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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.


Witzel said...

Really, Lew? Everything I've had from them, bottled or draft, was so off, so soured -- the Black Lager alone was enough to put me off this brewpub for good, years ago. I see the sign near the exit and keep on driving from that terrible experience - a shame, since it's really the only brewpub without a major detour on the drive to my Ma's upstate.

Lew Bryson said...

Honestly, Dave. No need or desire to mislead you. I've never liked the bottled product, that's true, but this new brewer's got the touch. I had some really bad food and service experiences at Victory, and they fixed that.

Witzel said...

That's good news, then! Following in the footsteps of breweries in the general vicinity with terrible beers that only needed a change of brewer (Lancaster, River Horse...).

Barley Shea said...

Lou, thanks for the post!!!

We opened in 1995 and there have indeed been days when it was one step forward and two steps back. I think of late most of the steps have been forward on all fronts: Beer, Food and Service...Oh and I also like the atmosphere. Witzel...come back in be a secret shopper or track me down and say hi. I think you'll like what were doing these days! We also have one of Dan's beers on tap

A.Maestre said...

Great place to have good beer. The Bourbon Vanilla Cream Stout is by far one of the best beers I've ever had. So creamy with just the right amount of flavor for you to keep wanting another. The brewer works hard at keeping the recipes unique, and the firehouse chili is awesome.

Bill said...

Lew, in your reply to Witzel, did you mean Barley Creek instead of Victory? Or were you citing another example?

Off-topic -- I have to thank you and Jack Curtin -- your citing Shanken News Daily a few times got me to check out their RSS feed, and occasionally, their business takes on things are truly fascinating.

Lew Bryson said...

Both, actually. Should have said " Victory, for example..." Sorry.

And yes, the SND people are pretty damned sharp, AND they get some great interviews.

Pedro said...

Lew- Next time you're up our way, stop in and see us too!
Pete Kirkwood

Lew Bryson said...

Will do, Pete: it was too tight a day, or I'd have been happy to make that beautiful drive!