As time goes by, I swear I don't become any wiser at figuring out the proper balance between posting here and posting social media updates. The latter is honestly (and not surprisingly, right?) much easier. But, of course, often lacking in context and detail.
If I made resolutions at this time of year, it might be to shift more material back here. But with my other outlets for longer-ish form writing, past attempts have proven this to be more difficult than I'd hope for.
Enough of that. Let's get to the point of this and the holiday happenings with great beer that I experienced in the week after Christmas. Instead of shuttling you off to a photo gallery elsewhere, they're all dumped out below.
Bunch of new stuff here. Chime in if you've been to any of them and have similar (or different, why not?) experiences.
First up, on December 28, Brauhaus Schmitz played a role in showcasing new imported German beers from five breweries under the umbrella called Reinheits Boten. Four of the breweries leaning more traditional (Distelhäuser, Zoller-Hof, Friedenfelser Brauerei, Riedenburger Brauhaus) — think pilsners, hefeweizens, zwickels, kellers, zoigls, and the like. One of the breweries (Himburgs Braukunst Keller) you can expect to find dry-hopped Helles lager, a double IPA, a hoppy German-style IPA, a classic India Pale Ale, and a pale ale with fruity citrus hops. All, however, are still strictly "Reinheitsgebot beers" — in other words, complying with the five centuries-old "German Purity Law of 1516", which limits German brewers to four main ingredients: hops, barley/wheat, yeast, and water.
In all the generous samples (and the plates of food including Schweinshaxe — YES, the Schweinshaxe, one of my favorite dishes. Hopefully, you've experienced this at least once!), the Old Fred and Zwickel from Zoller-Hof, the Friedenfelser Hefeweizen, and Riedenburger's Pilsener stood out as ones I'll be on the lookout for next time at Brauhaus Schmitz. Great debut and opportunity to check out some well-made classic German style beers.
On Friday the 30th, I resumed the annual day trip around Lancaster County with a buddy of mine, Dennis. He and I have made a habit of checking out (mostly) new beer spots around Lancaster County, and sometimes beyond into neighboring counties depending upon the way the schedule lines up. We tend to do this right around the holidays and has always worked out nicely in the past.
This time, the agenda presented to us, in order: BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse (Lancaster); Spring House (Lancaster); Mad Chef Craft Brewing (East Petersburg); Columbia Kettle Works (Columbia); Funk (Elizabethtown); Bulls Head Public House (Lititz); and JoBoy's (Lititz).
I'll keep the verbosity reined in here and stick to the salient points. Bet I can't do it, you say? Let's see.
BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse —
If you've seen the chain of BJ's scattered around much of the west and southwest, you'll know what I mean when I say that BJ's lives up to expectations. They opened a location in the Lehigh Valley and Lancaster last year in what I believe could be their first two east coast locations. I've been to numerous around the country and they're all virtually the same with the same standard issue award-winning BJ's beer plus a few dozen other craft and imports on tap. Most locations don't brew for themselves but rather serve BJ's beer made mostly (or totally, not entirely sure) in Texas at, again if I'm not mistaken, Saint Arnold. Realizing now that I should research this further before printing, but I feel nearly certain about my recollection of the facts that I once knew were such, so we're going to go with it for now. (hey, if you can't beat 'em....right?)
Closing note here. If you find yourself at a BJ's and looking for one rock solid beer and food recommendation, you will absolutely never going wrong with the famed Pizookie and a Tatonka Stout. Been a recommendation I've made for at least ten years since I first encountered it and continue to do so.
Spring House —
Spring House has been delighting palates for nearly ten years with both tried and true (such as Seven Gates Pale Ale) and the wild and wacky (thinking: Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout and The Martians Kidnap Santa Eggnog Stout amongst a number of others). For a business that once was comprised of a closed-to-the-public brewery and a downtown taproom with limited food, Spring House now has an impressive new showpiece called Hazel Street.
Housed in a massive converted warehouse a little more than a half-mile from downtown Lancaster, the craftsmanship in the remodeled space provides a beautiful and comfortable atmosphere for enjoying Spring House beers as well as local wines, ciders, and spirits. Plus, a full, bona fide kitchen menu including oysters, tacos, poutine, charcuterie plate, sandwiches, salads, sliders, steaks, and desserts. And a recently added weekend brunch that I've added to my short to-do list in 2017. Finally, as I mentioned in a Facebook post: "...ample parking! I may never go back to the taproom again."
Mad Chef Craft Brewing —
My Facebook post was so well-received that I think I'll just paste it here. It's just a bit too far from me near West Chester to make a regular stop. But when they want to look at opening a Chester County location, I'll be there to help. Yeah, I was impressed. Oh, by the way, impressed so much so that I've included them in my next Ale Street News column that hits the street in a few weeks.
"Third stop on the almost-annual LancCo beer tour was the gem in the bunch. Not that there were any dogs on this well-conceived tour. However, there's always a surprise or two along the way.
This year, it was Mad Chef Craft Brewing in East Petersburg just outside Lancaster. Hats off to the crew that put together a comfortable atmosphere, attentive service, and an equally strong focus on both the food and beer side of the menu. Spot on pilsner and session IPA. Plus, contenders for the best Cuban sandwich and fish tacos. But don't take my word for it. Yes, you need to check this out too."
Columbia Kettle Works —
I've not gone deep enough to determine if Columbia really has something special happening and on the rise, but when I'm at CKW it can sure feel like it. And, for now, it appears that the brewpub (and live music space upstairs) has the market cornered for great locally-made beer and a social scene. Maybe I should get out more there and in neighboring Marietta, but there's something about the atmosphere, the darts, satisfyingly simple approach to the food menu, and the welcoming hospitality of owners Bill Collister, Rod Smith, and their staff. Plus, it's been almost two years since they brought on head brewer Chad Rieker. His brewing resume shows significant time spent at Iron Hill in Lancaster and that has served CKW quite well. If you've got the kids at Turkey Hill Experience, or are hiking the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail along the Susquehanna River (and a trailhead just a few blocks from the brewpub), or are antiquing around town, you owe it to yourself to stop here.
Funk has been opened for more than a couple years now in the Lehigh Valley, where co-owner Kyle Funk calls home. The other co-owner, John Norman, rests his head in Elizabethtown where there is now a second location. All brewing is done in Emmaus with the exception of whatever comes from the 1/2-barrel setup in Elizabethtown. Plans, however, according to Norman are to expand that in the future since they do have the needed space. I hadn't yet been to the original location, so this was a nice chance to see what's happening at Funk's new spot and on this particular Friday afternoon, there was a plenty of good to be found. The location is in the heart of the downtown's shopping corridor. "E-town" is also home to Moo-Duck Brewery across from the Amtrak train station and Cox Brewing Company on the edge of town. Quite a bustling beer scene growing in the college town. I've been to Moo-Duck; next up is Cox.
Bulls Head Public House —
And the day's field trip finally took us to Lititz. Ah, the charming town of Lititz. Home to one of my favorite pubs around — Bulls Head Public House. I've lost count the number of times I've been there. Maybe that's all the testimony I need to provide here. A somewhat small pub (attached to the General Sutter Inn restaurant and lodging), but yet big enough to contain a usually lively crowd enjoying perfect pints of beers drawn from the handpump.
Lititz has a lot going for it. Now they have a beer/barbecue/speakeasy joint on the list. The speakeasy part of it came later. Around for the better part of seven years now, JoBoy's was initially five miles away in Manheim and moved to Lititz in 2014. The space is bigger, puts the brewing on full display, and has a bigger and tastier menu. Smoked wings, pork nachos, brisket mac 'n' cheese were just a few things that landed on our table. This was my first time at the new location and I could have used a few more hours to check out a few more beers, plus experience the atmosphere of the subterranean speakeasy (complete with password). We got a quick tour and you can bet I'll be back there very soon (no spoilers yet!)
So, like I said, no dogs in the bunch. Not a one. Did you make it all the way to the end here? How did I do with brevity?
© Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge, 2017. All content is owned and uniquely created by Bryan J. Kolesar. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kolesar is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, images, and links may be used with advance permission granted and only provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Contact Kolesar at TheBrewLounge@gmail.com
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