Friday, June 30, 2006

Let's Taste the Season

Even though there are some very tempting stouts and other more malt-heavy beers, in addition to the newly-acquired Heavyweight selections, lurking in our coolers I am very ready to dive into some pilseners, saisons, and weizens. Oh, who am I kidding, I'm already there. Last night, I capped off my visit to Brasserie Jo in Boston with a Paulaner Hefeweizen on draft. It was just this week that Adam said to me something like "dude, you're really into the weizens, eh?!" And, it got me to thinking that Adam and I need to get together and do some tastings. I stopped by Bauer's on Newbury Street in Boston and picked up two 750 ml bottles of Harpoon Saison from their 100-barrel series. We could try this against the Sly Fox Saison, the Yards Saison, and maybe the Victory Saison. Then, we could move over to the pilseners and try the Victory Prima Pils, Troegs Sunshine Pils, and Sly Fox Pikeland Pils. And for the weizens we could try the Stoudt's Hefeweizen and a few others that I'm not creative enough at this time to think of. Of course, you probably hear a local bias to these selections. It would be good to throw in a couple of authentic German styles for good representatiton. Adam, ready?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Beer Sites That I Follow

This is only scraping the surface of the many good beer-related sites that are out there. These are the ones that I probably visit the most. There are others that are missing and I'll keep this updated and linked on the right side of the page. If you have a suggestion for sites to be added, let me know and I'll check 'em out. Beer Columnists/Industry Insiders Bob Townsend (Atlanta JC) Hey, Beer Man Joe Sixpack (Philly DN) The Pour by Eric Asimov William Brand Jack Curtin/Liquid Diet Online Jay Brooks Lew Bryson Mark Haynie Michael Jackson/Beer Hunter Stan Hieronymous/Appellation Beer Stan Hieronymous/Beer Travelers Tools Beer Advocate Beerinator Beerfeeds Beermapping Rate Beer Homebrewing Resources Malted Barley Appreciation Society Chester County (PA) Homebrew Club /Zymurgy Beer-related websites, blogs, & podcasts A Good Beer Blog Bad Ben's Brewing Blog Beer Bits 2 Basic Brewing BeerExpert Beer Me! Beer Today Belmont Station Beer Forum Brookston Beer Bulletin Craft Beer Radio Donovan Hall/The Angler Foureyed (Beer) Geek Gowanus Brewery (Jeremy & Barry) Grain Bill Hop Talk Knut Albert's Beer Blog Madison Beer Review Malt & Barley Chronicles Nate's Beer & Brewing Blog Pacific Brew News Philly Beer Club Philly Cask Ale Seen Through A Glass SudsPundit Suzanne Woods-Beer Lass Brewery & Restaurant Blogs Sacramento Brewing (CA) Portsmouth Brewery (NH) Smuttynose (NH) Ortino's Northside (PA) Flossmoor Station (IL) Lost Abbey (CA) St. Arnold (TX) Heavyweight (NJ) Surly (MN) East End (PA) Ithaca (NY) Gritty McDuff's (ME) Squatters Pub & Brewery (UT) Magnolia Brewery (CA)

Growing Hops: Status & New Tour

Here is what happened next -> Day 57 Timelapse Video
First, you can read the entire Growing Hops thread now that I have linked them all together for you. Open this one first to start the tour from rhizomes to bines :-) Now on with the latest installment! Last night after work I measured the Cascade bine at over 90 inches. Its growth has slowed a bit over the last few days due to the lack of sun. Of course with the several inches of rain we received (sheesh), I'm sure that will change over the next few days. It will as long as we get some sun. Check out the growth chart below to see the growth trend of the largest Cascade hops plant over the last fifty days or so. BTW You can see in the picture that the arbor is in place. It needs some TLC, but, we're getting there slowly but surely. I attached the Cascade hops bines to the arbor temporarily just so they would have somewhere to grow. I also noticed new shoots coming off the bine laterally where each set of leaves are attached. That is soo cool. They will certainly take over this arbor by the end of the summer! I can't wait! I also included a picture of some of the other hops plants. They should really take off over the next few days. All except the one little one that keeps getting broken off. I'm just hoping that it will make it to next year. And as I'm sure some of you know, hops love sunlight. I think we're proving that again. The two Cascade plants are really going crazy out there away from the trees. The others are in the shadows and receiving less direct sunlight. Yeah I know, they were planted later than the Cascade, but, the sun just doesn't shine over there long enough during the day for them to keep pace. So remember that, if you choose to grow hops. You know, I've been thinking about trying a timelapse video ever since I started growing these. What do you think? Should I take one? How cool would that be to see a video of hops growing?! Drop me a comment to let me know. I'm pretty sure I found the right software. My camera doesn't have a timelapse feature built in so I'll need to use software on the laptop to control my camera. UPDATE: I eventually did shoot a time lapse video.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cambridge Brewing Company in Cambridge, MA [Part 1]

In hindsight, I wish that I was, oh let's say, something like 15 years younger. That would put me in my early 20s and just out of college. And, let's say that I went to a Boston-area school. I would probably look for a job in the region and settle there for a while. And, I would have one of the area's best kept beer secrets at my easy access....Cambridge Brewing Company. OK, so let's stop living in the past. Actually, I live in the Philadelphia area and only get to Boston every so often. But, I swear to you that everytime I do from now on, I will stop at nothing to return to CBC. When I was planning my trip to Boston, I happened to be at Iron Hill in West Chester, PA and talking to Chris LaPierre. Chris was a former brewer at Harpoon in Boston, met Will Meyers in Philadelphia, and subsequently moved to Philadelphia to work at Iron Hill. In the meantime, Will went to Boston to help out with CBC. Do you care about any of this? Perhaps not....but hang in there. I told Chris that CBC was on my list of places to try in Boston. He said "change that...put it on your short list, Will Meyers is doing some great stuff at CBC. He and I are friends and I really think you should check it out." (or something to that effect) So, what did I shouldn't have to ask! I have written in other reviews about taking the MBTA's Red Line to Somerville for places like RedBones and to Harvard for places like the original John Harvard's. Just two stops closer to downtown Boston and at the last stop before heading across the Charles River is the M.I.T./Kendall Square stop. Get off there, walk approximately 4 blocks, and you will arrive at Cambridge Brewing Co. At first, it is hard to know what to make of the place. The location is set back off of Hampshire street. Then, as you approach the tucked-away building, you only see some windows and outdoor seating...nothing too indicative of what you will find inside. And, even when you walk through the front door, the layout of the establishment is not extremely unique or memorable. Some tables are situated in the front of the house and an equal amount in the back. In between is the main bar with no more than 20 seats around it. Now, don't get me wrong, the place is spacious enough, but it is not huge. Though, I wonder what the place (including the outside courtyard) looks like during a busy night, a promotion, or a festival. In any case, on this particular Sunday afternoon, we were able to easily sidle up to the bar for some light snacks and tasty beers. What originally was planned as a one, or maybe two, beer stop quickly turned into sample tastings and three glasses of various brews that they had on tap. Making it easier to stay was our bartender, Tracy, who made us feel comfortable, was more than happy to serve up samples, and cheerfully chatted us up with information about the place and its history. Unfortunately, Will had just earlier left for the day. However, he would probably be there on Tuesday night, she said. Hm, coincidentally Tuesday night is when they setup their weekly cask conditioned feature. What should I do?.....once again, you shouldn't have to, silly question! I will get to the cask-conditioned Tuesday night in tomorrow's post. While Patty and I visited on Sunday, we either sampled or had whole glasses of each of their varieties on draft. We basically agreed on the ordering of our favorite of these brews. They each stood out for their own individual reasons and I surely would not kick any of them out of the barroom. But, we were both extremely happy with the Golden Ring Abbey, Charles River Porter, and the Cambridge Amber. The other easily quaffed beers included the L'amour du Jour, Hefeweizen, Tall Tale Pale Ale, and the Regatta Golden. Fortunately, growlers to go are readily available! Click here for my follow-up visit (just two days later) to Cambridge Brewing Co.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Brew Lounge Topic of the Week: Smoking Ban in Bars Round Two

My turn :-) Wow Bryan! You picked a live one here. I like to think of this problem in terms of behavior. Let's say there's a bar with two people in it. The first patron is sitting there enjoying an Alpha King from Three Floyds. The second comes in and orders the same and lights up a cigar. What's wrong with this, besides the fact that Alpha King probably isn't something you'll find in most bars? Both people are enjoying a great beer. Both are taking in the atmosphere. Both think they are minding their own business. What happens if the first patron doesn't like cigar smoke? What if it interferes with his ability to enjoy the beer? Isn't it rude for the second patron to light up his cigar without regard for the other person in the room? I think so. Face it, the behavior of the first patron is less intrusive. This scenario hits pretty close to home. Friday I was out with some friends. I brought some cigars along for the group. We asked the bartender if it was alright to smoke them. He said, "Yes, no problem." So I just lit up my cigar and proceeded to puff away. Meanwhile one of my friends asked the person sitting next to him if he minded. At this point I was already smoking (wince). He answered by saying that he didn't mind. (of course he was smoking too :-) I paused for a second and thought about how rude I was being. Then I thought what about all the other people in the room who are taking in all that smoke? I couldn't possibly feel guilty for all those people, could I? So I rationalized it and thought, "They came to the bar. The bar allows it. So it's ok." Did I say I considered myself considerate…hmmm I may have to reevaluate. I guess the crowd is what plays a huge role here. If you walk into a library and start talking very loudly wouldn't you expect somebody…um say the librarian to instruct you to be quite? I don't suppose that there are any laws against talking a library. Why is it that most people decide to follow the rules in this situation? I guess it has something to do with the expectations of the crowd, ourselves and the owner of the bar. We expect bars to be smoke filled. We have grown up with smokers around us in public. We are used to keeping the peace. This perception needs to change. How terrible would it be to have more smokeless bars and pubs here in the Philly area? Does everybody really need that smoke? Why can't we picture a smokeless night out as easily? How do you change the perception? Uhhhhh…stop fighting about it and trying to pass laws. Instead get to know the people you are trying to govern. The people who don't like smoke in bars should talk to their friends that do and ask them not to smoke inside. Talk to bar owners and suggest a smokeless Saturday or something. Our perception is shaped by our past, however, it isn't unchangeable. I guess the question is, "Can we teach manners to the masses?" Remember this, it isn't the smokers against the non-smokers. I don't think those labels help anybody. It just isn't polite or respectful to force somebody....everybody in a bar to inhale your second hand smoke. Why do we need a law to tell us that? Have we really exhausted all other options?

Linwood Bar and Grill in Boston, MA

For the sake of argument, let's say that you might be at Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox. Or, you may be checking out (Boston) Beer Works. These are both especially convenient given their close proximity to the MBTA's Green Line. And, why wouldn't you? These are both fun options. But, I challenge you to walk a bit further away from Commonwealth and Brookline. Head over to Boylston avenue and down a few blocks on Kilmarnock street. What is it about barbecue and Boston?! RedBones BBQ in Somerville and now here I present to you The Linwood Grill to satisfy your southern delicacy (and, oh yeah, beer too!) cravings. Though, where the food menu at RedBones was either of equal, or perhaps greater, caliber as the beer menu, most would agree that The Linwood Grill's beer menu outdistances itself from the food menu. The location is split into two main areas of operation, the main bar/restaurant and the separate back bar. The latter opens only after 4pm or 5pm, I don't recall. To illustrate the quality selection of beer, take for starters the draft list which on this particular Monday afternoon included a fine representation of local, national, and worldly beers. The available bottles at this bar were also quite appealing. But, if I thought that the main bar's selection of beer was good, or even great, I was soon to learn that once the doors to the back bar open, the beer selection goes into the stratosphere. LG's manager, Matt, was kind of enough to chat with me for a while about the operations of his place and apologized that I would unfortunately not be around later in the evening to enjoy the back bar's atmosphere. It seems like such a great place to hang out and dive into so many good beers. In a way, the selection reminded me of my recent visit to the Brick Store Pub in Decatur, GA. Alicia was working the bar during our visit to LG and provided us with such a pleasant experience....offering up samples upon request and just being friendly, but not in an aggressive way. So, what did we sample you may ask! Well, fortunately, we did have enough time to stay for a few beers and a sandwich before our parking regulation on the street expired. The beers we drank included: Lagunitas, Offshore, Wachusett, and Stoudt's. The newcomer to this bunch for me was the Offshore IPA from Martha's Vineyard. Apparently, this is only beginning to become more easily accessible in the Boston metropolitan area. It seems, according to Matt, that the owner's new direction is striving to get their product distributed more, uh, offshore :) Their IPA interpretation was certainly respectable and I am looking forward to my next trip to Boston and hoping to find more Offshore products available around town. For food, we had great pulled pork and chicken sandwiches. Very good pub grub indeed. I can only imagine that the barbecue dinners are even better still. With our chosen beers and this delectable food, we were quite satisfied and only too disappointed to leave. But, with rush hour traffic bearing down upon us and needing to get across town (and, oh yeah, we needed to get the car out of the parking spot where we left it) we reluctantly had no choice. But, as you can see in my words, The Linwood Grill will be on my short list of places to revisit when again in Boston......and we will make sure that it is at night when the back bar is open, and with no car to drive! p.s. speaking of parking, with LG being located in a highly residential neighborhood, do not be surprised if you cannot find on-street parking. There are, however, some private parking lots where, for a fee, you can leave your car. I believe, but won't swear, that there is also some limited customer parking behind their establishment.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Beer Tasting: Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock

Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock is a Maibock brewed in Einbeck Germany. This beer was purchased at the Beer Yard in Wayne, PA.

Adam's Notes:

  • apricot glow
  • delicate sweet scent of malt
  • more of a lager taste with hops and slight malt finish
  • this is not as big as the optimator and doesn't live up to the aroma
  • kind of a skunky after taste
  • I won't buy this one again

Bryan's Notes:

  • Has a nice, pale and golden color
  • Has a sweet aroma like figs and apricots
  • The taste is a real letdown after such a happy aroma
  • I, too, do not need to have any more of this beer

The Brew Lounge 'Topic of the Week': Smoking Ban in Bars

The idea is that each week, we will introduce a new topic that will attempt to get some dialog going for during the week. For starters, one of us will toss out an issue, a rant, or a current development and take a position. Then, the other half of The Brew Lounge will post a comment, agreement, or rebuttal. We will try to keep the debate as brief as possible but, who knows what passionate exchanges might get started here. Hopefully, some of you will weigh in on the topic as well. So, here goes. Here in our initial installment of 'Topic of the Week', I would like to throw out the controversial subject of smoking bans in drinking establishments like the many brewpubs and beer bars that we discuss here. Let me first start by saying that I do not smoke cigarettes. I may enjoy a cigar occasionally (actually, more seldom, than occasionally), but no one would consider me a smoker. In fact, I practically can say that I hate cigarette smoke. Also, I was raised in a family and around friends where there almost no smokers at all. Let it also be known that I love my beer. (Duh, you say, right?!) I want to see my beer, smell my beer, and taste my beer. Smoke can get in the way of these things, correct? So, now hold on as I tell you that I am against smoking bans in bars. Over the past, I don't know, decade or so, city after city (and even some states, if I'm not mistaken) have outlawed smoking in virtually all bars. This subject has finally made its way through Philadelphia's City Council and is poised, pending mayoral approval, to become law in January 2007. Of course, some provisions may get in the way, but this is where it stands as of today. I have a major problem with this for two main reasons. And, unfortunately for some of my friends, I have not been shy about discussing my feelings. My first argument actually is only indirectly related to the act of smoking. My primary concern is for the business owner. I am completely opposed (especially in this case as an example) to the government telling a business owner that an activity considered legal in our society is, in no uncertain terms, not allowed to occur within his/her walls of business operation. Forget any argument that bars have always been a place that allows vices of all kinds (smoking, drinking, "extracurricular activity", etc). I like that particular argument, but it is probably not an extremely valid one to make here. As a bar owner, I would be very concerned about the government's reach into my business in this manner. Why have we decided to ban smoking across the board in all bars? It's not as if non-smoking bars are illegal. In fact, there seems to be a trend in precisely that direction. All I seem to hear about is rave reviews from beer lovers that not only does a particular establishment serve great beer, but they are also smoke-free (Tria in Philadelphia is a great example). Well, glory be! Isn't that what a free market is all about??? Give the consumer the choice. In other words, we have some smoking bars and we have some non-smoking bars. If non-smoking bars are in such demand, let the choice of the consumer determine which businesses survive and which ones do not. My second argument is actually in favor of smoker's rights. Once again, I argue that smoking is not an illegal activity. Smoking cigarettes, that is. (Smoking marijuana, on the other hand, is a topic for a different day....and probably a different forum!) I do not want to hear the counter argument that they do not have a right to kill non-smokers with their second-hand smoke. If second-hand smoke is really killing other people (and I am certainly not arguing that it is not), then for crying out loud, let's finally ban cigarette smoking all together. Oh, I suppose that would have too great an economic impact on all the wrong people, eh?! ;-) So, before all of us beer drinkers and non-smokers puff out our chests and say, "woohoo, smoking has been banned in our bars," let's remember, that just as we think we have "rights" to go to a smoke-free bar, a business owner should have the right to operate a bar where patrons can smoke. You may say that it's unfair for you to have to leave your favorite bar/brewpub because they allow smoking and you want to enjoy the beer. If your favorite bar/brewpub allows smoking, then get your fellow patrons together and solicit the owner to ban smoking. It should not take the government to enact legislation. And, conversely, smokers should not feel like they have to leave a bar or go home just because they want to smoke a cigarette.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Growing Hops: Progress Report

Here is what happened next --> Progress Report
One of the cascade hops plants is 80 inches today. The other is catching up. All eight plants are looking good. The smallest is still only about an inch or so, but it looks healthy. Still haven't determined what it is that is eating holes in the leaves. Anybody have an idea? What am I doing? Bryan and I are going to try to get the arbor in place this weekend. Right now I'm relaxing on a Friday night with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and getting ready to go to my daughter's piano recital. I love the weekend!
Here is what happened next --> Progress Report

Beer Tasting: Eggenberg Urbock Dunkel Eibock

Eggenberg Urbock Dunkel Eisbock brewed in Vorchdorf, Austria by Castle Eggenberg. Purchased at Beer Yard in Wayne, PA. Adam's Notes:
  • deep cherry with traces of a head
  • very sweet nose
  • whoa that was very sweet
  • overall it is just too heavy...treat it like a barleywine
  • could use some carbonation
  • hmmmm...I'd buy one more maybe
  • Watch Scott's face on this one
Bryan's Notes:
  • dark, brown cola-like
  • Very nice rich strong flavors of malt and alcohol
  • also, faint molasses and figs
  • Not much hop presence
  • just a bit of lagery yeast taste lingers around
  • A nice solid, smooth-drinking beer

Brew Pub Visit: US Hotel Restaurant & Tavern - Hollidaysburg, PA

Recently I attended a wedding reception at the US Hotel Restaurant & Tavern in Hollidaysburg, PA. Here's a picture for you. If you are looking for a good beer in the Altoona - Hollidaysburg area this is a good place to start. Here are a few that I know the tavern had in bottles.
  • Spaten Optimator
  • New Castle Brown Ale
  • Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse
  • Beck's Dark
  • and many more...
So if you're in the Hollidaysburg, PA area you should stop in. The next time I visit I will have to sample their food in the restaurant and check out what's on tap in the tavern. This trip was focused on family and video taping the reception :-)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Beer Tasting: Stegmaier Brewhouse Bock

Stegmaier Brewhouse Bock brewed in Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania by Lion Brewery, Inc.. Purchased at Beer Yard in Wayne, PA.

    Adam's Notes:

    • more amberish yellow
    • nose is kinda like burnt sneakers
    • average beer taste, bud with color?
    • drink it while its cold
    • I'd rather drink Coors Light
    • how not to brew bock beer
    • This one is for Scott ;-)

    Bryan's Notes:

    • very pale, bland look beer with little to no head
    • smells like either charred wood or pungent cheese, either way it's not a compliment
    • tastes like a mouthful of dirt, or like a vegetable just pulled from the ground
    • very basic beer that could be fine for some, but not for your's truly
    • Had a hard time getting through this one

    Beer Calendar: What to do in June/July 2006

    Here's just a sampling of upcoming events over the next several weeks mostly in the Philadelphia area that look interesting to check out. Let us know if you think you might be heading to one of these events or have been to one of them in the past.

    Sat. 6/24 - 10th Annual Craft Brewer's Festival @USS New Jersey, Camden, NJ (1pm-5pm; $25)
    Sat. 6/24 - Brewers Reserve Big Bottle Bonanza @Iron Hill Brewery, North Wales, PA (12pm-4pm; $35/$40)
    Thu. 6/29 - Beer & Grilled Foods Dinner @General Lafayette Brewery, Lafayette Hill, PA (7pm; $59.95)
    Fri. 6/30 - Friday Night Tasting (Troegs) @Beer Yard, Wayne, PA (5pm-7pm; free)
    Sat. 7/1 & Sun. 7/2 - The Last Heavyweight Open House @Heavyweight Brewing Co, Ocean Township, NJ (1pm-5pm; free, bring non-perishables to donate)
    Sat. 7/1 - South Philly Wheat Beer Fest @South Philadelphia Tap Room, Philadelphia, PA (3pm-???; pay as you go)
    Fri. 7/7 - Christmas in July @Grey Lodge, Philadelphia, PA (no further details yet)
    Sat. 7/8 - Royal Stumble @Nodding Head, Philadelphia, PA (1pm-5pm; $30; Sold Out)
    Sat. 7/8 & Sat. 7/22 - Victory Beers & Wegmans Cheese Sampling @Wegmans, Downingtown, PA (12pm-4pm; free)
    Sat. 7/8 - All American Beer Festival @Grand Hall at the Priory, Pittsburgh, PA (2pm-5pm & 6pm-9pm; $40)
    Tue. 7/11 - Tom's Favorite Beers @Monk's Cafe, Philadelphia, PA (7pm-11pm; $60)
    Sat. 7/15 - Belgium Comes To Cooperstown @Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY (12pm-11pm; $30/$35)
    Sat. 7/22 - BrewExpo 2006 @State College, PA (12pm-4pm & 6pm-10pm; $35)
    Sat. 7/22 - Victory's Christmas in July @Victory Brewing, Downingtown, PA (all day; pay as you go)
    Sat. 7/29 - Brew at the Zoo 2006 @Elmwood Park Zoo, Norristown, PA (6pm-10pm; $35)

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    Beer Tasting: Augustiner Bräu Maximator Doppelbock

    Augustiner Bräu Maximator Doppelbock brewed in München (Munich), Germany. Purchased at Beer Yard in Wayne, PA.

      Adam's Notes:

      • deep reddish brown
      • thin head to islands
      • big malty nose like molasses
      • malty and bitter with yeastiness
      • more bitter than optimator
      • let it warm
      • I'd buy 6 of these
      • Just a sip for Scott

      Bryan's Notes:

      • Cola-colored with a reddish hue
      • Very enticingly sweet and malty aroma
      • Sweet like brown sugar with a touch of pleasant bitterness
      • Just a bit sticky, but overall nice
      • I'd settle for a six-pack of this very worthy brew

      Heavyweight Beer finds it way home with me!

      Maybe I shouldn't brag about this. Perhaps I should keep this under wraps. Sshhh, after the Harpoon tasting at Beer Yard on Friday, I made my home with a case each of Heavyweight's Lunacy and Perkuno's two favorite brews from the iconic New Jersey brewery. Geez, I sure will miss these guys.....

      Tuesday, June 20, 2006

      Growing Hops: Progress Report

      See what happened next -> Day 49: 80 inches
      The largest cascade plant is growing 5.25 inches a day and is now 67 inches tall. The other cascade plant is actually catching up now. All the others are doing just fine. We continue to water them each day. The cascade seems to be growing faster. Might be because they get more direct sun during the day. The wire mesh is keeping out the rabbits. My daughter found one of them removed and in the bushes so she put it back where it belonged. Hmmm...I wonder what happened to it? Also, I did notice that one of the cascade hops leaves is being attacked by something. Looks like the work of a bug or a worm of some sort. Hmmm...we'll have to keep an eye on that one.
      See what happened next -> Day 49: 80 inches

      Craft Beer on TV

      Has anyone noticed this show? It's on a channel called INHD, which can only be seen, presumably, if you have digital service with an HD television. It appears from the website that it debuted this past Sunday night and replays every Wednesday evening. Looks like it will be worth checking out at least once to see if it is credible.

      Willimantic Brewing Company in Willimantic, CT

      To say that Willimantic Brewing Co. is a bit off the beaten path is, well, a bit understated. Though, I've never been there before, so who knows? Especially, given that Eastern Connecticut State University is just blocks away and the much larger University of Connecticut is just a few miles away. As I moseyed along route 32 from interstate 84, I certainly got the feeling of "over the river and through the woods." When finally arriving in the middle of Willimantic, some 30-odd miles east of Hartford, the brewpub is not hard to spot. It is located in a former post office building. From the outside, it is an impressive structure with streetside dining. With a modest amount of parking on the side quickly filled after work, I found a parking meter across the street. Once inside, you can certainly feel how the bar and restaurant have been set into the former postal operation. This is especially evident, for example, at the bar where wine bottles are inserted into what appear to be former post office boxes. The brewpub, with its soaring ceilings, is adorned with interesting tap handles, posters, coasters, and artwork that add to the visual appeal. The ample dining room is situated around the bar and provides plenty of room to sit and enjoy their decent food menu. I chose, as I often do ;-) to belly up to the bar for dinner and a couple of brews. The idea here at Willimantic is that they have around a dozen of their beers on tap as well close to 20 other high quality brews from around the country and world. Quite ambitious indeed, but they do appear to pull it off well enough. The bartender on this particular Thursday evening was quite pleasant and willing to help me make the right choices based on my limited available time. I began with the RoadenZok, which is a very nice Belgian-style red and a bit aggressive, with just enough tart flavor to get your attention without being overwhelming. This was quite an impressive beginning. Then, my crabcake appetizer (excellent) came as I finished the tasty sour treat. Next, I chose the Autobahn Mail altbier as an accompaniment. Another nicely crafted beer with a decent malty backbone. Then, just for good measure, I needed to try one of the Sterling Nugget IPAs before I headed out for the last 4 hours of my drive home. This went down quite nicely with the flank steak entree that I ordered. Probably worth noting that you certainly get great value for your food bill. Along with the entree comes a decent size salad. By the way, I have not mentioned yet that my plan here was to check out Willimantic, of which I had formerly heard good things. Since I was driving home from Boston to Philadelphia during rush hour, I thought the plan would be good to wait out the New York metro area rush hour by making a new beer discovery. Well, the environment was decent, the food was good, and the beer was even better. Needless to say, I did not leave Willimantic until a little after 7pm. Plenty of time to miss rush hour traffic, for sure. Yikes, late night getting home. But, well worth it. Next time that you are in the Hartford, CT area or driving north towards Boston, you will want to be sure to check out City Steam in downtown Hartford. But, if you have the time, be sure to make the extra trip out to Willimantic, for the food and for the beer. You will be glad you did. p.s. You will want to check out the growlers as well. Unfortunately, they were experiencing problems with their current growlers....something about a tendency for the bottoms to fall out. They are looking to replace them. You will definitely want to think about making arrangements to get some of this great beer home.

      Monday, June 19, 2006

      Beer Tasting: Spaten Optimator Doppelbock

      • Bryan thought the bocks were all gone. Well they're bock (wince). Spaten Optimator Doppelbock was the next victim. Purchased at the Beer Yard in Wayne, PA. Are you tired of the Appearance, Smell, Taste....etc.? We were too. We'll be changing things up a bit to make our notes reflect the experience of the tasting a bit more.

      Adam's Notes:

      • Brownish Red
      • Sweet almost heavy smell of malt & yeast
      • tastes of vegetable malt & yeast
      • something about this style that really turns me on, something about a bock that reeks of spring
      • I'd buy a case
      • Not for Scott

      Bryan's Notes:

      • Looks cola-colored
      • Has a sweet, malty nose with a bit of alcohol
      • Taste of dry roasted flavors and some mild bitterness
      • Deceivingly easy to drink for 7+% ABV
      • I'd like to have at least a six-pack from Adam's case if he'd allow

      Beer Reading: The Brewmaster's Table by Garrett Oliver

      Just a quick note here to describe how excited I am over the arrival of Garrett Oliver's book. I know, I know it's been around for a while and I too wonder what took me so long to finally order it. I've heard so much of it from beer writers extolling its excellence. And, let me also join in the praise. Just from my 30 minute perusal of its contents, the subtitled 'Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food' looks to have so much valuable content packed into it. I'm looking so forward to making my way through it. I would love to take off a week from work and just work my way through its 350+ pages. Seriously, though, wouldn't you? Here's just a sampling of the categories of chapters: Principles of Matching Beer with Food; Brewing Traditions; and Glassware, Temperature, Storage, and Service. And the book concludes with Beer with Food: A Reference Chart. I'm sure it will live up to its reputation which, in my case, has preceded it. I look forward to deepening my appreciation of the pairing of beer with food.

      Sunday, June 18, 2006

      My Beer Journey: Where do I begin?

      Where do I begin to tell of my journeys through many years of better beer drinking?

      I certainly should not start with Miller High Life, Keystone, Molson, Moosehead, Busch, or Schmidt's in my later high school or college years. Or, maybe I should. It would demonstrate how far I've come (seriously, haven't we all come a long way?!)

      But, later in my college years, round about 1991/1992 I discovered a wonderful brewpub in Center City Philadelphia named Dock Street. It is thanks to Dock Street and the better beer revolution that they were part of in Philadelphia that has led me to where I am today with my beer appreciation.

      It was Adam's question the other day of "What is it about beer?" that got me to thinking about the 15 years and the many good (and sometimes not so good) beers that I have enjoyed. As I mentioned earlier this week, Boston Beer Works also contributed to my early years of dabbling in good beer. Some decent craft beer would wander into our off-campus housing, to the strange looks of my roommates. But, more often than not, they were willing participants!

      The mid-1990s were consumed (literally!) by a lot of Guinness, John Courage, Bass, Harp, Dock Street, Red Bell, Samuel Adams, and Saranac. In other words, certainly better than average beers, but still sticking to the mostly formulaic ale and lager styles that the world was ready for at that time.

      In the latter half of the 1990s, I started discovering the real craft beer scene. Victory Brewing opened in the Philadelphia suburbs and it did not take long to fall in love with their Hop Devil. By 1998, 1999, 2000 I was completely hooked on anything different than the mainstream. To me, the mainstream began to include anything widely available like Guinness, Harp, and Bass (just as a few examples). The harder it was to find and the more different/interesting the taste, the more I wanted it. I became, of sorts, a beer least in the Philly area.

      Helping to fuel this obsession was our friend Mark, a homebrewer. His nut brown ale, schwarzbier, and grand cru are excellent brews that go down all too easily and demonstrate wonderful flavors and aromas that you look for in craft beer. After he moved away to Madison, another new friend, Adam, came onto the scene when we moved into the house behind his. He is also, as you know, a homebrewer and helps me to appreciate even more greatly the wonder behind what goes into making beer. He may even make a homebrewer out of me soon!

      Now, the next phase appears to be taking a hold of me. As you have read in previous posts from us, we are evermore fascinated with sour/tart beers, especially those originating from the Flanders region of Belgium. American breweries are also now starting to dabble in them. A perfect experience of our newfound fascination was the Monk's dinner that we attended in January of 2006, featuring Russian River and Port Brewing (aka Lost Abbey).

      Today, I suppose you could call me a bit of a beer traveler. In other words, just as I've planned trips around family, relaxation, or baseball, I now include breweries, beer bars, and brewpubs in my travel itineraries. Each region and location has beer styles and personalities that can be considered unique to their respective areas. This can certainly add a very nice layer to traveling, don't you think? After all, we do have to eat and drink, yes?!

      So, as any of you who have followed a similar path as mine know very well, the world of craft beer is long and interesting and everchanging (mostly for the better). You can't expect to comprehend and appreciate it all at once. Beer is 4 main ingredients, but beer is also more than just 4 main ingredients. What do I mean by this? Check back again later to The Brew Lounge for more of my thoughts.

      Friday, June 16, 2006

      Growing Hops: Giving the hops something to climb

      See what happened next -> Day 45: 67 inches
      Now that the plants have climbed to the top of their current support system, it's time to finally get the arbor assembled. Next step will be to get it firmly anchored in the ground. Adam was so anxious to get this arbor installed, that he wasn't even around to help with it, sheesh. And, as you can see, I didn't get much other help from good neighbor Scott ;-) All fun and games, eh?!
      See what happened next -> Day 45: 67 inches

      Thursday, June 15, 2006

      Growing Hops: Houston we have a problem!

      See what happened next -> something to climb! It's a good thing that Bryan put the arbor together. The cascade hops are shooting above the temporary trellis we rigged up. NINE INCHES in two days! All the other hops plants are doing well too. Since I enclosed many of them in wire mesh, it is tough to take an effective picture. See what happened next -> something to climb!

      Brasserie Jo in Boston, MA (and their Hopla "house beer")

      Brasserie Jo is probably not near the top of many beer hunters' lists when they travel to Boston. I am here to suggest that perhaps it should be. This is because in addition to a worldly selection of very good beer, you also stand the chance of having a very good meal. And, interestingly enough, they also feature a house beer brewed for them by Brooklyn Brewery in New York. I stopped at Brasserie Jo for just a very quick visit on my way to the Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. Really, I was not there longer than 30 minutes. So, you are probably breathing a sigh of relief thinking that this will be an atypical short review! on and we will see how this goes ;-) From the minute you walk through the front door of the Colonnade Hotel's first floor, you immediately realize that you are not in a typical beer bar. It would actually be a gross injustice to call this a beer bar, or even a bar, at all. This is an establishment that focuses on a Parisian environment, food, experience, and comfort. Fortunately, for our enjoyment they also serve up good brews from around the world including Belgium, Germany, and the United States. How about if I let you be the judge: Hopla (see below); Goose Island; Saison Dupont; Stella Artois; Warsteiner; La Chouffe; Hacker Pschorr; Chimay; Herold; Sierra Nevada.....just to name a few. Plus, according to the bartender, the selections are frequently changing. Then, you feast your eyes on the food menu. Very creative, indeed. You will see a predominantly, but not limited to, French menu. From frog legs, to pate, to foie gras, to escargots, various fish, and bouillabaisse you see the beginning of a quite delectable food offering. Unfortunately, limited time only allowed for me to sample some oysters from the raw bar and a Hopla. As you can most likely tell from my tone here, this was certainly a difficult visit to walk away from. In my short time, it probably is worth also noting that the service was polite in a slightly stiff, but friendly way. Even though I was not so stylish in my casual ballpark attire, I was treated with respect and properly served. As for the Hopla beer, here are a few notes of what I considered to be quite a surprising, pleasantly crisp and hoppy pilsener. As for a last note on Brasserie Jo, I will be heading back for a full dinner and a few more beers the next opportunity I get. I suggest you do too. This is certainly a very good restaurant that is "getting beer right." Hopla - pilsener-style lager Appearance - very pale golden; short head hangs for just a bit then leaves a thin ring Aroma - clean, light lager nose; nothing too crazy Taste - very pleasant; more interesting than expected; a light bitterness; not offensive at all Mouthfeel - light bodied; leaves a nice lingering bitterness in the finish Drinkability - extremely drinkable; this a very nice summer-drinking brew; I'll have a few more

      Wednesday, June 14, 2006

      Beer Works in Boston, MA [Part 2]

      Continued from yesterday....Click here for a look back at my first trip to (Boston) Beer Works

      Now, fast forward 15 years. Many, many beer establishments have come and gone. Much has progressed in the world of craft brewing. And, whatever you call it now, Beer Works is still around. When Patty and I went into BW on this particular Sunday afternoon, I was in much better condition than 15 years ago and these memories are much more clear, mature, and responsible! The imagery, though, was slightly, in a hazy way, familiar. This is a large location. Oh, I should mention, that this location by Fenway Park is just one of three locations. The other two are in downtown Boston and Salem, MA. It is quite apparent that BW is a hoppin' place when there is a game at Fenway. The bar area is large and TVs aplenty to provide a very conducive sports atmosphere. Though, I happy that we were able to visit on a slow Sunday afternoon to get a vibe for their attention to the beer details.

      You definitely get a beer and baseball theme from the second you walk inside BW. There is all sorts of baseball memorabilia on the walls interspersed with beer clothing, glassware, and posters. There is a smaller bar, which can be partitioned off for private parties, to the left of the front door. Walking farther in, the larger, main bar is set back to the right with the fermentation and serving tanks situated around and behind it. The dining room fills the remainder of the large room. All tables and barstools are within easy view of a TV to provide all the latest sports action.

      This was the last stop on my Great American Beer Tour during Craft Brewing Week. So, my first interaction with the staff was at the bar to get the last entry filled on my passport. The bartender was friendly, gracious, and patient as I felt inclined to share the story that I described in the first part of this review. Then, Patty and I began our beer and food sampling. In addition to keeping approximately 15 tap lines going, BW also has quite a varied and interesting food menu. We decided to start with one of the house specialties, the french fries. They come with a variety of seasoning/toppings. For dinner, I had an amazing pork tenderloin, stuffed with spinach, chorizo sausage, and topped with a spicy chili and corn sauce.

      So, what did we have to drink with all of this excellent food, you may ask?! Our server, Kelly, was our perfect host who was more than willing to get (me especially) as many samples as I asked for. The Back Bay IPA was a good representation of the style without being too aggressively hopped. While I do like the overly hopped beers, with dinner the Back Bay IPA was perfect. The Victory Red, the Beantown Nut Brown Ale, and the Buckeye Oatmeal Stout were all also very solid beers that well showcased the malt and hop balance. These were all very drinkable beers, and I am saying that in a good way.

      The samplers that I received of the ESB, the Bambino Ale, the pale ale, and the porter all continued the theme of decent beer being produced here at Beer Works. Then, to demonstrate their creative flair, I received a sample of the Berliner Weisse. This is a style that I am not all too familiar with outside of its reputation. Nodding Head, here in Philadelphia, has won numerous awards for its interpretation. I was warned by Kelly that the Berliner Weisse is an "acquired taste" and very tart. Contrary to her warnings, I did not find it to be overpowering. It seemed to be a more tepid style than some of the more "in your face" sour/tart style beers.

      Overall, as you can tell from this long-winded, two-part diatribe, I recommend Beer Works. While I did not visit the other two locations, my bet is that you will get decent beer and food at any of the locations. At the Fenway location, you will also get a baseball atmosphere and if you are there on gameday, perhaps a bit of mayhem also. But, if you are looking for the chance to appreciate what they are doing with beer and food, make sure there is no game scheduled during the time of your visit.

      Tuesday, June 13, 2006

      Hops or Malt?

      Whoa now, that's quite a question, eh? But, lately with all the talk of IPAs, Double IPAs, Imperial IPAs, Triple IPAs......hops, hops, and more flippin' hops, it had me asking a question of myself: If I had to choose a beer that was predominantly hoppy or predominantly malty, which would I choose? Ok, it seemed like a fair question in my head, but now that I am attempting to commit a position for the world to see, I'm starting to quake a bit in my boots. In a rare attempt to keep this short (hey, you, quiet in the peanut gallery!), I will stake a claim to the grain. I'm thinking of some nice brown ales, scotch ales, stouts, bocks, hefeweizens, and some Belgians where you get so many great characteristics in the beer with many thanks to the malted grain. Oh, but wait, how can I turn my back on the extremely wonderful traits that the hop flower brings to a beer's overall profile. I can't. It's just too painful to think of the beer world without the big, in-your-face IPAs that Hop Devil, Alpha King, and Pliny the Elder give to us. So, what have I concluded here today? Well, give me a rich, malty brew but do not close my membership in the HopsRUs club .

      Beer Works in Boston, MA [Part 1]

      I love to reminisce. I like thinking back in time to observe events (usually personal) and determine the impact they have had on my life. Or, conversely, if I thought they were a bigger deal at the time than they really were. Well, in the case of Boston Beer Works, circa 1992, I had no clue the role that they would play in the beginning of my, let's call it, "better beer enlightenment." I had already been exposed to Dock Street in Philadelphia and now I was on the consummate road trip to Boston with college friends. This is a fun story to tell, because as college stories go (or at least the ones that I can put in print ;-) this is a good one.

      Hopefully, you will indulge me for a few sentences here. My college men's basketball team was in the Division II postseason in Springfield, Massachusetts. If I'm not mistaken, it was during our spring break week in March and Dave hit the road with me on a Wednesday. Unfortunately, the team got bounced from the single-elimination tournament on Thursday. Fortunately, Dave and I had already devised our backup plan in case something like this happened. We were headed east to Boston. And, to fulfill the "more the merrier" cliche, our friend Jen, a cheerleader, signed a waiver of liability (for the school and cheerleader squad) and joined us on our expedition.

      So, as college roadtrips go, we had minimal clothes, plans, or money. But, we had high hopes!! We found a hotel on Boston College's campus, split the bill 3 ways, and headed off to find Boston's best watering holes. Now, keeping in mind that Dave was 21, but I was 20, and Jen was 19 we had no idea how well this plan would work. Well, we found a lovely little bar that for some reason found fit to serve us large goldfish bowls full of grain alcohol and some juices for balance. After getting thoroughly snockered, we then had the bright idea to get some food. (Isn't it supposed to work the other way around?! Remember, this is a college story!)

      Somehow, we find our way to Boston Beer Works. The name has changed and is now known as simply Beer Works. The funny thing is, my memory 15 years later recalls good food, great beer, a fun crowd (near BC and BU), and some vague images of the bar area. But, who knows, I could have fabricated that all in my memory for the sake of "saving face." Because, the kicker here is.....I did not even realize that, at BBW, I was just across from one of the holy grails of baseball, Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox play. I learned about my proximity to this sacred ground after returning back home. So, this should give you some idea of the state of affairs on this, my first, trip to BBW. Continued tomorrow.....Click here for a look at my most recent trip to Beer Works.

      Growing Hops: Cascade - 34 inches

      See what happened next -> Day 41: 46 inches See what happened next -> Day 41: 46 inches

      Monday, June 12, 2006

      What is it about beer?

      What? Were you expecting another hops picture? Ok ok I'm taking a break from that for at least a day...heheh. Seriously, I was at a party a few nights ago with my wife. There were many types of drinks from water to beer & wine to mixed drinks. Corona & Molson were the beer choices. Not unexpected for a summer party really. I opted for the Molson. As everybody was drinking Mike's hard lemonade, wine and cosmo's I was thinking about what it takes to please me when it comes to beer. As you know I kinda like ;-) "interesting beer" like Three Floyds Alpha King or something from a local brewer such as Incubus from The Sly Fox. I like interesting. I'm not a snob about it though. I enjoy all kinds of beer. To me my beer is like the music I listen to. One day I'll be listening to Johnny Cash the next its The Chieftains or Nine Inch Nails. So when I visit my Dad we get something we like. It could be I.C. Light this time or an IPA from JBC the next or even a homebrew. So, it isn't just about the taste either. I mean nobody can tell me that I.C. Light tastes better than IPA from JBC. Yet this doesn't stop me from drinking it with my Dad. So what the hell is it about beer that makes it so interesting? Some might say its the buzz from the alcohol. Yeah I guess, but, you can get that from few shots of cheap liquor. I think that for me its the adventure of it. I mean Alpha King just about blew my socks off the first time I had it. Wow, you might as well just crush some hops cones in your hands and smell them letting it fill your head with that wonderfully fresh blast of hops. Remember that Monks beer dinner Bryan and I went to? Now that was an adventure. I was reeling from the bret' beers we tasted that night from Pizza Port Brewery and Russian River Brewery. Then there's the whole home brewing thing. Now that is an adventure. Most people would be skeptical about making your own beer and actually drinking it. And not only do I brew the beer, but, I'm growing my own hops. I have brewing "parties" to share the brewing experience. I blog about it too. I belong to the AHA, I drive long distances to find new beer. I talk about beer to everybody I know. Why? I guess this is a question I should know the answer to. I mean I drink enough of it. Maybe the question is, "What's not to like about beer?". Beer is more philosophical than I thought.

      Sunday, June 11, 2006

      Beer Tasting: Dogfish Head Immort Ale

      This is a strong ale from Dogfish Head in Delaware. This 12 ounce bottle was generously donated by our friend Matt, who purchased a 4-pack in the Queens/Long Island area. Have you tasted this beer? Let us know what you think. As a suggestion, try to keep the review as brief as possible for each of the following: appearance; smell; taste; mouthfeel; and drinkability.

      Appearance Bryan: pours a very appealing copper-colored brew with no lacing or remnants of the initial head to speak of Smell Bryan: a bit of malt aroma, but nothing too powerful to notice; an alcoholic hint that it could have been bourbon barrel aged Taste Bryan: some nice bitter hops flavor upfront gives way quickly to sweet flavors like brown sugar, vanilla, and bubble gum (all in a good way) Mouthfeel Bryan: Some nice soft carbonation helps keep the beer alive throughout; this is a smooth drinking beer Drinkability Bryan: yes, this is an interesting beer that makes me want to keep trying more to discover other flavors (glad I have the entire bottle to myself) Seconds? Bryan: yes, (see last comment!), though at 11% ABV I better make sure that I'm not driving anywhere!