Saturday, January 31, 2009

Go Super Bowl...yea...whatever

I'm a bitter, petty fan. I'm the type that wants to see the team that beat mine to be likewise beaten, times ten. That's just me, no apologies. Others want to know that their team lost to the ultimate championship team. But, a Cinderella story like the Arizona Cardinals. They were never really hateable, even when they were in the Eagles division. Not even when the Eagles almost moved to Phoenix, and barely even still now that the, uh, "city" of Phoenix has taken over Philadelphia in the mostly pointless debate about largest cities. So, who am I pulling for in this year's Super Bowl? Eh, flip a coin I suppose. Pittsburgh I suppose is where my heart would be. I enjoy at least one trip a year there for hockey and beer. The city's pretty decent, the people not so bad either...except for the rabid fans who really want to pretend to be like voracious Eagles fans ;-) A couple of years ago when the Steelers got their 'one for the thumb,' I wrote a little bit (by my standards ;-) about Pittsburgh. Most of which content still holds true. So, if you care to read about Pittsburgh and its beers and bars, then take the beer machine back a couple of years in time and check out what the 'Burgh has to offer. If that doesn't interest you, perhaps a compilation of someone's choice of the top 43 Super Bowl commercials will. (get it, right? Super Bowl 43 or XLIII) Maybe this year's Super Bowl will end with Kurt Warner's team being stymied on the half yard line; that'd be ironic, eh? Enjoy the weekend, however you may choose to do.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Vintage Beer + Breweriana Swap Meet at Memphis Taproom: 3/15/2009

The creative events. These will be one of Philly Beer Week's strengths in its sophomore go round. When it comes to creativity, Brendan and Leigh at Memphis Taproom (and, of course, Local 44 as well) lead the charge. Anyone can do a Meet & Greet...and they're fine as a chance to drink some beer and chat with a brewer that you admire. There are close to 50 of them during this year's PBW. There are some physical activities (shameless plug), a Partly Sunny in Philadelphia promotion, a dog (PAWS) event, and a cheesesteak contest. But, this event at the Memphis Taproom gets to a different part of the industry that I'm guessing counts many more members than most would believe. Collectors. Every industry has them, and the brewing industry is no different. Brewing equipment, books, labels, advertisements, caps, and bottles are some of the more commonly collected items. Memphis Taproom is looking for as many dealers/sellers to come out and show/sell/trade their wares (some may even contain "a liquid" as a bonus). And, hey, you don't have to be an actual, registered dealer...just someone with some beer stuff that you want to trade or sell. Here is the text from the Event's calendar listing... This is an open call for any vintage beer or breweriana collectors interested in setting up shop for the afternoon. The event will be held on Sunday March 15 from 12pm-3pm. This is a chance for seasoned collectors to buy/sell/swap treasures and an opportunity for the rest of us to try to get a hold of rare or never seen beer and beer-related stuff. There is no fee to join in, but space is somewhat limited, contact to reserve your place. (Act fast!)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to use the Philly Beer Week 2009 Schedule

>> UPDATED: 3/5/2009 <<
** (If you don't care for my blathering, hop to the last paragraph to find a downloadable version of this year's Philly Beer Week Schedule) ** Do I ask for too much? Well, sometimes the answer could possibly be, yes. But, for the second year in a row, I'm struggling to make sense of the Philly Beer Week schedule on the official website. Last year's was downright impossible, so I put a little something together that made it easier for myself and I shared it with all of you. It was fine, but admittedly, not great. This year's version, it's a tad better, but still I've gone a step farther and made what I think is a very useful spreadsheet out of the calendar by copying all of the events off the website. Now, at a glance, we can ask some questions and get some very quick answers: ~ I can only go to PBW on Tuesday night after 7pm, how many events do I have to choose from? One click...done. ~ How many events is Tavern 17 having? One click...done. ~ I don't like the City, how many events are in Paoli or Wayne? One click for Paoli, one click for answer. ~ I'm on a strict budget and can only go 3/13-3/15, how many Free/PAYG events are scheduled on the last weekend of PBW? Two clicks, done. And on and on and on....I think those examples illustrate the point and get you thinking about how you can use a more practical calendar. With the website's current calendar, you pick a day, wait for the images to load, scroll up, scroll down, scroll all around until you find some event(s) that you are looking for, click the details to find more information, click the map...and on and on with the hunting and pecking process from day to day, back and forth, jotting down notes or however you find it convenient to make a list of things you'd like to do. Then, you forget what you do, or the schedule changes from one day to the next and you almost have to star over. Great, right? Only if you've got the time for that sort of thing. But, if a clean and concise list of all the events that you can sort and filter your way through is more your thing, you can either download it from here (then be sure to do File/Export/.XLS to complete the download....or just drop a note to me over here and I'll email a copy out to you. The list is sure to change over the coming weeks, and I'll update every few days or so. Until then, prepare's coming, again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

One of Philly Beer Week's Most Improved Components in 2009

When asked for feedback after last year's Philly Beer Week festivities, one of my top suggestions to "The Committee" was related to transportation. Of the days I attended, if I recall correctly, all but two of them begun and ended on a train from and to the 'burbs. It worked out almost seamlessly each time. But, I was hoping for some involvement from SEPTA or private transportation company to provide some better transport around town to the various events. Like the transportation package deals that are arranged for other major conventions, like the annual Flower Show, discounted rates and more frequent service would make some sense. There was, at one point last year, some discussion about private shuttle buses of some kind to get people directly from one event to another. Apparently that never came to light. Getting to know and understand the bus service (with the lack of great inter-city SEPTA train service) can be tricky for those who aren't very familiar with it or the city's layout. So I thought the idea of these private shuttle buses was brilliant to literally get people from door-to-door once in the city. For example, I began one night at Bridgewater's at 30th Street Station, walked along a bus route to get to London Grill (hoping to hop the bus as it passed, but no luck), waited for and then took a different bus from London Grill to Old City where I went to The Khyber, then Triumph, before hailing a cab back to 30th Street Station. This was typical of other days as well where the Broad Street Subway was used to reach South Philly Taproom, the Market Frankford El got me to Johnny Brenda's and Memphis Taproom, and the Subway Surface Trolley got me to Dock Street Brewery. I wouldn't expect many out-of-towners to put this level of planning or learning into getting around the city. That's why some level of shuttle busing would sure have been nice. Especially where there are clusters of events that might make sense to promote as one. So where are we this year? I don't yet hear any chatter of private shuttles, but we do have a deal with SEPTA. $9??? Brilliant. Unlimited! All-day! Every form of SEPTA! Awesome. For a traveler looking to take in a day or two of events this might work out very well. If you're spending everyday in the city and looking to use SEPTA, a weekly pass might be a better plan (dunno since I didn't crunch the numbers). Whatever you do, make sure you check out SEPTA's offer. The PBW committee put a lot of effort in to securing this deal and when it comes to drinking and safety, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones (not to mention strangers on the street) to be responsible. Sip Safely with SEPTA, an unlimited, all-day, bus-trolley-rail pass that will be sold for $9.00, valid any one day between March 6 and March 15. This pass is valid on SEPTA services, to encourage PBW participants to travel safely, rather than driving from event to event. Sip Safely with SEPTA passes will be available for sale at most SEPTA locations starting January 30. For a complete list of sales locations, or to purchase a pass online, please visit and click on travel.

Three Great-looking Upcoming Beer Dinner Menus

Here are a few upcoming beer dinners and their anticipated menus/pairings. Starting with tonight, we've got a Tröegs Dinner at the General Sutter Inn in Lititz, PA...a Stone Dinner at The Drafting Room in Exton, PA next month...and, in March, a Stoudt's Dinner at High Street Caffe in West Chester, PA. Tröegs Beer Dinner at General Sutter Inn Wednesday, January 28th @ 6:30pm 5 courses, 6 beers for $55 - does not include tax & gratuity Call 717-626-2115 Reservations required Social Time Tröegs Pale Ale First Course Tröegs Rugged Trail Ale paired with Thai Halibut with Coconut Curry Broth Second Course Tröegs Hop Back Amber Ale paired with Endive Spears, Stilton Cheese, Toasted Pecans and Sautéed Pears Third Course Tröegs Tröegenator Double Bock paired with Aged Filet of Beef Carpaccio Charred Tomato Oil Fourth Course Tröegs Nugget Nectar paired with Grilled Hanger Steak, Maytag Bleu Demi Glace Fifth Course Tröegs DreamWeaver Wheat Ale paired with Grilled Banana with Mexican Chocolate and Cherries
Stone Beer Dinner at The Drafting Room/Exton Tuesday, February 10th @ 6:45pm $59.00 per Person (Tax & Gratuity Not Included) Call 610-363-0521 Reservations Required The Food Tasso Wrapped Shrimp, Blackberry Cider Drizzle, Corn Shoots Double Smoked Duck Breast, Pine Nut & Tillamook Ravioli, Mushroom Confit & Cherry Balsamic Syrup House made Buffalo Pastrami, Dijon Chive Reduction, Bacon, Onion & Brussel Sprouts, Shingled Potatoes & Herbs, Micro-Greens Steeped Mocha Torte, Salted Macadamia Crust, Winter Orange Crème, Raspberry Drizzle The Beer (all on Tap) Stone Pale Ale Double Bastard Ale (2006) Double Bastard (2008) Stone IPA Stone Imperial Russian Stout (2007) Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine (2007)
Stoudt's Beer Dinner at High Street Caffe Wednesday, March 18th Call 610-696-7435 Reservations required Cost is $45 per person - does not include tax & gratuity Reception - Stoudt's Pils First Course - Stoudt's American Pale Ale paired with Crawfish & Andouille Bread Pudding Second Course - Stoudt's Mai Bock paired with Crab Nachos with Avocado Coulis Third Course - Stoudt's Belgian Triple paired with Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potato & Tasso Hash Fourth Course - Stoudt's Fat Dog Stout paired with Duo of Chocolate (Chocolate Flourless Torte & Chocolate Mousse)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Villa Capri in Doylestown, PA

Villa Capri was originally a pizza place and later, in 1983, expanded to a restaurant. The restaurant has been in the Mannino family for 41 years and Matt Mannino has been operating it for the past 18 years. Ten years ago, the bar was added. Recently, better beer has been popping up at the bar and in the cooler.

I caught their second attempt at introducing well-crafted beer to its customers earlier in January. They'd hosted Oskar Blues the first time around and are looking to have them back again, along with Dogfish Head and "something organic" over the next few months. The plan will be to do a craft beer night on the second Thursday of each month.

Our trip to Doylestown was a breeze considering the event began at 9pm. No traffic, no fuss...just a quick trip 35-40 minute trip from home to Villa Capri.

Lee Marren, late of Spinnerstown and Legacy Brewing, was on hand as Stone's (California) Mid-Atlantic sales rep. He was pouring Pale Ale, Smoked Porter, and Arrogant Bastard paired with slices of Villa Capri's Chicken Alfredo, Proscuitto & Artichoke, and Taco pizza. At $10, the price was just right. On top of the 5 or 6 (?) ounce tastings and the pizza, there was a bomber bottle of Stone given as a nice little takeaway as well.

I got a kick out of, in lieu of a missing case of Stone IPA, Peroni was instead substituted. This was just after I picked up a sticker from Lee's table of marketing schwag that reads: "Fizzy Yellow Beer is For Wussies." Not that Peroni is terrible, just in no where near the league of any of Stone's offerings.

Around 15 people were there to sample food and beer pairings. I figured for an establishment just beginning to do this sort of thing...and at 9pm on a Thursday night...that this was a respectable showing and bodes well for future tastings at Villa Capri.

They were the first pizza place in Doylestown serving Italian food. The ambiance is nice, too, for kicking back with some good beers and Italian food. They offer patio dining in the nicer weather and cozy fireside dining in the winter months. The ski chalet-like hearth keeps the fire burning to create a comfy dining environment.

They also cater and have a full service bar looking to expand to more craft beers. (In the cooler on the night of my visit was Flying Fish, Stone, Oskar Blues, and Sierra Nevada). Not to be left out, a wine tasting with Sand Castle will be conducted in February. Another reason to check out Villa Capri is the Live Piano taking place during First Fridays in Doylestown.

I have very little experience in Doylestown; this is one place I'd be comfortable in recommending.

Beer Calendar: What To Do in February 2009

February delivers the love with a San Francisco Beer Week of ten days sandwiched within the Bay Area's annual Strong Beer Month. Let's see how they measure up to Philadelphia's Gold Standard. Back here at home, there's plenty to do. Below is a good sampling. If I'm missing any that you feel should be on here, let me know. Enjoy! $20 and under, down to and including FREE...Pay As You Go (PAYG) also included here Philadelphia Mon. 2/2 - 2009 Groundhog Day Hawaiian Shirt Beer Breakfast and Lucky Cat Beer Prognostication @Grey Lodge, Philadelphia, PA (7am-10am; PAYG) Thu. 2/5 - Brewer's Reserve Barrel Tappings (Schwarzbier)@Triumph, Philadelphia, PA (6pm; PAYG) Wed. 2/11 - La Chouffe Night @Devil's Den, Philadelphia, PA (7pm-9pm; PAYG) Thu. 2/12 - Sierra Nevada Promo Night @Earth Bread + Brewery, Philadelphia, PA (6:30pm; PAYG) Fri. 2/13 - Friday the Firkinteenth 18 @Grey Lodge, Philadelphia, PA (all day; PAYG) Sat. 2/21 - Bourbon, Beer, and Cheese @The Institute, Philadelphia, PA (4pm-6pm; PAYG) Sun. 2/22 - Oskar Blues Oscar Night Pajama Party @The Institute, Philadelphia, PA (7pm; PAYG) Wed. 2/25 - Stone Night @Devil's Den, Philadelphia, PA (7pm-9pm; PAYG) Fri. 2/27-Sat. 2/28 - Countdown to St. Patrick’s Day @McGillin's, Philadelphia, PA (PAYG) Philadelphia's close suburbs Tue. 2/3 - Long Beard Contest + Six Point & Mussels promotion @High Street Grill, Mount Holly, NJ (7pm-10pm; PAYG) Thu. 2/5 - Nugget Nectar Firkin @Teresa's Next Door, Wayne, PA (6pm; PAYG) Thu. 2/5 - Rogue Dead Guy Firkin and other Rogue specialties @The Drafting Room, Spring House, PA (5:30pm; PAYG) Fri. 2/6 - Friday Night Tasting (Sierra Nevada Torpedo) @Beer Yard, Wayne, PA (5pm-7pm; free) Fri. 2/6 - Be Mine on the Main Line (co-sponsored by Weyerbacher) @Blush, Bryn Mawr, PA (7pm-11pm; $10 charitable donation) Wed. 2/11 - Sierra Nevada Torpedo @Teresa's Next Door, Wayne, PA (6pm; PAYG) Fri. 2/27 - Final Friday Firkin Night (Tröegs Nugget Nectar) @High Street Grill, Mount Holly, NJ (PAYG) Greater Philadelphia Metro / Eastern Pennsylvania Thu. 2/4 - Brewer's Reserve Barrel Tappings (Cherry Brown Ale)@Triumph, Princeton, NJ (6pm; PAYG) Thu. 2/6 - Brewer's Reserve Barrel Tappings (Kellerbier)@Triumph, New Hope, PA (6pm; PAYG) Thu. 2/12 - Victory Brew & Pizza @Villa Capri, Doylestown, PA (9pm; $10)Thu. 2/12 - Thursday Night Tasting (Sierra Nevada) @Isaac Newton's, Newtown, PA (7pm-9pm; free) Thu. 2/12 - Firkin of Tröegs Nugget Nectar @Canal Street Pub, Reading, PA (PAYG) Wed. 2/18 - Beer 101@Triumph, New Hope, PA (7pm; $20) Sat. 2/21 - New Holland Tasting @Union Jack's, Boyertown, PA (7pm; PAYG) Thu. 2/26 - Thursday Night Tasting (Stone) @Isaac Newton's, Newtown, PA (7pm-9pm; free) Fri. 2/27 - Cask Ale Night (Tröegs Nugget Nectar & Lancaster Shoo Fly Porter) @General Sutter Inn, Lititz, PA (4:30pm-6:30pm; PAYG) Elsewhere Thu. 2/5 - Man's Best Friends: A Beer and Dog Pairing Art Show @Steinbeck's, Decatur, GA (7pm; PAYG) Fri. 2/6-Sun. 2/8 - Cask Head Festival @Brazen Head, New York, NY (Noon-close; no cover, PAYG) Fri. 2/6-Sun. 2/15 - San Francisco Beer Week @various locations around San Francisco Bay Area, CA (see website for detailed listings) Fri. 2/13-Sun. 2/15 - Belgian Beer Fest 2009 @Max's, Baltimore, MD (11am-2am; cash only, PAYG) Fri. 2/13 - Firkin of Tröegs Nugget Nectar @Fat Head's, Pittsburgh, PA (PAYG) Mon. 2/23 - Firkin of Tröegs Nugget Nectar @Pizzeria Paradiso, Washington, D.C. (PAYG) Events Over $20 Philadelphia Thu. 2/12 - Chocolate Dreams @Tria, Philadelphia, PA (7:00pm-8:30pm; $60) Thu. 2/12-Sun. 2/15 - Love Stout and Oysters @London Grill, Philadelphia, PA (daily beginning at 6pm; $100/couple) Thu. 2/19 - Go Play in the Yards @Tria, Philadelphia, PA (6:00pm-8:30pm; $45) Philadelphia's close suburbs Sat. 2/7 - Winterfest @General Lafayette, Lafayette Hill, PA (12:00pm-3:30pm; $45) Sun. 2/8 - The Winter Beer Bus Tour 2009 @High Street Grill, Mount Holly, NJ (11am-8pm; $100) Tue. 2/10 - Stone Beer Dinner @The Drafting Room, Exton, PA (6:45pm; $59) Wed. 2/11 - Stone Beer Dinner @The Drafting Room, Spring House, PA (6:45pm; $59) Sun. 2/22 - Double IPA Day @Teresa's Next Door, Wayne, PA (11am; PAYG) Sat. 2/28 - First Annual Brewfest @Maggio's, Southampton, PA (1pm-5pm; $30/$35) Greater Philadelphia Metro / Eastern Pennsylvania Wed. 2/11 - Vertical Tasting of Fuller's Vintage Ale @General Sutter Inn, Lititz, PA (6:30pm; $28.50) Tue. 2/17 - Beer & Seafood Dinner @Union Barrel Works, Reamstown, PA (6:30pm; $40) Sat. 2/28 - Brewer's Winter Beer Festival @Stoudt's, Adamstown, PA (7pm-11pm; $30) Elsewhere Tue. 2/3 - Annual Barleywine Dinner @Falling Rock Tap House, Denver, CO (7:30pm; $50/$60) Fri. 2/20 - Night of the Barrels @The Cyclorama @ The Boston Center For The Arts, Boston, MA (6:00pm-9:30pm; $50) Sat. 2/21 - Extreme Beer Fest @The Cyclorama @ The Boston Center For The Arts, Boston, MA (1:00pm-4:30pm, 6:00pm-9:30pm; $40) Sat. 2/21-Sun. 2/22 - "Hell with The Lid Off" Barleywine Festival @Kelly's Bar & Lounge, Pittsburgh, PA (4pm-8pm, 1pm-5pm; $TBD)

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Matter of Principle

I won't be the one to presume that I should tell you what to do in the realm of right and wrong. What I will point out, however, is something that I've been sitting on for around a week or so. The topic is the Philly Craft Beer Festival, a festival that where hope was once heaped upon to become an annual eponymous Philadelphian oasis for beer lovers. I didn't say anything and I'm now off the hook as and Jack Curtin have spoken up. See, in the beer rich region that I live and play in, I will rarely...if the one to break news in our wonderful world of beer. So when I came upon this piece of news, I didn't know exactly what to do with it. Let's just say that whenever possible, and within my humanly capable self, I try to be a principled person. So when I see or hear of others taking a stand for what they believe to be just, then I applaud them and want to bring attention to it. I'll say that I, like Jack, don't know a lot more on the subject than some of the first and first-and-a-half-hand knowledge that I have been provided. I trust these sources enough to say that this issue with the Philly Craft Beer Festival existed two years ago, it existed last year, and it appears to be bigger than ever issue this year, to the tune of many local breweries withdrawing their attendance. If I can get an exact count, I'll be sure to let you all know. As I pointed out above, in this beer rich region, there's little excuse not to know what's going on in the world of beer. There are more informed beer drinkers and beer writers around here knowledgably drinking and discussing the product...this includes everything from beer releases to the politics of beer. I believe it's a fairly good bet that there are more beer writers per capita here in the Philly region than anywhere else in the country....perhaps world? I'll leave this simply at the suggestion that you should look at all of the beer events during Philly Beer Week, look at their credentials (to the best of your ability...what's happening, who's benefiting, and how the business is being conducted) and determine who deserves your consumer dollars. As a consumer, you should demand no less....and remember that Philly Beer Week is much larger than any one event.

Beef 'n' Beer at South Philadelphia Taproom: 1/25/09

A lazy Sunday afternoon on the weekend before the Super Bowl. What else to do? Especially for a particular South Philly bar owner (that'd be John Longacre), the answer seemed obvious: Throw a Beef 'n' Beer event. And for close to 100 pub-goers, the answer seemed equally obvious. Thanks to Joe Beddia of South Philadelphia Taproom (and soon, but not "too soon" to be, Brew....just down the street at 15th) for reminding me of their event yesterday at SPTR and inviting me in. The starting time of 3pm was perfect. It gave those with cobwebs from the previous night a chance to clear them out, while all but guaranteeing, that with a 6pm finish time, it wouldn't be be late Sunday night. Great planning guys. I arrived with around an hour to go, fortunately the taps were still flowing all four gravity-fed cask conditioned beers. Close to 100 people had come out for this event. I'm not sure the last time I was at a Beef 'n' Beer where the customer was the beneficiary. And, benefit we did from the meat and potatoes laden buffet table and the beer. Chef Scott Schroeder had some hand-carved sirloin, short rib tacos, and steak tartare along with the appropriate sides and fixins. A firkin each of Yards ESA (is there any place this beer isn't showing up lately?), Sly Fox Burns Scottish (only one to-date in Philly proper), PBC Joe Porter (finally got my lips on this one and was not disappointed), and Nodding Head BPA (perfect as always on my palate). I'm drawing a blank on the "special hopping" for the Yards ESA, maybe someone can help to answer that question of mine. Reps from each of the breweries were there, though come to think of it I don't believe I saw anyone from Nodding Head unless they were there earlier. I hung around for a little extra longer to learn that the coffee should likely be flowing from SPTR's new venture, Brew, down the street before the beer is. Licensing, not the community, appears to be the delay...y'think? Exact date still TBD. And, also long enough to be reminded that I'd never been to one of the their Wheat Beer Fests. Last year, they had around 30 or so breweries representing with an estimated close to 1,000 attendees. This year should be at least as impressive with even more wheat beers and more careful planning for crowd control (read: porta johns). All in all, another good night spent in South Philly, one that will help me to forget a certain Monday night at SPTR when the World Series game was suspended. You know how I feel about up-to-date taplists. Wanna see SPTR''s a link.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Belgium Comes, Beers Go in West Chester

Let's see, it was something like 3pm when I arrived at Iron Hill in West Chester. If you don't what was going on, check back over here for details and a taplist. When I arrived, a good five or six kegs had already hit the road. The crowd was teeming and I was thirsty, so I grabbed an Otay (Nodding Head) from the front bar.

Great move on the part of Iron Hill to set up some brews at the front bar to give the impatient types (or agoraphobics) a chance to get a fairly quick beer. Both the front and back bars were packed, as was the main and side dining rooms. Everyone appeared to have a strategy: pick a table; pick a barstool; or pick a piece of standing room. Any way they went, everyone need to be ready to call out a beer, because they were flying off the taps quickly and furiously.

  When I left at 6pm, only a handful remained, including PBC's Fleur de Lehigh (with wormwood, no less) and a couple of Iron hill beauts (Heywood and Cannibal) in the far back. Other than this, what can I tell you? I only had 5 or 6 beers (and numerous "sips"), so it's difficult to tell you which were best of almost 30 beers.

I did really, really enjoy the Cannibal (of course), the Harpoon Hibernian, and General Lafayette's sour strawberry beer, called Bière aigre de fraise. Actually, after having been given several glassfuls, samples, and tastes of various "funked up" beers, the General Lafayette's beer, full of tart fruit flavors could have been right up there as my favorite of the day.

Oh, and in the spirit of not breaking any new news, you'll need to check over here for news (link forthcoming) that I may have been early to receive, but needed to wait in the pecking order to distribute. A tease of an Iron Hill shuffle (not to be confused with Lido, Icky, or East Street) for the time being will need to suffice.

p.s. Jack was there longer than I was (though better behaved than last year, so alas no incriminating pictures), so I'll link to his review when he posts it. oops, right on cue, here it is. It's a good read, with more newsy tidbits than I have but, then again, what else would you expect from a good beer journalist? (gotta get in a compliment every once in a while)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

All the Philly Beer that's Fit to Drink

The New York Times covered most of the appropriate bases when they documented the current brewing scene in Philadelphia. In the article, they hit on Earth Bread + Brewery, Yards, and Dock Street, while the pictures covered these plus Triumph, Philadelphia Brewing, Manayunk, and Nodding Head. A good read. Just enough detail to make the article worth reading, while not going on too long for you short-attention span folks.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This is my last posting of The Drafting Room's taplist, 1/23/09

Until the combination of Sean, Howard, Heather, Greg breaks down and doesn't keep the taplist up-to-date (yeah, that's a challenge :) this will be my last posting of local taplists.

Except for the Flying Pig in Malvern, local quality beer bars to the western Philly suburbs (Teresa's Next Door and The Drafting Room) have met TJs challenge. Well over a year ago now, Jeff Miller at TJs said enough was enough. Forget people calling and asking. Forget The Brew Lounge posting the taplist.

He's been updating the taplist on his website in as real of time as is humanly possible. Teresa's got their website up and going and are doing a decent job of getting it updated every few days or so. Now The Drafting Room joined the party a week or so ago and has been updating with every change of the tap handles. Whither the Pig?

Anyway, here's the last update that I'll make that will be ahead of TDR's website. Oh, and here's a direct link to it. Now, where's that link to the picture of Sean?

Victory Uncle Teddy's Bitter (cask)
Victory Braumeister Pils
Green Flash West Coast IPA
Legacy Nor'easter
Rogue Porter
Rogue Collaborator
Speakeasy Old Godfather Barleywine
Brooklyn Lager
Sly Fox Dunkel Weisse
Stoudts Smooth Hoperator
Sly Fox Boadicea
Lindemans Framboise
Legacy Midnight Wit
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sly Fox O'Reilly Stout
Amstel Light

Victory Beer Dinner at High Street Caffé: 1/21/09

High Street Caffé in West Chester, PA is back on my radar. But, wait, you say; how in the world did they ever fall of my radar? Great question, one to which there isn't a great answer, or any at all. Do you have places that you haven't been to in a while that you can't explain why?

Well, it was Victory's Beer Dinner that they played host to this week at High Street Caffé that brought us back. Restauranteurs: Did you hear that? Do something a little different, maybe a beer dinner???, and watch the diners come out, perhaps some you haven't seen in a while.

This actually was HSC's first beer dinner in what proprietor Donny Syracuse promises will be an ongoing string of similar events. (For example, next up is Stoudt's. I'll be sure to bring the details to you here as soon as I get them.) And turn out the customers they did. Right around sixty hungry and thirsty patrons filled the restaurant. Well, to be honest, it was almost a full house sellout with room for maybe another 10-15.

Not too bad for restaurant dipping into the Beer Dinner Scene for the first time. Not that they're any newcomer to filling plates. Syracuse and executive chef Jay Wenner have been doing what they do together now for almost 13 years. This thing is cajun and creole just south of downtown West Chester and just north of the heart of West Chester University's main campus. Joining Jay in puttin on this event...behind the beer for this dinner was Lisa Wampler and managing the event was Kevin Coley.

Patty and I attending this dinner continues in keeping with one of my objectives this year: to attend more "off the beaten path" beer events. This was qualified not because it was an unheard of brewery or restaurant, but rather because of their first time hosting a beer dinner.

Things got off to around a twenty minute late start. We'd arrived about 15 minutes before the scheduled 7pm start. But, with a Welcome Beer in hand, I don't believe that anyone minded the wait. While the kitchen was readying itself, Bill Covaleski and Tracy Mulligan from Victory worked the room personally welcoming each table.

It was the last time in the evening we waited on a beer. Bill officially got things rolling by introducing himself and giving a background of the Brewery. He was self-deprecating saying that the beer would be more interesting than he, but the laughs continued after that joke so I think he was doing just fine.

He and Tracy sat and enjoyed the dinner as well, getting up to mingle and answer questions a few times. Bill spoke to the room once more before giving the floor to (the ever-so-crafty) Tracy to distribute raffle winnings to a handful of lucky patrons (yours truly included, thank you).

So, how about those pairings you ask? Glad you asked!

The Lager was a perfect intro beer, especially considering that no beer after it was under HopDevil's 6.7% ABV. Oh, and did I mention that each beer served was a 12 ounce bottle per person? I'm not sure that I've had a full 12 oz. of Old Horizontal before, at least not in one sitting. The Baltic Thunder, come to think of it, wasn't a 12 ounce it wasn't. It was a 22 ounce bottle...were we happy? You think? Well, actually, no one should probably be too surprised that we actually left some non-empty bottles behind on the table. Is that a beer foul or responsibility?

We got into our first course of mussels and Hop Wallop. Each was fine, of course, in their own right, but maybe a broth with ingredients packing a bigger flavor punch would have stood up better to the much more flavorful Hop Wallop. The second course, though, was where it was at. The doppelbock's rich malty flavors with a bit of smoke was an obvious winning combination with the smoked sausage and contrasted nicely with the sharp cheese and vinaigrette flavors in the bed of greens that it rest upon.

While the hops in the Hop Wallop didn't marry as well with the mussels from the sea, the hops in the HopDevil went just perfectly with the jambalaya. The trademark spiciness in the jambalaya was the perfect match for this IPA and the strong malt balance made the difference in helping it stand up to the weight of the dish.

Then, my oh my, next came the Old Ho with the pork sliders. I've talked in the past about how well strong barbecue flavors can go so well with a barleywine or a strong Belgian ale, as two examples. This is a perfect application of that principle. The beer's hallmark big malt flavors and alcohol strength created the perfect complement to not only the tangy barbecue and the creamy cheddar, but also the fried onion ring and snappy cole slaw.

Then we came to...a dessert course in a beer dinner without chocolate? This type of thing, I suppose, is allowed to occur from time to time. Especially, when the chocolate dessert is replaced with cheese. Come to think of it, I suppose that I could look at the subtle chocolate flavor in the Baltic Thunder as the chocolate in my dessert course. There was so much talking going on during the dessert course that, while I ate most of the plate (and what was on it!), I didn't really pay close attention to the types of cheese or the exact pairability.

What I do recall, though, is the most important takeaway: cheese and beer are so wonderfully pairable. If you didn't already know this, please study up, you're missing out. Particularly in this beer, the maltiness and accompanying roasted, chocolate, and coffee flavors meld so well, while the hop bitterness and carbonation help to clear the palate of the creamy cheese.

Well done, High Street. You can bet that, barring any conflicts, I'll be back for your next Beer Dinner...Stoudt's you say, right?

Welcome Beer ~ Victory Lager

First Course ~ Victory Hop Wallop ~ paired with Mussels, cooked with garlic and fresh herbs in a Victory Lager broth

Second Course ~ Victory St. Victorious ~ paired with Smoked Alligator Sausage, served with baby Arugula and tossed with Stilton in a Dijon vinaigrette

Third Course ~ Victory HopDevil ~ paired with Crawfish Jambalaya, their famous recipe made with Andouille sausage

Fourth Course ~ Victory Old Horizontal ~ paired with BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders, served with Tillamook Cheddar and carmelized onions, and a side of onion ring and slaw

Fifth Course ~ Victory Baltic Thunder ~ paired with a Cheese Plate, a selection of artisanal cheeses with traditional accompaniments

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Iron Hill BCtWC: Ready Thyself

If you've been to the Iron Hill Belgian event in West Chester (notice how I slip in this link to Chris LaPierre's newly minted blog?) in past years, then you'll recognize the format for Saturday afternoon. If not, here's the way it works. Ah, why not just click on the picture below and get the official word straight from the menu that you'll be looking at on Saturday (or tomorrow, or today....or yesterday if you slept through it and are now just catching up). Figure this may reduce some hemming and hawing when the bartender is looking at you and a hundred others who are trying to figure out which ones to buy. Or just get the package deal and share; that seems to have been a popular and effective approach in the past in order to trying them all.

Belgium Comes to West Chester at Iron Hill this Saturday; The List

Chris LaPierre, one of your emcees for this Saturday's event, has passed along the anticipated lineup of tasties. I have this sneaking suspicion that you'd like to know? Ready the car service. Dock Street; Born Again Tripel (American Tripel) Earth Bread + Brewery; Li'l Pylon (Dubbel) Flying Fish; Belgian Mild General Lafayette; Bière aigre de fraise (sour strawberry beer) Harpoon; Wild Hibernian (Irish Red fermented in a barrel with Brett) Iron Hill-Lancaster; Permanent Midnight (Belgian Strong) Iron Hill-Media; Straight Lambic Iron Hill-North Wales; Cherry Dubbel (barrel aged w/Brett) Iron Hill-Phoenixville; Honey Saison Iron Hill-West Chester; Eddy, (Brett Cannibal) Iron Hill-West Chester; Saison (the last of the actual medal winning batch) Ithaca; Brut (sour ale) Ithaca; White Gold (Golden Ale finished w/Brett) Lancaster Brewing; Tripel Manayunk; Tripel Lindy (Tripel) McKenzie's; Wallonia DeLuxe (High Gravity Farmhouse) Nodding Head; O'Tay (Belgian Buckwheat Ale) Nodding Head; Rudy's Kung Fu Grip (Belgian Strong Ale) Ommegang; Chocolate Indulgence Ommegang; Three Philosophers Philadelphia Brewing Walt Whitever Sly Fox; Abbey D'Extra (Belgian table beer) Stewart's; Stumblin Monk (Belgian Strong Ale) Tröegs; Mad Elf Victory; Abbey 6 Yards; Belgian IPA

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Raise a Glass of Ommegang Inauguration Ale tonight (and where to find it)

Join me and fellow Brew Loungers at TJs in Paoli, PA this evening to toast a change in approach to governing this country. Not only will TJs continue to pour their A+ draft lineup (and not to be ignored bottles, too), but they will also be one of the several area bars carrying Ommegang's much discussed Inauguration Ale (a-not-ka Obamagang Ale). They'll be saving the second keg for Philly Beer Week's visit from brewmaster Phil Leinhart. It should be quite a memorable day and I, for one, am looking forward to a refreshing change of view. So, while it will be bittersweet to see this website discontinued, the snark will continue to live on (though not in the White House) in Internet History. Every once in a while, I get a kick in the pants for being, how shall we say, a bit thickheaded. Here's what happened. Instead of going straight to the source, I tried (for your pleasure) to cobble a list of bars serving Ommegang's Inauguration Ale the old fashioned calling and e-mailing around. Since it wasn't twittered, I wasn't able to....(oh wait, I'll save that fun topic for another day) In the meantime, the man on top of all of this just so happens to be in Cooperstown. Larry Bennett from the brewery posted a listing at Beer Advocate of all mid-Atlantic bars with the Inauguration Ale on 1/20. Thanks Larry, maybe next time I'll start with the source instead of the other way around. Now to get back those lost minutes.... Cheers and best wishes, Mr. President! You've got your work generously cut out for you. Philadelphia Beneluxx Bishop's Collar Eulogy Grey Lodge Pub Race Street Café Side Car Bar and Grille St. Stephen's Green Tria, Rittenhouse Square Tria, Washington Square London Grille and Bar Philly Suburbs Blue Dog, Chalfont Blue Dog, Lansdale Ortino's, Schwenksville Stephanie's Restaurant & Lounge, Doylestown Teresa's Next Door, Wayne TJ's Drinkery, Paoli

Monday, January 19, 2009

Blind Tiger's Night of the Imperials

Have you missed the torture of being no where around NYC and reading about upcoming taplists at the Blind Tiger? Well, fear not, they're back. And, their first "official" event of the year 2009 is no different from past events: impressive
Jan. 21st @ 4PM, is the Night of the Imperials! I know it's a little strange that we are celebrating Imperials during one of the pinnacles of our democracy, but if you've ever been to the Tiger then you understand strange is the new normal. I don't know what I'm talking about... The List: Avery Kaiser Hitachino Espresso Stout 2 Brothers' Northwind Imperial Stout (Cask) 2 Brothers' Heavy Handed Imp. IPA Southern Tier Unearthly IPA Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Rogue Imperial Pilsner Lagunitas Imperial Red Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA Rockies Oblivion Imperial Stout Victory Storm King Victory Hop Wallop Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Sixpoint Belgian Double IPA Stoudt's Double IPA Oskar Blues' Gordon Imp. IPA Blue Point Imperial Cherry Stout Southampton Imperial Porter AND THAT IS JUST THE BEGINNING!!! A selection of cheese from Murray's will be on hand for your tasting needs. Also to get you geared up for the coming months, we will be hosting Stone Brewery (Feb. 25th), Bear Republic, Lagunitas, and our friends from Vermont (i.e. Vermont Beer and Cheese)...details will follow.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Beer Geeks Rejoice, The Nectar is Flowing

Cases and Kegs have hit the market. Tröegs always highly-anticipated Nugget Nectar has become widely available over the past week. Last night at The Beer Yard in Wayne, proprietor Matt Guyer was hosting Nick Johnson from Tröegs who was pouring various styles, but none more so than Nugget Nectar. There is a reservation list for cases of NN at The Beer Yard, but there was a small stack of extra cases available too. A dozen or so went out the door last night, so if you want a case for tomorrow's football games and have not reserved a case at The Beer Yard, I'd suggest getting there early today. Nick passed along the following dates which should have Beer Geeks far and wide across the PA/NJ/MD/DC eagerly marking their calendars. Firkins of cask conditioned Nugget Nectar will be pouring the juice on the following dates. Philly and Surrounding Area 1-21-09 Standard Tap, Phila., PA 1-29-09 Drafting Room, Exton, PA 2-5-09 Teresa's Next Door, Wayne, PA 2-12-09 Canal St. Pub, Reading, PA 2-13-09 Grey Lodge (Friday the Firkinteenth), Phila., PA 2-27-09 High St. Grill, Mt. Holly NJ 3-12-09 Drafting Room, Spring House, PA Out of the Philly area: 2-4-09 Max's, Baltimore, MD 2-6-09 Brewhouse Grille, Harrisburg, PA 2-11-09 Frisco Grille, Columbia, MD 2-12-09 Mahaffey's, Baltimore, MD 2-13-09 Fat Head's, Pittsburgh, PA 2-18-09 Racer's Cafe, Baltimore, MD 2-20-09 Market Cross Pub, Carlisle, PA 2-23-09 Pizzeria Paradiso, Washington, DC 2-25-09 Max's, Baltimore, MD 2-27-09 General Sutter, Lititz, PA

Friday, January 16, 2009

Raise a Toast for A New Outlook

With my country getting a long overdue fresh perspective on leadership, breweries, restaurants, and bars are getting in on the action by making special beers and throwing parties on Inauguration Day, January 20th, 2009. While by no means exhaustive, check out the following list of events for next Tuesday that I've seen come across my screen. If you know of more in your neck of the woods, please feel free to post them in the comments section or just toss an e-mail to me if you prefer. I'll get things started here with an interesting blurb from Piece Brewery in Illinois by way of Lew Bryson. Interesting, to say the least. The Tiedhouse- "History in the Making" Inauguration Brunch McGillin's- all day, special Hawaiian-inspired menu, drinks, and leis 21st Amendment- Yes We Can! Party; opens at 9am with the televised inauguration and serving $2 cans of 21A beer all day McMenamin's/Crystal Ballroom- The People's Inaugural Ball, details TBA Plough and Stars: 6pm, Get Your Barack On Grey Lodge: 120 Minute IPA on 1/20 on draft all day Blind Tiger: serving Duvel/Ommegang's Inauguration Ale, Avery's Ale to the Chief, a few Imperial beers Pike Brewing: Pike "White House" Chili Thirsty Bear: all day Beer Stimulus Plan City Tavern: Jan. 16-20, $44 prix fixe 3 course menu with beer London Grill: all day, all night with Obamagang (see below); and even a "going away" party for Bush and Cheyney on 1/15 Dock Street: 6pm, special food and beer Zot Restaurant: 3 course Inauguration Dinner followed by Bush Piñata Party And finally, Ommegang- has released a new, very limited, beer called Inauguration Ale (a.k.a. Obamagang) in the brewery's words...
January - February 6.2% ABV - Draft only The TTB won't let us call the beer Obamagang on the keg label. So it will be known legally as Inauguration Ale 2009, but the tap handles will be The style lies between a porter and stout, with a bit of Kriek and a touch of chocolate blended in. It will be on draft only, beginning with the inauguration - in limited areas including DC, NYC, Syracuse, Philly, Chicago and Boston. We will donate a percentage of sales to charities in the respective cities where the beer is sold, and we've asked our distributors to match our donations and pick the local charities. (Also please note that the beer is not an endorsement of Obama.)


Not gonna go into anything too sudsy here tonight other than to say that I'm staying warm with, ironically, some Great Lakes treats (Eliot Ness Lager and Christmas Ale). This being one of the coldest nights of the year in many places where you may be reading this, it reminds me that I should be thankful for a roof over my head, a job that keeps the furnace running, and a lifestyle that allows me to enjoy the good things in life like this Flying Fish Grand Cru Winter Reserve beer, one that I just may be ready to proclaim one of the best of the 2008/2009 winter season. I'm hoping that this evening finds you warm and counting your blessings as well. Not everyone is so fortunate. Those of us who can, could and should always do more than just think about helping those less fortunate.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Brian O'Reilly's Words

The Pride of the Fox You'll need to tune in on Sunday, or later download the podcast version, to The Brewing Network's Sunday Session for an interview with Brian O'Reilly of Sly Fox. Interviews on the Sunday Session are always well-done and usually very entertaining as well. Let's see how Brian fits in with the crew from The BN.

The Haggis, please...

Excerpted from the latest Sly Fox newsletter. Let's just say that the last sentence below could be mine as well as anyone who has ever attended this fine, fine party. If that's not you, it should be high on your list of things to rectify this year. The haggis, please...
....The Burns Birthday Bash attracts many fans of Burns’ poetry and Americans of Scottish descent from all around the region as well as beer fans who’ve waited anxiously for the release of our Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale on that night. This year, everybody in attendance will also enjoy another special treat: both Gang Aft Agley and Burns Scottish Ale will be pouring on the Phoenixville handpumps as well as the draft lines. In addition--and this one is clearly for the beer geeks--a keg of 2007 Gang Aft Agley will also be on draft. The Robbie Burns Birthday Bash features bagpipers, Haggis and the reading of selections from Burns’ poetry by attendees brave enough—or lubricated enough—to take center stage. This is a great winter party.....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If there must be a Consolation Prize, let it be Nugget Nectar

Plans had me drinking Weyerbacher's new Fireside Ale in South Philly at Devil's Den. Plans had me drinking G.W.'s Porter from a cask at The Kite and The Key. Funny thing about plans? They sometimes change. Sheesh, I'm starting to sound like this other guy I know. Things happen. Trains are missed. But there's something about dark clouds and silver linings that have a way of working themselves out. See, if you didn't already know, the first-class beer bar, TJs, is directly across the street from the Paoli Train Station, home to the aforementioned 'missed train.' Patty and I rendezvoused at TJs where Tröegs latest incarnation of beer geek favorite, Nugget Nectar, had just been delivered at 5:58pm off the truck to the coolers at the bar. So, what does that mean? It means that at 6:04pm, I was drinking the first delivered retail account's Nugget Nectar in Chester County, PA. Not that I get all bothered by such things. But, on this night of missed opportunities, I'm taking this one for all it's worth. ($12/six pack at TJs, if you're interested.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Great 2009 New Year's Eve Beer Trek through New York City, Part 4

Previously in the series...Be careful what you ask for (or expect) Midnight in the garden of Tompkins Square Going into a marathon day like we did on New Year's Eve, it can feel like it will never end (in a good way). Then, by the time darkness falls and later as the night comes to end, it feels like it all went by in a flash. We left the negativity behind from the last two stops and strolled on over to Hop Devil (& the adjoining Belgian Room) on the doorstep to Tompkins Square Park. It was somewhere around 10:30/11:00pm when we showed up and the place was filling up fast. I've been to Hop Devil numerous times in the past and have always been pleased with the beer selection. The couple of times that I've had food also left me satisfied to recommend Hop Devil as one of the better beer bars on Manhattan. They appear to have some sort of branding re-make underway, so a more complete review should be in order soon. This visit was no different. Well, except this time it was only the beer menu and not the food menu that we sampled from. Balloons were awaiting overhead, party hats and horns were being distributed, and saucers of champagne were being poured in anticipation of the stroke of midnight. While I did take the champagne, it was the glassful of Pennichuck aged Russian Imperial Stout from the tap that I made sure to toast with at midnight. I'd only just caught wind of this beer in the last month or so and honestly don't know much of anything about Pennichuck the brewery (near Nashua, New Hampshire). What I do know, bushie, is that this one heck of a beer. Further, what I have learned from cruising their website's history page is that they have the bottle labeling machine from the Heavyweight Brewing Company, formerly of Ocean Township, NJ. Remember the T.U.D. during last year's Philly Beer Week? The Totally Unnecessary (last) Drink? Once we finally left Hop Devil, we found it necessary to have that "one last drink." To be fair, only I had one last one, Patty abstained. A few doors up and across the street is St. Dymphna's, as in the Patron Saint of mental disorders, in case you're not up on your Saints. They must fall under the threshold for the smoking ban, because smoking was in full effect and a flashback to days past in Pennsylvania. As you can see, and predictably I'm sure, the notes and the photos went downhill as the night went on. But, that's fine; living in the moment sometimes requires that I take the reporter's hat off from time to time. I've often wondered over the years if all the posturing for pictures of a birthday cake, a sporting event's action, or a wedding reception actually enhance the moments, preserves it (for what?) down the road, or just flat out leaves us vacant of understanding the meaning of a moment. There you have it. Roughly thirteen hours, ten stops (eleven if you include the Whole Foods Beer Store), a few interesting characters met along the way, and many good beers retired. Let's recap... Best Way of Getting to NYC from Philly: Amtrak- Without a doubt, if you've got the coin in your purse, opt for Amtrak over New Jersey Transit, and especially....please, over the car. There is absolutely no point in driving to or into NYC. The seats are more comfortable, the trip is around 90 minutes from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station making between 2-4 stops, and service is friendlier. Plus, when enjoying an on-board cocktail, Amtrak's smooth ride is much less likely to spill your drink. Bar Most Likely to Return to ASAP: Spring Lounge- the relaxed atmosphere, the quality beers could have you here for hours on end Most Surprising Find: Nolita House- serves the lesson that you should never pass up an open door without further investigation (well, maybe not every open door, use your best judgment ;-) My favorite New Beers found during my New Year's Eve: (1) Pennichuck aged Russian Imperial Stout at Hop Devil; (2) Duvel Green at Vol de Nuit; (3) Chelsea Hoppy Holidays at Spring Lounge Beer every NYC bar should carry: Blue Point Toasted Lager- great for beer geeks and newbies alike Lesson Learned (consumer): When a bartender not otherwise terribly preoccupied doesn't acknowledge you when you come in the door, or at the very least when you sit at his/her bar, leave immediately Lesson that should be Learned (bar owner): Every day is a chance to win new future customers. Supposing that this is actually part of your business plan, that you would put staff on duty for New Year's Eve that is either inexperienced or not enthusiastic about promoting your business is just plain dumb. Whether you call New Year's Eve customers "amateurs" or not, an impressed clientele is future business and should not be taken lightly. Here endeth my New Year's Eve rant for another 350 days or so. Best New Year's Day morning-after Meal: New York Burger Company- burgers made to order, fries, and fountain soda. Cured! Who's ready for 2010?

Philly Celebrates Earth

Earth Bread + Brewery will be the place to be this coming Thursday (1/15) as Philadelphia Brewing suds take over the local tap handles. Nancy and Chris will be guest bartending. Reporting for duty will the "regulars" (Newbold IPA, Kenzinger, Rowhouse Red, Walt Wit) and the recent specialities like PhilaBuster, Philly'z Navidad, and Joe's Espresso Porter. Plus, you get to 'keep the glass.' With this promotional event and after a mostly glowing review in this past Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, I'm betting a full house on Germantown Avenue on Thursday.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Running with Beer in the Bay Area

I've always enjoyed reading Jay Hinman's reviews of beers and locations that he runs into in the Bay Area (keeping me up-to-date while I can't be there) and as he travels the country. Recently, he reviewed Southampton's Cuvee des Fleurs, one of my perennial faves. Now he's taking up running. It's refreshing that he approaches it from a 'I really enjoy running' perspective as opposed to the resolutiony-type of 'I'm getting fat and need to run to lose the pounds' approach. (Though, he hints at that as well, you can easily tell that he does enjoy the act of running.) As you know if you pay attention around here, I really enjoy running as well. It's therapeutic, inspiring, and even relaxing. Jay is setting off on a marathon quest of his own this year. Stop by his blog, check out his readings, and subscribe to updates. Wish him well on his journey. I, for one, know just how far the simplest words and wishes can go to helping with motivation to hit the pavement.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Of Belgians and Barrels at Iron Hill

In 2 weeks from today, Iron Hill once again hosts a Belgian event at their West Chester location. Then, Iron Hill Lovers, get ready to have your hearts warmed in February. After bottling lambics this past holiday season, here comes the next big news from the Iron Hill Family. excerpted from a press release yesterday...
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, the popular food and drink destination with seven area locations, announces Beers from the Barrel, a celebration of Bourbon Barrel-aged Beers, throughout February. All month, each Iron Hill location will spotlight two house brewed beers that celebrate this uniquely American style of beer. "In the past, our bourbon barrel aged beers have only been available sporadically, in small quantities," says Director of Brewing Operations Mark Edelson. "With this month-long event, guests will experience a variety of these special beers, on draught – as long as supplies last!" Featured bourbon barrel aged beers will include: Bourbon Porter, Iron Hill’s award-winning Pig Iron Porter has roasty malt and pronounced bourbon flavors with a nice vanilla aroma, served on nitrogen and sometimes described as ‘dessert in a glass’; Bourbon Russian Imperial Stout, a Great American Beer Festival medalist has a complex malt character and balanced, distinct bourbon and vanilla flavors; Bourbon Barley wine, with intense caramel-malt sweetness and aroma balanced with distinct bourbon and vanilla flavors; Bourbon Tripel, a traditional Belgian-style strong ale with complex aroma and flavor of plums, spice and bananas with a refreshing, balanced bitterness; and well as Bourbon Wee Heavy; Bourbon Baltic Porter; and Bourbon Dubbel.

Staid Main Line? not in Wayne, PA

I'd heard well-placed whispers for a few months now that there were longer-term changes in store ever since John Mims took the toque at The Freehouse. It looks like the changes are finally underway, big time. When living in Ardmore, we often enjoyed Carmine's in Havertown. I'll look forward to seeing his new operation and how it takes shape over the next few months. Opened yesterday, if I recollect correctly, at 3pm. Similarly, long-simmering changes have been on the table at White Dog in University City (Philly). As original and long-time owner (and leading community voice) Judy Wicks continues to take more of a supporting role at the restaurant, it looks as if part of the new plans include a Wayne location as well. If this plays out as planned, this could be another nice little beer-y addition to Wayne. A stop-in at White Dog in University City always brings at least a couple of good beers (especially of the local variety, in keeping with their mission statement) and bites at this Philly classic. Teresa's Next Door has a new website and their continuing stellar lineup of beer. A new outpost of Flanigan's Boathouse has opened...joining its sibling Conshohocken's and Malvern's locations. They have a decent looking beer list (with the competition in Wayne, they'd better), I just don't know how much they're actively promoting it. First hand investigation is required, I believe. Okay, so Beer Yard remains the same, yawn ;-) With all of this change to small, little-old Wayne, the question that will be answered throughout this new year and next: Will the town be able to support these new and changing businesses?

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Great 2009 New Year's Eve Beer Trek through New York City, Part 3

Previously in the series...Day turns into Night in the West Village A Little Rain Must Fall It was lightly snowing and blowing like old man winter, but it sure felt like it was about time for someone, something to rain on our extraordinarily great day thusfar. I'm going to name this little session here the Nobody's Perfect, and Some Don't Even Try edition. The first entry in this session comes from Café de Bruxelles. Now, to be fair, this was an overall satisfactory, maybe even slightly above average visit. I don't want to come across as being too much of a jerk here (remember, I'm the really nice beer guy ;-) but when poor service leaves a mark on the visit, well... The bar and restaurant were crowded. We'd come in the front door off of Greenwich Avenue, spied no open seats at the bar, and were immediately asked if we wanted a table. Figured, sure!, it would beat standing at this point. The crowd wasn't too surprising considering the lengthy history and reputation of this Belgian restaurant, one of New York's originals. So, as quickly as we were greeted, we were sat at a dining room table. Though, we didn't plan to have dinner here, we thought it was a good idea to mix in a little food with the Ommegang Abbey Dubbel bottle that we ordered. Do you remember how I raved about my Christmas Eve run-in with an aged bottle of this beauty? Then it shouldn't surprise you that it took all of 30 seconds to select it from amongst a bunch of other nice looking bottles and drafts on the list.
(The mussels, fries, soup, and beer were the highlights of an odd visit to Café de Bruxelles)
We ordered some soup and a large (emphasis added once again!) bowl of mussels with bacon, mushrooms, and leeks. Okay, our tab wasn't going to be $100 or more, but did we deserve to never be checked in on again? Never asked how were doing, if we wanted more beer, dessert, or anything? Our table was cleared and we sat...and sat. So, when our check never came, we got up to leave. I really believe we could have walked clear out the door without being recognized. I wondered for a second whether our dinner might have, in fact, been free! Bizarre, to be sure. Especially considering that in the tight dining room, our dining neighbors on the left and right of us were both attended to multiple times during our stay. But, near the door, we were asked (by the owner, I'm fairly certain) how things were. Let's just say I didn't mince words. Politely, but firmly and without too much volume that would draw attention. The multiple apologies came across as lukewarm and faintly sincere. I believe his attitude was partly borne out of frustration of needing to move as many customers through the doors as possible on this busy night. But, still... Anyway, should have I shared this with you? Eh, maybe...maybe not. The mussels were great, the beer selection very pleasing, and the crowd had a New Year's electricity about it. The service, or I should at least qualify and say the service that we received was extremely lacking. We got apologies from the owner, but we really didn't care at that point. We were ready to write it off as a fluke experience. But, by all means go and check them out for yourself. In any case, by the time we took our short cab ride across town toward the East Village and plopped ourselves down on the next set of barstools, trust me, our experience at Café de Bruxelles was a distant memory. Let's see if I can paint this picture properly for you. We walk into Burp Castle and the place is fairly empty, like less than ten customers. We were there for less than an hour and they never doubled their customer count. (Mind you, this is New Year's Eve and the time was somewhere in the ballpark of nine o'clock or so.) We sit down at the end of the bar to give us a full view of the room. Tap handles are all around us, but we can't see them all. The chalkboard menu is behind the bar; I can see part of it, Patty can't see any of it from her angle. We're both taking a look at tap handles deciding what we want. The tap list at Burp Castle has always been pretty good, almost stellar at times. The atmosphere is a hushed low murmur, that appears to be the way they prefer it...okay.
(The darkness represents our recent experience at Burp Castle)
We lost track of how many minutes we waited for the bartender to come on over and even acknowledge us. Picture this, though. The bar is only, I don't know, twenty feet long or so. The bartender is prepping meats, cheeses, crudite and whatnot that were being offered on New Year's Eve to all customers. Terribly important when there are newly-arriving and waiting customers, I'm sure. Then, when we began to put on our distressed faces, he finally meandered over and asked what we wanted. Patty had a couple of questions about taps (what's that one?, etc.) and his ultimate response was something to the tune of "It would just be easier if you came over here and looked at the tap list yourself." Alrighty then... So we got our beers and needless to say it would be the only one. The bartender was so enraptured with a friend of his, that getting the tab was alone a trying enough task...forget if we had even wanted a second beer, which was totally plausible when we walked in the door. I'm going to end this installment of my New Year's Eve story a bit earlier than the last two (I can hear the sighs of relief). This is an attempt to keep all of the negativity in one posting. The message should be clear here. Café de Bruxelles we're chalking up to an accidental occurrence of careless service and we'll look to return anytime we're in the area. Burp Castle? Once it may have even been in my top 10 on the island. Now, it's dropped like a concrete boot in the East River; even if the service was an aberration, it left a bad enough taste in my mouth to say this. The outwardly ambivalent service leads me to believe that I don't know when I'll return. There's plenty of good beer on the island with better service. Oh, and if you'd like a happier review of Burp Castle, check out what I said three years ago about them. Next up in this series...Midnight approaches in the East Village

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Resolve to Eat and Drink well...Tonight in Doylestown at Villa Capri

I rarely do New Year's Resolutions (make them, that is...forget about keeping them). I instead prefer the approach of picking any time of the year to change a way, a habit, a goal in the spirit of making a 'better me.' But, this year, one thusfar unspoken and unwritten resolution (regarding the pursuit of all good that beer has to offer) has been/will be to search out the smaller and, shall we say, off-the-beaten-path events on the calendar. They may turn out to be less expensive too, but that's not really the motivation. The motivation is to support not just the high-end, high profile beer dinners (e.g. Monk's), beer festivals (e.g. Ommegang), and the like. Granted, these things must and will still be on my calendar. But, take tonight for example. We're going to check out Lee Marren, who recently left Spinnerstown Hotel (and previously Legacy Brewing in Reading, PA) to be the Mid-Atlantic spokesman for Stone Brewing from southern California. Tonight Lee's hosting a simple (I say that with all affection) tasting of four Stone beers paired with pizza and other small bites at Villa Capri in Doylestown, PA. I wouldn't be surprised if most of you missed it on the beer calendar of events. Sure, same beer time, same beer date...Tria with Tom Baker...looks interesting but it's sold out so you can't go anyways. My goal is to help bring attention to any event occurring that aims to promote the consumption of better beer, especially when it's paired with food. The city version of supporting lower profile events tonight would be at The Khyber where they'll be helping to debut Philadelphia Brewing's new Joe Espresso Porter with $2 glassfuls from 5pm-7pm. If you're in the City and want to head out to Doylestown after happy hour for some pizza and Stone beer, it's an easy ride on SEPTA's R5 to the Doylestown stop (actually, the end of the line so you can't miss it!), then just a couple of block walk.

The Great 2009 New Year's Eve Beer Trek through New York City, Part 2

Previously in the series...New Year's Eve gets off to a Proper Start (Part 1) Moving On Along our way back to Houston (street, that is...say it with me...How-stin...when you're in Texas with the Bushies, you can say Hew-sten) to jump back on the subway, we did a bit of window shopping and stopped in a couple of stores. Then, we made our first digression from "the plan" of the day. Now before you go thinking, 'oh boy, Bryan must have blown his lid, they were already off the plan!' it's not like that at all. The list was only there for guidance. Remember, the mission of the day was to discover new places. There were already many more places on the list than could ever be visited in one day. Sheesh, guys, I may be detail-oriented but it doesn't mean I'm obsessive about it. Moving on...
(Nolita House beckons passers-by on Houston Street)
This second place was intriguing to us because of its entrance on Houston Street. With a small sandwich board outside announcing their specials and a short stack of steps leading up to a door on the right, it definitely had a curiosity-seeker's interest piqued. The name is Nolita House and inside is a narrow space with a few tables upfront, more in the back, a booth that holds 6-10 people (depending upon size!), and a bar that holds around ten to maybe fifteen people max in the middle of the room. A large chalkboard against the inside wall displays the available beers and the staff is quick to welcome.
(Nolita House's beer offerings; small list, but solid and tasty)
This was a one-beer stop, maybe not necessarily a beer geek's stop. But, with a Delirium Tremens and Brooklyn Lager to throw back on our 20-30 minute visit, we were anything but unhappy to have stopped in. Nolita House has a reasonably-priced and interesting looking pub menu with a cheese menu to boot. Plus, our appreciation goes out to the three young ladies who provided us with a bit of entertainment as they one by one visited the ladies room to install their personal, uh, porta-pots for their visit to Times Square for the ball drop. Yes, friends...diapers.
(A winter's celebratory beer if I ever saw one)
After leaving Nolita's, a short block and a half or so to the subway station took us to the train which we took to the next stop at 4th Street. Up to street level and just off of Washington Square Park is where Vol de Nuit is tucked away. It has been at least three, maybe four or five, years since we've last been to Vol de Nuit. I always hear mixed reactions about this place. But, this is my space, so I'll share with you my thoughts instead.
(Pick up your head as you walk down 4th Street or you'll miss Vol de Nuit)
Bring on the Night Our original visit to Vol de Nuit was an accidental stumbling upon. You'll know what I mean if you can make out the picture. Vol de Nuit is set back through an archway on 4th Street. Once you find it the first time, subsequent visits shouldn't be as difficult. Think: Brickskeller in D.C.; Victory in Downingtown; Sugar Mom's in Philly; or Cambridge Brewing across the river from Boston. All of these places I had difficulty finding the first time. After that, they became habit.
(The entrance to Vol de Nuit is tucked away off the hustle and bustle of the street)
We got there just as they were opening for the evening. They still keep the lights extremely (emphasis added!) low so it takes a few minutes for the eyes to adjust. Once they adjust and there's a beer in front of you, I guarantee it's the kind of place that you won't want to leave. Since we've last been there, the tap list has changed and improved a bit. They've always had Leffe, Hoegaarden, Delirium Tremens, and Corsendonk. Now, with the addition of La Chouffe, Duvel Green, and Chimay it's an even more appealing draft list. Plus, the moules and frites (disclaimer: did not sample this time) add to the experience.
(Did I mention dim lights at Vol de Nuit?)
Once again, it was a one beer and done visit. The one beer? A La Chouffe for Patty and a Duvel Green for me. Both hit the spot perfectly and they can be my "one beer and done" anytime. It was good to see that Vol de Nuit is still serving up what I appreciated several years ago at my last visit, and maybe even better this time. Put this at the top of your list when in the lower half of Manhattan. Plus, being easily accessible to the subway and just around the corner from Blind Tiger makes it a no-brainer.
(But the beer list at Vol de Nuit shines brightly)
...Which brings us to Blind Tiger You knew I couldn't stay away, right? When we'd first considered New Year's Eve in NYC, we thought very long and hard about doing the museum and touristy thing during the day and the $120/pp package at the Blind Tiger at night. The lineup of beer, food, and camaraderie looked just so appealing and the price right for a five hour shindig. But, in the end, we decided to instead include Blind Tiger as one of the stops during our thirteen hour tour. Plus, we figured a few of the evening's special beers might already be on tap when we arrived in the late afternoon. That way, for what would work out to be a little bit less than the Blind Tiger fixed price affair, we could hit a dozen or so places over a longer period of time and take in all that the various NYC neighborhoods have to offer along the way.
(No pictures at the Blind Tiger? What?! So you get a picture of our beers at Vol de Nuit instead---with proper glassware of course)
And, other than the curiously stashed Budweiser bottles on ice behind the bar, all was typically perfect. The staff was already beginning the transition over to the New Year's environment, where they would be scattering food stuffs around the bar, decorations from the rafters, and fresh kegs of the good stuff (even better than the usual stuff?) on tap. I was surprised to see a young lady behind the bar whose name and face escaped me until we had left and were walking down the street (of course). The last time I'd seen her was farther uptown at The Collins Bar not long before they were closed down for "block renovations." The Blind Tiger may have been where the night started to take on a different flavor, so to speak. With a Smuttynose Wheat Wine and Anchor Christmas for me and a Sly Fox O'Reilly Stout for Patty, it was more like I had three beers to her one. But, "wow beers" they were. I'm enjoying the Anchor this year more than I have of their holiday beers over the past few years. The spices are toned down a bit and it becomes a really nice malt drinker with spices moreso in the background. And the Smuttynose? Wow, quite a mouthful...and an ABV pusher. At 10%+ it brought the heat, but also the flavor too. It was overwhelming in an overly delicious way. I'll be on the lookout for this at least once more this winter. A Trip Down Memory Lane And, so we sadly parted ways with the Blind Tiger, leaving way too many good soldiers on the chalkboard. Before we pushed into the West Village for Cafe de Bruxelles, we had an order from good friend Lloyd to stop off at Jekyll and Hyde for old time sake. A bit of history follows. Back, oh, in 1992 I made my first New Year's Eve pilgrimage to New York City. Times Square, the Ball Drop, partying 'til the sun rises, and all that goes with being an early 20-something.
(Does this convey how blustery cold New Year's Eve in NYC was? It was for the wind, not the drinks, that I couldn't hold the camera still for this shot)
After midnight, we ventured down to Greenwich Village/SoHo/West Village...bopping around 'til the wee hours, until the trains started running south again in the morning. Along the way, Jekyll and Hyde became a long-term stopover for us. At the time, they were pouring some of the most interesting beer I had ever seen. Remember, these are in the early days of my learning about "different beer." So, it was a Sierra, Anchor, John Courage, Samuel Smith, Newcastle, and Harpoon...and many of each for me back in those days. The ambiance of the place was something to behold as well.
(A must drink beer, in my opinion, when in the NYC region)
Well, time has marched on and Jekyll & Hyde has stayed mostly the same. That goes for the beer selection as well. This can be fortunate (when talking about the Belgians and Germans that they've pretty much carried throughout the years) and unfortunate (in the continued stash of fairly mundane national and international offerings and modest U.S. and particularly local NY craft selections). The freakish environs and characters persist, but save for a Blue Point Toasted Lager (I love this beer, btw)...and Stone, Goose Island, Flying Dog, and Anchor the beer menu is roughly the same. I should know. I have a copy of the beer menu circa 1992/1993 to compare to the one from 2008/2009. It's just that 15 years ago, it seemed much more interesting. Ah well, c'est la vie I suppose. Okay, this is almost enough for one session. One more story to share, then I'll save the rest for Part 3. We marched deeper into the West Village with the intention of getting to Café de Bruxelles. Along the way on a lovely stretch of 4th Street, Patty noticed a stepdown into the subterranean level of a brownstone. There were people seated around tables and what looked like a bar. Intriguing, of course. After a little hesitation, we jumped in headfirst and bellied up to the bar.
(Fedora's oozes charm)
Turns out, Fedora is a bit of a throwback nostalgic walk down memory lane of their own for longtime New Yorkers. No website, no nonsense, just good and affordable food (reportedly), and conviviality throughout the cozy dining room. No beer discoveries to speak of here, so we opted for our first glass of wine for the day/night. Not too memorable the drinks, but more memorable the Susan Sarandon lookalike and her husband/boyfriend/male friend(?). Had a nice time kibitzing with them in this family-owned Italian restaurant. We were there long enough to see the matriarch of the restaurant show up to a round of applause. It was clear that this is a true neighborhood gem and we hope to return for dinner sometime soon. Next up in this series (or whatever we're calling this)...part 3, almost to midnight!