Thursday, December 31, 2015

Rest In Peace 2015 -- Thanks for all the beers

I'm closing out the year of 2015 by paying respect to those departed during the year that left a significant mark on the beer industry. I keep a list throughout the year and by mid-year I was wondering if we might have a very low count for the year. In 2014, I could only come up with one name for the list.

Unfortunately, the last five months (esp. November) claimed some big names both here around Philly and elsewhere in the country. If you'd like to look back and remember those lost in prior years, check on back on my year-end memorials in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

As in past years, I'll repeat a soothing message: Be still sad heart and cease repining; Behind the clouds the sun is shining, Thy fate is the common fate of all, Into each life a little rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary. ~ Longfellow

Fred Eckhardt passed away at the age of 89 from natural causes in August 2015. No one covered it as well as Jay Brooks. Eckhardt was a fixture in commercial and home brewing around the world from his home state of Oregon. His journalistic influence ranged from A Treatise on Lager Beers (1972) to The Essentials of Beer Style (1989) to his column in Celebrator Magazine. He left his mark in many other ways such as the FredFest in Portland and Hair of the Dog's Fred ale.

He was a well-liked, greatly-respected, and engaging man in the beer world and the death of The Dean of American Beer Writers has left a hole that can never be completely filled. Some more material that you may wish to check out regarding the rich life of Fred Eckhardt: Brewing TV video from 2010; a public wake that was held at McMenamin's; video of Ken Grossman and Charlie Papazian discussing Fred and the 30th Anniversary Sierra Nevada bock beer that they collaborated on; and more video of Fred, this one at the annual Oregon Brewers Festival.

Also in August 2015, the Philadelphia/South Jersey brewing community was rocked by the sudden passing of 56-year-old Village Idiot co-founder/brewer Rich Palmay. He died from a heart attack while brewing at his three-year-old passion/business on High Street in Mount Holly. Don Russell, aka Joe Sixpack, had a nice piece on Palmay and the community on

The Philadelphia region was again touched by the loss of one its own when Tom Buonanno died in November 2015. A longtime fixture on the Philadelphia beer scene from his early days at Stoudts to his board position at Philly Beer Week and to his work at Muller Inc. importer/distributor, Buonanno had a gregariously outgoing personality who served as mentor and friend to many in the industry. His obituary at is linked here and a more personal account of "Tommy B's" life is summed up in quite well in a Facebook posting by Vetri Family Beverage Director, Steve Wildy (based on privacy settings, you may or may not be able to see this).

Also in November, one of the brewing world's foremost educators, Bill Siebel, died at the age of 69 from esophageal cancer. He was a fourth-generation leader of the school begun by his great-grandfather that counts numerous of the industry's finest amongst its past students. The Chicago Sun-Times covered the news quite well in addition to pieces that can be found also at Pro Brewer and from Tom Cizauskas at Yours For Good Fermentables.

Another prominent 56-year-old related to the brewing industry passed away in November. Jamie Gordon, referred to as a "microcanning pioneer", died of a heart attack in Denver, Colorado.

And, finally, one last note to November, 53-year-old Steve Anderson, the brewmaster force behind Live Oak Brewing in Texas, died from cancer. He most recently worked his skills at Big Bend and his career is documented nicely at

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic book awards -- breweries

In a continuing effort to close out 2015, allow me to take a slightly different approach to year-end lists. As 2014 for me was much about researching and writing a book and 2015 was promoting and selling it, it seems fitting to share with you some of my most interesting and best experiences along the way.

As of tomorrow morning, I will have conducted 51 meet-the-author/book signing events to promote my Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic book. Since, as many of you know, I'm a numbers guy, that I have the following numbers in my back pocket should not be surprising. Some counts to summarize: 9,444 miles driven across DE, MD, NJ, and PA; 379 establishments visited; 12,000+ pictures taken; countless hours of lost sleep; 0 speeding tickets; 0 parking tickets; and a barely-scientific WAG of 8,717 ounces of beer consumed. Add the uncalculated food consumed along the way to mitigate the effects of alcohol and I ended 2014 with an extra 16 pounds to carry around as a result of nearly 6 months of research and very little exercise to offset the intake.

The final product includes 320 establishments mentioned or otherwise included in the book and broken down in the following fashion: Delaware (30); Maryland (62); New Jersey (59); Pennsylvania (169). Or, stated from a different perspective: Breweries & Brewpubs (135); Bars & Restaurants (185).

I'm so grateful to all that have supported me and my efforts along the way, from the initial requests for information, visits, etc. at the establishments to those that supported me by hosting events and the customers that came out to talk beer, drink beer, and purchase my book.

This is a two-part series. I'll focus first here on some of the special brewing establishments that I found on the road to great beer.

Longest Drive - All in Erie, Pa., Lavery at 404 miles from home, nudged out Brewerie (403 miles) and Erie Brewing Co. (402 miles).

Closest to home - McKenzie Brew House under a mile. I couldn't even do the Beer Mile point-to-point from home to McKenzie's.

Biggest Surprise (brewery) - It would be totally disingenous of me to say that there weren't surprises along the way
  DelawareTwin Lakes at first was a pleasant surprise with its decent beers on a beautiful piece of DuPont farmland property. However, they surprisingly also disappointed subsequently with an ownership dustup that has left the brewery, at least temporarily, without a home. Farther south, as far south as you can get in Delaware, who knew that 3rd Wave snagged an Iron Hill alum and built a really nice and tasty brewing business for themselves in Evolution's former home?
  Maryland — For finding beer in Maryland's most surprising places, this award gets split evenly between the farmhouse breweries of western Maryland (Milkhouse, Frey's, Ruhlman), the Shore (Backshore on the Ocean City Boardwalk), and the far stretches of Calvert County (Mully's and Ruddy Duck).
  New Jersey — As with Maryland, surprises await in NJ's far corners. Head to the "top-left" of New Jersey to Angry Erik in Lafayette and Krogh's in Sparta to find very good beer amongst some of the best natural scenery the state has to offer.
  PennsylvaniaStraub surprised me a bit as western PA's Yuengling, complete with history and hometown pride. Not only did they reinvest significantly in the site's equipment and process in the last couple of years, they also did so in marketing, branding, and new recipes to stay relevant.

Biggest Surprise (beer) -
  Delaware —The "other brewery" up the road from that one in Milton is in Milford -- still, I have to remind myself which brewery in which town. I found Mispillion River's Double Chin IPA both at the brewery and represented well around the area both on CO2 and hand pump, impressing each and every time.
  Maryland — Not usually a fan of spicy heat in beer, I found one that not only does it well, but one that I'd be happy with more than one, maybe a few, in one night. The Jailbreak Welcome To Scoville Jalapeno IPA.
  New Jersey —Lest you confuse me with an IPA-hophead, I still can't decide whether I was more surprisingly impressed with beers from the new Rinn Duin in Toms River such as their St. John's Irish Red or the slightly newer Angry Erik in Lafayette and its Three Ball Porter, flavored with cardamom, orange zest, and chocolate.
  Pennsylvania — On one hand, I'd like to cry foul and claim I can't pick one "surprising" beer in the whole of Pennsylvania, given its sheer size and number of breweries. But, I shall. Nah, nevermind, I'm a wimp. Here's what I'll do. In western Pa., Grist House Brewing Company was barely six weeks old when enough people around the 'burgh told me I needed to check them out. They weren't wrong and the Crouching Porter Hidden Chocolate (among others) justly got my attention. My inclusion of them in the book has been well-substantiated in subsequent visits. In eastern Pa., older-by-a-few-years Berwick Brewing Company really shows off a wide spectrum of beers, particularly in the German realm. The Zwickel Pils and the Hondo Keller are two that absolutely must be tracked down (along with the brewery's pizza) when you're along the I-80 corridor near the Poconos.

Youngest brewery - Grist House, across the river from downtown Pittsburgh, opened in May 2014 just barely nudging out Jailbreak in Laurel, Md.

Oldest brewery - Yuengling by many decades. Straub, though nearing 150 years in business, is a distant second.

Most supportive/enthusiastic - For hosting me at their festival (Milkhouse), having me for multiple signing events (East End and Free Will), stocking my book (Flying Fish and Earth Bread + Brewery), and truly engaging me in meet-the-author events (a bellowing dedication on stage at Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh and a custom-made beer to my recipe at Heavy Seas), their full-circle support was significant and deserves recognition.

Favorite glassware - The shape of Yorkholo's glass may be standard but yet meets my criteria for a perfectly good beer drinking glass and has the striking cobalt blue brewery logo of owner Jarrod York's grandfather, Ralph York, emblazoned upon it.

Most accompanying beer returned home - Burley Oak and Union Craft. There's Sour and Gose. Double IPA and Pale Ale. Altbier and Barleywine. What's going on in Maryland, you ask? Read the book!

Best food program coinciding with great beer - Tröegs. I get a kick out of how they still refer to it as a "Snack Bar". It may be self-service, but when it serves up such standout items such as oysters, escargot, pork belly, charcuterie, exotic cheeses, duck confit, mussels, and an incredible porchetta, it deserves recognition for some of the most creative food found in a brewery tasting room.

In Memoriam - Rich Palmay at Village Idiot Brewing in Mount Holly, NJ died suddenly in August 2015. He was extremely supportive in my requests for information and accommodating my visit to his young brewery. My only regret is that we were never able to sync up schedules do a book signing event as he had offered up.

Best tour - Yuengling. History, caves, and beer. Since 1829. A must-do tour for any bona fide beer lover.

Highest/lowest latitude - in Erie, Pa., Lavery Brewing gets the nod at just 0.011 degree north of Brewerie at Union Station and Erie Brewing Company. A mere 500 miles southeast, Burley Oak in Berlin, Md. took me just 0.0135 degree farther south than across the Bay at Ruddy Duck in Dowell, Md.

Highest/lowest altitude - I was certain that Straub at 1,685 feet above sea level would rank as the highest altitude until a search for Mountain State brewpub out near Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland near West Virginia apparently rises to the top at 2,594 feet above sea level. Speaking of sea level, Backshore on the Ocean City, Md. boardwalk is barely (and I'm guess barely - it must be the boardwalk that adds some extra feet) 19 feet above sea level while Eastern Shore in St. Michaels, Md. and Cape May Brewing in NJ both show up as 16 feet above water.

Best re-use of brewery space - 3rd Wave in Delmar, Del. (think about its location spitting distance from the Maryland boarder and can you probably guess how the town got its name) is in Evolution Brewing Company's original location. Some mojo left behind there should bode well for the current occupants.

Best re-use of church space - Church Brew Works is obvious in Pittsburgh, but what do you know about Breaker Brewing in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.? It's in a converted church school with reminders from the door plaques to the school bell.

Best re-use of firehouse space - Dock Street in West Philly. Is the second version of the Philly brewing early adopter in West Philly better than first? Many would say so.

Best kept secrets - 2SP and Sterling Pig in my own backyard of all places. Yet, throughout the entire process of getting to publication, no one would fess up and commit facts to paper for me to document in the book. Nonetheless, they both appear to be off to a blazing start. Not surprising given the veteran industry talent behind them both - Bob Barrar from Iron Hill at 2SP in Aston, Pa. and Brian McConnell from Rock Bottom-King of Prussia at Sterling Pig in Media, Pa. Honorable mention goes to Brewer's Alley in Frederick, Md. for closely guarding information as to the status of a long-promised, new on-site brewing operation. You know, speaking of Iron Hill, they always do a very good job of keeping secrets, even keeping Huntington Valley (their 12th location, soon to open) identity from me even though it would be public knowledge when the book was released. On the other hand, I've already got some inside information about a few other locations on their drawing board.

Best urban/historical property, brewery - I can't recall hearing of any brewery-based ghost stories, but I'd be shocked if the ghosts of brewers past aren't still lingering around the mash tuns at Penn Brewery and Philadelphia Brewing in gritty Pittsburgh and Philly neighborhoods, respectively.

Best non-urban property, brewery - Pick a farm property, any farm property, where the concept of beer as an agricultural product is best put on display. Milkhouse in western Maryland, Mountain State in almost as far western Maryland as you can get, and Sprague Farm in northwestern Pennsylvania (pictured below) are three that are growing the ingredients and serving it — all very well as a matter of fact.

Best strip mall space - Both in Delaware, older Stewart's and newer Argilla both give tasty reasons (both food and beer, by the way) to visit the dreaded suburban strip mall.

Best contract/alternating proprietorship space - Peabody Heights in Baltimore is turning out some very solid beers with the names of Full Tilt, The Raven, Monument City, and several others on the bottle labels.

Batting average pretty good, eh? - For a manuscript that was finished in August 2014 and last changes were accepted in December 2014, only one brewery closure out of all that I included in the book has been noted thus far. Gamble Mill in Bellefonte, Pa. closed "temporarily" in January 2015 is reportedly up for sale. Their last Facebook post in January 2015 included "...we will be back..."

Return from ashes - Blue Canoe suffered from a devastating fire in 2014 and is making their way toward a return in early 2016. Nearby in NW PA, Straub dealt with a fire in early 2015 that damaged a utility/storage facility but did not interrupt brewing.

Across all those miles, I touched down briefly in West Virginia in between going to the first town in the first state, home of the Boss and the Babe, places with great road names, sketchy hotels, share-the-road policies, phone booths, cheap on-street parking, elk, groundhogs, where they hit on your wife using buses, where they have raffle guns, road signs are road artwork, learned where John Heisman was from and that wood is good, and where you can buy human hair. Would I do it again? You betchya -- well, maybe except for the sketchy hotel.

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Year-end Clearout Special

These last couple of years have been, well, something else. So much so that as I was putting the wraps on my ten-year-commemorative postings the other day, I decided to clean up the many dozens of unpublished drafts of material that I'd begun throughout the years but never ultimately shared with you. Many involved pictures, many others were news events and/or op-ed style responses to the news.

Some don't matter anymore and have therefore been deleted in an effort to begin 2016 with zero previously unpublished material. The rest I'm including in random order below as a laundry list of things you may find interesting that were stewing around in my draft folder for way too long — some bits since 2008!

Now, with this piece of the deck cleared, I can begin 2016 clean and fresh and ready to get this ship writed [sic] in the Year of the Return of the Independent Beer Blog.

Pyramid Beers. They sent me some in 2009. I drank them. I liked them. The Haywire especially. I probably did some social posting about it and lo-and-behold, they later win a Gold medal for it at the Great American Beer Festival. Something similar happened last year with Four Seasons in western Pa. and their Dark Side Oatmeal Stout winning a GABF silver medal. I do what I can...

In the Aughts' middle years, I found myself in Texas (esp. Dallas metro area) quite a bit. I've long known of the Flying Saucer chain of nearly 20 beer bars across the south from other cities where I've stumbled in and out of. This was my first visit to the Addison, Tex. location. Some pictures if you please...

February of 2008 found me in northern California (as do many Februaries as my travel log will testify) and at the 20th anniversary party of Celebrator Magazine. As the handful of pictures below suggest, it was a splendid time. The rest of the photos can be found over at Picasa via this link. Below, you'll see The Trappist in Oakland, only recently opened at that time. In my unfinished posting, I described it as a new Belgian bar in an unlikely place (Oakland, which at the time was beginning to pull increasingly more habitants over from skyrocketing real estate of San Francisco) with a high ceiling, yet cozy feel and a small, but great list of beers. They're still doing it well eight years later.

Ah yes, Pittsburgh. Every year sees me there at least once for work, hockey, running, or beer. Well, let's be honest, beer is included in every trip. In 2008, you may recall a Flyers/Penguins playoff series. I negotiated a little wager of beer from brewers and bar owners between the two cities and, well, I needed to make the cross-state trip to pay up. The settlement was made at the rather new Bocktown Beer & Grill in Robinson Township, near the Pittsburgh airport. It still exists (along with its sister location in Monaca) as one of the beer destinations in the Pittsburgh region. The first four pictures below are from Bocktown and the last seven from the Creekside location of the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium.

Back to Dallas again. This time, a handful of pictures from the Dallas location - est. 1992 - of the Ginger Man mini-chain of beer bars. No longer associated with the NYC and Conn. ones, this one in the McKinney section of the Big D is one of six in Texas. One of my favorite bar settings/atmospheres. A comfortable two-story homey feel inside a likewise comfortable backyard. At the time, there was a bartender named Courtney Love; I made her show me her driver's license to prove it.

Then there's the pride of Victory and Chester County, Richard Ruch, Amish Rob, and Co., at the center of this Oktoberfest-themed video.

And while on the topic of videos, there's this short episode that I'd forgotten completely about that I stumbled upon live at Monk's Cafe in Philly back in 2010.

Keeping with the lighter theme of things, yes let's please do remember TO NOT BE A DOUCHE. I'm pretty much on board with 100% of all of these and even throughout my entire book researching, writing, promoting, and selling have always endeavored to keep them in mind. Yet, there does seem to be a disturbingly growing minority of them.

From 2010 at Brauhaus Schmitz on South Street in Philly, this German-themed beer dinner with owner Matthias Trum of Aecht Schlenkerla still ranks as one of my favorite and most informative beer dinners ever attended. Pictures here via this link and video below of a very engaged Trum.

Love was in the air at McKenzie Brew House?

Ray Deter passed away in 2011. He was central to the success of dba in NYC and New Orleans where the beer, wine, tequila, and whiskey were way ahead of the curve. I'd copied down Tom Peters' (Monk's Cafe) sentiments that he'd posted on the website while Deter was still in the hospital. Perfect words for a man that certainly left his mark on the world of great beverages...

"Ray is a beer pioneer…dba was one of the first real beer bars on the East Coast....I remember sitting on dba's back patio one early Fall evening a few years ago with Ray, Dennis and beer writer, Michael Jackson. We were discussing jazz, beer, wine, and of course, talking some smack about Philly vs New York as the better beer town. Ray has always been delusional in thinking that New York has it going on beer-wise. Michael and I felt that Philly was the ultimate beer town in the US....Ray is the consummate host. He makes everyone feel at home, from the casual beer drinker to the most obsessive beer geek....Ray was beer before beer was cool."

This was weird. But maybe nothing compared to the litigation looniness of today.

This, on the other hand, was fun and informative. Iron Hill only had nine locations and Bob Barrar was not yet at 2SP Brewing Company.

These were enlightening quotes from 16 Mile Brewing Company in Georgetown, Del. circa 2012. I should check back now, four years later, and see how they match up with what I learned and captured in my book...
"We are bold sessionable ales with a strong local feel....They are all English in heritage but with a America craft beer style. We are going to do two very interesting things that really set us apart. One is a whole series of beers for charity, one a year round brand the others will be limited edition....We have a stage for political speakers, live small bands, chefs, to even farmers a soap showcase to talk and people to learn. We are asking people to come in and unplug and talk with others and learn....We even have kitchen prep area so gourmet chef can come by and prepare killer foods for guests....The goal of this brewery is to really just me a local beer for people living within around a hundred miles of us, and that is it. We do not even want to go to Philly, DC, or even in Baltimore where we are we want to be small there so we can be big in the other markets."

In 2013, I was attempting to get caught up — sort of like I'm trying to do again here. Here are some links back to The "Intro", Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII.

I had at least four more installments focused on other parts of the country that I never got around to. You'll find them scattered around this posting — Dallas; Pittsburgh; NYC, Washington DC; etc.

Oh, right. Speaking of Washington, DC. This was in the time roughly of 2009-2010...

(White House portico)

(WH from Pa Ave)

(Straffe Hendrik at Brasserie Beck)

(Antigoon made for BB by Brouwerij De Musketiers)

(Troubador at Brasserie Beck)

(Antigoon...made for BB by Brouwerij De Musketiers)


(Fried mac and cheese egg rolls at ChurchKey)

How about Virginia? Yes, Virginia. Back in 2012, I "discovered" Hardywood Park on edge of Richmond and VCU's campus. Not sure I ever shared with you and am not going back to check. Here are a few pictures that begin to show off this very special East Coast brewery with what should be a very promising future.

Let's also not leave out Providence, RI. Not sure I've praised Julians (est. 1994) in print, certainly to many of you in person, but these pictures come from 2010 and Julians continues to still represent as well as ever today. If I had pictures, I'd also share my love for Track 84, just across the street and down a short almost alley-like road from the airport. Alas, though, not only are my pictures nonexistent, this last summer also saw them close. Bummer and a loss for the local beer scene for sure.

I began to take on the craft vs. crafty debate across many paragraphs and pages, but then wasn't satisfied that it really mattered enough to me. This was the hub-bub of 2012 and showcased the pains of growing in an industry segment like this one. And if I couldn't get it to matter enough to me, I wasn't going to share it with you. But, here are a few words that I salvaged...

"They've made a list (and presumably checked it twice) and cited the naughty list of those that are not craft brewers....Fact is, or at least I believe that most will take this as fact, even some of our darling micro-est of microbreweries look anything like a "hand-crafted" brewery when you step into their the sense of what happens when Boston Beer, Dogfish Head, Victory, New Belgium, or any of the others beginning butting up against the BA-defined six million barrel threshold? (Which, by the way, used to be only 15,000 barrels. Recall those quaint, old days?)....As the aging "craft" brewing industry begins to look at succession plans, not to mention as more of the "macros" want to buy into the "craft" segment and their big money is too much for some to turn down, regardless of how true to the original recipes and mission statements the "craft" brewer remains....I've taken a lot of words here (hopefully) to point out that this is all beyond inside baseball for most and silly to many. Some predict that if the beer geeks grab a hold of this, the damage could be worse than predicted....What does craft really mean anyway? What does it mean to you?"

Well, that seems as good a place as any to end. My draft folder is cleaned out and I'm ready to begin 2016 anew and without the ghosts of draft posts past.

That was fun for me and a bit healthy going through that cleanse and purge! Have you enjoyed any of this or has this all left you rather (un)comfortably numb?!