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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.