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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day in Philly? How about Allagash-a-go-go?

If you haven't heard about the 'new' Trestle Inn (11th and Callowhill), it's a retro go-go bar with a big whiskey selection; worth checking out. Yes, "go-go bar," with dancers in boots and Barbarella-style outfits, not noodie stuff. Weird, I know, but there you are.

Tonight they prove they're not just another pretty...face, or just a whiskey bar: they're hosting Our Girl Suzy Woods for an Allagash Tap Takeover, featuring Bourbon Barrel Black (Belgian-style stout aged in Jim Beam barrels), Odyssey, Saison Mihm (Belgian farmhouse-style ale brewed with local (to Allagash!) honey), and three others (including Allagash White, which we recommend as your cool-down beer after your Allagash workout).

I know I don't post a lot of events, even though I do get a lot of releases on them, but I'm feeling particularly good about Allagash and Rob Tod today, after coming across this video yesterday. Check out Rob talking about me and Curieux and Ommegang and dill starting around 39:45.

Anyway, I'd go to The Trestle tonight, but I've got a once-in-four-years chance to celebrate a good friend's birthday tonight, and that's where I'll be!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weyerbacher: real growth, right now

I promised information on the Weyerbacher expansion yesterday, and then got wrapped up in the whole seasonal thing (and doing my taxes...), so today I'm going to refer you to Uncle Jack's post at The Beer Yard for the details. Here's the basics: its a $1.1 million, 7500 sq. ft. addition, a 40% increase in space that will give Weyerbacher the ability to triple their capacity to 30,000 bbls. a year. They need it: they did 9,729 bbls. in 2011, growth of 34%, which was $3.6 million in sales. Brewery founder and president Dan Weirback also told me that they're already up 51% in January and February over last year. The space won't be completed till the fall, but they're going to be cramming four 80-barrel tanks in next month; "We need them now," Dan said.

Maybe more to the point, and what got Easton mayor Sal Panto out to the groundbreaking yesterday, Weyerbacher now has sixteen full-time employees (up from six in 2006). A million dollar project means more jobs, a significant number in a town of about 25,000, and the mayor showing up signifies that Weyerbacher, like most craft breweries, is recognized as a solid citizen, a benefit to the community. "We’ve always found Easton to be cooperative and favorable," Dan said. "We’ve never asked for special favors." Now watch the shoveling:

As Jack mentioned, and Dan confirmed, there will be -- finally! -- a tasting room. Don't expect anything ambitious on menu, this is going to be more along the lines of Yards, or the Harrisburg Tröegs tasting rooms: beers, yes, some snacks -- snacks, Dan emphasized, and gave...pretzels as an example; I'm telling you, the brewpub traumatized the man -- but they're not in competition with their restaurant accounts. Probably open Tuesday to Saturday, from 11 to 6. Reasonable. And it probably means at least one more full-time employee... Look for it after the buildout is completed and the bottling and kegging operations are moved into it, so about a year from now.

What else? Well, there's a new IPA coming to replace Hops Infusion. Hops Infusion just never could settle into the groove after its initial success; it was tweaked, put on hiatus, retooled, re-imaged...and finally retired. The new IPA will be along in May or June, the Crimson recipe from Weyerbacher's IPA Project. “It will be a west coast style IPA," said Chris Wilson, head brewer. "Significant amounts of hops are used for flavor and aroma while keeping the malt profile simple, allowing hops flavor to dominate and shine" It won't be called "Crimson," or "Hops Infusion," there will be a new name to go with the new Weyerbacher packaging and logo and colors. Which seems like a good excuse to stick in that new logo...
Hope you're not one of those folks scared of clowns...

Another new beer is coming, a currently-unnamed sour black ale. That's going to be in 750 ml bottles, and again, out in May or June. 

Dan wanted to emphasize that this expansion is, in effect, already paid for, in the sense that the additional capacity that will be created will meet demand that's already there. "That's an important thing to remember about brewers who did this kind of thing 10 years ago," he said. "They expanded planning on growth to meet capacity. Catamount, Blue Ridge, Independence[all breweries that invested heavily in expansion; all breweries that are no more] We’ve been careful. Our sales grew enough in 2011 to cover the costs already. This is not that risky."

He was also proud to point out that two former Weyerbacher employees were about to open breweries. "Jean Broilette is opening Tired Hands Brewing, he worked for us back in 2006, and Dan Hitchcock is opening his own place, Rushing Duck Brewery, in Chester, New York," Dan said, more indication that craft brewing is continuing to grow at a strong pace. 

Dan clearly feels relatively confident; there's a ten-year lease in place. "Everything’s cyclical," he said, "and I don’t know if we’ll see this strong growth in craft beer for more than another year or two. People can’t do more with what they have now. They’ll have to expand, and that takes time." 
Weyerbacher is going to be ready.

Monday, February 27, 2012

American Beer Blogger airs next Thursday!

The American Beer Blogger pilot episode will premiere on March 8th, at 10 PM, on WLVT, the Bethlehem/Lehigh Valley PBS affiliate station

It will be an hour-long pledge show, and I'll be appearing live on-air to help with the pledge program (and laugh a lot, probably). 

Don't remember what Carol Stoudt said here, but...
The success of pledging during this and subsequent airings of the show on other PBS stations will be crucial to the continuation of the show. We've been told that what PBS is looking for is the number of pledges during the presentations, not so much the amount of money. At this point, I do not know if they will have a live Webcast of the show; I’m trying to find out, but it looks like they won’t.

So if you're planning on donating to public television this year — or if you want to support craft beer on television — please consider making a pledge during your local affiliate's airing of American Beer Blogger. If your local affiliate isn’t airing it, email them to suggest it! If there are any bars or brewpubs who plan to host viewing parties to support the show (hint, hint), let us know, and we’ll get word of it to your local station, which will help! And if any PBS station manager reads this, and is interested in running American Beer Blogger as a pledge program to catch the motivated, educated, and rapidly growing craft beer community’s attention…drop me a line, and we’ll get you going!

We’re just about ready to roll. Green Leaf told me today the editing is done, they’re just doing the opening and closing credits. We’ve put in the work, now it’s up to you. Watch the show, and if you decide this is the kind of television you’d like to see more of, please consider making a pledge during the show. Feel free to tell them that you’d like to see more American Beer Blogger, too!

A Seasonally Adjusted Response

I was just talking to Dan Weirback about the $1.1 million expansion that starts today at Weyerbacher Brewing...more on that very shortly...and after he hung up, he called me back about three minutes later: his brewer, Chris Wilson, had seen the seasonals post below, and wanted Dan to make a response. Not a problem, I'm all for it.

Here's what Dan had to say, roughly (because I couldn't keep up -- he was a little excited -- but this is not a quote, it's a paraphrase, and if it's not right, I hope Dan will give me another call!).
It's a matter of demand and capacity. Weyerbacher's Imperial Pumpkin Ale, for example: to meet wholesaler pre-orders, they have to start brewing it in May and continue through to September to have enough for it to be available through the whole season. They don't have room to store it until September, so they start shipping it out in late June...and well, the wholesalers don't have unlimited room either [and I assume no one really wants to have fresh beer just sitting around; I don't] so they start releasing it. 

The same thing happens with Autumnfest. Most wholesalers in far off states only want to deal with one shipment of a seasonal. So they can ship it in late July, or they can ship it in mid-September. But the wholesalers tell them: if they get Autumnfest in mid-September, the shelves are already full of other Oktoberfest beers, and theirs won't sell.

"It’s not necessarily the way we want to do it, but if people want these seasonal beers, that’s how we have to do it." [and that is a quote.] 
I remember this is why Harpoon used to do contract brewing of their seasonals at Matt's in Utica; it was a huge bulge in their brewing schedule, and that let them get through that. Popular seasonals can be a real production issue. 

So that leaves the brewer with some unappealing choices. They can make less of a beer that their fans really want -- and lose those sales, and really piss off the people who don't get as much as they want -- or they can make the beers as best they can, and put up with the minor embarrassment of selling pumpkin beers in July (and moderately pissing off beer traditionalists). 

Responses? One that comes to mind is that beers like Hopslam and Nugget Nectar seem to do okay on limited releases (and large prices). Another is that maybe bitching about seasonals being two months early is kind of like being terribly upset about the kind of glass you drink out of...

But another one comes from thinking about what I said about Harpoon, and something else Dan said in our first conversation. He said, "I think we'll see at least two more years of this kind of growth [in the craft beer category]. But brewers can’t do much more with what they have now [in terms of brewing capacity]. They’ll have to expand, and that takes time, and money." And Harpoon? Well, they don't have to get their seasonals done at Matt's anymore. They're big enough that they take those seasonal bulges in stride now. With size comes smoothing. Weyerbacher's headed that way, but they've got a bit to go...

Meanwhile, they could do what Victory does. At Victory, seasonals come when the brewing schedule allows them. They let the yeast and the drinkers tell them what's coming out when. Of course, it helps that they do Festbier year-round...and they don't do a pumpkin beer -- I strongly doubt that they ever will.

I hear the bell for round two...

Anyone checked a calendar lately?

Tip of the hat to Uncle Jack for this, but mostly to my friend Chris Lohring (the man behind The Notch line of all session beers that's doing so well in Massachusetts), who wrote this sad story of how he's decided -- against his will, and his heart -- to pull Notch BSA from his seasonal line-up (Jack wrote a good post on it that brought it to my attention, and for that, I thank him; you should too).

Briefly, Notch BSA was a harvest beer, a literal harvest beer. Here's how Chris explained it:
I released my BSA Harvest in late September [of 2011]. You know, that time of September when Fall actually begins? Something about an equinox, I think. The BSA Harvest is a result of a program where Notch prepays a Western Massachusetts farmer for that year’s barley crop as in incentive, which in turn encourages local agriculture [hence the name: Brewer Supported Agriculture]. The barley is harvested in August, malted a few weeks later [at Valley Malt in Hadley, Mass., which I mention in the Element Brewing post below], brewed in the beginning of September, and hits retail fresh on September 21st. A real harvest beer in the season we should drinking it.
Except, as Chris relates, his retailers couldn't do it. See, Fall beers come out in August, or even July. Bring a Fall harvest beer out in late September -- when you would think harvest actually comes -- and you won't find a place on the shelf -- because of the winter beers coming in shortly -- and people have already fallen into their buying pattern for the season. At least, that's the conventional wisdom among wholesalers and retailers, Chris tells us:
They claim a September release is too late for a Fall beer, as they are making room for the Winter beers that will be in any day. This is the hand retail has been dealt, and it is certainly not their fault. So, a real Fall beer, the BSA Harvest, born of the change of the seasons that yields a barley harvest, is deemed too damn late. So unfortunately, BSA Harvest will be absent later this year, as it was killed off by the rush to shift units...
Is Chris just crying? Wouldn't you think that in the pervading atmosphere where the favorite flavor of craft beer is NEW, a new beer on the shelf in September that promised real Harvest character/story would work? Wouldn't you think actually releasing an Oktoberfest in mid-September would work? After all, I keep hearing from brewers that their seasonals run out before the season's over! And here comes 'Tardy Brewing Company's True Oktoberfest' in September, with its label proclaiming "Never Released Till We Hear The Oompah!" and you'd think that would kill, right?

Probably not. What's driving the craft market today is, increasingly, what's always driven the beer market: volume. Blue Moon is over 3 million barrels (and apparently accelerating), and whether we (or the Brewers Association) call Blue Moon a craft beer or not is pretty much immaterial: that's how the people who are selling it and drinking it think of it, and that's how the people who sell it...sell it. Likewise, when Samuel Adams seasonals come out, and when the major regional brewers' seasonals come out, that's the bulge that moves the snake.

And...wholesalers, after a short flirtation hustling smaller crafts and working hard at building brands, see that they can make volume and better margins selling the big craft brands, and it's less work. So if Samuel Adams Summer seasonals come out in April, that's what's shaping wholesalers' views of how the market is supposed to work, which in turn shapes the retailers' reactions...once the brewers have been encouraged to get their seasonals out earlier. Because then the wholesalers don't have to worry about getting the Oktoberfest all sold before November 1st.

I may be overreacting here, but there's a possibility that this is another early sign of things going back to the way they were: less choice instead of more in the beer market. ("Another" sign, you ask? The consolidation of craft brewers is one: the Magic Hat/Pyramid/North American Breweries roll-up, Goose Island, Old Dominion, Widmer/Redhook/Kona.) If wholesalers start to focus on the big craft brands, that's how things are going to go.

What to do? It's up to us, and Chris sums it up nicely:
What to do as a consumer? It is really quite simple. Stop buying beer out of season, and stop encouraging the trend. You may start to see more beers that make sense in the season. Or during today’s snow storm, sit back and enjoy that Summer Beer that was released just last week.
Is that realistic? Is it likely? No, not at all. Just remember: none of this was realistic or likely 20 years ago. Sam Adams was all contract-brewed. Over half the American breweries now in business didn't exist. You could stand on the stairs and see Harpoon's entire operation. Ten taps of microbrews at a bar was amazing news (because we didn't even call it 'craft beer' yet). There were no mass beer-rating websites. Yuengling had not done any expansion and was just barely known outside of eastern Pennsylvania. Most people had no idea what a seasonal beer was!

But the people who love beer made it happen and I'm assuming we still want it done right. If we have to shame craft brewers into this, if we have to make fun of them, if we have to appeal to their sense of tradition and call them out when they ignore it -- that's how this is supposed to work! The brewers, the passionate ones, are supposed to be running this, not the marketers and sellers of the stuff, and it's supposed to be run for us, the people who love the beer, the people who know when the hell summer and fall begin. 

Jack had a pretty pithy statement as well (He did warn us he was going to get more curmudgeonly this year):
For those of you who just want the next over-hopped, high alcohol, unbalanced mutation of a real IPA, none of this matters, of course. You gave up on beer a long time ago.
Are you one of those people who think Oktoberfest in August is ridiculous (especially when they all run out by October 1st)? Do summer beers in the snow piss you off? If you think that pumpkin beers should wait till September, if you think Maibock is for May, if you think winter beers shouldn't come out before mid-November at the earliest...say something. Tell your brewers, tell your stores. And tell your friends.

Element Brewing

I must apologize to Ben Anhalt of Element Brewing Company in Millers Falls, Mass. After I visited Valley Malt in Hadley (for the article published here) back in December, I rolled north to visit Element, on an invite Ben put out when he saw me post on Facebook, looking for contacts at Valley Malt (and a tip of the hat to Will Meyers at Cambridge Brewing for that contact!). I had some time to kill before doing an event at Craft Beer Cellars in support of the Kickstarter for American Beer Blogger (where I got to hang out with Chris Lohring (and drink Notch) and Nate Heck (and drink Harpoon Spruce)...and, of course, Suzanne and Kate and the crew at CBC), so I stopped in.

Millers Falls is a little town tucked into the hills of western Mass, right by Millers River, which joins the Connecticut River on the north edge of the village. Element is in the heart of town, in the old Post Office. Millers Falls doesn't have a post office anymore; when the paper mill and tool foundry closed, the USPS consolidated post offices, and Millers Falls lost theirs. On the other hand, they gained a brewery. Element opened two years ago (they celebrated their anniversary just a few days before I visited), and they brewed 350 bbls. last year. Every beer is at least 9 days in primary, and two to three weeks aging, and they bottle-condition.

Not much, right? Well, they have a plan. They sell most of their beer -- about 75% -- in bottles, and as Ben explained it, "We wanted to make good beer. I worked in 6-pack breweries, and I didn't want to compete with Sam Adams. We wanted a different market. I'd rather compete with a $10 bottle of wine. Look, when you take some beer along to a party, do you want to be the guy who brought another sixpack -- the guy they thanked and immediately forgot -- or do you want to be the hero who brought the big bottle with the cool paper wrapper?" Element's 22 oz. bottles are wrapped in a printed paper twist, and it does look pretty cool. (I'd show you, but only one of my pictures is worth a damn...and it's not worth a damn. Sorry.)

I tasted the ESO, made with an heirloom malt from England, and aged on oak to help bring out and accentuate the flavor of the malt (it worked, this was a very interesting beer as it developed on the tongue, malt depth with vanilla richness). Then it was Red Giant, an imperial amber with all English hops ("But not those cheesy Fuggles," Ben said) that was like Arrogant Bastard with Brit hops, if you can imagine that. Dark Element was another style-blender, a schwarzbier, made with British malt and American hops, and just under 9% (though it drank much lighter than that). Ben slipped me some of their winter seasonal, Winterion, an overproof Belgian while with chocolate, a "biere blanche au chocolat," he called it, and there's a ton of chocolate in there: cocoa in the boil, cacao nibs in the fermenter (along with coriander...). We wound up with Double Red Giant, which had a huge dried cherry character -- no fruit, says Ben -- that came from the malts and yeast. Very tasty, impressive beer.

The real reason I wanted to visit was that Element uses wheat malt from Valley Malt and Four Star Farms (in Northfield) to make their Vernal dunkel wheat wine. “The wheat was grown at Four Star Farms; we also used Snowshoe Farm maple syrup, from Worthington," said Ben. "It works out for us, and it works out for Four Star; they sell to Valley at a better price, and don’t have to sell it off for feed. We only made one batch –  it sold out in five days.” Really sold out: none to sample. Too bad, I love a good wheat wine.

Anyway...Glad I stopped in, and I do apologize for not getting this up sooner. Thanks, Ben!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stoudt's: wrapping up shooting, and a nice little festival

Wish I had some pictures for this, but...we were busy!

Cathy and I went up to Stoudt's last night to wrap up shooting for American Beer Blogger. It was low-key; just the two of us and two of the guys from Green Leaf Productions, Mike and Dave. We got there at 4:30, had a quick talk-through about what we were looking for (during which Cathy was volunteered to handle releases, which she did -- of course -- with style and efficiency), and hit the bar. While the guys got the equipment, Cathy and I settled in at the corner of the bar with a glass of American Pale Ale and Karnival Kölsch respectively, and started looking around for likely subjects for the shoot...and came up empty at first. These were mostly folks who were just there for a couple beers and some dinner.

Then, just as Mike and Dave were getting set up, we ran into a younger couple, Brian and Lauren from Queens, who were on the last day of a five-day beer tour (a birthday present from her to him): Dogfish Head (the brewpub in Rehoboth and the big brewery in Milton), Burley Oak in Maryland, Max's on Broadway (where they caught the leftovers -- about 60 taps worth! -- from Max's huge Belgian event, which I have got to get to one of these years), Lancaster Brewing...and now Stoudt's, for the Winter Fest that night.

They were excited, they were big on craft beer, they were articulate: they were perfect. Cathy got releases, Mike and I prepped them for what we were going to do, Dave flipped on the light...and away we went. Great, and then we did another take with a different trajectory, and that was great, too, so much so that as we walked back to the bar from our "Let's go to the fest right now!" walk out of frame, Brian said, "Let's do another take!" It can be fun, for sure!

As I was settling the tab, Mike got to talking to a couple of men, one an older guy, and said he wanted to talk to them as well. Okay, we set up, loosely blocked out what we'd talk about, and we rolled...and about a minute into it, the guy drops the bomb that he's former Stoudt's brewmaster Mark Worona's father! How cool is that! Mark's a great guy, a good friend, and I still run into him at places like GABF. So we had a good chat, and wrapped that one up...and then we really did head over to the fest.

The Winter Fest is smaller than the other fests they do; about 550 people, and eleven breweries were there, and a pretty hot blues band. Cathy and I did a quick recon of the breweries represented at the event, and picked Mudhook and Evil Genius as our two best, most interesting breweries to talk to (partly because they're pretty new, partly because the brewers were actually there...and partly because the light was really good there).

I talked to Kate and Tim Wheeler at Mudhook; Tim had brought his Deep Sea Stout, and I was taken by it: a big (7%) stout, kind of in the export stout vein, with a lot of flavor, and real ale yeast esters, a beer that hadn't been sanded and polished to the point of effeteness; I liked it, and told him so.

Then we wandered over and talked to Trevor and Luke at Evil Genius, where I sipped a glass of their Good and Evil kölsch. They were really enthusiastic about brewing, and why they do it, and how they're getting ready to jump from contract brewing to getting funding together to do their own place. That was good stuff too.

We wrapped up at the bandstand, a big "Hey, that's our show, we'll be going to more breweries, bars, and festivals, watch for us, I'm gonna go blog now" and a big wet kiss for craft brewing and the folks who love it. Then Mike got his laptop from the car so we could get some shots of me typing away, and...well, I promised I'd blog about it, so I'm blogging. And the show...will be on air soon. More about that shortly. Cheers!

BridgePort Hop Harvest 2011

Got this sample last week, and when today's work was done -- singing, plumbing, trip planning, and I had to mow the lawn in the sopping humidity; not hot, just disgusting -- Cathy and I split the bottle. It's a hazy light apricot in color -- heading the other way, maybe a ruddy straw -- with lemony and sweet dough aromas. Flavors headed much the same way, with the hops more grassy and lemony than anything and fresh, really. This makes me think of English-hopped IPAs in that it's not necessarily what most -- not all, but most -- American beer enthusiasts are thinking of when they think "hoppy beer." But still tasty, and a nice seasonal rarity.

I don't know why I didn't post this when I wrote it, back in September. My apologies to BridgePort; least I can do is to put it up now...and wait for next year!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Barley Creek tasting

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 duty to drive up to the Poconos and spend an hour tasting new beers. Heavy burden and all, right?

So about three weeks ago, I drove up in light snow to do just that. Joe's a nice kid, quite young, who grew up locally after being born on Staten Island. He started laying out the beers, and I started tasting at the shallow end of the pool with the Blonde (30% wheat, pale gold with a nice light malt flavor and a surprising bitterness; I suggested that might be a bit too bitter for the frame and the aim), the Belgian Wit (the weakest of the lot; overly sweet and kind of undifferentiated, thought there was an interesting hint of ginger), and their old standby, Antler Brown (much improved over previous versions, with a bit of chocolate, rich but not full brown ale).

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 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.

And speaking of that...stopped in at 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.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"CHU Canada, Coordinated Universal Time, Twelve Hours, Eleven minutes..."

Ours looks much like this; more battered.
When I was young, quite young, I'd listen to my father set his watch. He set it by firing up a big, wooden Grunow tube set multiband receiver we had -- my grandfather's house radio -- on the shortwave setting, and tuning in CHU Canada, the Canadian government's time station. We'd listen to the beeps, waiting for the blank spot at 30 seconds, and then the taped announcements of the upcoming minute would come just before the minute hack, alternately in English (first on the even minutes) and French (odd minutes). CHU set their time by atomic clocks, and my father wanted all the clocks in the house to be as accurate as possible, and his watch was always set to CHU (he considered the time signal from KYW, the Philly news AM station, to be passably accurate, but really relied on CHU).

My father didn't have an external need for accurate time, no job or medical reason that things had to be done precisely. My dad was a mild OCD type, a recorder, and I didn't realize how much of one until after he died in 2010. I put a new battery in the kitchen clock for my mother a few weeks ago, and found, taped to the back, a list of all the times he'd re-set the clock, and how much it was off by...according to CHU, no doubt.

What's all this have to do with beer, or whiskey? Well, I was thinking about this today when I was checking the time for an interview appointment. Used to be I'd know which clock in the house was on, and I'd check that one, knowing that I'd set it to a reliable source (honestly, KYW was plenty accurate for me) relatively recently...but most of the rest of the clocks only got set when they were way off or when it was time to Spring Forward or Fall Back. Cathy keeps her clock at bedside 10 minutes fast to jolt her awake in half-asleep state (I don't know how that kind of self-delusion works, but it does for her). Not to mention, we still have some of the cheap battery-operated clocks Cathy and I accumulated as we were growing up, and the hands wobble, and they don't have numbers, and...they're intrinsically inaccurate.

But now? I just look down in the corner of my computer screen, or pop on my cell, and I've got fiendishly accurate time, checked against atomic clocks, and it's not only easy and available, it updates automatically. I can have accuracy my father only dreamed of at a glance, with no continuing effort at all.

Bought craft beer lately? Let me be an old fart. Back in the 1980s, when I started drinking out of the mainstream, this wasn't easy. We drank Guinness and Bass (usually old Guinness and Bass), we drank Heineken (usually skunked; my first draft Heineken was surprisingly good!): they were easier to get. When craft started to peek its head up, I would drive three hours to buy some. Truly, we did that. You kids today with your "I drove six hours to get Dark Lord!" We would drive two hours just to get a sixpack of porter. Plain old amber ale. I would drive two hours through traffic and over mountains -- literally -- to get to a brewpub that had three beers: gold, amber, and porter. And when I got home, I'd set my watch by CHU Canada.

Whiskey? Back in the 1980s, most American distilleries didn't bottle anything but standard stuff; no small batches, no single barrels no super-aged Pappy. Many Scottish distillers didn't do single malt bottlings, it all went to blends. If they did singles, they weren't available except in specialist stores. And no one knew a damned thing about them or how they were made. Same thing with beer, really.

Flick on the cellphone, tell me the time. I can hop on my bike, ride ten minutes to Manny Brown's, and get a glass of good craft beer. Ride ten minutes more, and even Store #0909 of the Stupid State Store System can offer me a selection of whisky that would make what I could find most places 25 years ago look sick.

Are the prices higher? Yeah, and you're paying for monthly cell service and your internet connection; CHU is free. Rather do that? There are places you can't get cell signal; okay, there are still places that have crap selections. It's not a perfect analogy!

But really? These ARE the good times. We not only have it so good, we have it so easy. The Web makes it ridiculously easy to find good drinks, and to share that knowledge. The Web also makes the spread of ticker snobology easier, but that's simply something to deal with. I'm just glad I got over that phase when I was still limited to a notebook with really tiny printing in the back.

I think we're going to get over the obsession phase, and soon. It's going to collapse under its own weight, or it may blow up into such a huge balloon that it will lift up and float away, leaving the rest of us at the bar, drinking good stuff, lots of good stuff, that you can get every day (or every season) for a reliable price. All within an easy distance, all with the ease of looking at a phone.

Coordinated Universal Drinks Time. It's here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

German Society Bierfest next Saturday

Hey, Philly, if that Victory story got your mouth whetted for's a chance to wet your whistle! The German Society of Philadelphia is hosting their first annual Bierfest next Saturday, February 25th, from 1-5 at the Society building (611 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia). I wanted to be part of this, but had a previous engagement; it's going to be a great day of food, music, and beer.

Wine and beer expert Marnie Old put this together (with the German Society; she's been doing beer events with them for years, and the Philly Roller Girls roller derby team), so I'll let her describe it:

 I am thrilled to announce an event that's been years in the making. In partnership with the Philly Roller Girls and The German Society of Pennsylvania, I am launching the first annual Bierfest - Celebrating PA's German Brewing Heritage. We'll have it all:
  • 12 PA brewers from across the state pouring their German-style brews such as lagers, pilsners, weizens, rauchbiers, kolsches, altbiers and bocks 
  • A rotating selection of German imports offered at a 'German Beer Bar' poured by Philly's favorite bottle shop, The Foodery in Northern Liberties 
  • Discussion Panel on PA's Leadership in German-Style Brewing and Craft Lager featuring the brewmasters of Victory, Yuengling, and Troegs moderated by PA's only Master Sommelier 
  • VIP Seminar on Pennsylvania's German-Inspired Beer History led by yours truly, along with live bluegrass music, an on-site brewing demonstration and Philly Roller Girls pouring beer. 
Pennsylvania's craft brewers bow to none when it comes to lager beers. Get your tickets here: $38 for general admission, $53 for admission plus VIP seminars, or $25 for seminars only.

Victory brings you: Hop Terroir!

"Terroir" is a French word we usually think of in relationship to winemaking. It means "land," or "earth," and is shorthand for goût de terroir, literally "taste of the earth." Winemakers talk of terroir as the totality of the effect of place on grapes and wine: the soil, the altitude, the latitude, the surrounding topography, the climate, the local flora and fauna.

Victory's Ron Barchet got a wild bee in his bonnet about terroir once Victory got to the size where they could start working directly with hop growers in Germany. That was in 2007. Before then, they'd used a broker, like most small brewers; going to Germany isn't cheap, dealing with individual farmers adds time to the process. But as Ron told us at Victory's Terroir des Tettnangs event late last month, there's no middleman, and you get a direct connection to the hop growers. They went directly to Tettnang (you can see Tettnang below, at the center of the map, right near Lake Constance in Baden-Wurttemburg, south of Stuttgart.

View Larger Map

Why Tettnang? "Because I love Tettnang hops!" Ron explained, with the same huge grin you see in the picture above. "Prima Pils has always had a higher percentage of Tettnang, because using whole flower Tettnang hops is how you get that great pils flavor." The man is obsessed with pilsners, no doubt, and to the area's great benefit; while so many other breweries have been brewing up one single-hop IPA after another (single-hop double IPAs, too), Victory's Braumeister Pils series has been introducing local lager lovers to one beautiful Noble hop after another, including one of my top 10 pilsners ever, the beloved Spalt Spalter Braumeister from about five years ago.

Ron brought that direct connection to Downingtown: two hops farmers from Tettnang came to America for this, and one, Ludwig Locher, spoke quite eloquently -- in English, Gott sei dank' -- of the Tettnang terroir: mild climate, idyllic scenery, and deep, deep soil. They grow almost all aroma hops here: Tettnanger Tettnang, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Perle, and a couple others. Ron's obsession is quite focused: Ludwig explained that there are about 100,000 tonnes of hops harvested every year; about 38,000 tonnes come from Germany. Tettnang produces about 1,780 very special tonnes.

For the 'experience,' we were presented with six beers, two at a time. The beers were as identical as Ron said they could possibly make them, excepting only the hops used: all Tettnang, but from different areas and times. The first pair were from two different farms. We nosed, tasted, chewed...and thought. Ron called out at the beginning of the discussion: "There is not a right answer!" Both beers exhibited flowery notes, but the first seemed more distinctly bitter, with grassy notes and some dandelion, while the second had a hint of pine. The thing I noticed was how -- as always -- when we focused on the beers, looking for differences, I got more out of the beer, the subtle substance of pils shone like glad light on water.

The next pair was, for most of us, the most demonstrably different: hops from the same farm (Misselhardt), but from Day 1 of the harvest and Day 4 of what Ludwig told us was usually a 12 day process. Day 1 had a beautifully fresh aroma, a bit on the sweet side, where Day 4 had a distinctly lemony catch to it. Very interesting; the two fields harvested were separated by 200 meters of altitude as well. There was clearly something at work here.

Ron mentioned something at this juncture that I wrote down: "Harmonious bitterness." It's a German term, he explained, a blending and coming together of the hop notes in the aroma, the bitterness, the kettle hops and aroma additions, creating a whole that is, for him -- and for me, now -- the pils experience, a beer gestalt.

Ludwig talked about the soil at the same time. It is heavy clay, with quite a bit of stone and rock: hard to work, low yielding, but with a 'very nice aroma.' He laughed when someone asked him what he thought of the whole evening. "This was not so interesting as a farmer. Now that I taste it, though..." and he looked around the room at the obviously excited crowd, he turned and looked at Ron, "...we should talk." Hops might be costing a bit more next year!

We had two more beers to try. The Strass, another farm, had that same floral character, and the lemon zest, but also had a pleasantly buzzy pepper note. The last beer was made with a blend of the other five hops, the Braumeister Blend. This...had harmonious bitterness. While the aroma was not as precise as the others, it was beautiful and bright. Great pilsner.

We had a meal then, good German stuff (excellent dumpling, and I can't believe I'm saying that). I couldn't help agreeing with my old friend Uncle Jack Curtin: "Victory is an exceptional brewery which doesn’t get enough national attention and...this region is still the best beer making and drinking part of the nation."

Victory does make it great to drink beer around here. Once again: happy anniversary!

Jim Rutledge is coming to town

If you're a fan of Four Roses bourbon -- not the old blended shtuff, the revived and wonderful straight bourbons -- got the hot ticket for you in Philly. Master Distiller Jim Rutledge is coming to town next week, and will be at two events for you to meet and get the real word about Four Roses' unique approach to making bourbon.

He'll be at Percy Street Barbecue on Tuesday the 21st, with a crowd-sourcing approach for selecting a barrel of whiskey for Percy Street's own bottling -- as you'll soon see, an excellent chance to get right inside how Four Roses is made -- in which you'll taste whiskey samples from different barrels under consideration for the honor (PAYG).

On Wednesday the 22nd, Jim will be at Jose Garces's JG Domestic for a four course, four bourbon "Meet the Maker" dinner ($55, 215-222-2363 for reservations), which will include Jose's own selected Four Roses Single Barrel (JG is a big bourbon drinker, as you'll learn in the March issue of Whisky Advocate; a really fun profile of Village Whiskey that I got to write).

Why "unique"? Why is sampling individual barrels anymore interesting for Four Roses than for other bourbons? As Jim will explain better than I can, Four Roses bourbons rely on two different mashbills and five different yeast strains to make ten different straight whiskeys. These ten whiskeys are then aged in single story warehouses under conditions as identical as possible, so the variance comes from the mashbill and yeast strain, not the different aging conditions (different floors (higher are generally hotter), different warehouse sites). The straight bourbons are then blended -- "mingled" -- to create Four Roses.

However...the Four Roses Single Barrel bottlings give you a chance to try one of the ten whiskeys -- it varies from release to release -- alone. You'll get to try at least two of those at JG Domestic, and the night at Percy Street will allow you to taste several, side-by-side. To top that off, you'll have one of the most skilled and knowledgeable master distillers in the business -- Jim's been doing this for over 40 years, and actively campaigned internally to bring straight Four Roses bourbon back to the U.S. market -- explaining it to you; and Jim does a great job at explaining bourbon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happy 16th, Victory!

Today is the day one of our favorite local brewers celebrates their anniversary. Victory Brewing in Downingtown is sixteen years old today -- they can shoot pool in public and drive -- and it's been a great sixteen years. Victory powered out of the starting blocks with a successful pub -- remember that hugely high, echoing ceiling and concrete floors? -- beautifully well-made beers, and a firm determination to make beers that they liked, confident that the growing number of better beer fans would like them too. The one we did like, HopDevil, caught them somewhat off-guard; they'd expected the malty Festbier to be the winner, not the aromatically bitter IPA, but they adapted, of course.

Now they're celebrating sixteen years of success:
Bill & I with Batch #1 of Baltic Thunder
  • Experimentation: V10, Mad King Ludwig, the ground-breaking Braumeister single-hop Pils series, Wild Devil, the American/English Pale Ale Experiment, and now the Tettnang Terroir pilsners.
  • Pizza Plus: Victory grew from a friendly hangout with a wood-fired oven to the county's biggest volume restaurant (still with a stone hearth pizza oven), going through some growing pains along the way that led to a solid rep as a favored destination.
  • Variety: Victory makes exemplary beers from multiple canons:  lagers, British ales, cask session ales, Belgian-types, American craft classics, and brett-laced bug beer, and all of them with their own spin.
  • Quality: the company has spent literally millions on the very best equipment and ingredients to make their beer as good as it can be. They've invested in equipment -- like their wetmill and automated brewhouse -- that usually belongs in breweries much, much bigger, because no excess in the service of the beer is unnecessary. 
  • Determination: they did it their way. Victory has stuck to their guns on a number of issues that many said were bad ideas...and some turned out to be just that, but others, most others, turned out to be visionary.
Ron by the open fermenter: Golden Monkey?
It's time to congratulate them on their success -- again! -- and mark it as a celebration of the success of Pennsylvania craft brewing -- American craft brewing -- as well. The numbers keep swelling, and beer is more varied and more available than ever. Victory will be opening a major beer hall in Philadelphia this year, Sly Fox and Tröegs are bringing major new breweries online, Yards continues to expand, and we're finally -- finally! -- seeing a new wave of brewpubs in the area, something we've been waiting on for years (and thank you, Iron Hill and McKenzie for keeping the lights on with new places).

But as founders Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet like to say, they dove through the window of opportunity for the first wave of American craft brewers just as it was closing. This is also the sixteenth anniversary of what was called The Shakeout, when the first blush of craft brewing success flatlined, a victim of its own success. Craft brewing was growing fast in the early 1990s, a faster rate than now -- 40% in some years -- although on a much smaller base. But that growth attracted dumb money, and bad decisions were made, and bad beer was getting out on the shelves...and soon the capital would dry up, and it would be very difficult for new brewers to start up, or for established ones to expand, or even get sustaining loans through tough periods. It would be almost five years before things loosened up again.

Are we in danger of that again? Is dumb money coming in, are expectations rising, will bad beer flood the shelves? I'll be honest: I did think so, a few years ago. I was worried. But now? No, I don't think so. First, and most convincing, solid bank money is available to established breweries, even in the current economy. Three years of unstoppable growth in the face of a general downturn in beer sales is quite a convincer. It may not be cheap money, but it's there. Second, brewers like Victory have done their part to nail down the quality of American craft brewers. I'm talking about safe in the bottle quality, no infected beer (not unintentionally infected, anyway!), solid shelf-life quality. It used to be a crapshoot; now getting a sub-par beer is much, much less likely.  

Finally, and maybe this won't mean as much to younger craft drinkers...there's no raspberry beer. Cheap sweet raspberry beers were huge in the run-up to the shakeout, but when the trendy drinkers tired of them, they moved on to the next thing, and it wasn't a beer thing. No, the beers you see selling big today are beers like Victory makes. They're beers that rely on solid cornerstones of brewing: malt, grain, hops, yeast, and what brewers and maltsters can do with them. That's the story at Victory -- always has been -- and that's what's selling craft beer to America.

Happy birthday, Victory! Keep at it, we'll keep drinking.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sleepless in Pittsburgh

Got an invite to come out and be a "guest lecturer" at Penn Brewing's "Brew U" -- a day-long beer appreciation/brewery tour/beer cooking demo in January again, and sure, any excuse for a paid trip to Pittsburgh, I'm on it. Oh, wait...I have to drive out the morning after a bourbon tasting for the firehall guys in Somers Point, NJ with my buddy (and New Jersey Breweries co-author) Mark Haynie? Ummm...okay! So yeah, we tried 14 whiskeys, had some beers and a monster good dinner, and I got up around 6 AM, grabbed a great diner breakfast, drove home and changed, and...headed west.

Despite multiple coffees, didn't have to stop once on the 300+ mile trip -- I had a full tank of diesel -- and ran into no traffic...until I got off onto the Parkway east of Pittsburgh. Things turned to crap rapidly, so I got off -- shoulda been on top of the traffic and just hit the Pour House in Monroeville, but I was flying on intuition -- and twisted my way through some back streets to D's. Well, yeah, that's better. A glass of something before I dive deeper into the traffic...Troegs T2? Perfect! Great hops, slidey malt, brisk edge to it...and that doesn't do it justice. A thoroughly enjoyable beer, and if my hotel were around the block, I'd have a couple more, but...Onward.

Now it's decision time. I'm early, after that no-hassle run across the state, so I've got time before I meet Penn Sales Mahoff Eric Heinauer for dinner at the brewery. Hit the Church? Tempting. East End? I already know Scott's not there. Maybe Piper', the traffic will kill that. Then I got a text from my man Sam Komlenic, copy editor for Whisky Advocate, essentially telling me that if I were in Pittsburgh and didn't get to Wigle Whiskey, I wasn't a man. Normally, this kind of pronouncement has zero effect on me, but in this case, Sam was right. I aimed the Jetta for The Strip, and started cursing rush hour traffic. Got there in time for a quick lookaround, and Eric Meyer was, luckily, sticking around to meet a guy who wanted to have a bachelor party there. We shook hands, and he gave me a quick tour.

Wigle is clean and sharp, and ready for guests (you can book tours now, and starting in March, when the new law about distillery sampling and sales goes into effect, they'll be having regular visiting hours). They're making wheat and rye whiskey (of course!) with locally-grown organic grain, which is pretty damned cool. What's even better is that the spirit's off to a good start -- nice clean white dog, with appealing fruity notes -- and they're aging in large barrels; they hope to have aged spirit available late in 2012. Good time, and Eric was a friendly, informed host...but I had to run, now.

I buzzed over to the Priory Hotel (Penn puts me up there when I do events for them (yes, I was paid for my speech at Penn, and my room was paid for), and I've taken to staying there whenever I'm in Pittsburgh: real nice, and an easy walk to the brewery (and a couple other places, like Max's Allegheny and the Park House)), checked in, dropped off my stuff, put some electronics on the charger, and walked to the Brewery...I've been through this drill too many times to drive.

After a brisk trot to the brewery, I was quickly seated with Eric, and got my nose into my first glass of Penn Dark in way too long. Then I had another. Then we had some food -- pierogies, soft pretzels -- and I had a Kaiser Pils. And then a Märzen.

Now...I don't tell you that in such rapid-fire order to either impress you with my speed-drinking abilities (it took place over about 90 minutes, actually), or to cause you concern about my intake (it took place over about 90 minutes...and I did say I was walking). I note them bang-bang-bang like that (okay, there was a Jägermeister shot in there before the Märzen, too...hey, we're German, okay? It was the right thing to do after sauerbraten!) because the thing that leapt out at me was a perceived improvement in quality in all of these beers, and all of it circling round the qualities that make them lagers. They all seemed better-integrated, the Märzen had a richer body and luscious malt character, the Kaiser was not just hoppy but properly bitter, and the Dark was smoothly drinkable without the slightly husky catch that used to be the slight imperfection that always bugged my otherwise complete enjoyment of this beer. I was running these taps, because I wanted to see if they were working on one beer or on their brewing...and I was liking the answer.

But we wanted to wander a bit, so we headed out to the Teutonia Männerchor club, a couple blocks away. Eric's a member (though he had to get caught up on his dues before we could get served; oh, that never happens at PA clubs...), and we dutifully had one bottle each of Penn Pilsner (long the flagship, and still over half of brewery sales, its proportion slipping (though total sales are going right up), and it's probably because craft beer drinkers are getting more savvy and more demanding)). Then we switched to Spaten Pils, and I bought us a round of Jameson (because I was pumped about Irish whiskey that week), and we talked...but hey, that's just stuff. I went back to the Priory, and went to bed...

...and woke up at 5:30. And couldn't get back to sleep. What the hell! Sigh. So I got up, got dressed, did a little set-up work on the computer...and headed across the river to The Strip for breakfast and some shopping. If you've been reading this blog for a year or more, you know I love to go to Pamela's P&G on 21st for breakfast...but they weren't open this early.

So I took a Facebook friend's recommendation and went to DeLuca's. Well, baby! Where you been all my breakfast-eating life?! Dropped at the counter, got a cup of joe going (and damned good coffee, too), and checked the menu. The prices looked a bit...high, truly, but okay, I ordered the breakfast burrito with choice of meat: I took kielbasi. It was ten bucks. Grumble, grumble -- Holy CRAP! It should have been delivered by overhead crane; a foot or more long, about 4" wide, and easily 2" high, stuffed bulging full with eggs, onions, kielbasi (a LOT of it, too), and fried spuds, with "spanish sauce" and a slice of American cheese on top, decorated with one more chunk of kielbasi. Great recommendation, and please, forget everything I said about this monster meal being pricey. Woof.

Three cups of coffee later, I walked next door to Prestogeorge, a reassuringly old-timey coffee roaster, and after some conversation, picked up a pound of Sumatra (which is what we're running through the machine now, BTW, and it's just delish). Wandered around a bit, then moved the Jetta up to 21st and went into La Prima...for more coffee. I had a cup of espresso, and got a pound of Fair Trade Mexico Chiapas, for old time's sake.

Buzzing by now, I decided to head over to the Market and wait for East End's Growler Shop to open in another 45 minutes. Naturally, I decided to have more coffee. I dropped anchor one more time, and went into 21st Street Coffee and Tea, and -- eventually -- got a cup of Bolivian coffee. 21st is unabashedly elitist about your coffee; they very carefully made me a fresh single cup and just as carefully let me know that if I put cream or sugar in it, they'd mock me. Okay, I can play that game; I tried it straight up -- me, a cream no sugar guy -- and it was quite good, easily good enough to drink that way, which made all of us reasonably happy. It was very good coffee. And the wifi and bathroom were clean and efficient, and the other customers were nice.

But you know, it was just another caffeinated waystation on the road to beer -- and by now, I needed a glass to tamp down all this jitter! Doors opened, I was in, and first in line, followed Big Daddy Steve down to the shop. Scan the taps...Session: Fermette Rouge. Try one? Sure! Spicy, hoppy, refreshing, dry finish -- let's do it. Growler in hand, I headed back to the Priory to get showered and dressed for my teaching gig.

Parked the Jetta, grabbed my notes, and headed up to the "classroom"...and got a glass of Penn Gold. Seemed like the right beer for 10:15 AM, and it was: that same extra-glassy smoothness, teasingly delicate malt character...yeah. Made a conscious decision that I'd have to have a talk with the caffeine and not drink too fast. Luckily, people started to wander in, and we got conversing -- great people at these things! -- and there was no problem.

I talked about lagers, how they get so little respect, and how I hoped people would take advantage of the great stuff Penn laid down. They were, no fear! We wrapped up, people were happy, was time to go. Actually, it was earlier than I'd thought, so on the way out of town, I slipped over to Piper's Pub (missed it on the way in, right?) and got a pint of Helltown Insidious IPA on cask -- natch, that's why I went to Piper's, for their great cask ale! Got into a whisky conversation with the folks next to me, had a great dish of curry for the road (hadn't had anything to eat since DeLuca's...didn't need anything!), tried samples of two meads from Laurel Highlands (Bochet and Traditional)...I just don't think I'm a mead guy, like I'm not a tequila guy (or, I'm starting to think, a pinot noir guy). They were okay, but didn't really set me on fire. The Insidious did, by the way: quite tasty and snappy, and in beautiful condition.

That was it. Had a smooth run home (stopped at Sly Fox for one quick O'Reilly's Stout with some friends), and went to bed.

Next up: finally, the Tettnanger Terroir story from Victory, just in time for their 16th birthday this week! (I'd have had it sooner, because it was substantially cool as balls, but...I misplaced my notebook. Got it, and we'll roll that.)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dock Street Truffled Old Ale

Getting caught up on my blogging after a loooong ten days or so of action-packed stuff. First up was the Dock Street Truffled Old Ale release; we got an advance tasting at the Four Seasons on January 23rd (Craig LaBan got an even advanceder tasting, and wrote this). I took the train down, endearing myself to my green friends, I'm sure, and walked over to the Four Seasons from Suburban Station...and then started really wishing I'd worn something nicer than the old nylon windbreaker I'd pulled on over sweater and jeans.

The Swann Lounge at the Four Seasons is more upscale than you'll usually find for a beer launch, but Rosemarie Certo is doing this to prove a point; the same one that the original Dock Street brewpub proved not 100 yards from there* in the 1990s. Beer is the people's beverage, to be sure, but beer is protean: it can effortlessly go from washing down chicken wings at trestle tables as commentators cry the latest play of the game to pouring luxuriously into ballooned wine glasses as jazz floats above the conversations of the rich and well-dressed. Why not go upscale? Beer is certainly not diminished in its role as social leveler when it becomes 'fancy' or 'extreme,' any more than it is demeaned by going light and getting gulped by the gallon. Beer is all things to all people; or at least, it could be...and that's the point of this.

But enough bibbling (that's the drinking version of babbling) about what 'beer' is or can be; this beer was, as I noted to Scott "Dude" Morrison (who is back brewing at Dock Street, in case you live under a rock, or don't read Uncle Jack's blog), full of the flavors of the wine barrels it briefly aged in, and unctuous from the truffles (Yes, I actually immediately thought and used the word "unctuous"; I blame all the whiskey reviews I've been doing). I didn't get a lot of that earthy, stanky truffle character...but as Scott said, you can easily overdo that, especially in a beer (I kind of thought that the truffled mayonnaise served with the frites they put out for the tasting was a little overdone...but only a little). They took 12 ounces of truffles (which was, trust me, ridiculously expensive), shaved them, and then left it in vodka for the alcohol to pull the flavor out, an essence of truffle, which they then put in the aging beer. (Is all this legal by strict ATTTB standards? Honestly, don't know, and certainly don't give a damn.)

They're going to be doing three more of these "Four Seasonals" beers, and I'd say they're off to a good start with this one.I'm looking forward to the others, and when I go to the Swann Lounge to drink them...I'll dress a bit better. The beer deserves that.

*The space at 18th and Cherry is now the Public House, and it looks reassuringly like the old Dock Street -- minus the brewery, of course, and the big backbar mural -- while offering a decent selection of taps. I did stop in on the way back to the train, and sank a quick, well-kept pint of Yards IPA. It was good to be back at that long bar; really good, actually. Great memories at Dock Street, and I missed the place.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Old Forge Launching in Philly TODAY

The original, MUCH smaller brewery, and Damien.
Should've had this up earlier because Damien Malfara at Old Forge is a great guy and a talented brewer, but, well, here it is: Old Forge Brewing of Danville, PA (which is a very cool place, you should go) has pumped up their capacity significantly, and is launching in Philadelphia today at Standard Tap at 7:00. They'll have their two standards, T-Rail Pale Ale and Endless Summer Ale, in kegs and cans, but they're also bringing a Bourbon Barrel Aged Brown Ale in firkin, Ludwig's Lager, Bourbon Barrel Quad, Bourbon Barrel Aged Hank The Belgian Stout, Ol' Smithy Spiced Winter Ale, Underbite IPA, and Slack Tub Stout (on nitro, which I think is the sleeper hit in the pack, my go-to at Old Forge...unless there's a batch of altbier on).

Can't make it tonight? Try the Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting tomorrow from 6 to 8; the Perch Pub at Broad & Locust on Friday for lunch with Damien, noon to 2; and then a quick canned happy hour (T-Rail and Endless are in 16 oz. cans) at Percy Street BBQ, and then from 6 to 8 at Beer Heaven on the river in Pennsport; Saturday you can find Damien at The Beer Store in Southampton from 2 to 4, and the whole wild trip winds up Saturday night at The Blind Pig in Northern Liberties from 6:00 until Damien falls over.

You should try to get out for this. Old Forge is smack-dab in the middle of the hottest brewing area in PA right now, and Damien's a Fox Chase boy who went off to the sticks to be with his sweetheart, and got thirsty, and had to make his own beer just to survive...and it was so good he thought he'd bring some back home. Go, taste, have some fun!

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day: WAKE UP, PHILLY!

Tomorrow is February 2, Groundhog Day.

If you drink beer in Philly, though...tomorrow is February 2, is Groundhog Day! That's when we start the day very very early at the Grey Lodge Pub, with the doors opening at 7 AM for the Hawaiian Shirt Beer Breakfast. There are little events all morning with Yards, Sierra Nevada, Tröegs, and Victory, culminating in the noontime beer prognostication by Wissinoming Winnie, the Grey Lodge's Lucky Cat. 

Hey, I know, but like Scoats says, 
The Groundhog Day Hawaiian Shirt Beer Breakfast and Lucky Cat Beer Prognostication is probably the stupitest event that we do at The Grey Lodge, and we set the bar on stupit pretty high (or should that be low?), so don't miss it. 
Right? See you there!