Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How the Gold Was Won (or You haven't been to McKenzie Brew House lately, have you?)

If one can forgive and forget so quickly, maybe it's time to give McKenzie Brew House some of the respect that the brewhouse deserves. Is that a question or a statement? By the way, the 'forgive and forget' comment is directly related to a Philadelphia Football story that's gripped the region in controversy over the past couple of months. It's the closest brewpub to my house (the one in Malvern, that is), yet I stop in there so infrequently. For numerous reasons, but primarily it's usually not quite the beer-drinking atmosphere that I'm looking for. Though, on the other hand, the times I have stopped in, I am always treated to at least one beer that makes me happy that I made the stop. In fact, this now made the third stop in the past six weeks for me, so there must be a good reason, right? And, that's the whole point here. Ryan Michaels and his assistant are putting out some very decent beers. My question is: are we all taking notice? Like I said, I don't stop in nearly as often as I should, so I'm throwing daggers at myself here as well. Case in point, a few weeks back I had the Saison Vautour for the third time in a couple of years. A growler or two have been known to make their way home with me. The Abbeys six and eight, as well as the Grand Cru and Pumpkin Spice are also very nice glassfuls of beer. I can excuse you if you say that some of the "regular" lineup is not as interesting as you might hope for. But, there should always be at least one specialty beer on the menu that flips your beer fancy. It was only at this last visit, where we were cashing in on a gift card, that we took notice of the back porch area that looks perfect for some fall dining. The large patio contains a firepit, a decent sized bar, and an atmosphere that I'm betting gets a bit ruckus-y on a fair weather evening after work. Plus, it sits farther away than the rest of the deck and the restaurant from the hustle of business route 30 out front, so the seclusion is a welcome part of the visit to the back patio. Maybe I'll need to check out the back patio soon before the weather turns too cold. In the meantime, I headed back over there a couple of nights ago and ran into Ryan Michaels, head brewer. BB2 came along, as well, and it felt a bit like old beerwingman days. We chatted over a couple of beers, including Ryan's most decorated, the Saison Vautour. You have heard (may I presume?) that it just won Gold at the Great American Beer Festival this past weekend? Just so happens to be the second such GABF Gold for this beer in the last three years. Congratulations to Ryan and this most recent accomplishment. What I learned, though, is that it's not the same beer that was submitted two years ago (and won) and neither is it the same beer currently pouring from the taps. What it is, is a 25% rye-based saison with German Tradition hops and French Stisselspalt all in the boil which bring the final hop level to around 28 IBUs. For good measure, Michaels used the same bottling equipment that was used for a different Brett beer. It was originally brewed this past April, bottled in May and it took about three months until the Brett began to make its presence known and to help dry out the beer even more. While we're getting into the details of the recipe, Michaels also noted that they used "organic malt from Canada as the yeast seemed to really like it." As if this wasn't all enough, Ryan also let me in on some of the barrel-aging goodies that he's got doing their magic in the basement. "As for the barrels in the basement," Michaels commented, "we hope to bottle Dark Saison, Biere d'Hiver (winter biere de garde) and La Faute (strong dark lager) by the end of the year. They have all been aging for about 9 months at this point." So that I could write more knowledgeably on the topic of this special Saison Vautour, Ryan sent me home with a bottle of the "real stuff," the beer, that is, that was submitted for this year's GABF judging. He says that he's sitting on a fair amount of it, so you never quite know when some of it may make an appearance. Until then, you can find Ryan and his Gringalet ("weakling") at the Kennett Square Brewfest on Saturday, 10/10. He's bringing this 4.0% ABV beer for the Connoisseur Session Beer Tasting. Check it out if you're there; you shouldn't be disappointed. Now if Ryan could just get a hold of those old recipes, like Vuuve XXxXX and Baltic Porter, you might find me at McKenzie's even more often!! That back patio and its firepit is calling my name.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Beer Dinner landscape in SF about to change

I've never made it to a Beer Dinner with Bruce Paton in San Francisco. For all of my Bay Area visits, the timing has never lined up just right to make it to one of Paton's storied dinners in the city at The Cathedral Hill Hotel. Now, they are coming to an end as the 50-year-old hotel is going off to the great hospitality suite in the sky. Recently, Jay Brooks has written about the Russian River dinner and you can bet that he'll have more to say during the last two beer dinners at the hotel to come in October. Where Paton will stage his beer dinners in the future has not apparently been decided (or disclosed) as of yet. But, in the meantime, there are two dinners remaining to be enjoyed at the hotel. The next is this coming Friday, 10/2, when a four-and-a-half course meal with Matt Brynildson and his Firestone Walker beers will be served. The last hurrah comes on Friday October 23rd, when Rob Tod will join the farewell party and bring his Allagash beers to dinner. I'll be flying through SFO in October, but do not have any trips that will land me there during either of these dinners. If you will be, consider yourself in the know.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Beer Calendar: What To Do in October 2009

With GABF and Oktoberfests now behind us, we can focus on cooler weather, warmer beer styles, and plenty of reasons to get together to share a brew. Read more below to find out where. If I'm missing any that you feel should be on here, let me know. $20 and under, down to and including FREE...Pay As You Go (PAYG) also included here Philadelphia Thu. 10/1 - First Thursday Firkin Tapping (Coronado Idiot IPA) @Devil's Den, Philadelphia, PA (7:00pm; PAYG) Thu. 10/1 - Meet the Brewer, Keep the Pint Glass (Clipper City) @Earth Bread + Brewery, Philadelphia, PA (6:30pm-8:30pm; PAYG) Thu. 10/1 - Stoudt's Pumpkin Night of the Living Firkincorn @Grey Lodge Pub, Philadelphia, PA (PAYG) Thu. 10/1 - Brewer's Reserve Barrel Tappings (October's selection: Oktoberfest) @Triumph, Philadelphia, PA (6:00pm; PAYG) Sat. 10/3 - Charlie's Pumpkin Patch @The Institute, Philadelphia, PA (all day; PAYG) Tue. 10/6, 10/13, 10/20, 10/27 - Great Lakes Tuesday Nights @Old Eagle Tavern, Philadelphia, PA (8:00pm-10:00pm; PAYG) Wed. 10/7 - Ryes Above @The Khyber, Philadelphia, PA (5:00pm; PAYG) Thu. 10/8 - A Night with Boulder Brewing @Jose Pistolas, Philadelphia, PA (5:00pm-10:00pm; PAYG) Fri. 10/9 - Lunch with Ithaca Brewing @Jose Pistolas, Philadelphia, PA (11:30am; PAYG) Fri. 10/9 - 1st Year Anniversary Party @Earth Bread + Brewery, Philadelphia, PA (5:00pm; PAYG) Sat. 10/10 - Bake Sale in the Side Lot @Memphis Taproom, Philadelphia, PA (10:00am-3:00pm; PAYG) Sun. 10/11 - Swift Eagles Firkin @Swift Half Pub, Philadelphia, PA (1:00pm-5:00pm; PAYG) Wed. 10/14 - High Gravity @The Sidecar Bar & Grille, Philadelphia, PA (details TBD) Thu. 10/15 - Meet the Brewer, Keep the Pint Glass (Lancaster Brewing) @Earth Bread + Brewery, Philadelphia, PA (6:30pm-8:30pm; PAYG) Thu. 10/22 - Meet the Brewer, Keep the Pint Glass (Ommegang) @Earth Bread + Brewery, Philadelphia, PA (6:30pm-8:30pm; PAYG) Thu. 10/22 - Pumpkin Fest @Devil's Den, Philadelphia, PA (7:00pm; details TBD) Thu. 10/22 - A He'brew Jewbelation @The Sidecar Bar & Grille, Philadelphia, PA (details TBD) Fri. 10/23 - Lunch with Sierra Nevada @Jose Pistolas, Philadelphia, PA (11:30am; PAYG) Mon. 10/26 - Ten Yards with Tom Kehoe Tailgate @Jose Pistolas, Philadelphia, PA (5:30pm-11:00pm; PAYG) Thu. 10/29 - Duck Rabbit Firkin Chocolate Insanity @The Institute, Philadelphia, PA (7:00pm-9:00pm; PAYG) Fri. 10/30 - Mischief Night with the Ladies @Devil's Den, Philadelphia, PA (7:00pm; details TBD) Sat. 10/31 - The Halloween Extravaganza @Jose Pistolas, Philadelphia, PA (details TBD) Philadelphia's close suburbs Thu. 10/1 - Tröegs Day @Teresa's Next Door, Wayne, PA (PAYG) Fri. 10/2 - Incubus Friday @Sly Fox, Phoenixville, PA (11:30am 'til it kicks; PAYG) Fri. 10/2 - Friday Night Tasting (Victory) @Beer Yard, Wayne, PA (5:00pm-7:00pm; Free) Sat. 10/3 - Autumn Harvest--Beer and Food Pairing @Wegmans, Downingtown, PA (11:00am-3:00pm; Free) Sun. 10/4 - Fifteen Hoppy Clones @Teresa's Next Door, Wayne, PA (PAYG) Thu. 10/8 - Stone Takes Over the Taps @The Pour House, Westmont, NJ (PAYG) Fri. 10/9 - Hops Project 2009 Varietal Release: Columbus (a firkin, then CO2) @Sly Fox, Phoenixville, PA (11:30am 'til it kicks; PAYG) Thu. 10/15 - Blues Brews 'n' BBQ @Ron's Original, Exton, PA (PAYG) Thu. 10/15 - Follow the Liter @Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, PA (6:00pm-8:00pm; PAYG) Fri. 10/16 - Cask Ale Series (October's Selection: Chester County Bitter) @Sly Fox, Phoenixville, PA (all day; PAYG) Sat. 10/17 - East Coast/West Coast Throwdown @TJ's, Paoli, PA (7:00pm; PAYG) Sat. 10/17 - Oktoberfest Brewers' Reserve @Iron Hill Brewery, Phoenixville, PA (2:00-5:00pm; PAYG) Fri. 10/23 - Lost Abbey & Port Brewing tappings @The Drafting Room, Exton, PA (6:00pm; PAYG) Sat. 10/24 - Brewers' Reserve with Flying Fish @Iron Hill Brewery, Maple Shade, NJ (1:00-5:00pm; PAYG) Sat. 10/24 - The Gathering of the Gourds / Pumpkin Ales @Iron Hill Brewery, West Chester, PA (2:00-5:00pm; PAYG) Sun. 10/25 - Last Year's Barleywines @Teresa's Next Door, Wayne, PA (PAYG) Fri. 10/30 - Pumpkin Ale Release Party @Iron Hill Brewery, North Wales, PA (6:00pm; PAYG) Greater Philadelphia Metro / Eastern Pennsylvania Fri. 10/2 - Brewer's Reserve Barrel Tappings (October's selection: Sour Apfelweizen) @Triumph, New Hope, PA (6pm; PAYG) Sun. 10/4, 10/11, 10/18, 10/25 - Oktoberfest Sundays @Stoudt's Brewery, Adamstown, PA (12:00pm-6:00pm; PAYG) Wed. 10/7 - Brewer's Reserve Barrel Tappings (October's selection: Grand Cru) @Triumph, Princeton, NJ (6pm; PAYG) Thu. 10/8 - Yards Beer Tasting and Pizza @Villa Capri, Doylestown, PA (9:00pm; $10) Sat. 10/10 - Wood? Barrel-aged Beer Fest @Union Jack's, Boyertown, PA (all day; PAYG) Thu. 10/15 - Sly Fox Showcase @Tap and Table, Emmaus, PA (3:00pm; PAYG) Thu. 10/15 - Thursday Night Tastings (Great Lakes) @Isaac Newton's, Newtown, PA (7:00pm-9:00pm; PAYG) Sat. 10/17 - 2nd Annual Cask Festival & Pig Roast @Spinnerstown Hotel, Spinnerstown, PA (12:00pm-5:00pm; PAYG) Fri. 10/23 - Jazztoberfest @Tap and Table, Emmaus, PA (5:00pm; PAYG) Wed. 10/28 - Ommegang & Cheese @Craft Ale House, Royersford, PA (PAYG) Fri. 10/30 - Cask Ale Night (October selections: TBD) @General Sutter Inn, Lititz, PA (5:00pm; PAYG) Elsewhere Fri. 10/2-Sat. 10/3 - Cajun, Blues, & Brews @Stewart's Brewing Co., Bear, DE (all day; PAYG) Sat. 10/10-Sun.10/11 - Oktoberfest 2009 @River Horse Brewery, Lambertville, NJ (12:00pm-5:00pm; no cover, PAYG) Sat. 10/10 - Waffles & Puppets @Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY (12:00pm-5:00pm; no admission, PAYG) Events Over $20 Philadelphia Sun. 10/4 - Sippin' by the River @Penn's Landing, Philadelphia, PA (1:00pm-5:00pm; $35/$40) Tue. 10/13 - Oktoberfest Beer Dinner @Monk's Café, Philadelphia, PA (7:00pm; $50) Thu. 10/22 - Cheese 101 @Tria Café, Philadelphia, PA (6:30pm-8:00pm; $45) Wed. 10/28 - Wild for Weyerbacher @Tria Café, Philadelphia, PA (6:30pm-8:00pm; $45) Thu. 10/29 - Left Hand/Terrapin Beer Dinner @Monk's Café, Philadelphia, PA (6:00pm; $TBD) Philadelphia's close suburbs Thu. 10/1 - Sly Fox/Dogfish Head Beer Dinner @The Pour House, Westmont, NJ (7:00pm; $50) Sat. 10/3 - Bucktoberfest @The Buck Hotel, Feasterville, PA (12:00pm-4:00pm; $10/$40/$45) Wed. 10/7 - Victory Beer Dinner @Georges, Wayne, PA (7:00pm; $65) Tue. 10/20 - Fall Beer Dinner @Iron Hill Brewery, North Wales, PA (7:00pm; $50) Wed. 10/21 - Sierra Nevada Beer Dinner @Firecreek, Downingtown, PA (7:00pm; $65) Thu. 10/22 - Lagunitas Beer Dinner @The Pour House, Westmont, NJ (7:00pm; $40) Tue. 10/27 - Harvest Beer Dinner @Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, PA (6:00pm; $50) Greater Philadelphia Metro / Eastern Pennsylvania Sat. 10/3 - Oktoberfest @Isaac Newton's, Newtown, PA (12:00pm-4:00pm; $25) Wed. 10/7 - Meet The Brewer Series Presents…Allagash @Spinnerstown Hotel, Spinnerstown, PA ($40) Thu. 10/8 - Birrificio Pausa Café @Tap and Table, Emmaus, PA (7:00pm; $25) Sat. 10/10 - Kennett Brewfest @Kennett Square, PA (12:00pm-1:30pm, 2:00pm-6:00pm; $10/$35/$60) Fri. 10/16-Sat. 10/17 - Microfest @Stoudt's Brewery, Adamstown, PA ($30, see website for more details) Sat. 10/17 - Lehigh Valley Brewfest @Hugh Moore Park, Easton, PA (12:30pm-2:00pm, 2:00pm-6:00pm; $5/$30/$35/$75) Tue. 10/20 - Gambrinus Beer Dinner @Triumph, Princeton, NJ (7:00pm; $65) Tue. 10/27 - Artisanal Imports Beer Dinner @Tap and Table, Emmaus, PA (details TBD) Elsewhere

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Some Beers just became a little harder to find

Guess what? Even when outlet shopping (yes, I admit) in the shadows of the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant and having dinner at the Craft Ale House afterward, I still managed to find some rabid beer geeks to dine with who were not in the mecca for beer geekery this weekend (that'd be Denver, CO, in case you're not keeping up around here). In any case, some of our bestest friends brought home some serious hardware this weekend as proof of their dogged determination to make the best beer around. Others came up conspicuously empty-handed, but that won't stop us from continuing to tout the greatness of their beer. Without further ado, here's a quick rundown of the 2009 Great American Beer Fest (GABF) stats from a Philadelphia-centric perspective, and then some.... Delaware - Dogfish Head, collect 'em all ---->Gold (Chateau Jiahu); Silver (Palo Santo Marron); and Bronze (Midas Touch) - Iron Hill, one of the winningest all-time at GABF ---->Gold (Schwarzbier-Phoenixville, PA->Tim Stumpf & Matthew Gundrum); Silver (Raspberry Torte-Media->Bob Barrar & Kevin Walter) New Jersey - Flying Fish, pride of the Garden State...and the NJ Turnpike ---->Gold (Exit 4); Bronze (HopFish) Pennsylvania - Erie, yeah that's Pennsylvania too ---->Gold (Railbender Ale) - Fegley's Brew Works, better known as Allentown & Bethlehem Brew Works ---->Silver (BagPiper's Scotch Ale); Bronze (Rude Elf's Reserve) - McKenzie Brew House, after this the second Gold maybe it's time to bury the hatchet? ---->Gold (Saison Vautour) - Nodding Head, again it's still George's Fault...but what about DA Phunk? ---->Silver (George's Fault); Bronze (Phruit Phunk) - Stoudt's, only one but it's one of the right ones ---->Bronze (Kölsch) - Triumph, still bringing it strong ---->Gold (Hefeweizen-New Hope, Brendan Anderson & Kinder Pils-Philadelphia, Patrick Jones) - Tröegs, 'nuff said ---->Gold (Troegenator); Silver (Dead Reckoning Porter); and Bronze (Sunshine Pils) I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of my favorite beers of the last few years, the Rosso e Marrone from Captain Lawrence finishing with a Gold in the American-Style Sour Ale category. Well done. In terms of Multiple locations of Restaurants/Brewpubs - Pizza Port, 6 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze - Rock Bottom, 3 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze - Gordon Biersch, 2 silver, 2 bronze - Iron Hill, 1 gold, 1 silver - Great American Restaurants, 1 gold, 1 bronze - BJ's, 1 silver - Ram Restaurant & Brewery, 1 silver - Pyramid, 2 bronze As far as the non-craft boys go... - Anheuser-Busch brought home a gold, a silver, and a bronze - Coors brought home 2 gold, 3 silver, and the coveted Large Brewing Company and Large Brewing Company Brewer of the Year (if you include The Sand Lot, that'd be an additional gold and two silvers) - Michelob brought home 1 bronze - Miller brought home 1 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze By organization, the only clear-cut run-away winner this year was Pizza Port, no stranger to multiple acceptance speeches - Pizza Port Carlsbad 7 - Miller Brewing Co.6 - Coors Brewing Co. 5 - Chuckanut Brewery 4 - Devil's Backbone Brewing Co. 4 - Flying Dog Brewery Count 4 - Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group 4 And finally, with 38 states represented by at least one medal...total medals by state... Colorado...45 California...39 Oregon...22 Washington...13 Pennsylvania...12

Friday, September 25, 2009

If My Writing Drops on the East Coast, Will it Make a Sound and Will Anyone Notice?

Just when it seems that everyone is off to Denver this week, I and a few other mice are left to hold down the fort back here in southeastern Pennsylvania. Fortunately, the calendar shows at least a few good things to do this week for those of us thirsting for something in the barley and hops area of the beverage world. Last night, it was a gathering of the Usual Suspects that Uncle Jack so kindly slanders in his latest writing. Quite an appealing bunch. The Drafting Room in Exton was hosting The Weyerbachers and they were sliding down easily with Chris Lampe there from the brewery as our tour guide through the 12th, 13th, and 14th anniversary beers...as well as the recently released batch of Riserva which, in my opinion, was not quite packing the same complexity yet as the bottle from the first batch was that I just opened around a week ago. But, still a nice, if not pricey, drink. Tonight included a stop in for a couple of hours at one of Suburban Philly's best beer bars, Teresa's Next Door. Jean Broillet of Iron Hill was there with a firkin to send off his good friend Ryan Witter-Merithew of Duck-Rabbit (North Carolina) who brought his own firkin to share before leaving for Denmark to begin brewing at Fanø Bryghus. (Check back here through this link to see more details about their friendship and their beers.) So, now it's a matter of settling in, reading all those writings about how great Denver is this time of year, and waiting to hear their names read off tomorrow. Can't believe it's been a year since I was last there. Got me reflecting on some of what I wrote last year at this time...you may wish to as well. p.s. If you'd like to read up on what's currently happening in Denver, Jack Curtin (I can't diss him all weekend, hard as I may try) and Jay Brooks will be providing us with the best written word. Over at The Brewing Network, they will have the audio and video covered as well as it's ever been with up-to-the minute live streaming audio and video.

On the Road with The Brew Lounge, Part 5

Closing Out Ebenezer's After passing around the Three Floyds Dark Lord (I carried it around like a '40', doling out samples to anyone who wanted and there was still some left to spare!) and Behemoth, some older Cantillons, the 't Smisje BBBourgondier keg, and whatever else Chris Lively was pulling generously from behind the bar to share openly for one hour after the dinner was over, I retreated with around 15 of the industry's best and brightest. Obviously, it had to be a fluke that I was so graciously invited into "The Cellar" with these fine folks. I passed up some great beers upstairs that continued to be opened for the next hour. Names and vintages like: Carolus D'or 1976; Cantillon Rhubarb; Cantillon Crianza Helena; Petre Devos Oud Bruin 1952; Gueuze De Neve 1982; Drie Fontenien Oude Gueuze 2004 Magnum; Ind Coope & Allsopp Ltd Jubilee Ale 1935. If I wasn't already convinced that Ebenezer's has certainly, in fact, earned its place in consideration for one of the top beer bars in this country, then my eye-popping trip to The Cellar put an underscore, an exclamation point, and a kick in the pants to consider it as such. Chris Lively talks a good game and, by golly, he puts some nice stuff up in bottles and drafts in the bar. But, what is hiding downstairs in The Cellar is beyond compare. Not that I have many beer cellars to compare to. Heck, I haven't even been into Monk's or TJ's cellars. That might have to change. Let's see if I can accurately depict the scenery in The Cellar at Ebenezer's. (I think Chris could market it as such and charge an admission.) On this night close to midnight in The Cellar, the lights were shut off with only twinkle lights hanging and shining from the ceiling. As I made my way from the staircase to the gathering area, I felt like I was in a cornmaze, the kind that is popular in the autumn season. I made my way in between floor-to-ceiling racks filled with some of the most amazing beer that many of us will never see. It was so like a maze, that at one point someone asked if Will Meyers got lost wandering around The Cellar when he didn't return. The collection of beer is so mind-bogglingly staggering that I, the relative novice in the room, was not nearly the only one even semi-amazed. Some of the country's most acclaimed brewers were walking around taking pictures of Lively's stash of the World's Best Beers. I can't comment much on the way the next few hours went. It was filled with industry insider commentary, gossip, jokes, and good times. Nothing that needs to be nor should be shared here. But it was also filled with a recounting of the evening. As beers like a King's Ale Barleywine from Bass, circa 1902, was being passed around, the love that Lively showed for the brewers, their craft, their attendance, and their passion was equally returned by the brewers who showed just as much appreciation for the work that Lively does to showcase their talents. And, as the Drie Fontenein was being passed around....and the.... You get the picture. Eventually, the evening had to come to a close. As much as the sleeping in the back of our Passat Wagon didn't quite work the way we had planned, it wasn't apparently quite as bad as a particular brewer had it sleeping in his rented Prius. Yikes. The evening continued on until some unspecified time in the wee hours in Ebenezer's backyard with an unspecified number of even more high quality beers being shared by the folks who had set up camp and lit up the campfire. We took off in the morning long before anyone else was awake. I read somewhere that Will Meyers conducted a hair of the dog (not to be confused with the brewery by the same name) tasting in the morning that Chris Lively and others joined in to continue the official start of Belgian Beer Festival 2009 in to Day Two. Moving On, we must While I thought that Ebenezer's and the Belgian Beer Feast would be the high point of the trip (and it really was indeed), I had only a bit of an idea of what awaited us in Burlington, Vermont. Leaving early from Lovell, Maine, we arrived in Burlington before noon. So early, that we decided to detour to Ben & Jerry's just a mile or so off the interstate for a quick walk around the property and taste of ice cream. That was fun and it turns out that the ice cream capital is only a few minutes from the highly-touted Alchemist in Waterbury, VT. But, it's still unfortunately close to 30 minutes from downtown Burlington, so we never returned to The Alchemist. We never returned because what we found in Burlington was sheer delight. We'd only planned on staying one night and then heading south for one night in either Lake Placid, Lake George, or somewhere else along the way back home. See if you can guess the right answer to this question. We ended up staying two nights in Burlington because: a) the people; b) the Lake Champlain influence on outdoor activities; c) the choice of good eats and drinks; d) the Saturday morning farmers market; e) we were tired and felt the need to relax for more than one night in the same hotel; f) the hotel had a pool and whirlpool; g) all of the above. Yeah, it was all that. Burlington, VT is beautiful in so many ways I could tell you about my run around Lake Champlain (well, not really all the way around)...but, you're not here for that. I could share with you stories about the downtown window shopping and farmers market on Saturday morning. You might be kind of interested in that, but then you'd get anxious wondering about the beer scene. Then, I'd begin to share with you our exbeeriences at American Flatbread and Vermont Pub & Brewery, and I'd leave you drooling for more. So, that's where I'll spend most of time here. We had such a great time with the downtown Burlington experience that we skipped any trip out east to The Alchemist or south to Magic Hat. On the other hand, this allowed us to focus on all that was good in Burlington and get some more much-needed relaxation. Of course, I got out for a great run along the banks of Lake Champlain. Vermont may not be quite as fitness-minded as other areas, but there is a huge emphasis on the outdoors and being a part of it. I think the lake has something to do with it. The University being right there in the heart of the city doesn't hurt either. American Flatbread, a visit years in the making After taking in some outdoor fitness and strolling the excellent outdoor farmers market in the town square, Patty and I returned to where we'd spent a couple of hours the evening prior. Come to think of it, it would have been extremely easy to spend our entire visit at American Flatbread (aka Burlington Hearth) if such a thing were possible. Not only did it remind me of Earth Bread + Brewery in Philadelphia, the owner and a couple of staff had just been to their friend Tom Baker's new brewpub in West Mt. Airy a few months back. Good people, like Tom, they are indeed. No wonder we loved spending our evening and our afternoon here. Okay, I'd be exaggerating if I said we spent all afternoon or all evening there, but definitely long enough to try most of their house-brewed beers and a couple visiting taps as well. I'd met Paul Sayler a few BCTCs ago at Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY. I was struck by his passion for food and for the filled growlers of spectacular beer that he was walking around and sharing during the Friday evening "session." (this was before the days of VIP dinners at BCTC.) After meeting Paul, I swore that American Flatbread would be at the top of my list the next time I was in Vermont; it felt like something truly special going on there. And, I certainly was not disappointed. Only disappointed that Paul is currently working out in Portland, OR readying the next installment of the American Flatbread vision. We spent about half of our time in American Flatbread on Friday evening and the other half during late Saturday afternoon. Both times were great for different reasons. When we arrived during the peak of Friday night dinner crowd, there was a wait of close to an hour for tables. Regulars at the bar said that this was not unusual. Plus, with college students starting to come back to school with their parents, the crush in local restaurants and bars was even greater than usual. We wound up with two perfect catbird seats at the end of the bar with a perfect view of the remainder of the bar and much of the restaurant. Even in the thick of the mayhem, our service at the bar for both food and beer was friendly and prompt. The aromas of fresh baking bread and assorted toppings made us hungry from the minute we walked through the front door. It didn't get any easier to resist as we waited for our flatbread (can we call it pizza?) to arrive. While we waited, we worked our way through a variety of Zero Gravity (that's the official branding name for the brewery operations) beers. Ranging from a Kölsch to a Blue Belle (yup, you guessed it, with a nice hint of blueberry) to a Brown, an ESB, and a Vienna Lager, a wide spectrum of beer tastes are covered...and done very well. I was only too disappointed, though, to hear that the Chinooker'd Session IPA had just kicked in the afternoon. That would have been one that would have perfected the visit. American Flatbread is very good also about representing and promoting other local breweries as well as locally-sourced and "sustainably-produced" food in the kitchen. Just a quick run down the list of beers is enough proof of that. During our time spent on Saturday afternoon after the farmers market, we were able to experience AF at a much different pace. With only a dozen or so other patrons, we were able to casually spread out (in the same bar seats, I might add...creatures of habit?) and talk at ease with others at the bar and the bartender as well. Oh, and speaking of chatting with the bartender, it reminds me of a great way to get that whole thing started. I wasn't even in my barstool yet when the bartender asked me how I was affiliated with Yards Brewery, the t-shirt of whose I was wearing. Now, this doesn't necessarily apply to every beer type of t-shirt, like one of Homer Simpson drinking a stein of beer. But, wear one from a recognizable brewery (or maybe a not-so-recognizable) and it's sure to get you somewhere, if nowhere other than in some good conversation about the industry we all care so much about. There's more than one good beer gig in town The only shame of spending so much time in AF was that we only spent an hour or so at Vermont Pub & Brewery. Admittedly, going into our Burlington stopover, I had no idea that Vermont would impress in the way that it did. We were able to settle in to a couple of front-and-center barstools at VP&B for an hour before we headed over to AF on Friday evening. The thought being that we'd have a couple of the more interesting looking beers on the menu with a small plate of food. Little did I realize that they would have so many good-looking beers on the menu. A Flemish Sour Red with Brett? yup. Sour-Mashed Wheat? Yes, please! Oak-aged Framboise? sounds awesome, and it was. A nice solid Bitter? Nicely done. A Belgian Trippel and an herbally/spicy ale (Ambergris) rounded things out so nicely. So, it was a sampler platter of beers, plus one tall one that I proclaimed big-boy-glass-worthy (that happened to be the ESB) along with what turned out to also be an exceedingly better-than-expectations sampler platter of cheese. And, it wasn't just your average Vermont Cheddar on the plate. With some simple saltines and apple, the six seasonally-appropriate cheeses made for just the perfect small plate of food that we were looking for...and, better still, the perfect beer and food pairing. The service, like the food and beer, was near perfect. As seemingly with every other place in town, VP&B was also teeming with crowds of tourists, college kids, and their parents. Yet, the two bartenders were tag-teaming the bar crowd and efficiently doling out both friendly and service...and both together. We finished on a short conversation about one of the bartender's upcoming Burning Man excursions. This now makes way too many friends and casual acquaintances that we know who have been to this dalliance in the desert. And that, really honestly, is a wrap I could go on and on (as I'm sometimes (really? sometimes?!) wont to do) about just how much we enjoyed Burlington, VT. As I mentioned earlier on, we were only due to stay one evening, but felt were enjoying ourselves so much that we stayed a second. It made for a longer ride home on Sunday, but it really didn't matter. So after a nice Italian dinner at Trattoria Delia on Saturday evening and a few more beers at American Flatbread, we called it a night and got rested up for an early Sunday morning ride home. Before we called it a trip in Burlington, we hit up the City Market, a locally-owned co-op, for some local beer to take home with us. This included Trout River, McNeill's, and Dieu du Ciel. Now, I just need to find some friends to share this all with. Hm, where can I find me some of these beer friends? Must be some around here somewhere! The day's drive home was the rainiest of our trip, but we really didn't care. This New England trip pushed itself to the top of our most enjoyable driving trips ever. Thanks to everyone along the way who helped to make it so.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Weekly Beer Calendar Update: September 24th-September 30th

If you aren't going to Denver for the 27th annual Great American Beer Festival, then here are some equally worthy things to be checking out from our award-winning breweries in the Philly region. By the way, all you beer ambassadors and promoters out there...Philly's looking a bit underrep'ed on this list; got anything more for us? Send it my way and I'll share. Check out the entire September 2009 calendar over here. Some tastings, some free, some PAYG @Beer Yard, Wayne, PA--- Fri. 9/25 - Friday Night Tasting (5:00pm-7:00pm; Free tasting samples of Rye Pale Ale, India Style Brown Ale, and SunRay Wheat) @Capone's, Norristown, PA--- Thu. 9/24 - German Beer Tasting (6:30pm-9:30pm; Free tasting samples of Ayinger Brau Weiss & Märzen, free giveaways too) @Drafting Room, Exton, PA--- Thu. 9/24 - Weyerbacher Brewing Promotional Night (6:00pm; PAYG for Weyerbacher Twelve, Weyerbacher Thirteen, Weyerbacher Fourteen plus five ounce pours available of the new batch of Riserva) @General Sutter Inn, Lititz, PA--- Fri. 9/25 - Cask Ale Night (September selections: Lancaster Brewing: Hop Hog, Shoe Fly Porter, Amish Four Grain) (5:00pm; PAYG) @Isaac Newton's, Newtown, PA--- Thu. 9/24 - Thursday Night Tastings (Stoudt's) (7:30pm-9:30pm; free sample tasting plus giving away free stuff) @Old Eagle Tavern, Philadelphia, PA--- Thu. 9/24 - Philly Brewing Pin Night (7:00pm; PAYG for a pin of Joe Porter and BiBerry on draft) @Tap and Table, Emmaus, PA--- Thu. 9/24 - Tomme Arthur Tapping...and More?! (3:00pm; PAYG for tappings of four Tomme Arthur beers and more! Lost Abbey 10 Commandments, Lost Abbey Devotion, Port Hop 15, Port Wipe Out, and...Trou du Diable Weizengripp and others....more to come) Special rare tastings @Teresa's Next Door, Wayne, PA--- Fri. 9/25 - Firkins of Duck-Rabbit and Iron Hill (PAYG for Beer Yard Hop Pale Ale From Iron Hill And A Barrel Aged Sour Porter With Tart Cherries From Duck Rabbit) Just a few more Oktoberfests to go @Brauhaus Schmitz, Philadelphia, PA--- thru 9/26 - Oktoberfest Week continues (PAYG for Authentic Bavarian Menu and Draft specials, special events, contests, and promotions all week long, capped by 1st Annual Oktoberfest Celebration on the 26th) @Devil's Den, Philadelphia, PA--- Fri. 9/25-Sun. 9/27 - Oktoberfest (PAYG and get German beer & food specials all weekend long) @Ortino's Northside, Zieglerville, PA--- Sat. 9/26 - Oktoberfest (call for details) @Stoudt's Brewery, Adamstown, PA--- Sat. 9/26-Sun. 9/27 - Oktoberfest (see website for details) Food and Beer events @Isaac Newton's, Newtown, PA--- Sat. 9/26 - Lunch with Lew Bryson (12:00pm-1:30pm; $30 covers beer selections of Meantime IPA; Stone IPA; Sly Fox Rt 113 IPA; Yards Cape Of Good Hope IPA; Green Flash West Coast IPA; Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA; paired with a lunch menu of Spicy Jerk Chicken Sandwich Served With An Arugula Salad Topped With Red Onions, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Crumbled Bleu Chesse, Caramelized Walnuts, Dried Fruit, and A Cracked Pepper Oil) A little beer and fitness brought to you by like-minded folks at Victory @Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, PA--- Sun. 9/27 - Bike Fresh, Bike Local (choose from 25, 50, 75 mile route ($35/$40; see website for more details) And, finally, the granddaddy of all beer events kicks off today in Colorado @Colorado Convention Center, Denver, CO--- Thu. 9/24-Sat. 9/26 - Great American Beer Festival (see website for details)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reasons to Click the Ad Links

You may have noticed a shiny new ad over there on the right. No, not the Amazon...or the Goog--, ahem, rhymes with Leinenkugel. We'll get to them later. This one's much more valuable for both you...and me. The BYO Magazine ad. Google ads aren't what they used to be and I was approached by BYO Magazine to put up a link, whereby you get a deal on home delivery of the magazine and I get a cut. As I've said before, I'll never ask directly for donations from you, but indirectly...that's a different story. I'm not big on littering my site with ads and whatnot, but, this is a great magazine. Winners all around. Here are 3 reasons why you'd want to click that valuable BYO link over there on the top right of the sidebar. because... --- you need a really great source of homebrewing information and recipes --- the magazine subscription makes really great gifts for the homebrewer friend or family member in your life...yup, plural: gifts --- you really enjoy The Brew Lounge and want to help support it, but the owner doesn't take direct contributions

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Guide to Drinking Great Beer in Portland, Lovell, and Burlington

If you stop in here at The Brew Lounge often enough, you may have caught writings last week of a recent trip to New England with the Ebenezer Belgian Beer Festival's dinner with The Home Brew Chef, Sean Paxton at the cornerstone of this trip. There's was, how shall I say, lots of writing. And, I spilled it out to you over 6 days. From looking at the website logs of visitor activity, it seems that some of you kept up day in and day out, but more are still hitting each day's installments and catching up. So how about a handy index to refer back to? It's the least I can do for you loyal visitors. Part I: Into Massachusetts & Portland, Maine (Great Lost Bear, Gritty's, Bull Feeney's, Local 188) ~ Part I & II Pictures Part II: Portland, Maine and Getting Closer to Ebenezer's in Lovell, Maine (Allagash and assorted Portland material) Part III: Background on Ebenezer's, The Home Brew Chef, and the Beer Dinner ~ Part III Pictures Part IVa: Sean Paxton's & Chris Lively's Belgian Beer Dinner, first 6 courses or thereabouts ~ Part IV Pictures Part IVb: The Belgian Beer Dinner, second 6 courses and segue to After Party Part V: Ebenezer's After Party, Moving on to Burlington, Vermont and Home, Wrap-up ~ Part V Pictures

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Duck Rabbit, Iron Hill, and Terrapin. Special Beers All in One Special Night?

I see myself in Wayne, PA this coming Friday. If all goes well, I'll swing into Mr. Matt Guyer's Beer Yard for a few tasting samples of recently arrived (legally in PA, at least) Terrapin Beer from Athens, GA. Then, I'll head over and up the street to Teresa's Next Door. This will cause me to miss yet another General Sutter Friday cask session (something I say all too often), but I think this will be worth it. Two firkins in Wayne, read on. Jean Broillet, brewer at Iron Hill's West Chester location, has teamed up with his buddy Ryan Witter-Merithew to bring a couple of not-your-typical firkins to TND on Friday night. Ryan is the soon-to-be former assistant brewer at The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, NC. He's leaving the States and joining the Fanø Bryghus in Denmark. This is a newer brewery (making a go of it since 2006) that has the likes of Anders Kissmeyer (Nørrebro Bryghus) behind it. Jean will be featuring the Beer Yard Hop Pale Ale from Iron Hill (hops from the hop yard behind the beer yard) and Ryan will be supplying a Barrel-aged Sour Porter with tart cherries from Duck-Rabbit. I asked Jean for more details about this sendoff party for Ryan. Jean replied back with more than I bargained for and, to tell the truth, after my New England multi-part series (there's still one more part waiting for you in tomorrow's edition), I'm out of creativity for this week. So, Jean, take it away....
I met Ryan while brewing at Weyerbacher. He distributed my beer while working with Tanszos Beverages. Since that time, we have been best friends; utilizing any off time from work to brew beers that we thought would be enjoyable. Some of our favorite beers brewed together involved long fermentations with lactobacillus, brettanomyces, and pediococcus. Since then, Ryan and I have moved on to different breweries and different states. I took up residence at Iron Hill, in West Chester, Pa and Ryan at Duck-Rabbit, in Farmville, NC. I fell in love with fresh hop beers in the 2007 season, after establishing a small hop farm in New Paltz, NY. This year, I filled 7 firkins with wet hops, one of these (with fresh hops from the Beer Yard) will be poured at Teresa's on the 25th. Ryan began barrel-aging his porter in oak with various microbes and cherry purée around seven months ago. The end result was just two firkins filled with a funky Flanders blackish ale. One of these unique firkins will be poured at Teresa's on the 25th. Ryan recently took a job brewing in Copenhagen. Before he leaves, Ryan and I will be brewing a collaborative brew on my system in West Chester. It will be a Red rye Super Saison named Rode. Please join me in wishing him a fond farewell on one of his last nights in the states. He is a great friend and a talented brewer; he will be missed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sierra Nevada from Bucks County to Chester County

Have you seen the new Belgian Trippel from Sierra Nevada around town yet? If not, you should be soon; it just hit the Philly market last week, according to regional sales rep Patrick Mullin. Patrick dropped details for a couple of other Sierra Nevada events in my inbox and they look worthy of sharing with you. If you've never seen Patrick present during a beer dinner, either of these would be good opportunities. And, even though it's not yet on the calendar, it's worth mentioning that Mr. Mullin will be returning to the place of his former employ in Chester County. Drafting Room proprietor, Howard Weintraub, has recently returned from the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp. The beer that he helped to craft will be arriving at The Drafting Room in Exton sometime within the next month. Howard and Patrick will be planning a dinner event there at the restaurant when that time comes. Stay tuned. In the meantime: Wednesday, September 23rd @ The Buck Hotel in Feasterville, PA 7:00pm; $45 includes meal, beer, tax, and tip ~ Course 1: Chef’s Choice hors d'oeuvres with Sierra Nevada Belgian Trippel ~ Course 2: California Artisan Flatbread Pizza (Artichokes, Brie Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers) with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale ~ Course 3: Shrimp and Crab Salad, Avocado, Pistachios, Mango, Lemon Vinaigrette with Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen ~ Course 4: Bacon wrapped Achiote marinated Filet Mignon, Smoked Tomato and Blue Cheese Risotto Croquette with Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale ~ Course 5: Mexican Chocolate Brownie with Cinnamon Chipotle Gelato with Sierra Nevada Porter Wednesday, October 21st @ Firecreek Restaurant in Downingtown, PA 7:00pm; $65 ~ Course 1: Duo of fresh west coast oysters with a fuji apple mignonette paired with a potato bacon bisque with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale ~ Course 2: Pumpkin and Sonoma goat cheese tart with toasted pecans and a roasted duck jus with Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen ~ Course 3: San Francisco style cioppino with muscles, shrimp, clams, and scallops served with a creamy parmesan toast with Sierra Nevada Harvest Wet Hop Ale ~ Course 4: Potato wrapped boneless short rib with a cauliflower–havarti puree, crispy onions strings, and a braising liquid reduction with Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA ~ Course 5: Dark chocolate tart with a whipped marshmallow and caramel drizzle with Sierra Nevada Stout

On the Road with The Brew Lounge, Part 4b

Go back to Part 4a
Speaking of Vagabonds Sean Paxton gets around, literally. Whether cooking on one coast or another, running GABF cooking demonstrations (as he's doing in 2009), or helping to get a new restaurant off the ground (he's the Executive Chef at Lion's Pride in Brunswick, Maine) he runs himself on what seems like a spare tank of gas some times. Fortunately, he's one of those kind of guys that only needs a few hours of sleep in a night...or a day...or whenever sleep comes. But this means that he's often using someone else's kitchen and working with staff, some of whom he would never have met before beginning the evening's work. So what is most challenging about that? Logistics and kitchen layout for starters. Take, for example, Ebenezer's. Not exactly the kitchen most conducive to this kind of dinner. Working with the staff under these kind of conditions can present challenges that no one really wants to deal with, but in the end, must. I constantly heard people complimenting Sean on his calm and the ease at which he appeared to be working the dinner. On the inside, much to the contrary he says. Inside he's a basket case, but won't allow that to show on the outside. "If something goes wrong and I point a finger in the kitchen, yell, or otherwise make a co-worker feel small and embarrassed, that trickles from the back of the house to the front of the house and the diners will likely notice", Paxton said. "When something breaks down, it's not about how screwed up it is, it's about how can we work to fix it... make it a learning experience..." He truly believes that this can work in most kitchens, even in the heat of the moment. When talking about the dramatic scenes played out on reality TV shows, Paxton weighs in with "People who do a lot of throwing, yelling, making messes can be chalked up as some form of entertainment", Paxton commented, "but what are they really teaching the viewer...what's being learned about the culinary world?" Sourcing locally is an issue as well. Paxton strongly urges chefs to take it as a responsibility to locally source as much of the ingredients in their kitchen as possible. Chefs, he says, should become familiar with local food, concepts, and traditions and use them to their advantage. Sometimes this means more cost. But, to believe in food means to taste the food, really taste it. Many times making the connection between local food and local taste is the key to pulling this off. Of course, things don't always work out as planned, especially as he attempts to manage a life both personally and professionally on two coasts. Sourcing local duck livers? Sean didn't give this a second thought as a potential risk point, but it became one that he needed to work around. Cheeses? Well, what he wanted was not available at the last minute so, plan B. Unseen, untested, untasted beers? Very big risk as well; though in his estimation there were no failures in the pairing department. The bottles of Vagabond from Allagash? Not ready, so they filled a 6 liter bottle and made it work. Strange Meat? Great pairing Then we moved on to one of the more debatable courses of the evening. The buzz even before the dinner began was the Bison Tongue. "Put your tongue back in your mouth" was just one of the jokes being made around the dinner tables. This was one plate that I saw more returned of than any other dish. But, as one fellow table mate said, "I paid $250 for this dinner, I'm at least trying it!" Now, that's the spirit. And, as most of our mothers have said, "How do you know you don't like it if you don't try it?" Here's my take on it. What's in a hamburger? How about a hot dog? Scrapple, liverwurst....shall I go on? You do know where I'm going with this, right? Nobody can say exactly what's in any of these "meats". In most cases, it a mixture of multiple parts from multiple animals. Face it, it ain't exactly appetizing when you get right down to it. Tasty? Sure, perhaps, but... The bison's tongue. One tongue. An exclusively identifiable part of the animal's body. Let's break this down. Paxton shared the approach to the dish with me to share with you. I found it intriguing and thought you would as well. These are the short notes I captured as he rattled off the process. - Soak the meat in cold water for about 5 hours, changing water every hour, to remove blood. - Grind spices to make a seasoned salt from 1/2 dozen or so spices - Coat well the tongue, vacuum seal and keep for 4 days - This opens the pores, extracts excess moisture, tenderizes - Cook at 180F for 24 hours to break down gelatin and tough parts - Chop and mix with pork belly What this turned into was another fine pairing. The alternating spiciness, sweetness, and saltiness of the meat and its accompaniments (leeks, shallots, figs) went all too well with the St. Bernardus Abt 12 (like the Val Dieu, it was served from a 6-liter bottle), reminding me of how much I enjoy this same beer with a solid plate of barbecue. While not one of the more "exotic" beers on the menu, it's one of the most dependable year-in and year-out beers, especially for pairing with food. What Stinks? Don't worry, it's only the cheese that stinks. The cheeses were great, but what really stood out for me on the plate was the wort honey (made with Sean's collaboration beer with Matt Brynildson at Firestone Walker) and the berry compote. Dragging the bleu cheese through the honey and chasing it with the Orval beer made for incredible cheese course. I've asked Sean to recreate this wort honey and keep some aside for me! Also accompanying this course was to be "Tomme's Special Surprise" which must have been a surprise to customs, because apparently that's where it was at the time of the dinner. Instead, we had some more De Ranke, which is never a bad thing, though in this case it played second fiddle with the cheese course to the Orval, which with many cheeses is a slam-dunk. Is the 10th course the proper time for a palate cleanse? I still don't know what Sexy Time is, but that was the name of the course and it meant that Sean was bringing sexy back. Where it was, I have no idea. But...a little sweet sorbet at this point, made with $10 worth of beer per serving, was just what the palate needed. I don't know much about sorbet except for the palate cleansing role that it's supposed to play and that I usually enjoy it and finish it before I know what really hit me. That was the case here, but not before I felt refreshed and ready to conquer dessert. Coasting to a Nightcap? Just as you see these paragraphs getting shorter here, I was beginning to suffer from a bit of table fatigue by the 11th course. The dining room (aka screened-in porch just off the 2nd hole of the golf course) was just a bit too tight for someone of my size sitting on the leg of the table. And, I was pinched in between my wife (whose leg I was permitted to rub up against) and another lady (whose leg I was, obviously, not permitted to) while I sat on the 14-inch aisle and was bumped into each and every time someone walked behind me. I knew I wouldn't make it through the entire review of the dinner here without mentioning the logistics of seating 115 people in a screened-in porch and serving them 12 courses of food and drink over 6 hours. I was up and out of my seat after the second course and did so again at least 6, 7, or maybe 8 more times before the dinner was over. This was one reason, though, that I was fortunate to sit on the aisle; I could easily get up and out. But, not so easy was it for the poor souls who had to sit against either the inside or outside walls of the room. When one lady at our table needed to finally get out to use the restroom, three at our table and two at the next table needed to move to allow her to get out. As she said, "I didn't pay $250 to have to crawl under the table and have my plates passed to me by other attendees like I was at a baseball game." I can't say that I disagree. Let's get back to courses 11 and 12. The panna cotta didn't hold up to form so well. Was it the higher alcohol level that didn't allow to set? Was it the weather? Don't know; I didn't ask. It sure was tasty, but was a slightly-formed slippery texture of panna cotta whose memorable part of the course was the Saucerful of Secrets beer that I've had twice before but don't recall having been struck by its fruity nature before; maybe it was the dark chocolate in the 12th course helping to bring that characteristic out. Now I know what others have raved about. On the 12th Course of Beer Dinner...Sean gave to us... ...one of the best beer pairings known to beer dinners: Chocolate and more great beer from Firestone Walker. This time it was the coveted anniversary beer, the 12th in this case, blended a bit more with Russian Imperial Stout, Parabola, and Saucerful of Secrets to make 12 point 5, or XII.V (get it?) Or mabye the 5 represented the number of gallons in existence of this beer. Yes, this was only a five gallon batch of XII.V that was fermented in oak and then aged. Therefore this was the one-time/one-place the beer that goes so perfectly with a decadent chocolate dessert could be found. That was, simply, nice and satisfying. I could have cleaned up anyone's chocolate left behind on their table. In fact, I tried. I, like some others began to finish this course standing up, having sat plenty long enough at this point. Problem was, most others finished their chocolate as well. Between these decadent chocolate truffles and the dark Belgian Chocolate Biere Brittle, I could forgive the pork belly fat cookies...still to this day, the only part of the dinner that I truly could not figure out. What do we leave with? This is one question that Sean attempts to help us answer. He doesn't attempt to outdo himself at each dinner, making the next one bigger, better, more of this or that. Instead, he fervently believes (this seems like common sense, but is it?) that not enough people are eating well enough. Therefore, he wishes to give his dining friends "a gift" of trying something new, perhaps prepared in a different way than in the past...hoping to connect the diner with what food is, what food can be. Another of his primary missions is to help showcase and promote beer at least as sophisticated as wine and to demonstrate that it has every right, in many cases more, being on a culinary menu. He used an example, close to home for him to illustrate this point. How many pages of wine are on the menu at French Laundry? And how many beers? Only 8 beers? Most times (as we all know) beer is the more pairworthy beverage with a piece of food than is wine. This is a message that he feels he must get out and he's doing everything he can to support that mission. Where does Sean Paxton go from here? Here's a guy who cooks for small groups, large groups, in demonstrations, and in restaurants. He's only 36 so there's lots of potential still, right? So what's next? I couldn't tell if he really does float with the wind or if he was being guarded. He certainly exudes an appreciation of what it has taken to get to where he is now. He claims to really not do much long-view planning, and does not sound like a man who is necessarily looking for a get-rich quick type of fame or celebrity. When he said that Charlie Papazian complimented him on his pork being the "best that's ever passed his lips" and how that was worth more to him and opens more opportunities than a one-day payday, I believed him. What's more immediate for Paxton is the Great American Beer Festival where he'll be sharing the stage with some of the craft brewing industries leading brewers, like Barnaby Struve (Three Floyds), Matt Brynildson (Firestone Walker) to discuss using malty and hoppy beer flavors in cooking...and Ron Jeffries (Jolly Pumpkin) and Will Meyers (Cambridge Brewing) to discuss using sour Belgian beer flavors in cooking. Sean's a talented guy. If for some reason the work in the kitchen falls by the wayside, he has other hobbies that he's not only passionate about, but also very good at. Photography, gardening, woodworking, and writing all hold his interest and could make him very happy if the apron ever got too messy. But, that feels like a distant possibility and until then, I'd recommend anyone take in a dinner where Sean Paxton, The Home Brew Chef, is in charge of the kitchen.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On the Road with The Brew Lounge, Part 4a

Just a Bit more Background, I promise Sean Paxton, 36, hails from Sonoma, California and takes a lot of inspiration and motivation from his local French Laundry's legendary Thomas Keller. He cites Keller's technique with and understanding of flavor components and (importantly) keeping the whole kitchen experience fun by injecting humor and lightheartedness as qualities that he attempts to emulate. Sean is self-taught in the culinary world. The learning goes all the way back to when he was helping to cook in the kitchen at the tender age of 5. His first batch of homebrew was with dad at age 16 and it's been on to bigger and better things ever since. He and Chris Lively first talked via Skype after only having chatted online (in text, that is). Their passions for great food and beer and the integration of the two quickly became obvious and led to the dinner extravaganza in 2008 to kick off Lively's annual Belgian Beer Festival at Ebenezer's. It was such a hit and created such a buzz in the beer (and food) world that they planned to do it again. It didn't hurt the buzz that Paxton has also delivered staggering dinners at the likes of Toronado and for the National Homebrewers Conference. As extraordinary as those dinners were, they may have paled in comparison to the dinner event that took place during a Stanford football game for an alumni group of close to 5000 people that Paxton once served. Paxton began planning the 2009 dinner almost as soon as he arrived home from 2008's. The conceptualization of the menu began with an R&D trip to Belgium (where he found the halibut he wanted to incorporate into the dinner). After a half dozen rewrites, countless hours of recipe research and fine tuning, and even 40 hours of menu design alone, the dinner was ready to go. Sean arrived in Maine almost a week early to begin with the sous vide approach to preparation. I've never worked on Sean's side of the restaurant operations, so I won't even begin to attempt to explain this approach other than to say that it involves taking the food preparation to a certain point, and then vacuum sealing for a number of days until ready to finish the preparation. I can certainly see how it makes a dinner of this magnitude much easier to tackle in the kitchen. That's a bit of background on Sean. Let's get into the first couple of courses here and then I'll come back to more about Sean, Ebenezer's, and the evening as it unfolded. If you want to see the entire menu, instead of printing again here, I'll refer you to a picture of it that I posted prior to the dinner. After getting a sneak preview copy of the menu a couple of weeks ahead of time, there were certain things that drew my eyes and appetite right in to. Of course, dessert (the dessert, or shall I say, the two courses of dessert) was very, very high on my list. But, patience grasshopper, that's still at least 5 hours away! Course Number One, the beginning Duck Rillettes (think: pâté), Duck Liver Mousse, and an Oud Bruin mustard served with assorted crackers and breads sat along side what it sounded like was Sean's pride of the platter, the Halibut. Sean discovered the halibut during a trip to Brugge last year during one of those "R&D trips" that I described earlier. The research paid off. This was a great way to start the dinner, teasing the palate with the rich and smooth fattiness of the duck and the succulent halibut while being offset and cut through by the tartness of the Hanssens Oude Kriek from, oh, 1978. The staff also slid an '08 version of the Kriek next to the '78 for us to compare. While the '08 had a nice snappy tartness to it, the '78 had a greater complexity with more layers of sour, tart, funk. Not bad what a "little" age can do for a lambic. Belgian Beer Dinner 2009, we have arrived! Sean Paxton, the hombrewing multi-tasking chef Let's see now. Sean was the mastermind behind the dinner, co-conspirator in the beer pairings, along with a dozen other things that he has on his proverbial plate. So, it should figure that I wasn't surprised to see him come out to introduce the dinner at the beginning of the evening. And, then the second course, the third....yes, every course throughout the evening. Paxton even had time to squeeze in a couple bites of food here and there. And take pictures of it. And pictures of people. He expedited dishes tableside (of course, he had plenty of help from the kitchen and waitstaff, lest I get in hot water for neglecting to say as much), and moved from table to table as if he was at his own wedding reception making sure that each guest was greeted and made to feel comfortable, asking for feedback at every table. This is not necessarily uncommon at hosted, fixed-price, timed dinners. But, Sean took it to another level, taking great care to introduce the food, introduce the paired beer's brewer (if there in attendance), and talk to the guests at a point somewhere between his level and ours. There are certainly some beer dinners whose hosts I know could/should take a page from this book. Sean's approach to the dinners he prepares will vary a bit from event to event. He certainly does not look at it as an "ego thing". He takes it more as a challenge to understand the diners and to try to satisfy a large group of people from all walks of life. Therefore, size doesn't really matter; it could be a group of 10 at his house or 115 at Ebenezer's. He asks himself: Have they been challenged? Not in an aggressive way, but in a good and not overwhelming way? More importantly, are they walking away satisfied? As a result, the pacing, flavors, and approach will vary from one dinner to the next. To him, this is all just part of his natural approach to dinner planning. Dinner from the Sea The next three courses focused on the sea. First, Day Boat Scallops paired with 1990 Duvel. Then, Russian River's Damnation Batch 23 paired with Roasted Eel. The fourth course featured a favorite of mine, Waterzooi, paired with the Val Dieu Triple. Again, what doesn't Sean do during a dinner? As I mentioned in finishing dishes tableside, Sean dusted each diner's plate of scallops with a bit of fennel pollen for just a touch of sweetness, and just a touch of spiciness. I say just a bit, because the fennel had a robust aroma that was detectable from the next table over. A nice touch, indeed, to provide the tableside service. The scallop dish and Duvel was quite a wide range of flavors. The beer was sweet, actually quite sweet and moreso than I might have guessed. But, after almost twenty years in the bottle, it's understandable that the sweetness is what remains. In the dish of scallops and endive, were there parsnips in there or was it the endive that added a rather earthy flavor to the dish? In any case, the fennel came along and provided a nice contrast in flavors to both the earthniess and the beer's sweetness. An interesting dish and pairing, though not nearly my favorite of the evening. The eel and Damnation, to this point of the dinner, stole the show for pairings. Of course, it was only the third course, so perhaps this wasn't the greatest test. The roasted flavor of the eel, the bitter/earthy flavor from the De Ranke XX bitter puree, and the wood and alcohol from the 10.5% abv Damnation (remember, this is the special 'Batch 23' version) made for a near flawlessly executed pairing. Speaking of tableside service, the waterzooi was finished tableside as well with the creamy and spicy broth being poured to drown the tender morsels of lobster, crayfish, and mussels. Near perfection when paired with the Triple. Though while the food was enhanced by the beer, I didn't think it was the best pairing, since the beer got lost a bit in the creaminess of the waterzooi dish. To tell the truth, I enjoyed the pairing even better when I substituted in a St. Feuillien Triple that I picked up from the bar inside; it seem to cut more cleanly through the stew's creamy broth. Plus, the St. Feuillien lasted another four or five courses for me. (See, I told you I always need a little something of beer on the table to be sipping on throughout the dinner; so, I made it happen.) What's in a Pairing? I frankly don't know how it's done. But, then again, I've only taken up food as a hobby in my own kitchen, never really pushing myself to understand food chemistry anywhere near to the point that Sean has done. I mentioned early on that he has no formal schooling in food preparation; he is self-taught...which boggles me even more so. When asked whether he believes keen senses or an understanding of food chemistry is more important to his success, he sure doesn't discredit senses but believes that a firm level of understanding food chemistry is more important. To support that belief, first, he understands that everyone's palate is different. No two people will taste the same thing in exactly the same way. The trick for Sean begins with an exercise in understanding base flavors. Then, it turns into a challenge of how to take flavor components and make them both complement and build upon each other. For example, Rodenbach Grand Cru will work so well in pickling cherries (as they did in the Foie Gras course) but, if attempted to use in a Crème Brûlée, will curdle the cream. In marathon dinner events like this one, it becomes even more challenging in upholding another of his beliefs---the need to minimize the replication of flavors and concepts throughout the dinner. Paxton is aware of diner fatigue and especially considers this when planning longer format meals such as this one. Therefore it becomes even more of a science to overlay flavors and textures from one course to the next. Understanding the connection between the various ingredients so that he knows the complimentary and interchangeable parts is a key to this science. Tender is the Word No matter the position you take on the Foie Gras delicacy, it's extremely difficult to argue the bubbly delicacy that DeuS is (2006 in this case) could go much better with anything else. The melt in your mouth, fattened livers (sorry, I know that won't sit well with some of you), the tart cherries, the crispy brioche, and the palate popping Deus made for a memorable course. More tender meat? Yes, please. The tender, succulent meat falling off the duck leg bones and the dried cherry chased by the powerful Consecration from Russian River might have made it one of the top dishes of the first half of the evening. Yes, my friends, we're only half way there. And, the theater of pouring 1 of only 3 nine-liter bottles of Consecration in existence (that Sean and Chris had to do untold things to get from the Cilurzo's....ha, just kidding of course) was magical all in and of itself. Of course, as soon as I say 'of only 3', will be the moment that someone reports more elsewhere. Oh, and if you looked closely at the menu, you might have noticed that one of my all-time favorite beers from Cambridge Brewing, the Cerise Cassee, was used in the preparation of this dish. This beer was one of my earliest and most memorable experiences (isn't that the way it normally goes?) with American-made sour beers oh around 4-5 years ago or so. So, you can probably imagine my, let's call it, glee when Will Meyers (Cambridge Brewing) announced that he brought along a small keg of it from the brewery. Duck Legs, Consecration, and Cerise Cassee...again, yes please! Wow, as if I thought the Consecration and Duck Legs couldn't get any better. Yes, in my opinion, the Cerise Cassee upstaged the Consecration by a nose. Rounding out the tender-is-the-middle-of-the-menu theme were the veal cheeks. Those strong veal cheeks that spend all day chewing. Cooked slowly down, this was yet another tender piece of meat on the menu cooked with the very special, very never-to-be-seen-again-in-this-form Vagabond beer. Jason Perkins from Allagash stood and shared his experiences with helping to craft this beer. Let's see if I can capture the story in a sentence or two. Basically, the name Vagabond comes from the idea that this 3 barrel oak-aged batch of beer began its life in the old brewery 4 years ago and subsequently was moved into the "new" brewery. It's been whiling away in various barrels and has been blended into what is being released this fall (only at the brewery) in 375ml bottles. We, at the dinner, had the honor of having one of the first bottles, a 6-liter bottle at that. I think it's time to bring in the halftime show. Or, at least give you all some sort of a break. There's just as much material to share with you from the remainder of the dinner and after party. So, I'm going to let you catch your breath and share the rest with you tomorrow morning. Consider this, Parts 4a and 4b. And, if you're thinking that this might never end, ask yourself: Why does it need to?!
Continue on to Part 4b

Weekly Beer Calendar Update: September 17-September 23

Between the oompahs of Oktoberfests and clanging of dinner plates during beer pairing dinners, there are plenty of events to carry us through the next week of September. See you along the way! Check out the entire September 2009 calendar over here. Some tastings, some free, some PAYG @Beer Yard, Wayne, PA--- Fri. 9/18 - Friday Night Tasting (Southern Tier) (5:00pm-7:00pm; free tasting samples of IPA, Harvest Ale, and Phin & Matt's Ale) @Blue Ox Bistro, Philadelphia, PA--- Fri. 9/18 - The Sly Gang (7:00pm-9:00pm; PAYG for a fixed price food pairing menu with Sly Fox Oktoberfest, Sly Fox Abbey Extra, Ommegang Abbey and Ommegang Witte and Oktoberfest bratwurst from Rieker's German Deli) @Craft Ale House, Royersford, PA--- Wed. 9/23 - Turn to Stone (6:00pm; PAYG gets you access to drafts like Sublimely Self Righteous, Cali-Belgique, 13 Anniversary, and maybe a few other surprises) @Teresa's Next Door, Wayne, PA--- Sun. 9/20 - Oktoberfest (as part of Radnor Fall Festival (1:00pm; PAYG for Märzens, Eagles on the big screen, children's entertainment, and shopping all along Wayne Avenue) Another month, another strongman competition @Victory Brewing Co., Downingtown, PA--- Thu. 9/17 - Follow the Liter (6:00pm-8:00pm; PAYG to enjoy liters of Festbier and Oktoberfest, Giant Pretzels. Test your strength in the strong arm competition.) Not enough homebrew-related events out there, here's one @Market Cross Pub, Carlisle, PA--- Thu. 9/17-Thu. 10/1 - Homebrew Competition (see website for details) Food and Beer, a natural fit @The Buck Hotel, Feasterville, PA--- Wed. 9/23 - Sierra Nevada Beer Dinner (7:00pm; $45 for 5 courses of food paired with Belgian Trippel; Pale Ale; Kellerweis Hefeweizen; Anniversary Ale; and Porter) @Rembrandt's, Philadelphia, PA--- Wed. 9/23 - Victory Beer Dinner (7:00pm) @South Philadelphia Tap Room, Philadelphia, PA--- Sun. 9/20 - Farmhouse Ale Dinner (all you can eat/drink) (7:00pm; $75 includes all you can eat Buffet Dinner and all you can drink select Farmhouse Ales) @Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Escondido, CA--- Thu. 9/17 - Beer & Cheese Regional Pairing (Pacific NW) (7:00pm-9:00pm; $30) @Tria Café, Philadelphia, PA--- Fri. 9/18 - The Heart of Dark Chocolate (6:30pm-8:00pm; $55, currently sold out...call for possible availability) @Union Barrel Works, Reamstown, PA--- Tue. 9/22 - Mamma Mia Italian-Style Beer Dinner (6:30pm; $40 for seven courses and beer pairings topped off with cannoli and tiramisu) Big Festivals, Big Fun @23rd Street Armory, Philadelphia, PA--- Sat. 9/19 - Philly Oktoberfest 2009 (1:00pm-4:00pm, 6:00pm-9:00pm; $40/$50/$75 for all the Gemuchlicheit you can handle) @Appalachian Brewing, Harrisburg, PA--- Sat. 9/19 - Capital City Invitational Beer Festival (12:00pm-3:00pm, 4:00pm-7:00pm, 8:00pm-11:00pm; $30/$35 for over 20 participating craft brewers, food buffet, commemorative sampling glass, and live entertainment) @Appalachian Brewing, Harrisburg, PA--- Sun. 9/20-Fri. 10/9 - Oktoberfest (see website for details) @Elmwood Park Zoo, Norristown, PA--- Sat. 9/19 - Oktoberfest (5:30pm-9:00pm; $40/$45 includes complimentary Oktoberfest Mug and delicious Oktoberfest fare)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Get your Lederhosen on (and Dirndls, too)

Oktoberfests are plentiful in the Philadelphia Region. A heavy dosage of German immigrants that have stayed through the generations and their heritage are a big part of the reason. This is reflected in many world-class German-styled beers that are brewed around these parts. So, it's no surprise that from September to mid-October, there are more Oktoberfest celebrations than you can shake a bratwurst at (sorry, distasteful analogy). Here's a quick rundown of some. Feel free to add your own in the comments below. --> (already occurred, but mark your calendars for next year) 9/5-9/7; all day---Cannstatter's; as authenticate as it gets with Crafts; German Beer & Wines; German-American Singing & Dancing; Souvenirs; German Clothing; Rides & Games; Altweibermühle: True Fountain of Youth; Authentic Oktoberfest Atmosphere --> Sat. 9/19; 1pm-4pm, 6pm-9pm---Philly Oktoberfest 2009; Spaten, Franziskaner, plus 25 more Oktoberfestbiers & Pumpkin Ales; German Biergarten with food; Oom-pah Music; dancing by GTV Almrausch Schuhplattler; Buffet at additional charge. --> Sat. 9/19; 5:30pm-9:00pm---Elmwood Park Zoo Oktoberfest; Stroll the zoo, enjoy live music and sample seasonal craft brews. $20/$40/$45 for complimentary Oktoberfest Mug and delicious Oktoberfest fare. --> Sat.9/19-Sun.10/4; all day---McKenzie-Fest; special festival beers (Oktoberfest and Pumpkinfest), traditional music, a menu of authentic German fare, and of course, bar servers dressed in dirndls and leiderhosen. --> Sat. 9/20; all day---Boyertown Oktoberfest; Sly Fox pouring 4 beers --> Sun. 9/20; all afternoon---Teresa's Next Door; Along with various forms of shopping, children's entertainment and a big screen TV outside so you don't miss the Eagles game --> Sun.9/20-Fri.10/9---Appalachian Brewing; traditional German menu featuring Jäegerschnitzel, spätzle, hassenpfeffer, and many more favorites. --> Mon.9/21-Sat.9/26---Brauhaus Schmitz Oktoberfest 2009; Authentic Bavarian Menu and Draft specials, special events, contests, and promotions all week long, capped by 1st Annual Oktoberfest Celebration on the 26th --> Fri.9/25-Sun.9/27---Oktoberfest Weekend at Devil's Den; German beer & food specials all weekend long --> Sat.9/26-Sun.9/27; all day---Stoudt's; Music; The Reading Liederkranz Schuhplatters; Cleevagheevin contests; Food --> Fridays 10/2, 10/9, 10/16, 10/23, 10/30; 5:30pm---Savona Restaurant; 5 weeks of Friday night Oktoberfest Beer Classes; $25 each/pp for beer samples plus hors d'oeuvres --> Fri.10/2-Sun.10/4 & Fri.10/9-Sun.10/11; all day---Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh; Hofbräuhaus bier and cuisine, local vendors, and live entertainment --> Sat. 10/3; 12pm-4pm---Issac Newton's; 2 beers, shirt, mug, music, and food included in base ticket price of $25

On the Road with The Brew Lounge, Part 3

We've Arrived at Ebenezer's Pub The trip from Portland to Lovell is a scenic trip, crossing a few lakes along the way, Sebago being the largest. But, upon arrival at Ebenezer's Pub, I soon found out that Ebenezer's would have no problem fulfilling one of my requirements for an outstanding beer bar: location. Situated just off the green of the 2nd hole at Lake Kezar Country Club, Ebenezer's is a bar that's been through a few hands, most recently falling into Chris and Jen Lively's 5 years ago. The Livelys moved from Southern California to build the perfect beer bar in the middle of nowhere Maine. They live on site and it became quite clear early on in our evening that when at Ebenezer's, the Livelys treat each and every one as a guest in their house. It was a shame that we arrived later than we would have liked to because we missed out on some great welcome beers like the Cuvee des Champions from Cantillon and Pissenlit from Fantôme. Plus, the pre-dinner kibbitzing and photo ops of brewers arriving and some last-minute delivered beer from FedEx. Fortunately, Shaun O'Sullivan from 21st Amendment sent along some pictures that he's permitted me to include in my photo gallery over at Picasa. We got over our last minute arrival frazzle and were settled at our table. We were seated with a bunch of locals/regular Ebenezer customers who had attended the inaugural dinner with Sean Paxton in 2008. This made for interesting perspective on this year's dinner. Plus, it also gave us perspective of the local scene and the role that Ebenezer's plays in it. Big Elephant in the Corner? Alright then, let's get this out of the way. As this dinner was being planned out during the year, I've heard varying degrees of criticism around the price of the dinner, $250 per person. Patty and I have spent close to this in the past on dinner, for many less courses and for quality that was of a more suspicious nature. And, definitely delivered by people who didn't bring nearly the same passion to creating a top-notch experience as the crew at Ebenezer's and Sean Paxton. This was a 12-course dinner lasting over 6 hours. This was an event...a gastronomical event for those that love great food and great beer. The beer alone, its vintage and its rarity taken into account, was almost worth the price of admission. But, then the food, its creativity and its careful pain-staking preparation and its cost of ingredients, added another level to the dinner that may very well have pushed this dinner to a barely-breakeven proposition for Ebenezer's. (I have absolutely no idea, this is just my semi-educated guess.) Take into account, for example, that nearly $1000 worth of beer was used in the sorbet preparation and you're at the beginning of an interesting cost-benefit analysis. What hobby do you have? What passion do you pursue? Some people put oodles of money into sports betting/fantasy sports teams, some into their cars, some into video games and other computer-based technology, others into clothing, some into photography, others into artwork, others into season tickets to sporting events, others into their homes and related upkeep. Others search out the best of the food and beverage world. I think you get my point. We all have our hobbies, and all hobbies have a segment that focuses on the very best there is to offer. This was one such occasion. Let's break it down from a Philly local perspective. This Ebenezer's dinner carried a $250 price tag for a 12-course meal. Straight-line average would say that's about $20 a course. A typical 5 or 6 course meal at Monk's in Philly is usually around $65 (12-ish dollars/course). Monk's is often called one of the best beer bars in the country. If you take their menu from a typical beer dinner, put even more planning and sourcing into it the dinner event, and then add some of the most obscure and most aged beers in the world, we're in roughly the same ballpark price-wise. And, heck, while I'm on the topic, consider New York City Beer Week has a beer dinner on its schedule at the famed Per Se restaurant near Central Park pairing Thomas Keller and Garrett Oliver. It's a 7 course meal and it costs $350, excluding tax and gratuity. I think I made enough of a defense for what turns out to be a not-so-unreasonable pricetag at this Ebenezer's dinner. If you're looking at this with the same type of concern as "how cheap can I get a package of boneless chicken breasts for," then we're really having two separate conversations here. Am I looking at this the wrong way? Were the people gathered for the fools in this story? I really don't think so; it's just a different way of looking at food and beverage and the thought and preparation that goes into it. Now don't worry, I'm not necessarily chastising you if you don't get your head around the fact that a dinner with small portions of high-quality food and rare beer can really cost you a pretty penny. And, I'm not trying to trivialize $250. I did, admittedly, find myself a little disappointed when I realized I'd have to parcel out two ounces of beer between tasting by itself, tasting it with the food, and tasting it by itself again...with no topping off as I might have liked. I'd remind myself, though, that this was about quality, not quantity...and that this was an event beyond compare. Still to have a little more beer on the table at all times, even just a pedestrian calibration beer, would have been nice. But, now I'm splitting hairs a bit more than I'd like. So what do you say we start to jump into things a bit deeper here? I don't have the disk space to go into every nit of the dinner, the people, the food, the beer. I'll try, of course..ha!..because, that is what I do, right? In addition to the evening's food and beer, I interviewed Sean Paxton for almost 2 hours. Instead of putting that material up in a Q&A format, I figured I'd try to weave it into the retelling of the night's activities. That certainly added a level of complexity and contributed to my delay in getting all of this compiled for your, uh, digestion. Hang on, this is gonna be fun...