Sam-sational!

From this afternoon’s Craft Business Daily:

DOGFISH HEAD SWAYS BOARD ON SECOND HEARING

After a second go-round that featured 90 minutes of new testimony, Dogfish Head persuaded the Rehoboth Board of Adjustment to let them renovate their brewpub on a vote of 4-1. You’ll recall the Board originally denied the brewer’s plans because the proposed plot was perceived to significantly surpass the zoning code [see CBD 05-01-2015].

The Delaware brewer felt that the current building was an “eyesore” and a renovation was necessary in order to be competitive. “I know for sure our building as it is right now is no national treasure,” chief Sam Calagione said. “It’s our goal to spend $4 million and make the building resonate with the people around the world the way our brand has resonated with people around the world,” per Delaware Online.

Sam and his wife Mariah believe the revamp will “benefit residential neighbors, other businesses and the more than 100 employees at the restaurant.”

Dogfish Head was able to sway Board members like Clifton Hilderly, who had previously suggested that the brewer seek a new spot out of town. His outlook on the matter sounded a bit different Monday night: “We should take into consideration the social aspects involved here,” he said.

Despite the majority of opponents coming around, Dogfish Head was not able to convince board member Charles Donohue, who cast the only ‘no’ vote. “We on this board are constrained by the laws, not the popularity of Dogfish Head or why it’s so important,” he said.

The game plan is to keep the brewpub open and renovate the facility in two stages, according to Mariah. But they still have a few hurdles before they can modernize the current brewpub. Sam noted that “a permit of compliance from the city commissioners” is still in order and they’re “a long way from shovels in the ground,” per Cape Gazette.

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The one wherein I drink a whole bunch of over-hopped pale ales.

sessionipacansSession IPAs are the hottest thing in craft brewing at the moment, as Fortune magazine noted in a story which went online last Friday:

How popular are Session beers? Consider this: Founders Brewing Co. introduced its All Day Session IPA three years ago – and it was one of the first widely available Sessions on the market. Today, that beer makes up 50% of the company’s volume, says co-founder Mike Stevens.

“What we had done in this industry was change the palates of consumers,” says Stevens. “And the consumer was getting used to bigger and more flavorful beer. … [Then] you had a wave of consumers who said they wanted a ‘premium’ light beer, but weren’t wiling to give up flavor for it.”

Meanwhile, Bart Watson, staff economist at the Brewers Association, cites IRI data that Session IPAs last year had higher dollar sales than English IPAs and White IPAs combined.

So nothing would do the last time I went to the Beer Yard to snag some beer (as most of you know, I do their website posting, beer listings and some other stuff that dare not be named and periodic raids on their stock is part of my compensation for same) than owner Matt Guyer trotting out a bunch of samples of that style and sending me on my way.

I was not a big fan of the term “session” when it was introduced and find the concept of “session IPAs” rather silly (as the headline on this piece might suggest), but I have to admit a whole lot of brewers have found ways to produce some mighty tasty beers under that rubric.

I am not going to rate these overall–there is an obvious similarity among them because of the ABV restrictions for the “style: (under 5% says the Brewers Association, under 4.5% say the session beer crusaders, under 4% say the purists)–but I will say that there was not a loser in the bunch. On these hot summer days (for as long as they last), Session IPAs are pretty good drinking.

I will say that my top five favorites from the above selection were, more or less in order: 21st Amendment Down to Earth (4.5%), Firestone Easy Jack (4.7%), Founders All Day (4.7%), Oscar Blues Pinner (4.9%) and Heavy Seas Cross Bones (4.5%). Other beers shown, in no particular order : Rivertowne Jah Mon (5.0%), Neshaminy Creek J.A.W.N. (5.2%), Two Roads Lil’ Heaven (4.8%), Saranac Gen IV (4.5%) and Boulevard Pop-Up (4.2%). The two remaining beers, barely discernible at the top of the photo did not belong in the mix because neither self-identifies as a session beer: Sly Fox SRT Ale (4.6%) and Terrapin Mosaic Red Rye (6.2%).

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Biere de Grouch fans Alert!

There must be a horde of you out there, am I right? the beer that debuting in a titanic struggle in which good triumphed over evil and then came back for a victory lap earlier this year will be part of the annual “Christmas in July” party featuring Troegs at the Craft Ale House this Thursday night, as noted on the Beer Yard Calendar as of this AM:

With only six shopping months left until Christmas, it’s time to check out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice so far this year. Or drink some beer. Whatever. And who knows what the Christmas Elf might bring along! On tap: 717 Collaborative Ale, Bourbon Barrel Aged Java Stout, Scratch #17: Biere de Grouch & Mad Elf 2014. Starts at 6pm; Pay As You Go.

Kindly Old Mr. Curtin would dearly love to be there to accept your plaudits and free pints, but he will instead be ensconced in Sea Isle City for the first gathering including both of his children and their spouses and all the grandchildren (speaking of hordes) in quite some time.

Life is hard sometimes, but we have to roll with the punches.

And I still wonder whatever became of That Other Guy.

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Wait all night, wait a little longer…

I’ve been hoping all day to get more on this story but it appears it ain’t gonna happen. so here the big news: Pottstown is  finally going to get a brewpub. Next spring at the earliest. Read all the details, which are damned few, here.

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Yee-Haw! He can run, but he can’t hide.

We got us a Brandon Greenwood sighting, ladies and gents. The peripatetic (formerly “angry”) brewer pops up in my email or Facebook stream now and again but never, ever answers when I ask him what’s up, at least not completely. Last time around, he told me he’d left Lagunitas (Chicago) and was now in Tennessee but never respond to further questions.

Well, we got ‘im (granted, this mostly happened because of a photo he put up on Facebook this morning, but never mind that).

Johnson City, TN—Yee-Haw Brewing Company announced today that it will brew its first beers right in the heart of Johnson City. .

[ … ]

Founding partner Joe Baker noted, “Yee-Haw is a brand that celebrates good beer and good times with friends. We’ve worked hard to create a brand that embraces the rich history, traditions and values of East Tennessee. Downtown Johnson City is growing and we’re excited to be part of the action.”

The Yee-Haw team is joined by Brandon Greenwood, COO & Brewmaster… Greenwood currently oversees the brewery construction… and serves as the mastermind behind the creation and production of its soon-to-be released brews. “Yee-Haw is committed to brewing world class beer. We will provide a quality mix of the finest ales and lagers. Our beer will be bold and flavorful, but easy to drink,” Greenwood said.

For you younger folks out there, Brandon enter the Philly brewing scene at the doomed Red Bell Brewery, moved on to Yards where he helped them get into packaging and, most significantly was the founding brewer at Nodding Head. He’s been a lot of place since, including at stint at The Lion in Wilkes-Barre.

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That old devil, the Unintended Consequence, strikes again.

And in this instance, the consequence was the unleashing of something close to pure evil on a gullible (and apparently tasteless)  world.

From this morning’s Beer Business Daily:

JOHN OLIVER UNINTENTIONALLY RAISES BRAND AWARENESS FOR BUD LIGHT LIME

The old adage is “if you don’t have anything nice to say – don’t say anything at all.” And if HBO’s Last Week Tonight host, John Oliver, really has the kind of aversion toward Anheuser-Busch that he often portrays on his talk show, it may have been in his best interest to abide by the saying this past week.

His vow to down a Bud Light Lime if FIFA president Sepp Blatter resigned actually gave way to newfound heights of social media exposure for the brand. “Bud Light Lime digital consumption increased 6,333% between May 31 and June 2, as compared to the period from May 22 to May 30,” per AdAge. In fact the brand was the only one associated with FIFA to see an increase in digital consumption after the FIFA president stepped down.

Amobee Brand Intelligence, a digital marketing company, found that of its “digital consumption” between May 31 (when John Oliver made his oath to chug a Bud Light Lime) and June 8 (the day after he guzzled the drink), Bud Light Lime owed 83% of it to the comedian. The percentage was the highest in terms of brand association, besting both Adidas (75%) and McDonalds (55%) – the two other companies he made oaths to.

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Let’s get ready to Rumble.

24 years on and just getting better and better

The 24th annual Pottstown Rumble is set to hit the borough June 25-28. Thousands of people are expected to flock to Memorial Park and surrounding fields to watch as some of the top volleyball athletes in the country compete.

Registration for the games is already outpacing last year’s competition and Seth Kaas, this year’s Rumble organizer, said he’s hoping for a huge turnout.

Plus also, beer and spirits…

Fans who work up a thirst from watching the games will be in luck as both the Sly Fox Brewing Company and Manatawny Still Works will be selling beer and mixed cocktails, respectively. Through the help of the Craft Ale House and the Pottstown Goodwill Fire Company, the Rumble will host a beer garden by center court on Saturday and Sunday and will feature seven Sly Fox beers on tap.

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Philly Beer Week Special: Back when the (beer) world was young and fresh and new.

In the midst of the commercial bonanza that is Philly Beer Week, it strikes me that digging into the archives might be a nice, non-profit way to join the party. The two posts following this one are pretty long and give a peek into the way things were–or more accurately perhaps, how I saw things as being–lo those many years ago. Not Beer Week itself–these articles are all from 15 or more years ago, long before there was such a thing–but the local craft scene in general. All of them first appeared in print (albeit no necessarily in the exact form as they do here) and all did appear in this or the pre-blog version of Liquid Diet and are accessible either in the regular Archives or the Way Back When archives linked on the column to the left.

The first post below ran as a featured article with sidebar in American Brewer in 2008 and won second place in the History category of the annual awards given out by the North American Guild of Beer Writers that year. Winner writing awards from either the Guild or successor groups became very much a Philadelphia thing a bit further down the line, as Don Russell, Lew Bryson and Carolyn Smagalski took first place honors the last three years they were awarded (Russell won a passel of them over the years if I recall correctly. In any case, it is a pretty good summary of the very early days of local craft.

The second post is a selection of three different stories which touch on two of our great local taverns and the ground zero event which has turned into one of our most popular annual celebrations.

(A personal note to Bill Covaleski: if I had the piece in which I wrote the immortal words “smoked hops” I would have included it just for you.)

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Philly Beer Week Special #1: “In Philadelphia, where tradition always counts and brewing has proven to be a once and future thing, it seems only fitting that what goes around has come around.”

Philly Brews: Past Is Prologue

For Philadelphia beer drinkers with a sense of history, the day in 1987 when Schmidt’s Brewery, the last of the great Philadelphia breweries (“great” in the sense that they were large and powerful), closed its doors and sold off its trademarks to G. Heilman’s, the Wisconsin conglomerate, was a sad one indeed. The city that had been the brewing capitol of a new nation back in Colonial times (in 1752, there were 120 taverns in Philadelphia, serving a population of 20,000, one pub for every 165 people) and was the place where lager had first been introduced on these shores (more about that later), now had no breweries at all.

But if a grand old tradition had ended, one had only to look to the west for the promise of a new day. About an hour up the turnpike from Philadelphia, in rural Adamstown, Stoudt Brewing Company was being born just as Schmidt’s died. It wasn’t yet apparent, but the advent of Stoudt’s (which followed shortly on the establishment of Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh) marked the beginning of a new and different approach to brewing in Pennsylvania.

Thus, just a decade later, Philadelphia and environs are arguably once again the hottest and most important brewing center on the East Coast. Some extraordinary brews, in an impressive variety of styles, are being produced in these parts these days.

The first stirrings of new beer life in the city proper came in 1989, with the opening of the Samuel Adams Brewhouse in center city. More significantly, the following year saw the birth of Dock Street Brewing Company, which established a significantly larger brewpub and restaurant a few blocks away and began retailing Amber Lager in 12-ounce bottles. Even though the latter product was-and is–contract brewed out of state, there was once again a “Philadelphia beer” on the market.

Things advanced slowly. In the bottle market, Penn Pilsner had a presence, as did Dock Street’s and Stoudt’s contract-brewed 12-ouncers, but most distributorships pushed, and thrived on, the major brands. As the ’90s rolled along, Red Feather Pale Ale from Chambersburg’s Arrowhead Brewing Company (now Rock Creek Brewing Company) became the first true craft beer produced in the region to be sold in traditional 24-bottle cases, and Stoudt’s craft brews, available in 765-ML bottles, developed a following. Stoudt’s, Dock Street and occasionally Red Feather even began showing up regularly on taps in those pubs and taverns which were aware of the Microbrew Revolution rolling inexorably eastward.

By mid-1994, though, staid old Philly was definitely Micro-ized. Sam Adams was available everywhere, even small neighborhood bars. Pete’s Wicked and Sierra Nevada began teaching folks who didn’t know they knew better than they most certainly did. Any brew that wasn’t the same old, same old was suddenly an In Thing: Yuengling Lager, the flagship brand of D. C. Yuengling & Son of nearby Pottsville, the oldest continually operating brewery in the United States, became, through a process that was never quite clear, the cool beer of choice for the young and hop-hip.

In 1995, Philadelphia began to put its own stamp on things. Independence Brewing Company and Yards Brewing Company opened within weeks of each other that spring. Red Bell Brewing Company, which had been contract brewing beers for several months while looking for a microbrewery site, acquired the former F. A. Poth & Sons brewery in the city’s historic Brewerytown section for its plant. Victory Brewing Company, the most significant of the new suburban breweries, did its first brew in late December. And, as the year drew to a close, the region’s new brew-on-premises operation also introduced a retail product.

It was as if a dam had broken. From then until now, new microbreweries and brewpubs have been springing up in and around the City of Brotherly Love at an extraordinary rate, more than 30 in Pennsylvania and another ten in neighboring New Jersey and Delaware.

Red Bell, incorporated in the summer of 1993, was the first new company into the market. Structural engineer Jim Cancro, an avid homebrewer, approached an old friend, investment banker and stockbroker Jim Bell, looking for money to launch a chain of brewpubs and the two eventually decided to seek out investors and go into business together. They also chose to introduce their label with contract brews while they sought out a site for a real microbrewery. With that site acquired and plagued by an inability to maintain quality control in their contract products, Red Bell eventually shut down its line in late 1995 and essentially withdrew from the market to wait for the $5 million refurbishing of the Poth plant to be completed.

Independence Brewing Company officially became the first new brewery in Philadelphia since Prohibition when it began shipping ale and lager in early April 1995. It is the brainchild of Robert W. Connor, Jr., a former stock broker who had worked with Jim Bell (one presumes, just to set the karmic record back in balance, a few brewers will one day walk away from their kettles and go off to Wall Street to hustle stocks and bonds). No fool he, Connor secured the services of Bill Moore, then brewmaster at Stoudt’s, where he’d been the man in charge for four years and several GABF medals.

Both Bell and Connor were, and are (though one senses they are slowly being seduced by the romance of hops and malts), primarily businessmen who saw an opportunity in the growing craft beer market. Still to be heard from was the “beer geek” contingent, the dedicated sort who are the heart and soul of craft brewing. Enter Jon Bovit and Tom Kehoe of Yards Brewing Company.

College buddies and home brewers who had apprenticed at British Brewing Company in Oxford, MD, Bovit and Kehoe had been trying to figure out how to create their own microbrewery since 1990. In 1994, they finally decided to just go ahead and do it-on a shoestring. They designed their own system and set up shop to produce “authentic British style cask conditioned ales.” They introduced Yards Extra Special Ale at the first Philadelphia Craft Brew Festival in late April. Within a few months, producing one six-keg batch at a time out of their tiny 3.5 barrel brewhouse, the “Yards Guys,” who delivered every keg themselves and made a point of being there whenever a bar tapped its first one, were supplying ESA, Entire Porter and several other cask conditioned products to bars clamoring for their wares. Yards became, and remains, the city’s cult brew, because of the high quality of the beers, because of the scarcity of same and, in part, because it turned out to be a focal point for the very nature of the way beer is served in Philadelphia.

A surprise entrant into the beer wars emerged in December 1995. Three former University of Pennsylvania students had introduced America-U-Brew to Philadelphia 11 months earlier. It was the fifth Brew On Premises facility in the country, they said, and the first outside California. They rapidly expanded into two additional locations in the suburbs, then, in what Mike Morrissey, one of the three partners, termed “a natural move,” decided to use their capabilities to create and market a microbrew of their own. Thus was born Gravity Pale Ale. Purists sneered because it was done with extracts; consumers didn’t quibble over such arcane matters.

And late that same month, as noted, Victory Brewing, located in a former Pepperidge Farm plant in an industrial park in the old mill town of Downingtown, some 20 miles west of Philadelphia, began brewing. Victory officially opened the doors of its brewpub in February 1996 and began off-premises sales in March. Brewer-owners Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, who both apprenticed at Baltimore Brewing Company, specialize in German-style lagers (Barchet also studied for a year in Germany), although the brewery first caught the public fancy with a hoppy Americanized IPA.

Victory Brewing’s entrance into the market marked, one can argue, “the end of the beginning” for the Philadelphia beer renaissance. Now, nearly two years down the road, we can see more clearly what that beginning has wrought.

For one thing, the “establishment” has risen to the competitive challenge. At Stoudt’s, head brewer Marc Worona points to the addition of additional tanks in the 25-barrel brewhouse so that beers can be aged longer, the fact that several Stoudts ales are now cask conditioned for serving on a hand pump and the introduction of two special brews this past fall to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the brewery. Stoudts Anniversary Dark, a special maibock in 65 ml bottles with the original reindeer pattern label and a wax dipped seal, became available in the spring; Stoudts 10th Anniversary Commemorative Doublebock, a Marzen which was lagered until the end of September, was released as a draft product for Octoberfest.

At Dock Street, according to head brewer Eric Savage, there came a realization in 1995 “that we weren’t going to be the only guys on the block anymore. So we sat down and thought about what we wanted to do with our beer. We had always strived primarily for authenticity, but as more and more microbrews came out, people started to want something more, something memorable. As a result, we’ve become bolder and more aggressive with our beers at the brewpub (an eight-barrel brewhouse). Lately we’ve been doing a lot with Belgian styles and we introduced a new Belgian Strong Ale this past Fall.”

America-U-Brew, which now markets itself as a “personal microbrewery” rather than a BOP, has begun implementing a bold and unique plan for its Gravity label. One of the suburban Philadelphia locations has been closed and relocated to Kansas City where, as Gravity Brewing Company, it operates in similar fashion to the Philadelphia company, combining personal brewing, contract brewing and the manufacture of Gravity Pale Ale for resale. “We envision either acquiring or becoming partners with existing BOP operations and forming small Gravity microbreweries in several markets,” says Morrissey. “In the long run, we could have national identity and national buying power, but continue to brew in small batches and be fresh and local in each market.”

Red Bell began brewing at its 280,000 square foot new facility in late June 1996 and has aggressively sought to expand the market in some interesting ways. A year ago, the brewery opened the Red Bell Brewery and Pub in Philadelphia’s new CoreStates Center (home to the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers), the first brewpub in a major arena in the country. Although a deal for a center city brewpub fell through at the last minute, several other new venues are in the works, including a brewpub in the historic Reading Terminal Market.

“I want my beers to look different, taste different, be different,” says Director Brewing Cancro, happy now that the process is under his full control in the 40-barrel brewhouse. Specialty brews such as a Black Cherry Stout and a rich Wee Heavy Scottish Ale are attracting the attention of the city’s growing legion of beer aficionados, but Red Bell’s major effort rests behind its Philadelphia Original Lager, a mild German Hellas style available in both kegs and bottles. That label is taking dead aim on Yuengling’s domination of the market, stressing its all-malt character and low price.

At Independence, Connor has chosen another approach to try and firm up and expand the company’s foothold in the market: advertising. A public stock offering in early 1997 raised $6.8 million and $1.5 million of that is being pumped into a print, radio and direct mail campaign to increase name recognition for the brand, in effect fighting the Majors on their own turf. Other funds have gone toward a new Krones bottling line and new keg line, as well as additional personnel.

“We took the risk of starting out with a large facility that we could grow into,” says brewmaster Moore (Independence has a 32,000 square foot plant with a 40-barrel brewhouse in the city’s northeast section), “which means we have to produce and sell a lot of beer. We try to stress quality and to make good, clean beers that are well balanced and suited to the market.” Leading products in draft and bottles are Franklinfest, a traditional Marzen lager which won a Gold Medal at the 1996 GABF, and Gold Ale, which took a Bronze at the same event. The ale started out as a seasonal but proved to be so popular it is now brewed year round.

For Victory, their HopDevil India Pale Ale, as noted, was an immediate hit, but the crisp lagers Barchet and Covaleski so relish are probably the brewery’s long-term strength. These include Brandywine Valley Lager, Prima Pils, Victory Festbier, St. Boisterous Hellerbock and St. Victorious Doppelbock. Victory also produces an imperial stout and seasonals. According to Covaleski, the pair “plan to whittle away at all the beer styles and eventually try our hand at most of them. We try to make beers that appeal to us personally and we don’t mind playing with things to make them right. I guess you could call us sort of traditional nonconformists,” he laughs. Barchet cites an example: “Our Prima Pils is right on in terms of style, with the aroma and bitterness you’d expect, but we turned everything up a just a little bit. We wanted to show hopheads who love IPA and only IPA that lagers can be nice and hoppy too. Plus we use only Bavarian malts, which are dramatically different from the Cascades so common in most American microbrews.”

Victory has a 25-barrel brewhouse and probably the best bottling setup of all the local micros, a 15-head Technik line. “The bottling equipment is the most expensive part of the whole brewery,” notes Barchet, shaking his head ruefully.

Sweeping and dramatic changes have come at Yards. Bovit and Kehoe put their house trailer-sized original site behind them early this summer and moved into a 6,000 square foot former warehouse to set up a 25-barrel brewhouse, immediately increasing weekly production by two and a half times. As before, they designed the entire system and had it custom built. The addition of a small 4-head Maheen bottling line, put cask conditioned bottles of Yards ESA on the street late this November. “Bottling is new for us, so it’s risky,” admits Kehoe. “You can’t put a hop sack in each bottle, so it will be a little different. Our great advantage is that we have a solid grass roots customer base who know us personally and who will let us know if they don’t like something.”

Yards has also found a new source to upgrade the British Maris Otter malts they use and ordered a year’s worth of hop plugs in advance. They also added a new head brewer, Brandon Greenwood, a rare American graduate of Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University, where he earned a Master’s Degree in brewing and distilling. Greenwood, who worked at Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery before returning to this country, has a simple job description, says Bovit. “Brandon is here to bring us to the next level.”

There are many other stories that ought to be told here-for example, beers produced at Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Malt Brewing (Lancaster), Pretzel City Brewing (Reading) and Weyerbacher Brewing (Easton) and New Jersey’s Flying Fish and Delaware’s Dogfish Head breweries are important landmarks in the Philadelphia beer revival-but we have only so much space, unfortunately.

Still, just as a fine beer is balanced and well rounded, the finish fulfilling the promise of the initial sip, our story, which began with the disappearance of a classic old Philadelphia brewing name can, fortuitously enough, achieve that same character if we but add the city’s newest microbrewery to the tale.

On June 7, 1997, Henry A. Ortlieb opened his brewery, Henry Ortlieb’s Original Philadelphia Beer Company, and his brewpub, Poor Henry’s, in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, in the building that once served as the packaging center for the brewery his family owned and operated for more than a century (the original brewery is directly across the street from the new one). The opening returning a grand old name to the local beer scene. Interestingly, according to local beer historian Rich Wagner, Poor Henry’s is quite likely located on the site where lager was first brewed in America, in 1842, by John Wagner.

“I’ve wanted to do this since the original brewery closed in 1981,” says Henry, a great grandson of founder Trupert Ortlieb. “I’ve tried to get the name back, but so far they won’t give it to me.” The Ortlieb’s trademark was sold to Schmidt’s in ’81, went to Heilman’s with Schmidt’s closing in 1987 and finally disappeared from the market last year when Stroh bought Heilman’s and closed its Baltimore plant. Under whatever name, Ortlieb’s has come back on a grand scale: a huge 60 barrel brewhouse (plus a second seven barrel system for the brewpub) producing “beers, ales and specialty brews that are created from the family’s secret recipes.” Two styles, Old Stock Lager and Awesome Ale, are now available in bottles which bear a Poor Henry’s label based on an Ortlieb’s version from the 1930s which showed the original brewery circa 1914. Other design elements point up the fact that the Ortlieb’s tradition stretches back to 1869.

In Philadelphia, where tradition always counts and brewing has proven to be a once and future thing, it seems only fitting that what goes around has come around.

The Little (Beer) Engine That Could

When Jon Bovit and Tom Kehoe premiered their Yards Extra Special Ale at the first Philadelphia Craft Beer Festival in April 1995 (see main story), they were looking for tavern owners eager not only to offer an authentic British style ale to their customers but also to “serve it right.”

“A true cask-conditioned ale, to be appreciated at its best, needs to be served at the right temperature and drawn on a traditional hand pump, or beer engine,” says Bovit.

They found their man among the many publicans who called the Yards Brewery the day after the Festival, anxious to carry the new brew. He was Dave Wilby, owner of the Dawson Street Pub, a former biker hangout which he was steadily transforming into a “good beer bar.” Like Yards, Dawson Street was located in Philadelphia’s Manayunk section, a sprawling community along the banks of the Schuylkill River just shy of the western suburbs. “I’ve been looking for a reason to put in a beer engine,” Wilby happily told the two brewers and, within a matter of weeks, he had located, purchased and installed a used hand pump from Canada.

It was an ideal situation. As Yards grew to be the city’s cult brew and seekers of truth would call or visit the brewery, “we’d send them across town to Dawson Street,” remembers Kehoe, “because there we knew they’d get to taste the beer exactly the way we intended it to be.” Both businesses benefited, of course, and others began to take notice. Downtown, hand pumps in the Dock Street and Samuel Adams brewpubs, generally ignored and often not even always in service previously, suddenly became facilities to be trumpeted. And cask conditioning became the mantra of other brewers, both local and national, seeking to break into the market.

Observing all this with great interest was Eddie Friedland, vice president of Edward I. Friedland Company, a local beer distributorship with a proud beer history (Friedland’s father, Marty, was the first US distributor on the East Coast to bring Bass Ale into the country). Friedland was trying to make his distributorship a specialist in microbrews and was eager to take on the Yards account. “Those guys were such perfectionists,” he laughs now. “I had to convince them that my delivery people had respect for our products and wouldn’t mishandle their beer before I even started trying to convince them that I should sell it for them.”

Friedland got the account, finally, and while waiting to take it over, contacted several breweries in England and asked about hand pumps. “Somebody finally put me in touch with Hi.Gene Beer Pumps over there,” he remembers, “and they gave me a good price and made me the exclusive distributor for the East Coast.” Thus he was able to offer not only Yards ales to his customers, but also a dispensing system ideally suited to delivering those ales at their peak levels of enjoyment.

There are today probably three dozen or more hand pumps in the area. It is virtually impossible to find a bar which specializes in quality brews that doesn’t have at least one (Dawson Street is up to three). Several of the more adventuresome local bars have even taken the whole process one step further, regularly gravity-tapping small casks right on top of the bar.

For that matter, Brigid’s, a small Belgian-style pub in the hip Art Museum area, has installed a permanent gravity-tapping system, the brainchild of local beer writer and proselytizer Jim Anderson. Kegs are stored and tapped in a temperature controlled room above the bar and poured through a pipe in the ceiling to taps below. Yards is often the brew of choice for this presentation, but the “Down Draft” system has also featured such goodies as a Dock Street Imperial Stout and the only cask-conditioned versions ever of Hair of the Dog’s Adambier and Stoudt’s Pilsner.

The Down Draft is apparently the only system of its kind in the country, perhaps the entire world, although there are rumors about a pub in liverpool. CAMRA has been in to check it out, says Anderson. “They never did give me any official word, one way or the other, but they drank a lot and left smiling.”

Truly, a journey of a thousands beers, as the Chinese might have said, begins with a single hand pump. And what happened to that second-hand beer engine from which Dave Wilby introduced Yards ESA to all those wandering pilgrims? It’s been retired from active duty and now sits in Tom Kehoe’s basement.

Copyright (c) 1998 Jack Curtin

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Philly Beer Week Special #2: “You’re sitting at the bar minding your own business and a guy walks behind you carrying a goat, you gotta figure you’ve had one too many or else something strange is going on, right?”

One Night at the Dawson Street Pub

I am sitting on the windowsill just inside the entrance to the Dawson Street Pub at about 9 PM of a pleasant Saturday evening in July. Up front, past the bar and back in the second room where the pool table generally stands, singer songwriter Ben Arnold, a Nashville refugee who has found a regular musical outlet here in Manayunk, is midway through his gig. He’s very good and is the seventh or eighth performer in the ten-act extravaganza that began at 2 PM and will continue long after I drag my weary bones home to bed. My view is obscured frequently by the constant visitors to the table groaning with the ribs, chicken, chili, rice, corn and salad that are included in the $7 cover charge, but I can live with that.

Two blonde cuties sit down at the table in front of me to join a young man, who responds to their traditional “how are you?” query with a long and detailed description of his bad case of poison ivy. I figure he is definitely going home alone.

Out the window behind me, the corner streetlight shines down on the faded blue 1966 Dodge Dart convertible that Dawson Street owner Dave Wilby recently drove on a 7400 mile cross country trip sponsored by Hot Rod magazine. Across from that is the “War Wagon,” a battered ’74 Dodge pickup that has been wildly decorated by the same artist responsible for the bar’s rear (and last) room, an enticing enclave with overstuffed couches where the door to the rest room is so well hidden amidst all the psychedelic artwork that newcomers invariably have to wander back out to the bar to ask additional directions.

Wilby himself suddenly appears at my side, beaming happily. The crowd hasn’t been overwhelming for this “Austin in Philly” special event, but it’s been steady and will get larger as the night progresses. Wilby is hardly your traditional maitre d’ in his tee shirt and cut off blue jeans, long, shoulder length-plus dark hair, usually contained in a ponytail, flowing free as he rushes from one spot to another, but this is his perfect party. Good beer. Good food. Good music. What more could a man want?

“I gotta tell you, Wilby,” I finally say, “there so damned much local color in this place I can hardly figure out where to start.”

Confession time. The Dawson Street Pub, at the corner of Dawson and Cresson Streets on the east side of Manayunk, is, if not my favorite watering hole in the whole wide world, certainly–as they say–close enough for gummint work. The place keeps popping up in the stories I write about the local scene, not, I hope, because of favoritism either intended or unintentional, but because it often seems to have a relevant place in the ongoing saga. Truth to tell, I am here this very evening to do a Dawson Street story for a regional beer magazine, so I’m really doing this because I have to.

Nice work if you can get it.

Seven years ago, this place a biker bar that did not attract your highly desirable clientele. When Wilby and his father bought it, they slowly transformed it into its present state, arguably one of the best beer bars in the area and increasingly a showcase for new musical performers at its Thursday Open Mike nights and for weekend gigs. The place is decidedly not high tech in decor, nor is the crowd the flash and dash upscale sorts who crowd Main Street. This is a friendly, easy-going, younger group that seems to appreciates the beer and the ambiance. I am encouraged to see a scant three baseball caps worn backwards in the whole place.

Beer is what Dawson Street is all about, when you cut to the quick. “Life is too short to drink bad beer” is the bar’s official slogan and Wilby just recently completed his stated intention of banning the “big boys” from the premises. Neither Budweiser nor Coors nor Miller are available any longer in any form. There are 12 taps, three of them hand pumps, the largest number in any local bar, to my knowledge. These feature one, sometimes three, brews from local favorite, Yards, as well as such goodies as Victory Pils or HopDevil Ale out of Downingtown, Stoudt’s new keg conditioned ale or similar products from Rogue, Oliver’s or other national brands. Guinness is always on tap, as is New Castle Brown, among a rotating selection that is generally strong on the best of the locals and other quality micros. As do an increasing number of bars which pride themselves on their beer selection, Dawson Street features Yuengling Lager and Porter as base brews and that brand is the top seller by far. “Good beer at a good price,” says Wilby.

It’s moving up on midnight now. They’ve even managed to drag chief cook, ace bartender and all-round jack of all trades Jake Carlin up to sit in for a few sessions, a rare treat highly approved by the crowd. Wilby and sound man Lee Schusterman have also taken a turn with the performers here and there. Bartender Blythe Lowry has seemingly not stopped moving all night, filling glasses from the taps or, more often, the quarter of Yards IPA which has been gravity tapped on top of the bar. The guy with the poison ivy has left, accompanied only by the friend he came in with.

The acoustical acts are eventually replaced by Tin Men, a Dawson Street favorite, but inclined toward a bit louder and stronger rock sound than I’m up to at the moment. Time to leave, something I can do with only the tiniest tinge of regret, secure in the knowledge that I’ll be back again soon.

Copyright (c) 2008 Jack Curtin

* * * *

Welcome to the Standard Tap

Don’t get me wrong, but the two things that really blew me away during my first visit to the Standard Tap, the swell new tavern in Philadelphia’s getting-hipper-by-the-minute Northern Liberties section, were the funky telephone compartment near the main bar and the battered old icebox behind that bar.

Normally I’d start off raving about how strikingly attractive Standard Tap is and how the place is carving out its own unique niche by serving draft beers exclusively and only Philadelphia-area brews to boot. I’ll get to all that, promise, but first I gotta tell you about those two items, each of which reflects the attitude and style of owners William Reed and Paul Kimport as clearly as do the intriguing beer selection and eclectic menu.

The Standard Tap is located at 2nd & Poplar streets on the site of (or right next door to the site of, that isn’t entirely clear) the historic Colonial-era Bull’s Head Inn. It’s been there a long time, in other words, and Reed, long-time brewmaster at the Samuel Adams Brewhouse, and Kimport, formerly a server at Striped Bass, had to strip the place down to a shell after they purchased it three years ago, restoring the original plaster walls, handcrafting wood furniture throughout and, most impressively, designing a 15-foot long solid cherry bar. Only one thing remained untouched when they were through: the phone booth.

“We really liked it and decided to keep it just the way we found it,” Reed explained, pointing out that the partners didn’t even bother to paint the existing door to the closet-sized compartment. There’s something very 1930s about it all, I thought to myself, awash in the charm of a time I’d seen only in the movies, when Reed’s next words brought me back into the 21st Century. “Of course, we call it our cell phone booth these days, since most of our customers seem to carry one.”

Having been reminded that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, I gratefully accepted a pint of Dogfish Head Shelter Pale Ale and considered the magnificent bar. Along its length were ten draft spigots and a pair of hand pumps, the latter two pouring Yards ESA and Victory HopDevil steadily since Standard Tap opened its doors in early January. Among the other selections in addition to Shelter Pale: Stoudt’s American Pale Ale, Pils and Fat Dog Stout; Victory Golden Monkey Tripel; Yards Entire Porter; Flying Fish ESB and, atop the icebox centered behind the bar, a gravity-tapped cask of Victory’s Old Horizontal Barleywine.

Impressive stuff indeed, but it was that 1950s icebox that left me with mouth agape. The sign taped above the tap handle in the door announced that the keg inside was Yuengling Lord Chesterfield Ale. Now there’s a beer you don’t see featured at a beer bar every day! Nostalgia redux: I was transported back to the days when popping a bottle of Lord Chesterfield and basking in its distinctively skunky aroma was proof that there was more to beer than mindlessly quaffing cans of Piel’s Real Draft.

“It’s one of the classic old beers that had some real character,” Reed explained, “and I just thought it should be available here. We keep it 34 degrees and serve it icy cold just the way you remember it.”

The decision to go all-draft and stick to local beers, Reed said, “came about because there seemed to be a need for a place like this and it fit perfectly into this neighborhood. With few exceptions, I’ve always found most beers are best fresh and on draft and local beers should logically be the freshest beers. Besides, I think our local breweries are still under-appreciated in Philadelphia and our featuring great local beers helps counter-act that.”

Reed also rejects one-tap-per-brewery common wisdom. “If a brewery makes several good beers, I have no problem with putting several of them on tap at the same time. Nobody is complaining that there are three Stoudt’s beers on right now. They all very different and they are all very good. Why not serve them at the same time? Or three great beers from Yards, or Victory, or anyplace else?”

Kimport’s menu to accompany all those fine brews ranges from specials like venison stew to standard but unusual offerings such as smelts, adding to Standard Tap’s appeal as both a neighborhood tappie and a destination bar. And should you want to call a friend to join you, there’s a phone booth right over there.

Copyright (c) 2000 Jack Curtin

* * * *

A Maibock Named George

You’re sitting at the bar minding your own business and a guy walks behind you carrying a goat, you gotta figure you’ve had one too many or else something strange is going on, right? Fortunately it was the latter case on a blistering hot Sunday afternoon in early May at Collegeville’s New Road Brew House.

George, a black haired speedster unaccustomed to public adulation, was being hauled to the back bar stage area to be cheered as the winner of the goat race which served as the centerpiece of the brewpub’s newly inaugurated Annual Bock Festival.

With head brewer Brian O’Reilly acting as ringmaster and introducing the competitors (“Princess is a mother of two from Pottstown and enjoys tin cans”), a passel of goats, small and large, horned or bearded or sometimes both, sprinted around a short course in the parking area, dragging their owners behind.

George, owned by Matt Hoffman, burst across the finish line, pulled free of his leash and hurled himself into the safety of his trailer, from whence he had to be dragged kicking and fighting and carried to the winner’s circle upstairs. Once there, he immediately relieved himself on the floor. Like I said, unaccustomed to public adulation.

Hoffman’s employer is Black’s Livestock Inc, of Skippack, the company which hauls away New Road’s spent grain, so George actually prepared for his triumph by eating the very grain which produced his namesake brew. “He’s been in serious training since early yesterday afternoon,” said a proud Hoffman.

The goatly reward? New Road’s just-released Maibock was named in George’s honor. And he and his owner also received a sparkling gold medal, which they will presumably wear on alternate days, and Hoffman also was presented with a $75 gift certificate at the bar.

Then, as the victorious goat looked on, the first keg of George Maibock was ceremoniously tapped while the Das Immergrun Trio of Mountville, PA led the assemblage in song and a dance group from Philadelphia, G. T. R. Ver. Almrausch, well, danced. You had to be there.

The Maibock? Delicious, which is what we’ve come to expect from O’Reilly. I also had a couple of pints of his earlier-released Slacker Bock, already a personal favorite, and am looking forward to sampling the Ice Bock which complete’s New Road’s spring triumverate on my next visit.

Copyright (c) 2000 Jack Curtin

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