiple single-hop IPAs and pale ales for years now -- I blame O'Reilly -- and it always falls either on my anniversary or the day of my church Christmas concert, and I have to go at lunchtime, before it gets all fun and crazy, and then leave by 3, before it gets all fun and crazy...

Well, this year, it's happened again, their 15th anniversary -- congratulations! -- falls on Friday the 10th, and our concert is that night (St. Andrew's Church, Newtown, come on out, be glad to see you), but I'll be getting to Sly Fox Phoenixville even earlier this year...for the Brewmaster's Breakfast! I'm sorry to say it's sold out already (yeah, really: a beer breakfast, on a weekday, sold out), but take a look at this menu created by guest chef Andrew Deery of Majolica...and seriously think about taking the whole day off next year...

  • Fresh Donuts - Paired with Kimberton Coffee Porter
  • Potato and Leek Veloute, Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieur - Paired with Saison Vos
  • Truffled White Sausage, Mashed Celery Root - Paired with Royal Weisse
  • Maine Peekytoe Crab Benedict, Wilted Spinach. Sauce Choron - Paired with Odyssey Imperial IPA
  • Spiced Pumpkin Biscuit, Cinnamon Ice Cream - Paired with 2010 Christmas Ale
Featuring the debut of Succubus and Majolica Blend Coffee Porter!

I'm looking forward to leaving at lunchtime...when it's going to be all fun and crazy. 

I'm on the TeeVee again...

Pennsylvania Breweries 4th edition is the topic on PCN's "PA Books" this Sunday night at 9 PM! I did an hour interview with host Brian Lockman yesterday, our third over the years, and he beat me up a little this time: why so friendly to all the breweries, do you ever pan beers, all that stuff folks ask me to needle me. No sweat, it's good to clear the air on that (you wanna know the answers, watch the show). He also pinned me with his now-traditional final question: pick a desert island sixpack of Pennsylvania beers...oof! I should have known that one was coming and been ready! Check it out, we had a great time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just In Time For Christmas!

My last Pennsylvania Breweries book tour of the season is set! I'm calling it the "Just In Time For Christmas" tour, and it's going to take me up the Susquehanna into the heart of central Pennsylvania, the hottest spot in Pennsylvania brewing right now. Here's some holiday shopping advice you'll appreciate: if you want to get a copy of the latest Pennsylvania Breweries for your favorite beer drinkers, put it off to the last minute, along with some of your other shopping, and take this opportunity to get a signed copy, a good beer, and some very cool local shopping.

We start on December 18th at noon to 2:15 at Elk Creek Cafe and Ale Works in Millheim. If you haven't been to Elk Creek yet, you're missing a great experience in local food and drink, in a sweet little town in the middle of the beautiful Penns Valley. Stop in for a beer, a book, and a bite to eat, check out the brewpub merch (glasses, shirts, the usual, only cooler) AND the other stuff they sell, like Tait Farms fruit shrubs (a deliciously tart fruit addition to sparkling water) and Ken Hull's book going LOCAL! Shopping? Check out Penns Valley Jewelry and Cottage Rose Interiors (both at 110 E. St.). A bit unorthodox for Christmas shopping, but...a favorite stop of mine in Millheim is Penns Valley Meat Market (112 East Main Street); not much to look at, but their house-cured meats -- jerky, smoked and fresh sausage, hams -- are delicious and reasonable (fresh-roasted peanuts, too). A little farther (and I do mean a little) is Aaronsburg Pottery where you can get some of Scot Paterson's beautiful and functional stoneware.

Next stop: Old Forge Brewing in Danville, where I'll be signing books from 3:30 to 5:30. Old Forge really takes you back to the good old days of the first brewpubs: small brewery shoehorned into the front of the bar, little kitchen cranking out great locally-sourced foods (don't miss the soft pretzels; to groan for), funky decor (check out the hand-done mugs; you'll want to move to Danville so you can join the club!), and delish beer: Damien's alt is exquisitely accurate.

And yes, there's great local shopping here, too. You'll want to get to City Girl Bakery Market (252 Mill St.) before the signing; they close at 3, and it would be a shame to miss their fresh-baked sourdough breads (they bake for Old Forge, too), croissants, and pastries; you can pick up a pound of Counter Culture fair trade coffee for your favorite java-lover's stocking, too (I stop here every time I'm in town; real nice people).

Got kids? Get them happy before stopping at the brewpub: Santa Claus and his reindeer will be downtown, next to the Boro Hall/Municipal Building, from noon to 3 pm. Right beside Old Forge is T and J Train Junction (290 Mill Street), where they have a great selection of model railroad equipment, including a small operating layout; a fun place to browse with your kids. They're part of Collectibles Unlimited, right next door, fun stuff there, too. There is a really nice gift/retail shop called Lemon A'peel (298 Mill St), and Beiter's Department Store (255 Mill St.), which is like an old five and dime but nicer. Want some clothes for your spouse or the kids? Try D's Clothier (226 Mill St) and the Kiddie Korner (335 Mill St.).

Long day, but it's not over yet: I'll be hanging out at Bavarian Barbarian in Williamsport with owner/brewer Mike Hiller from 7 to 9 Saturday night. Come on over, join us for a couple beers, get your book signed, and relax: either after a long day of shopping or before you go out for the night.

Sunday is only one stop, but it's a doozey: I'll be at the Jazz Brunch at the Bullfrog Brewery from noon to 4, a swinging good time with live jazz, great brunch chow for a lazy Sunday, and Terry Hawbaker's wild selection of beers. The shopping's a bit sparse on Sunday, but it's hardly non-existent: again, Bullfrog's got some great merch, and there's the Otto Bookstore (107 W. 4th), a family-owned independent bookstore since 1841, one of the five oldest booksellers in the country. When you're done browsing, if you still have room, check out one of my faves in town, Franco's Lounge (12 W. 4th), for an excellent dinner -- and if you don't have room, stop in for a beer and pick up some jars of their excellent house-made red sauce (I think they have other stuff as well, and their beer selection is a great excuse to find out if I'm right).

Monday, I'll be doing some reconnaissance in Bloomsburg and Lewisburg during the day; new brewpubs open and opening there! Monday evening though, I'm heading downriver to Appalachian Brewing in Harrisburg, where I'll be signing from 5 to 8 in their big, solid, beautiful brewpub (and probably sipping a glass of Broad Street Barleywine).

Tuesday means more recon, but it's also the winter solstice, and I hope you know what that means: the Selin's Grove 14th anniversary!I've been there before, and try to make it when I can; this is one of the days that should be on your Pennsylvania beer calendar every year, a real special night. I'll be there at 3 when they tap the firkin, and I'm staying till 9 PM...and that's the end of the tour. (Though I will be at Bethlehem Brew Works on December 23rd for lunch with the kids, andif you happen to catch me, I'm sure I'll have some books with me, if you really want to wait till the last minute!)

Western PA, Day 2

Yes, I'm still here, just got really busy with book signing and family life.

To pick up where I left off... I got up the next day, Sunday, then went to get breakfast. Sigh. Cranberry Township is a lot of things, but there aren't a lot of independent diners around. So, oddly, despite having gone to grad school at CMU back in the 1980s, and having been back to Pittsburgh on an almost annual basis ever since, I went to an Eat'n Park for the first time ever. Hey, at least it's a locally-based chain, okay? And the blueberry pancakes were pretty good.

Back to the room, did a bit of work that was hanging fire, suited up for the day, and I headed into town. It was a gray, raw, rainy day, and when I found a spot by the loading docks at the Strip (just about across from Kaya), I was unloading books in the rain. But it was all worth it: I got into the Pittsburgh Public Market and was knocked out by the great selection of local merchants and shtuff. I hustled down to the far corner where Scott Smith has opened the truly ground-breaking East End Brewing Growler Shop, and dumped my stuff. More about the growler shop shortly -- it was lunchtime. I got a recommendation: "Go up there to Sito's, get the wrap, they put an assload of stuff in there." And they did, and it was awesomely good. I wanted to get that plug in there because it was one tasty sandwich thing.

So, the growler shop. The way Scott explained it, the inkling came from a 2006 inquiry he made with the PLCB on another topic, in which they happened to mention, unprompted, that he would have the same ability to fill and sell growlers at an off-site storage facility that he did at the brewery. Busy as hell just staying afloat at that time, he didn't really think anything of it, but three years later he started thinking about opportunities, and that came to the top. It sounded like the off-site "stores" PA wineries are allowed to have, and that would be great, to get a growler outlet in a more consumer-friendly area than his famously out-of-the-way brewery, a place with more retail traffic.

It would be, but there was a PLCB odyssey to go through first. (Stop me if you've heard that one before...) Scott started going through layers and layers of bureaucrats, all of whom seemed baffled by the idea of an interpretation of the Almighty Liquor Code that actually made things easy for the brewer. "You'll need a license for that," he kept hearing, but like Virgil in Dante's Inferno ("This has been willed where what is willed must be, and is not yours to question.") Scott brandished the letter, saying "But I have a ruling from the Board." Because it was a letter direct from the actual Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, not one of their lawyerminions, Scott won through, and has an off-site storage facility at the Pittsburgh Public Market: a lockable cooler with tap outlets next to a serving area with a ton of East End merch.

And let me tell you, they do a land office business. On a wet, cold Sunday, there were people lined up five-deep happily waiting to get growlers filled, sometimes six at a time. And quite a few of them were interested in books! It kept me pretty busy, and Scott kept me supplied with tasters (can't get enough of the Fat Gary brown ale), but all good things had to come to an end...I packed up, shook hands all round, and made for the door.

It was seriously raining now, and I had to make my to [two of the colleges in town] to pick up [four college students I happen to know]. Yeah, I'm covering up identities here, you'll soon see why. I took the kids to one of my favorite spots (and my late father's very favorite spot) in Pittsburgh: Max's Allegheny. It was hopping, the Steelers were at home that evening, and Max's runs a shuttle to the arena. They managed to stuff us into the basement, where I got me some hassenpfeffer and Kostritzer.

So, why I covered the identities: they filled me in on the Four Loko thang. Yes, everyone drank it (this was pre-ban by about two weeks); it was compact and easy to smuggle in under a jacket, and a can is four 'regular' beers. "Oh, it tastes awful," they freely admitted, but they were equally open about why they were drinking it: for effect. One of the colleges had a no-drinking policy on campus, even for students of legal age, and the effect, they told me, was that no one drank beer, because it was too bulky to smuggle in. Instead, it was 'handles' (1.75 liter bottles) of cheap liquor (rum seemed to be preferred), bags of weed, and Four Loko. Great policy! I tried to set them a good example by praising the taste and low alcohol content of my schwarzbier, but it's truly for naught, given the 21 LDA; Max's was clearly a better environment for drinking (and learning to drink) than a dorm where every drink was contraband, but what's logic in the face of dogma?

I took them back to their campuses, and considered just going to my hotel in Monroeville...but I had gotten a Facebook message from Steve Lander, a true alpha beer geek (and funny SOB to boot), that I should meet him at The Headkeeper in Greensburg. Well, I'd put Headkeeper's into the book on recommendation, so I felt duty-bound to check it out. Glad I went, though I wish I'd et a bit lighter at Max's: Steve was eating, and the food smelled fantastic. He'd been eating his way through the menu over a couple months and said it was almost all outstanding; this from a metro New York guy. The beer...well, no possible argument, the beer selection, draft and bottle, was exceptional. If I hadn't already had a couple, and had a 30 minute drive back to my room... But instead, I hung with Steve and talked geek for a while, and had a Schlenkerla Lager (always welcome), and finally did check into the Holiday Inn Express (I gotta start finding more non-chain motels...). And that was Sunday. Next day: breakfast with an old high school chum, lunch at Rivertowne, a visit to Full Pint (finally!), the Church, and Penn, and the big PA beer dinner at Bocktown... stay tuned.

(I'll get some pix up on this one as soon as my PC stops acting like Betty White; maybe I should try a Snickers...)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Western PA just suits me fine

Just got back from a fantastic book signing, beer drinking, brewery touring, 'Burgh loving tour of western PA. It started quietly enough when I left home Friday afternoon, headed for Mechanicsburg to pick up more books at Stackpole for the trip...when I hit a pothole on an exit ramp and popped a tire. Damn! Unpack the Jetta to get at the spare, read the manual to see the jackpoints (first flat in this car), jack it, spin it, lower it, repack, wipe off hands, and get back on the road, 20 minutes behind. No worries, they're still there waiting, and I stuffed 200 copies of Pennsylvania Breweries in the back.

I was still early to meet bro-in-law Carl (in town for a conference), so I zipped over to Tröegs to pick up a quick Pale Ale while visiting hours were still open. Said hi to Chris Trogner and publicity mahoff Ed Yashinsky, and then ran off to pick up Carl. We were early for Cathy and Nora's arrival at Appalachian for dinner, so we headed to Bricco to suck up some dollar oysters (Blue Points, yummy) and some drafts ($6 for a 10 oz. Guinness? Really? (Yeah, really, I have the receipt.) You ought to warn a customer on a price like that, grumpy old bartender). Then we did go for dinner, and I got that awesome pulled pork again, and had a cask Trail Blaze Brown (not so hot, just kinda bland) and a Broad Street Barleywine (quite a different proposition: rippling-smooth strong malt beauty). Bye-bye to the girls...and I hijacked Carl to Carlisle. Seemed appropriate.

We went to Cafe Bruges, where I started with a Rochefort 8 (note the appropriate glass!) and Carl got a Bavik. The smell of Belgian waffles was about driving us crazy, one of quite a few good things about this place. The others? A very nice selection of Belgian beers for such a relatively small town, an authentic offering of Belgian foods, and the stuff actually coming out of the kitchen looked and smelled excellent. And the very enthusiastically-beer loving women at the end of the bar were kinda fun, too. After a while we went over to Market Cross, where I would have had the Excaliber imperial stout on cask (!!!), only we saw that this year's Sierra Nevada Celebration was on, so we grabbed a couple of those, chatted with the waitress (always a fun crew at Market Cross), and headed back to Harrisburg. Carl graciously had offered to let me sleep in his room to make the next morning's drive shorter.

Because I had to head out at 8:30 to make an 11 AM signing at Otto's. After a quick bowl of oatmeal, I rolled up the Susquehanna on a beautiful morning. As many folks would comment on this trip, I picked a great day to drive across the state: about 50 degrees, bright sunshine, blue skies, and the last of the fall foliage painting the ridges. I remembered there was a tire place up the hill from Otto's, and called ahead; yes, they could do me a new tire while I was signing books!

I dropped off the Jetta and co-owner Roger Garthwaite gave me the tour of the new, improved Otto's Pub and Brewery, down the hill in the old Quaker Steak building. It was fantastic (and so much nicer than the QSL set-up). The decor is largely high-rez reproductions of vintage beer art, like the Duquesne poster featured to the left, but there are many more that are just incredible. Did you know there was a brewery in Renovo, PA, for instance? (Guys, be sure to check out the F&S skater chick; she was deemed too racy for the front room!) You'll love this new place.

Beer was, unfortunately, a bit tight. I had plenty of Black Mo stout, for sure, but they had just brewed the last batches at the old site, and were going to be rigging out/in the brewhouse into the new one. There's a tightly calculated amount of beer to make the switch, and if anything hangs up, well...there will be guest beers, right? Because the NEW Otto's location comes with a full liquor license, so they can do that! (It also comes with Chris Brugger, late of Tröegs, who I unfortunately missed seeing, and he knows how to crank it out.) All will be well.

The signing got off to a bit of a slow start, but soon people were pouring in, including my main central PA man, Sam Komlenic, whiskey and beer enthusiast and copy editor for Malt Advocate. Sam brought friends, some of whom I knew by e-mail, like Bill Hiergeist, who's been feeding me info on booze goings-on in PA for years -- and it was great to finally meet you face-to-face, Bill! Eventually, it turned out to be one of my best events ever: 33 books signed, and they were literally chasing me in the parking lot to get one more book!

Finally hit the road for Slippery Rock with my new tire. More great scenery across the roof of the state along I-99 and I-80, then slid down into Slippery Rock...and couldn't find parking on the street at North Country. There were people lined up halfway up the block, waiting to get in!

They were not there for me. Duh. North Country does a slamming business, and an hour-and-a-half wait at 4:45 on a Saturday evening is standard for them. No wonder: the food and beer are great, the place is very cool, and it's pretty much the only game in town for miles around. I was just happy to get a small table in the front and sign another 11 books (especially the one for a family whose 11 year old son asked some very perceptive questions; kid's headed for journalism). 44 on the day: a top 10 day for Pennsylvania Breweries!

As you can see by the beer board, North Country doesn't follow the current craft beer trend of "bash 'em with big beers," nor do they slip under the radar with session beers. It's right at the 5-6% middle, and it sells like mad. I stuck to the cask Stonehouse Stout all night, and had a nice bowl of curried vegetable soup and a dinner salad. No, wait, I had the Simcoe Pale, also, and it was beautifully aromatic but not overly bitter: excellent pale ale.

I rang up a Priceline hotel room in Cranberry Township on the iPhone during a slow period, so when things were done, I rolled down I-79 and parked it. Got a little work done, and called it a long, successful day. Tomorrow: the East End Growler Shop, Max's Allegheny, and my vicarious encounter with Four Loko.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The cat's out of the bag...

The rumors you may have heard for months are true: Tom Pastorius is out at Penn Brewery.  Check this local blogger. (Thanks to Brew Lounge's Bryan Kolesar for the link.)

There's not a lot I have to add at this point. I was just in Pittsburgh, and no one wanted to talk about this, except to ask questions: is it true? What happened? Was he forced out? Is it the old owners?

I'll tell you what I know, which is not much. Tom started this business, the first brewpub/craft brewery in Pittsburgh. After some hard work and great beer, he sold part of the business to try to raise capital for much-needed expansion. That didn't go well, and the business almost went under. Tom and some well-monied partners (with some public money as well) managed to get it back before it completely crashed. People were hired, the beer flowed, and the restaurant re-opened. At that point, things get very hazy, and pretty he-said-she-said, so I'm staying out of that. On the far side of that part, we find Tom out of the day-to-day operations of the brewery, not in evidence at all. There will probably be some public bad feelings about this, for obvious reasons.

And yet...the beer continues to flow, good beer. Brewer Andy Rich, two of the new owners, and sales/marketing head Eric Heinauer (who worked for years at Penn) were at my dinner at Bocktown Monday night, very much supporting the beer and promising new stuff. Like what? How about year-round Kaiser Pils, draft now and in 12 oz. bottles in February? How about a rye imperial stout (delish)? How about they bought the building -- something Tom tried to do for years but was never able to do -- and are making improvements already, like creating a new entrance, opening a 2nd floor hall with an awesome iron beam overhead (the Eisenhalle), or re-opening the lagering vaults for a planned barrel-aging program?

My advice -- as always -- is to wait and see before you judge the new owners, the new Penn Brewery. We do owe Tom Pastorius a debt of gratitude; he brought forth a great place, great beers, and some awesome festivals, working against inertia and a constant lack of capital. Great things. And's the next chapter. Read on.

Three more events...

After an amazingly successful western PA book tour, I'm back home. Here we go again...

Tonight, I'm at Dock Street Brewery from 7-9, signing Pennsylvania Breweries 4 and sampling some of their newest creation; no, not beer, it's bread...
Dock Street Brewery and Four Worlds Bakery collaborated to create a one-pound, triangular shaped potato rye bread. The bread is made with a blend of white wheat (66%), whole rye meal (33%), and potatoes. The bread is topped with a fermented batter of Dock Street Royal Bohemian Pilsner, salt, yeast and rye meal to create a soft and creamy inside and a robust grainy & hoppy crust.
And you can try some during the book signing! How 'bout dat?

Tomorrow, I'll be across the street from my alma mammie, Franklin & Marshall College, at Iron Hill Lancaster, offering this fine new book between the hours of 5 and 9 PM. I understand there will also be an Iron Hill Bottled Reserves Tasting (a chance to sample some of their decidedly bigger  -- and excellent -- beers), raffles, and some F&M alumni stuff going on. More than just me and the book, in other words!

There's a third event on Saturday: I'll be at Classics Book Shop in Trenton, NJ (117 S. Warren St.) from noon to 2 PM. If you haven't been to this fine, independent bookstore, you should come on out. (It is also a short (<10 minutes) walk from Joe's Mill Hill Saloon. Just sayin'...)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Iron Hill meets Iron Chef

Craft beer continues to infiltrate Philadelphia's excellent restaurant scene.Next Thursday, the 18th, at 7 PM, Iron Hill Maple Shade head brewer Chris LaPierre will host an Iron Hill beer dinner at Jose Garces's Chifa (707 Chestnut Street, 215-925-5555)

The menu, from the press release:
Hopuka Ceviche with sunchoke leche de tigre, sunflower tuile, pickled fresno and sweet potato, paired with Rising Sun IPA, a spicy, citrus pale ale brewed with Sorachi Ace hops;  Peruvian Stew with root vegetables, chorizo, braised beef and rabbit loin, paired with Victoria’s Bitter, a traditional, easy-drinking English pub ale with copper color, noticeable malt flavor and floral, bitter hop finish;  Roast Pig with apple-porter glaze, spicy wilted baby black kale and pork-porter humita, paired with Pig Iron Porter, a dark beer with roasted chocolate notes and slight bitterness;  and Five-Spice Bread Pudding with ginger-pecan ice cream and malted chocolate sauce, paired with Weizenbock, a full-bodied ale with a bready malt character and banana and clove notes.

The cost will be $65 per person, excluding tax and gratuity, and reservations are required. The Craft Beer at Chifa Dinner Series will continue this winter with the brothers from Troegs Brewing Co on Thursday, December 16 and Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery on Thursday, January 20.

I knew Chef Garces liked whisky; he's looking more and more like my kinda guy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review of PA Breweries

David Falchek has a good review of Pennsylvania Breweries in the Scranton Times-Tribune, just as I'm headed up to the Wyoming Valley tomorrow for a short book-signing tour. I'll see you folks tomorrow at the Barnes & Noble in Wilkes-Barre, Krugel's Deli, The Lion tasting room, and at the Anthracite Cafe!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Added stop in Wilkes-Barre

They just can't get enough of me in the Wyoming Valley...

Krugel's Georgetown Deli just added an appearance by yours truly, this Thursday, Nov. 4th, from 3-5 PM! After strolling their beer-stuffed aisles and signing your books (come on, slip out of work an hour early!), I'll be running right over to the tasting room at The Lion brewery for our Big and Small Tasting with Breaker Brewing from 5-7; and if you still can't get enough of me and Pennsylvania Breweries, I'll be at the incredibly comfortable and down-home style Anthracite Cafe from 7:30 to 9:30...after which I'm going to get some sleep and get up the next day to hit it again!

We'll be talking all about it on Chip The Beer Guy's show on ROCK-107 Thursday morning, 8-9:30. Give a listen: Chip and I will be sampling the incredibly appropriate Philadelphia Brewing Pennsylvania Pale Ale and some brand-new samples of this year's Stegmaier Winter Warmer. Great way to start your day!

"Sip it and dream"

For the very first time in my life, winter is coming on...and I find myself longing for May's warm breezes. What a grand exhibition. What a thirst I have for bourbon and mint.

Thanks to Matthew Rowley for the link; if you've never been, you should visit his blog, Rowley's Whiskey Forge .

Beer's More Dangerous Than Heroin (because 16 neo-prohibitionists say so)

Heard about the English "study" that says beer is more dangerous than heroin?

Horseshit. My friend and colleague Jay Brooks takes a look at the actual article from The Lancet and neatly disassembles it. Check it out.

Please, everyone: don't read the headlines. Read the science. In this case, you'll find it's sadly lacking.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Take a deep breath...

Whoever did this? Thank you. This was something that was needed. Because I suspect Tyl Eulenspiegl was a craft brewer, and his contributions were being overlooked.

Craft brewing has always been about fun, too. This brings that back.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"When is this over?"

Cathy asked me that tonight when I pointed out that I had another Pennsylvania Breweries signing Sunday afternoon. I've got a lot coming up; let me get you up to date.

October 30, 4-6 PM: Sly Fox Book Signing with Andy Crouch at Sly Fox Phoenixville.

October 31 (Halloween), 1-4: I'll be at the Bulls Head (Lititz) cask ale festival.

November 3, 7-8:30 PM: We're doing a signing for the Spring City Library at the French Quarter Bistro, 213 Main St., Royersford (hey, no beer in the library, but we can have a couple at the Bistro!). Reservations suggested: 610-698-4130.

Then begins the NEPA Tour...

Thursday, November 4th
  • I'll be on Chip the Beer Guy's show on Rock 107, three times between 8:20 AM to 9:30 AM.
  • Then I'll be at the Barnes & Noble at the Arena Hub in Wilkes Barre, 11 AM to 1 PM.
  • I've got a couple hours to get some great NEPA grub, then I'll be hosting The Big and Small Tasting at the Lion Brewery tasting room, with beers from Lion and Breaker Brewing. Get it? Big and Small? We'll be there from 5:00 to 7:00 PM!
  • Then we'll be relaxing at the Anthracite Cafe, one seriously comfy neighborhood tappie (7:30 to 9:30 PM).
Friday, November 5th
  • Early morning? Not likely. So the first event is Lunch with Lew, at Sabatini's Pizza, 11:30 to 1:30.
  • I'll probably get some Sabatini's great take-out beer, then head for Elmer Sudds (3:00 to 5:00) to hang out in Wilkes-Barre's classic beer bar.
  • After that, I'll be heading for the Berwick High football game that night, but I'll probably drop in at Krugel's Deli on the way out of town, just to say hi (and maybe sign some books).
  • I'll be at Berwick Brewing after the game, but the official event is the next day...

Saturday, November 6th
Noon to 3 I'll be at Berwick Brewing, signing books in the best beer garden in NEPA!

There's another string starting November 11th, and I'll be heading for western PA on November 13th...but I'll be back to tell you about that. On the road again...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Idea That Doesn't Hold Water

What is the purpose of a beer glass?

First, I would submit, it is to hold beer and make it available to drink. Beer, that is, this stuff we enjoy, we write about, talk about, argue about, occasionally sing about, and make in huge lots -- even a small batch is about five gallons. A beer glass holds beer.

Second, it should be comfortable in the hand. A beer glass that is awkward to hold can lead to spilled beer, discomfort, and a subtle displeasure. It doesn't hurt if the glass also looks good, because that's more of that subtle pleasure/displeasure thing.

Third, I'd add, it should be relatively easy to clean -- glass cleanliness demonstrably makes beer taste better (or perhaps more accurately, uncleanliness demonstrably makes beer taste worse) -- reasonably sturdy -- I'd like to grip the glass and not worry about breaking it, which I have seen happen; not pretty -- and not wicked expensive.

Fourth? I hear a lot of fourth things about beer glasses. They should be "the right glass for the beer." Some beers, apparently, need a glass that opens up to release their aroma, while others need a glass that tapers in at the top to hold their more delicate aromas in. Some beers need thin walls to...well, I'm not real clear on that reason, though I do like a thin-walled glass, as long as I don't have to clean or replace them. Some beers need small glasses because they're high-alcohol -- I approve! -- and some deserve big glasses because they're lower in alcohol -- makes sense. And when I'm buying draft beer in unspecified amounts, I don't want to see "cheater" glasses with optically-deceptive thick walls and thick bottoms that look like glasses that hold more.

But...possibly the most common beer glass out there right now is the one on the left in the picture above, the ubiquitous Libbey shaker glass, known variously as a "shaker," a "shaker pint" (it's not a pint, and Libbey doesn't specify a volume), a "sleeve pint," or just a "pint glass." It's sturdy, it stacks well, it's cheap, and it leaves plenty of plain area for logo application. It cleans well, and yes, it's reasonably comfortable in the hand.

As you can probably guess, ubiquity has bred contempt*.The shaker glass is ugly, we're told, it's too thick, it 'cheats' the consumer because it's not really a pint, and beer just doesn't taste as good in it. Besides, the Belgians have different glasses for every beer, and the English have 20 oz. pints, and the Germans have...small glasses for kölsch!

'Ugly' is subjective. I find the stacked rows of shakers in my cupboard quite pretty, alternating up and down, colorful logos, and they fit. Some are thick, some are not (the thickest is a "Michelob Ales and Lagers" glass, but I'm not judging...).

The glass doesn't cheat the consumer: it's never been officially a 'pint glass,' we just call it that because we want to be like the English -- God help us -- and they have true pint glasses, with a fill line, because they actually care about what they're getting in a glass. If the bar advertises a "pint" and serves your beer in a shaker glass...well, you can either bitch about it, or you can realize that you saw the damned glasses before you ordered, and should have bitched then. (I bitched about the incredibly thick-walled/based and tapered shaker I got that you see to the right...and got nowhere. I didn't buy another, though, and haven't been back since, despite very good food.)

The beer doesn't taste as good? Please. The beer tastes at least as good, and if you're concentrating enough to think you notice a difference, you're a geek, so use any damned glass you want. We should have a different glass for every beer? Sure, and you'll pay for it when the ignoropulace starts stealing those cool-looking glasses. Shakers are so ubiquitous and cheap that they don't get stolen. Bonus.

I can be just as subjective as the next beer geeker. I love the willibecker glass (like the Harpoon IPA glass above). It's thin-walled, feels great in my hand, and the ones I have all have fill lines at either 0.5 or 0.3 liters. Good to go.

But I really love that Mönchshof mug of mine. It's stylish, it keeps the beer cold, it feels great in my hand, and makes an emphatic point when I pound it on the table. But mugs like it are rejected by so many beer cognoscenti. Too heavy, you can't see your beer, old-fashioned. To which I respond: so what? Too heavy? Give me a second, I'll make it lighter for ya. Can't see my beer? Shit, man, don't you know what it looks like by now? ( keeps the sunlight off your hops, eh?) And...old-fashioned? Damn right it is! So's beer!

Do you hate shaker glasses? Sweet. It's a big world, and your shaker-hating shows me it's a pretty good one: we've gotten past being pissed about frosted glasses, and dirty glasses, and chipped glasses, and a dearth of variety of beer to put in them, and we've progressed to getting pissy about which glass we're enjoying our beer from.That's great!

Time for a beer. Out of any damned glass you want.

*Andy, not picking on you in particular: there are plenty of shaker-haters out there. But I'm in a rush to get this finished, and yours was the first link that came up. When I get a moment, I'll add some links to Jeff Alworth and The Good Doctor Beaumont, who I know feel the same way you do. See you tomorrow.

You know how I feel about pumpkin beers...

I've made my feelings about pumpkin beers pretty damned clear:  "pumpkin beers mostly suck." But I also admitted that I liked some of them, and there are a couple I absolutely adore, like the amazing ShawneeCraft Pumpkin Saison. It's getting creative and crazy and genius..ish with pumpkin beers that I like. Which is why I'm telling you about this event at Hawthornes Beer Cafe that I'm gonna miss because I'll be in Pittsburgh signing books.
Join us for our 1st Annual Pumpkin Beer Dinner! 7-9 PM Sunday November 14th. We will be serving 4 savory courses paired beautifully with 4 different pumpkin beers. Southern Tier Pumking, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin, River Horse Hipp-O-Lantern and Dogfish Head Punkin'.

Amuse Bouche: Pumpkin Seed Brittle w/ cranberry and mint
1st: Pan seared Pumpkin Gnocchi, shitake mushrooms, mascarpone pancetta sage butter, pumpkin seed pesto
2nd: Coconut Curry Pumpkin Bisque w/autumn pear creme fraiche
3rd: Oven Roasted Pork Tenderloin stuffed w/spinach and sharp cheddar served over sweet bourbon walnut mash and blackberry gastrique
4th: Pumpkin Mousse w/toffee gingersnap cookie crumble
Reservations are required for this event. $50 per person plus tax and gratuity.

Sounds good to me!

Just got an e-mail not a minute after I posted this: Devil's Den is doing a pumpkin event Thursday, Oct. 28th, with 7 draft gourd brews and 6 bottled pumpkineers, and a squash-based menu: Pumpkin Soup topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, Pumpkin Ravioli with a sage brown butter, Stuffed Pork Chop with Pumpkin Stuffing, and Pumpkin Mousse. Holy gastropumpkinpub!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Session beer event in Brooklyn tomorrow!

You know I love the session beers, so I want to make sure the max people know about this. There's a "session obsession" event at The Diamond in Brooklyn tomorrow, and I'm double-posting it here and at the SBP blog. Check this out:
10/23, Saturday, 3pm, Session Obsession
  • 10 killer beers all under 4.5% abv
  • Many beers making their NYC debut
  • Stuffed cabbage, spaetzle, and pretzels
  • Real Pennsylvania ring toss tourney for free bar tab (yeah!)
We’re obsessed and possessed to find fantastic beers with relatively moderate alcoholic content.  It seems an ironic thing to promote in a craft brewing world that often equates quality with strength.  But, look closely at these Diamond featured brews and you will find some of the most challenging, exciting, and rewarding beer being made.  As a matter of fact, if you are in for the long haul playing quoits in our yard all day, they might be just the ticket to keep you going!
Rockin', eh? I can't be there: hop on a train, get on over, and drink all afternoon!

The Bookstore: I can't shut up

I'm going to miss the big grand opening event at Fork and Barrel tonight -- I'm headed to Boston for Parents' Weekend -- but it brings to mind the owners' other place, The Bookstore speakeasy in Bethlehem, which I visited back in August. I've been wanting to tell you about it -- I've been telling everyone else about it in person, I mean...I can't shut up about the place. Here's why.

I was leaving the (I gotta say it) Bourbon, Beer and Bryson Festival at Allentown Brew Works, and I'd been too busy to get a drink -- it's a tough life -- so I thought, hey, I've been meaning to check out that Bookstore speakeasy place; why not stop in? I tooled on over to Bethlehem, and dropped down onto 3rd Street, parked on 4th and cut back to Adams on foot. It is, to say the least, unpromising, a totally blank streetblock, except for a hand-done sandwich sign on the sidewalk with the Bookstore's specials. Sandwich sign? For a speakeasy?

Yeah, that was one of the things I liked about the Bookstore. They do the speakeasy thing, atmosphere, cocktails, menu, period dress, and -- wait, I'll get to the other thing, which is awesome -- but they aren't stupidly precious about it, no "you have to know someone to get in" and "we're not really here" crap like you'll see in the big city. It's more about the experience once you're inside, not the view (or lack thereof) from outside.

The doorway was a few steps down, just a blank door with "The Bookstore" on the lintel. Go in, and there are a few display counters with books, a podium, and black curtains. And an attractive young woman in 1920s dress at the podium, who will either let you in or not, depending on whether there is space. It was just me, and there were seats at the bar, so she took me right in. And that's when The Bookstore dropped my jaw.

First, before she even opened the curtain, the music was amazing. Drew Nugent and The Midnight Society  were playing their hot 20s jazz: piano, sax, trumpet, tuba, banjo, and Drew singing -- no mike, a megaphone -- and it made it so damned real right from the start. They're not there every week, but when they are... wow.

Then she opened the curtain, and that other thing I mentioned hit me: fire. There are maybe four electric lights in the whole place, and they're all for the bartenders and musicians. The rest of the light in the place comes from candles and oil lamps, which was magical. And a bit scary at first -- I'm thinking, booze and oil lamps? We're all gonna die! -- until I saw that the oil lamps were new, and had thick plastic oil reservoirs. But it was so exciting, and gorgeous, and atmospheric. The band was hot, the ceiling was low, and the vibe was electric.

I sat at the bar. There's a great beer selection -- a bit of a surprise, I figured it was all-cocktail -- but I decided to get a cocktail, because the liquor selection was excellent, the bartenders were intense, and the ice was incredible. Long drinks -- collinses and such -- got long cylinders of ice, cocktails being shaken got hand-cracked ice, so cold that a fresh block that came out frosted over immediately when they unwrapped it. I ordered a Sazerac, and it was beautiful.

Time to enjoy. Great drink. Hot jazz; which is really the first time I understood that term. This was hot jazz, musicians pushing it, pounding it, transported by the joy of their music. The people in the bar were all enjoying themselves: foodies, cocktail junkies, jazz lovers.

I thought I'd push it a bit. I looked up a cocktail recipe on my iPhone, and asked the bartender if he could make me one. He looked, smiled, and started mixing. Okay, it's an easy one: the Frisco, bourbon and Benedictine, but he took it in stride and made it happen. Beautifully stirred, which is an underrated cocktail skill, IMO.

I didn't eat -- already ate at the Brew Works -- so I can't speak to that. But this was the best bar experience I've had in months, and I cannot wait to go back. The Bookstore is one cool place; get to Bethlehem and check it out.

Craft Ale House, Tuesday: I believe you have to consider this

Just got an e-mail from Gary at the Craft Ale House in Limerick about the tap line-up for our Pennsylvania Breweries event next Tuesday the 26th, and I think you ought to take a look and give serious thought to joining us. Here's what he's got so far:

That's what he's got lined up so far. That's beer from all over the state. That's what I like to see at a PA Breweries signing!

Next Tuesday, 7 PM, at the Craft Ale House, deep in Uncle Jack territory. See you there.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dick Yuengling: "another rich cheapskate"

I've only ever seen Dick Yuengling wearing something besides jeans once. Last time I interviewed him, he chain-smoked Marlboros and stubbed them out in a used keg tap cover. So this doesn't surprise me at all. Buying the big ex-Coors plant in Memphis? That surprises me!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PA Beer Dinner at The Farmhouse TOMORROW night!

Sorry to get this out so late...I'm hosting a three-course Pennsylvania beer dinner at The Farmhouse in Emmaus, Penna. tomorrow night at 6:30. Here's the deal:

Lew Bryson brings his newest book to the Farmhouse, celebrating the beers of Pennsylvania on Thursday, October 21st. Join us at 6:30 for a three-course dinner, prepared by Chef Javan Small, expertly paired with Lew’s picks from his exploration of Pennsylvania’s finest offerings.  Hosted by Lew Bryson. Books will be available for purchase and signing by the author. Make your reservation now: 610.967.6225
Beer Dinner Menu
Grilled Salmon
Tomatillos, daikon relish and beurre blanc
Sly Fox Pilsner  4.9% abv
Farmhouse BLT
Painted Hills burger BLT on country white
Misery Bay IPA   6.5% abv
Flourless Chocolate Cake
With butterscotch sauce
Weyerbacher Heresy   8.0% abv

This is a significant evening for me, hosting an event at The Farmhouse. I participated in my first pro tasting there back in 1993, tasting a wide assortment of lambics with Ed and Carol Stoudt, Nick Funnel (then the brewer at Dock Street, now at Sweetwater Tavern in Virginia), Bill Moeller, and -- of course -- John Hansell, who I had just started working with at Malt Advocate. I would participate in a series of tastings there; they had one hell of a beer program for the early 1990s. And now...I'm back. Come join me!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Philly Brewing keeps it local with Harvest From The Hood

Philly Brewing has done it again: another batch of Harvest From The Hood is on the streets, featuring a retro cheesecake-lite label (I can see the tops of her hose!) and righteous hops aroma from locally-grown hops. Yeah, locally-grown, as in "inside Philadelphia County." This video, with its Red Army Choir soundtrack and a narrator who sounds like John Facenda after a few shots of Powers, is something I'd love to see more of. Celebrate your beer!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Major Yuengling expansion on the table

Just got a press release from Yuengling about the purchase of the Hardy Bottling Facility in Memphis. They are in negotiations for the purchase, and have signed a letter of intent. Here's the first paragraph:
Dick Yuengling, Jr., president and owner of D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc., today announced the company has signed a letter of intent and is in serious discussions for the purchase of the Hardy Bottling Facility in Memphis, Tennessee, which will allow them to distribute Yuengling lager, their flagship brand and Yuengling's much sought after portfolio of brands in select new markets in the United States.

The "Hardy Bottling Facility" is the former Coors brewery in Memphis, where they made Zima at one time. Carolyn Hardy, the former plant manager, led an employee buyout of the facility in 2006. Apparently, things have not gone quite as well as they might have hoped. Unfortunate for the company, but if Yuengling does make the purchase, they have a track record of saving jobs. I don't know if the workers at Hardy are unionized or not; Yuengling took on the union workers in Tampa, and they later voted to de-certify. The release did say that no plants will be closing, and no jobs will be lost: great news.

So why did Yuengling decide to buy yet another facility, not long after expanding the newer Pottsville brewery? I thought they had capacity to spare. Apparently not:
Our three existing plants, two in Pennsylvania and one in Tampa, FL are limited in their production capabilities. In addition, the cost of freight and logistics challenges our ability to market our products at the competitive prices to our loyal consumers.
Good news for the people who've been hankering for Yuengling. The release made no promises on timing: "We can not put a specific timeline on this yet, only to say our company is working very hard to manage our growth in our usual slow and methodical manner." 

Okay. What's this mean? Well, first, it means New England should finally see Yuengling, along with other parts of the country that are jonesing for an American-made, American-owned light lager beer, a beer with a real history behind it, from America's oldest brewery. Sounds hokey, but I think it's real; it's certainly worked for them in Pennsylvania.

Maybe more importantly, it puts Yuengling on the national radar. Up till now, the big boys could call it a regional brewery. Now they're going national, in their "slow and methodical manner." Will they continue to do things "the Yuengling way," feet on the street, not a lot of reliance on marketing and laptops, leaning on the beer and the story? I believe that's the way to bet.

The joker in the deck is Dick Yuengling. He's getting older, his daughters are in the business, things are it time to retire? My guess is no. I think Dick wants to take his shot at a national market, and judging from how he sounded when I interviewed him last November, I think he's ready for it. I really wonder what will happen when the torch passes, and the daughters are, inevitably, offered a buyout deal from a much, much bigger brewer. Impossible to predict the result. We'll just have to wait and see.

More here from the Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ronnie Eddins: see you later on, fella

I just learned the long-time Buffalo Trace warehouseman Ronnie Eddins died this afternoon after a fight with cancer. Ronnie was a great guy, quick with a big smile, and always patient. I only got to talk to him at length about bourbon whiskey one time, and I'm still learning from that interview; I'll be thinking about something, and I'll think of something Ronnie said, and things will suddenly fit into place and make sense.

Ronnie was behind a lot of Trace's current Experimental Collection. He'd been at the warehouse over 30 years, and he would follow barrels, and areas in the different warehouses (and Trace has a lot of different warehouse types), and keep track of what worked, what was interesting, and what didn't work. I still remember him telling me that he'd learned that the fog off the nearby Kentucky River had an effect on the barrels in open warehouses.

I remember something else Ronnie told me. "You know, in your life, you only get about two chances to learn from a 15 year old bourbon. There's your first one, and you learn from it all along the time, and you put all that into the second one. By the time the second one's done, you're usually about done too." It was a profound statement about whiskey making, and about a man's life. You don't get many chances to do things right, or to learn something worth passing on. You have to take them, and make the most of them.

Ronnie was inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame last month, a well-deserved honor, and the first warehouseman to be inducted; a long-overdue honor. We gave him a Malt Advocate Lifetime Achievement award in 2008, and I'm very glad we did. A mutual friend told me Ronnie was just amazed that people would honor him, or even know who he was. I'll honor him, and I'll never forget him. Go with God, Ronnie Eddins.

Looking for "The Drink That Satisfies"

I'm not huge on sweet drinks; I'm a beer and whiskey man, and generally a lush bourbon or a Speyside, a good barleywine is about as sweet as I go. But when I do want a little sweet something, usually late on a winter's evening, as often as not the bottle I reach for is Drambuie, the Scottish liqueur. The herbs and honey and whisky make a wonderful warming sensation (and it's great in a hot cup of Earl Grey tea, too).

That's why when I was asked if I wanted to be a judge in a Drambuie cocktail competition, I said "Sure!" Best of all, you can join me. It's called "Nail or Fail," a reference to the classic Rusty Nail cocktail, it's at Ladder 15 on Sansom St., and it starts at 7 PM on Monday the 18th. The winner will be announced at 10 PM.

If you've never had Drambuie -- or any drink like it -- you ought to take the opportunity. I've developed a new appreciation for the sweet drinks, as in, you don't need to just drink them as is -- wow, they're sweet! -- or in coffee/tea -- though that is good -- you can drink them in cocktails (I've been enjoying the hell out of the Frisco cocktail: 2 oz. of good bourbon, 1/4 oz. of Benedictine, stirred with ice, strained, and a twist of lemon peel) or cut/contrast them (I was on a Kahlua press trip in Mexico in February (story coming in January in Massachusetts Beverage Business) and learned that Kahlua on ice with a big wedge of lime is awesome). So I'm looking forward to seeing what some pros can do with Drambuie.

Happy to see Zitner's succeed

Cheering story in the Inquirer this morning about the Zitner Candy company. The local (North Philly) company is 90 years old, and was a family business for the first 70 years, under Sam and Annie Zitner, and then their nephew Leon Sherman. Sidney Rosenblatt bought the company after Sherman's death in 1990, then sold it last August to partners Evan Prochniak, Kenneth Schuster, and Sam Sherman...90 years, only four owners. That's almost as good as Yuengling!

The story just made me smile. Zitner's is locally famed for their Easter candies: chocolate 'eggs' filled with peanut butter (yum!), coconut and marshmallow (I guess you have to make those, but I don't know why), and their signature Butter Krak eggs. I get one Butter Krak egg a year, simply because if I got more than one, I'd buy a case a week and weigh 450 pounds. Seriously, folks, they're not called "krak" for nothing.

It's great to see a local candy company surviving -- excelling! -- and selling candy in every convenience store in the area, not just specialty places. It's good stuff. Are there better chocolates? Of course. But Zitner's is solidly local, and like Peeps, they're doing well against the nationals. I always love to see that. Don't forget to get your Butter Krak on when spring rolls around!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Beer & Cheese at Dawson Street always

I've told you about the Thursday beer and cheese pairings at the Dawson Street Pub. They've been sending the menus pretty regularly, but this one caught my eye as worth your notice:

Beer and Cheese Pairing featuring Brews from Belukus Marketing
Thursday, October 14

Timmermans Bourgogne des Flandres Brune and Aged Gouda, Netherlands
This Ale is very similar to the Flemish Brown Ales with the exception of its initial sour taste. The slight sourness soon opens to a brown taste and mild finish. Aged Gouda is a semi-firm, yet supple, Cheese that holds minute crystals that give it a fun texture. The Cheese is fairly mild in flavor, but has just the right touch of saltiness and sweetness to work well with the Brew.(Timmermans? Oud Brune? Really?)

Wells Banana Bread Ale and Farmhouse Cheddar, England
This is an elemental Pairing. The Brew follows a traditional Ale recipe, but has a unique “fair trade” Banana flavor that is abundant in the aroma and body. The earthy nose of the Cheese will balance the sweetness and slight toffee characteristics of the Beer. The tangy and sharp flavor of the natural Farmhouse Cheddar will cut through the creamy head and lead you to the smooth body of the Ale.

Belhaven Wee Heavy and Manchego, La Mancha Region of Spain
Wee Heavy is a classic style Ale taken from Scottish brewing recipes of the 1800s. It starts sweet and finishes dry. In between there is a rich and complex character that incorporates a delicately smokey taste. The mildness of the Sheep’s Milk Cheese, seeping with hints of Lanolin, will allow the complexity of the Ale to really come through. This Manchego is Curado, or cured, and aged about 13 weeks. The slightly briny and nutty flavor of the Cheese will balance with the malty aroma of the Ale.

As always The Cheese selections are available from our Friends at The Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop, 8509 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, 215.242.2211 

Monday, October 11, 2010

"...this state's very first brewery-operated Growler Shop."

Pennsylvania's wineries get all the breaks. They get those nice roadside signs telling tourists where they are, they get to be the only wines sold outside the State Store System (although the State Store System repays the favor by largely ignoring them (of course they do: they're not part of the monopoly, so they must be punished!)), and they get to have winery stores, off-premise stores where they can sell their wines without the PLCB running the show. Up until now, Pennsylvania's brewers didn't do anything like that. Up until now, Pennsylvania's brewers were just selling at the brewery.

Up until now...or rather, up until last Friday, when East End Brewing opened their Growler Shop at the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip. They're filling growlers Fridays 12-6, Saturdays 9-5, and Sundays 12-4, from four taps: three of the year-round beers -- Big Hop, Monkey Boy, Black Strap Stout, Fat Gary, or the Session series -- and a seasonal. There may be more taps coming in the future, but for now, it's just those four; no bottles, no kegs. They also have East End shtuff: caps, shirts, glasses, and yes, Black Strap cake mix (how about some more of that coffee?). (Yes, if you've seen this post before...that's a new picture, and that really is the Growler Shop; thanks to Douglas "Father Spoon" Derda of Should I Drink That? for the pic!)

I like this idea. Local beer at the local market. What could be better? Well...local beer and your favorite beer writer at the local market! It looks like I'll be doing a signing at the Growler Shop on Sunday afternoon, November 14th. Hope to see you there!

Gamble Pays Off

I hate putting unopened breweries in my books. I've been burned in the past when brewers swore they were in great shape, 'Yeah, you bet, we're gonna open!", only to have the whole plan collapse in a heap, leaving a ghost entry in my nice new book. So I was apprehensive when I did up an entry for Gamble Mills, a restaurant in Bellefonte, Penn., that was adding a house brewery. I wasn't optimistic, but I did it because I have a weak spot for this beautiful little town.

My optimism is rewarded: According to the Centre Daily Times yesterday, Gamble Mills' beers are just about ready to start pouring. The only thing holding them up -- tell me if you're surprised -- is a "minor licensing issue" that they hope to have cleared up by this Friday. That's when brewer Mike Smith -- late of Dogfish Head and Ithaca Brewing -- hopes to open the taps on HB 48, a golden session-strength ale named for the bill the restaurant's owners (Dave Fonash and Paul Kendeffy) had to hire a lawyer to shepherd through the state legislature to overcome their other problem. According to the article, "An old Pennsylvania law prohibited existing restaurants from converting into breweries." News to me, but given the crap that fills The Almighty Liquor Code, I'm not surprised. 
That's all taken care of now, though, and Smith will have HB 48, a saison, and a pale ale ready to roll on the 15th...assuming the PLCB manages to get their act together and get the licensing cleared (actually, that's not fair -- I don't know that it's a PLCB issue; it might be local). Best of luck...and thanks for making the book look good!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Back in San Francisco

It's WhiskyFest season again, and I've been running around the Bay Area since Wednesday evening. The Malt Advocate staff, all six of us, landed around 5 local, just in time to get the news of Doc Halladay's epochal postseason no-hitter. We were pumped for the evening. The women headed out to dinner, John and Jamie and I headed for Toronado and a rendezvous with beers and Dave "Big Daddy" Keene.

We found 'em. I got stuck into a Moonlight Death and Taxes schwarz right quick, then Brian's Twist of Fate and Bombay by Boat, both on cask. We got sausages from Rosamunde next door (got my usual Merguez, awesome, and had a bite of a "spare" Thai chicken with slaw and satay; outstanding), then moved into the back room to try four vintages of Cable Car (sigh...), and dove into the big Duvel you see Dave holding up here (that's Jamie in the background). We wound up heading out to the Pi Bar (more Death & Taxes and a couple slices), then closed the hotel bar (Trumer Pils, always welcome).

Dang. I thought I'd get more written -- about lunch with Jay Brooks at Triple Rock, Beer Revolution,  vegan soul food (really), Angel's Envy, a beautiful mojito at Zuni Cafe, and a dram of 35 year old Ardbeg this morning with Rachel Barrie...but I've been watching the Blue Angels roar through the amazingly blue sky over the city, and Thomas called to let me know he got part of his birthday present (a fog gun, because 19 year old guys need toys too), and, well...I'll write more later. Gotta go to WhiskyFest right now!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

10 - 10 - 10 at the Hulmeville Inn

We're setting up another Pennsylvania Breweries event at the Hulmeville Inn this Sunday, which is 10/10/10; kind of auspicious. I'll be signing books, and we'll be doing another charity keg (on Steve Hawk's back!) to benefit pancreatic cancer research. I'll also be donating $2 from each book to pancreatic cancer research, so come on out and get some Christmas presents! (We need to do a lot of books this time; Jeff  at the Hulmeville has competition issues, and he heard that the most books I ever signed at one event was 46; he aims to beat that!) We'll get underway at about 1:00. I'll be there shortly after that (I'm singing noon mass at St. Andrew's and will be headed down just after).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pennsylvania Breweries launches at Victory tomorrow!

Tomorrow -- Tuesday, October 5th --is the official launch party for Pennsylvania Breweries 4th edition at Victory Brewing in Downingtown. If you haven't made plans, join us -- and if you've made other plans, you might want to break them!

Because this is more than just a book signing and Bryson Blabfest! We're going to start at 6:00 with some convivial drinking, then have an hour-long panel discussion about Pennsylvania brewing and beer, featuring brewers from Victory, Nodding Head, Tröegs, Sly Fox, Weyerbacher, and Stoudt's (with me doing Ted Koppel moderation duties); that will include a Q&A session with the audience (that's you, right?). Then at 7:30 I'll start signing books till my hand falls off (and we'll probably wind up having another beer or two in the bar).

It's a ticketed event: $35 gets you a copy of the book, two beers, and a big old hors d'oeuvre selection. And the pleasure of each other's company, of course, hob-nobbing with Ron Barchet, Carol Stoudt, the Trogners, Curt Decker, Brian O'Reilly, and my stunningly personable self. Come on out to Downingtown and join us!

Thursday, September 30, 2010


So when the word started to percolate about Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (I tweeted about that back on the 22nd, and I apologize for not blogging...gotta stop that), I got right back to the Diageo people and asked if it were true. Sure, they said, and would you like a sample? Yes!

This is a bit of a grail for me; I've kind of purposely kept myself away from it till I could get it legit. Worth the wait, and really not at all what I expected. First, it's not heavy and thick (like some other "Caribbean" stouts); it's actually quite light for 7.5%. Second, it has a great aroma of boozy burnt malt. Third, it's properly I remember "regular" Guinness being, though that could be a trick of memory. Finally, it's not sweet! It's quite bitter, burnt bitter and hop-bitter, but smooth as a swoop. Intriguing stuff, and easy to understand why it's so popular: it's 45% of total Guinness sales!

What's not so easy to understand is why it's taken Diageo so long to bring it to the positively beer-crazy U.S. market. Was it because Guinness stout was so damned popular, they were afraid of cannibalizing it? Yeah, that strategy worked so well with Guinness Extra Stout...and Smithwick's... Should have sent this ten years ago!

Roseisle: huge new Scottish distillery about to come on-line

Diageo is about to start pumping out 10-12 million liters of spirit a year out of their new, huge distillery at Roseisle. Take a look at this BBC report (and spot Whyte & Mackay master blender Richard Paterson nosing a dram at the end).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Larry Mellisen: Go With God

Just found out yesterday that Larry Mellisen, an incredibly talented chef who worked wonders in the tiny kitchen at McMenamin's Tavern in Mt. Airy, died back in August from complications stemming from diabetes. I immediately e-mailed Rich Pawlak; Rich and I had hung out with Larry at the bar, and marveled over the dishes he put out of that little space.

I remember the first time I ate at McMenamin's. It was on my birthday, and Cathy and I had dressed up, barhopping around Philly: Manayunk Brewing, Michel Notredame's place, London Grill, and then I told her I wanted to go to McMenamin's for dinner, because PJ was now serving food. Okay, and we went, and...ate ham sandwiches with chips from a carving board at the end of the bar. They were damned good sandwiches, but I heard about that for a while: why did we get all get dressed up to go eat sandwiches in a damned bar?!

Two years later, I took her back, for my birthday. We had seafood risotto and squash blossom beggar's purses, and some kind of Golden Monkey bread pudding. Larry waved from the kitchen. And I said, so, how about that? We can come back here any time, she said. I wish we'd come back more often.

Rich has a great memory of Larry up at his blog. Have a look, and think of Larry the next time you have a great meal at a bar. Rich is right: he was ahead of his time.