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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Booze along the Delaware

Not the Eye of Sauron; that's Monongahela Rye red!
I got out into the crushing heat back in mid-July (the Jetta's thermometer was reading 106F at one point) to visit Mountain Laurel Spirits down in Bristol. That sounds a bit more fancy than it is; what I mean is that I drove back in the Grundy Commons industrial park (a very cool re-use of a 100+year old industrial space by the canal in this riverside town) and hung out with founders (and entire workforce) Herman Mihalich and John Cooper for a hot 90 minutes...the distillery isn't air-conditioned!

They'd invited me down because they were dumping some barrels, and wanted to let me get a taste and see what I thought. I was curious to see what they'd done -- with help from Michigan State University's Artisan Distilling program -- on coaxing good wood character out of small (15 gallon) oak barrels in 6 months. It's been a subject of some controversy in craft distilling, but I've been impressed with what these guys have been doing so far -- their white whiskey is one of the better ones on the market, IMO -- so I was optimistic.

We tasted from six different barrels, four of them that were going into the vat you see Herman dipping from above. Those four were significantly different; one of them extra-spicy, one quite sweet, and one distinctly floral. The two others were tasting particularly delicious, and they're considering a small release -- distillery sales only -- of single barrel stuff. I encouraged them to do so; that's how you make a name.

Did I mention it was bleeding hot? That's when we decided it was time for a cooler drink (although as Davey Crockett said, rye whiskey will keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter), and Coop made up a couple whiskey sours. Wow. They were delicious and tart and WHAM. Just the thing. You need to own this drink, I told them: too many people think of whiskey sours as 'granny drinks,' and they're anything but. We drank some more. Then I left. It was really hot.

NCBC's brewhouse (heat is not visible in this picture)
In very little time, I was at Neshaminy Creek Brewing, the new brewery in Croydon that I'd been hearing about, but hadn't yet had a chance to try. It was hot there, too. The crew all strung in as I was wandering about the brewhouse (which was hot), and after we'd talked about their lagering tanks and how they were planning to keep brewing lagers along with the IPA that every noob craft drinker insists that a brewer make...we decided it was really hot, so we went in the somewhat air-conditioned tasting room to get a couple beers.

First up was the Trauger Pilsner. At 4.4%, it makes a nice session drinker, and is just about good to go: not overly hoppy, a nice malt character, but a slight greenness, an off-flavor. An early batch, so I suspect that will clean up soon. The County Line IPA -- yes, of course they have one! -- was good, hoppy but not overdone, which probably means they'll be bumping up Da Hops on this soon as the geekerie squeals in dismay (so get some now before it's scorchingly bitter). And then there was the Tribute Tripel, which I thought was the best beer I tasted: not heavy, a good orange creamsicle kind of character from the yeast, and didn't taste like 9.3% at all. One to look for.

Whew. It was hot. So I said good-bye, and headed home.


Matt said...

Geez. Why so mad at the IPA? It's a popular style. If IPAs bring a "noob" drinker to try a brewery they haven't had before then I would say it is a very important style for the drinker and brewer alike. (IPA is not among my favorite styles but I drink plenty of 'em) Besides, aren't you trying to get all brewers to offer a session beer (pot, kettle, all that)? NCBC's IPA was the least enjoyable of their beers that I have had, so yes, I think it needs more hops. According to their website, they know that and agree it isn't where THEY want it to be (hop contracts being what they are and water profile adjustments proceeding like at all new breweries). I look forward to trying it again as they hone in on their goal. The Milk Stout is their real winner, IMO. Top-notch brew, that one.

Enough arguing from me- I really do love the blog. That just rubbed me the wrong way. Cheers!

Lew Bryson said...

Fair question, but I'm not "mad at the IPA." I drink a lot of them myself; got two in the fridge from Endless Brewing to sample right now.

It's the idea that a brewery has to have an IPA. They don't, anymore than a restaurant has to have pizza; not gonna be a necessity at a Chinese place.

It's not that only noobs drink IPA -- damn near everyone who drinks craft does, after all -- but it's the way brewers get pushed to the point of thinking that they must have an IPA or they'll fail. Bullshit. There are thousands of IPAs out there...why compete against all of them? Hmmm...this might make a good blog post on its own, thanks!

I don't really want all brewers to offer a session beer, either, though that's a different proposition: session beers are a multitude of styles, actually, not one single style.

Cheers, Matt, I'll try to write more often. And if I'm rubbing people the wrong way, well, that's a big part of the job! I want people to think about what they're drinking, and why they're drinking it, and what they might like even more.

Bill said...

I used to say how I thought it was cool that the largest craft breweries' flagships were all different styles -- Boston Lager, Fat Tire, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Honker's Ale. And then Torpedo and Ranger took off, and now I'm wondering if we're seeing the emergence of a "what people want to drink" type of beer. Way too early to tell, but just as the bulk of craft beer is bought by the folks who regularly have, say, Boston Lager or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in their fridge (as opposed to the folks who constantly drink something different), perhaps the bulk of these folks are gravitating to IPA as the taste profile they want.

MatthewUHS said...

I agree partially with what Matt says here Lew, the Milk Stout was the best, drinkable stout I've had in a long time and I'm not a stout drinker. Hops Schmops, the people want an easy drinker unless they are pairing it with strong flavors in food. The Trauger Pils is a good drinker. The tripel... delish.

Can't wait for the Leon (chocolate and Marshmallow) and the new Croydon Cream Ale. Due out next weekend.