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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.)


btezra said...

stellar wrap up highlighting the 'burgh

you noted tons of great establishment, independent shops, bars, beers, eateries...

why aren't you promoting Pittsburgh nationally


and the Penn Brewery is a Pittsburgh treasure, I'm glad it's back and better than ever, and I eagerly await Oktoberfest 2012 @ the brewery...and East End Brewery is the real deal making damn good beer, glad you've had the pleasure of tasting it, any faves?

Lew Bryson said...

I don't promote, I report...promoters get paid more!

When I get a shot at East End, I generally go for the Session Ale series, like I did this time. Constantly changing, always different.


jp said...

21st street knows how to make an amazing cup of coffee as well as espresso they use the finest roasts out there and are quasi insane when it comes to perfection. To me it is definitely worth the extra cost and time (as I cut way, way back on coffee) and see it as an occasional treat rather than an addiction. If you do go please do not be in a hurry as it is not a grab and go kind of place, they do not rush anything over there, if you are in a hurry take an espresso over a drip coffee as they take forever. But if you like really, really good coffee this is the place to go