Victory Anniversary 20 Experimental IPA

victory20experimental The celebratory anniversary beers from Victory just keep coming, and who would argue with that? This 5.5% IPA probably has a tad too much strength for the purists but I would not quarrel with anyone who call it a session brew (Victory cleverly skirts the issue in the press release that accompanied the sample by referring to the ABV as “reasonable”). Great nose to begin with, although it may promise more than the beer itself delivers in terms of flavor. The “experimental” aspect derives from the use of a rare hop variety called Idaho 7 from Idaho and is reportedly making its east coast debut with this release. A nice, drinkable beer but not one that is going to excite the masses, I’m afraid. For that, we will have to wait for this to show up in a week or so.

Posted in Anniversary Brews, Beer Styles, Breweries | 1 Comment

Widmer Bros. Hopside Down IPL

IMG_2446Beers do keep showing up hereabouts and that is most assuredly a desirable state of affairs. Sometimes I know they are coming; other times they arrive as a pleasant surprise. The latter was the case this week with the delivery of the beer named in header. Hopside Down IPL (Imperial Pale Lager) was the best-selling beer in the brewery’s Rotator IPA Series (which has been discontinued)  and will now be the spring seasonal. It offers lots of hops and the basic characteristics of a standard IPA in terms of aroma and flavor. More significantly, it is tasty enough for me to, certainly not abandon, but grudgingly admit that my “Don’t screw around with lagers; they are perfect as they are.” standard might be just a tad too conservative.  Two bottles were in the package; the photo is of the second which now sits empty on my desk right next to a  glass into which I poured its former contents. The latter is rapidly approaching the state of emptiness as well, which is perfectly timed because the end of the work day is nigh and so I can start drinking.

Posted in Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

My favorite beer book of 2015.


The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Beer Revolution
Jonathan Hennessy & Mike Smith, authors; Aaron McConnell, art
Ten Speed Press, Trade Paperback, $18.99, 2015

Comics began to emerge as something more than “just for kids” right about the same time that exciting new brews and breweries were challenging our understanding of what beer was all about. Each became a significant factor in the cultural revolution that changed America’s perceptions of quality and value over the past quarter century, and this volume brilliantly combines them. Written by authors who previously produced similar books about the U.S. Constitution and the Gettysburg Address and illustrated by a brewing industry veteran who is currently head brewer at Connecticut’s Back East Brewing Co., The Comic Book Story of Beer tells a well-researched tale, using striking artwork to bring history to life. It is an educational, engrossing account of man’s favorite beverage from the earliest experiments with fermentation to the current day. Honestly, caricatures of Michael Jackson and Fred Eckhardt in the latter pages are almost worth the price by themselves.

NOTE: I had an end-0f-year book review posting in mind but that never happened. Had I done it, the book above would have received significantly longer and more detailed attention (and still might, because it combines the two topics I have written most about for more than a quarter century, beer and comics); this brief review was written to a specific length for, but not used by, one of the brewspapers to which I contribute. So it goes.*

  *I would also have recommended  Beer Lover’s Mid-Atlantic (Bryan Kolesar, Globe Pequot, Trade Paperback, $21.95) as a thorough and reliable reference tome.

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From the Archives: The In-Between Year – 2007

Doing some research today on a preview story for The New Brewer to appear prior to the Craft Brewers Conference here next May (deadline not as long as it seems; story will appear in March/April issue and is due next week…as are two columns and another story for other publications, which explains why I’m working today but not why I am taking time off to write this other than because I can) and an internet search turned up a source I can get behind…me.

This is from Celebrator Beer News in 2007, the in-between year when The Book and The Cook bit the dust and Philly Beer Week was just a gleam in a few eyes.


MIchael Jackson in Philadelphia

17 years on, Michael Jackson’s annual March visit marked both an ending and a new beginning for the Philadelphia craft brewing community

by Jack Curtin
June/July 2007

Call it the beginning of the beginning.

Michael Jackson was back in Philadelphia for his annual visit March 9-11 to host his 15th straight beer dinner at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology that Friday night, his 17th straight tutored beer tasting at the same venue on Saturday and his ninth straight Belgian beer dinner at Monk’s Café Sunday night. For the first time, however, Jackson’s appearances were not under the aegis of the long-running The Book & The Cook, a ten-day celebration of food and drink which has been a local staple since 1985. The loss of the venue for the culinary fair which helped pay most of the bills led B&C to postpone its events until this fall, and maybe longer.

Interestingly, it is the beer community, which was for all too long the ugly stepchild of the event in the eyes of its organizers (despite Jackson’s tutored tastings being the largest draw year in and year out), which shrugged off the loss and kept right on keepin’ on. Not only did Museum Catering Company and Monk’s do the same events they’d always done, Bruce Nichols of the former and Tom Peters of the latter are part of a group of beer industry movers and shakers who’ve announced that March 2008 will see the advent of Philly Beer Week, a ten-day extravaganza based in the city and spread across the entire region from Rehoboth, Delaware to Princeton, New Jersey and into central and northeastern Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, Adamstown, Easton and beyond. When Jackson returns next year, his events will be part of the kick-off weekend for this major sanctification of beer’s place at the table and in the culture.

The Friday night dinner at the Museum may have been the last since it might not be carried over into Philly Beer Week, Nichols said. If this was the swan song, it was a good one. A three-course meal of mixed green salad, beef filet with a shallot demi glace and saffron risotto and Expresso semifredo was accompanied by a dozen beers, four of them at the opening reception and the others served with dinner. The eclectic nature of the brews poured was represented by the presence of Hoptimus Prime, a double IPA brewed for the local Union Jack’s chain of pubs by Reading’s Legacy Brewing, to the hard-to-find Brasserie Artisanale Dieu du Ciel from Montreal to O’Callaghan’s Irish Breakfast Stout, a creation of local homebrewing guru George Hummel. These were accompanied by familiar labels from locals Dogfish Head, Nodding Head, Stoudt and Victory and from Arcadia, Avery/Russian River, Blue Point (NY) and Port Brewing.

A new wrinkle at the Saturday Tasting (once again, a 1500 seat sell-out for the three sessions) was Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione acting as an interlocutor of sorts for Jackson’s presentation and helping to keep things moving along. The theme for the day was Extreme Beers; the first of eight beers poured was Allagash White, which, while a grand brew, don’t quite fit that category. No matter how the definition of what is and what is not extreme is bended and twisted these days to try and match various agendas, there’s just no way to come up with one that includes Allagash White. End of sermon. You can decide about the “extremeness” of the other beers on the docket yourselves: George’s Fault (Nodding Head), Peche Mortel (Brasserie Artesinale Dieu de Ciel), Cassis (Iron Hill), Hop 15 Double IPA (Port Brewing), Old Horizontal (Victory), Red & White (Dogfish Head) and Collaboration, Not Litigation (Avery/Russian River).

A fun moment came when Sam asked Michael for his opinion of the trend toward excessively hopped IPAs and received an answer he probably didn’t want. “I never thought they could make a beer which was too hoppy for me,” quoth the Bard, “but they’re getting close.” Another came at the end of the two-hour beerfest which follows each session in the Museum’s Chinese Rotunda. I got to clang the gong ending the first of these, an honor which felt both wrong and right, hating to end everybody’s fun but enjoying the hell out of the great booming clang I’d created. Does enjoying these sorts of things make me evil?

Sunday night at Monk’s was special. You got The Man, you got The Venue, you got The Beer. It was all good. The theme this year was saisons and farmhouse ales and the beers poured were Ommegang Ommegeddon, Vapeur Saison de Pipaix, Fantome Bis Bon Bon, De Ranke XX Bitter, Saison Dupont (shocker!), Blaugies La Moneusse and Moinette Bruin. Chef Adam Glickman and his staff were up to the task as usual, whipped up an appropriate feast which was highlighted by Belgian endive wrapped in Ardennes Ham, an extraordinary Country Paté and an incredible pan-seared Red Snapper with watercress sauce. Michael was in full-digression mode, telling stories of his early days as a teen-age reporter, recounting trying to answer the unique question once posed by a gaggle of Glascow soccer hooligans (“Are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?”) and quoting Dylan Thomas and Woody Allen along the way.

Hey, I love that stuff. I can figure out the beers on my own, but the stories…? Priceless.

Copyright (c) 2007 Jack Curtin


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My new best friends at Ninkasi made sure I will be a welcome guest this day of thanks. And therefore thanks to them.


These arrived on my doorstep in a big, big box yesterday afternoon (accompanied by, I should note, a smaller box carrying two 12oz bottles of Widmer Brothers Brrr, a seasonal red ale, which I enjoyed with dinner last night).

The little guy in the bottom right of the photo is The Family Goat, a bottle opener that is older than pretty much everybody (including me, which makes it really old); it was used extensively by my father, but his record has long since been eclipsed by yours truly.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted in Beer, Breweries, Personal | 1 Comment

Something I did not know.

This blog has made a healthy living off of making fun of Victory-lovin’, corner bar stool sittin’, ever promotin’, email spammin’ Richard Ruch over the past decade or more, but today it’s all hat tips and high praise as his morning electronic missive, posted in its entirely below, provided me with what the headline above says.

I don’t know if my fellow PA beer lovers are aware of a very significant craft-related beer event that happened over the summer. Our illustrious PLCB with the very strong input from the PA Craft Brewers Guild help “craft” new PCLB rules allowing a brewer with at least one (1) on-premise brewing operation to open two (2) additional “satellite” tasting rooms without another form of license from the PCLB. There some other minimal requirements concerning the operation of these satellite tasting rooms, but they should not hinder the likely proliferation of these types of operations in the future. I have attached a brief write-up of the important aspects of the new rules.
So, for example, Victory, which now has three (3) separate on-premise brewpub operations in PA, could open up to six (6) satellite tasting rooms operations throughout any location in PA serving only Victory beer, which would be self-distributed to the new tasting room. Obviously, the built-out of these establishments would have to meet local ordinances.
Anyway, another remarkable positive benefit for the craft brewers of PA and us lovers of good craft beer. You may need to only walk down the street to find one of these establishments in the future.
Posted in Beer Laws, Breweries, Brewpubs, Who Knew? | Leave a comment

Victory opens its Parkesburg pub and you should open a Victory Java Cask Coffee Stout as soon as the opportunity arises.

victoryjavacask I wrote on Facebook last week about my visit to the new Victory brewery in Parkesburg for a press event just prior to the official opening of the pub there…

Spent most of the day at the press event marking the opening of Victory Brewing’s Parkesburg restaurant at its new brewery there. Impressive all around, it is, and the gathering gave me a chance to catch up with some friends old and new. Only bad thing about the day was the damned rain, which meant driving behind the constant and non-ending fleet of huge trucks which run both directions on Rt. 30 every day once you get west of the near ‘burbs. Those babies do throw a lot of ground water at the cars which share the road with them. Maybe the weather will be nicer Monday when the place officially opens to the public. Let’s hope and you should go check it out.

I added this the following day…

One of the little tidbits picked at yesterday’s visit Victory came in Bill Covaleski’s remarks about the new Vital IPA (which I have really enjoyed a couple of times now) during which he noted that they were looking to do an IPA with the clean crisp finish of a Lager and achieve that, in part, by using Kolsch yeast. I think I got that right..if not, you can be assured that I will be corrected, and firmly.

And also chipped in with this comment in the reply portion of a Richard Ruch email touting the official opening of the pub today…

Parkesburg  is a beautiful place indeed (A press gathering was held there the day before Richard’s visit) and Crowler availability is something I have been eager to see in these parts for a long time now. Hope others jump on that bandwagon and also the very reasonable price level. I also suggest you grab a bottle or two (25oz, corked and caged) of the new Java Cask Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee Stout as soon as you can. It’s 14.3% and incredibly smooth, a collaboration with Standard Tap/Johnny Brenda’s, brewed with the latter’s hand-roasted coffee. 

All of which is my long-winded way of telling those who still hang around these 0h-so-last-decade parts (first they came for our emails and then our blogs and then there was no one left to complain) about all that and to suggest strongly that if you see a bottle on the shelf looking at all like the one shown above, grab it.

And if you head out to Parkesburg, do it on a clear, sunny day and if you use your GPS to find the place, be aware it will take you about 500 yards beyond the actual driveway. Be smart and turn where you see the Victory sign on the right.

Posted in Beer Styles, Breweries, Brewers, News, Passing on the Word | 4 Comments

Riddle me a riddle, riddler please.

What rough beast, its hour come round at last again,
Slouches towards Bethlehem Philadelphia to be born re-born?

There is a secret blowing in the wind and one day soon everything new will be old again. The past is always with us, the philosophers say, and at times we must take them literally.

Enjoy the peace and quiet while you can, my friends. You may not see its like again.

Posted in Deep Thoughts | 5 Comments

One long ago day at Monk’s.

I just posted a quite good story about Russian River’s Vinnie & Natalie Cilurzo on the Facebook page of The Beer Yard. You can go read it there or go to it directly here. In so doing, I was reminded of one of my favorite afternoons as a beer writer, roughly a decade or so ago.

It feels like a Friday in memory, so let’s go with that. I was sitting in Monk’s Cafe with co-founder Tom Peters in mid-afternoon. We were seating the long narrow middle room of the place, last table on the right just in front of the kitchen (There were no other customers in the room), discussing a book project which never came to fruition.  Both of us with a pint, of course. A waitress came back, apologized for interrupting and said something along the lines of “there’s a guy named Vinnie up at the front bar who says he came see you” to Tom. He jumped up and was gone in a flash; I collected my notepad, tape recorder and whatever else and followed.

I joined Tom and “some guy,” who was indeed the Vinnie we both expected him to be. He’d come east to look at some used equipment Russian River was buying from Dogfish Head for its brewpub.  The grapevine, it is powerful. Within–honestly–five to ten minutes, co-founder  Fergie Carey arrived, as did Curt Decker. George Hummel surely must have been there as well, along with others I might not remember.

Vinnie brought a growler, of course, and soon we were all sampling its contents. I have no recollection after all these years what beer it was (likely one of the Plineys). That doesn’t matter, honestly. It was the unexpected moment, the gathering of the clan, the sense of all being part of something bigger, that makes it stick in memory.

I am not a “bucket list” sort of guy, but if I had one, a visit to Russian River’s in Santa Rosa would surely be on it. In fact, if I could somehow put together the money and time, an extensive West Coast visit would be right up there near or at the top of said list.

Posted in Beer Buddies, Beer Yard, Breweries, Brewers, Brewpubs, Good Old Days, Nostalgia, Publicans | 1 Comment

Victory times two for me. Plus news.

a couple of small boxes from the fine folks at Victory Brewing Co. victorycansarrived on my doorstep yesterday, each containing one of these two beers. You will recognize the highly regarded Headwaters Pale Ale, if not the can. And Vital IPA, although the accompanying news release indicates that it is currently in distribution, has not shown up as let at the places I shop.

Maybe it’s me. It usually is.

In any case, both are very much worth your attention. The new Headwaters package is, I am told, part of re-emphasis of Victory’s commitment to the environment, particular the water used in brewing all its brands. The IPA is excellent, a 6.5% treat that has the hops you want as part of a balanced overall brew (I drank an 8.1% IPA from a West Coast brewery shortly thereafter and the differences in overall presentation were remarkable and every one of them favored the guys in Downingtown/Parkesburg).

Speaking of Parkesburg, I am also told that the official grand opening of the brewpub there will occur the Thursday before Thanksgiving.* If you head out for that, do watch out for turkeys running for their lives and/or Richard Ruch running toward the taps on the way.

* This could be a press event and the actual opening date a bit later.

Posted in Breweries, Brewers, News | 1 Comment