Wednesday, September 30, 2009

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

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


David said...

Throw daggers my way as I am just as guilty of not going to McKenzie Brew House. Going to the website reminds me why I do not still go though. When I did used to go, I was in that "age group" they seem to want to cater to. Even then I felt like the staff didn't want me there and didn't care that I was bringing in a bunch of friends and money. I was always able to find a few beers I would enjoy but I just could not put up with the atmosphere. When we have so many other great beer locations why should we have to put up with that kind of attitude? Has anything really changed at either location?

Another note, what is the point of entering a beer most beer mortals will not get to try? Shouldn't this be like some car racing series's where you have to at least produce a set number of cars to be able to race in that series. I just don't understand when a brewer hand picks a single bottle to send to GABF. I fully understand trying to put your best effort forward but if that is not the same beer you can go get from that establishment, what is the point of entering it?

Anonymous said...

I stopped in a week or so ago and had the saison, thought it pretty good. How are we to know which version we're drinking?
As for the atmosphere, at least I didn't see a bouncer as I entered as previously they had. But the entertainment mostly solo guitar/ singers irkes me. How bout throwing in some good jazz groups?

Anonymous said...

BTW- the only reason I stopped in was that night I went up to an advertised SPCA fundraiser at Ortino's Northside in Zieglersville. All I seen was a pizza shop and some tables and no bar??
So I decided to go to Craft Ale house in Limerick for the first time. As I got within a half mile of the place I see cops setting up a DUI checkpoint at 8:30 on a Sat night. I get to the place and said the hell with it and went back thru the checkpoint and went to McKenzie's. That night sucked.

David said...


You went to the wrong Ortino's. There are 2 locations. One is the pizza shop just call Ortino's. The other is Northside the restaurant much further down the road.

As for the DUI checkpoint on Ridge Pike on a Sat night, I'm not really surprised. There are a couple of bars along that road that bring in the "overdue it" crowd. Especially Whiskey Girls if it is has opened under another name after most likely loosing its license again.

David said...

also as far as the saison, Bryan mentions right in his post that it is not the same beer unless I am misreading.

Adam said...

Yeah, the beers were all drinkable. I would say it was one of the best visits I've had in a long time there.

I'll leave the brett thing alone.

This old wingman might stop in there again soon, just for the heck of it. Maybe I'll take the other wingman in your absence. By the way any chance I can get a taste of the special saison ;-)

Bryan Kolesar said...

Yes, David, that is what I was pointing out. And while I don't necessarily have an issue with an award-winning brew not being available (to "mortals"), I'm a little disappointed that they're are marketing it as such. YES, the recipe of the one on tap did win a gold 2007. But, as Ryan pointed out, the recipe that won gold this year was dramatically different (to the point of including a Brett "infection") and, in reality, not the same beer. But, whether the beer was made for mass consumption or competition purposes only, what it does prove is that (yes, of course, with a bit of luck admittedly) the brewer has the wherewithal to make some outstanding beer, as judged by peers and other experts. I don't think that I can really get all that worked up in the case for "regular" versus "one-off" beers being entered in competition.

When I called before going over earlier this week, I asked what "specialty beers" they had on tap at the bar. The last one mentioned was the " that we just one a gold medal for this past weekend at the Great American Beer Festival, Saison Vautour..."

"Excellent, I'll see you soon," I said. Now, mind you, I really like the Saison Vautour that's currently on tap. But, was both disappointed and intrigued that it was not really, in fact, this year's medal winner as they had advertised on the phone. At the least, the name should have been changed.

David, you have some valid points, including ones that have kept me from stopping in there on a regular basis. But, the service? Eh, that's a tricky one. One on hand, 'who cares'? Isn't that what many say about places with suboptimal customer service? I can tell you that there are bars that show up on Top X lists in the Philly region that treat me like they couldn't care less if my dollars are spent there or not. There's that certain place in San Francisco that many cite as one of the top beer bars in the country. The service, not so much so...or at all.

But that doesn't stop me from getting quality beer if it's available. And, at McKenzie's, it is. Although, sometimes a wee bit too cold. But, in the end, that's a personal decision that we each need to come to terms with and make on our own on a case-by-case basis.

Anonymous said...

The place is a wasteland for people who like good food, or all around good beer. One or two beers just don't cut it for me, I think they all should be outstanding, as that's a sign of a truly great brewer.

There are much better choices in the area for good beer and good food.