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by Jack Curtin

I drink no cider,
but feast on Philadelphia beer.

--John Adams, in a letter to his wife Abigail


ARCHIVE: 16 September - 30 September 2002


CAPITAL CITY INVITATIONAL BEER FESTIVAL, APPALACHIAN BREWING, September 14, 2002. Somehow or other at the end of the day we ended up on the far side of Harrisburg, hellbent for Lancaster (it's best you don't know why), sitting in this obscure little bar trying to come up with a list of the ten best science-fiction novels ever written, debating the list with the bartender who alternated her title suggestions with explanations about how she'd been sick and that's why the majority of the taps were dry. The reason I can't be sure exactly where we were is that, when Bryson's driving, I tend to contemplate my mortality and ignore such mundane issues as geography.

"Bryson," for those who came in late, is Lew Bryson, ace beer writer and high-volume bad influence on more sedate souls such as I. Despite the fact that I had dragged this aging body through five (count 'em, 5) beer events over the previous 11 days (for the sordid details, visit the archives), Lew figured I would be game for a sixth, The Capitol City Invitational at the Appalachian Brewery if he did all the work and arranged for our passes. In short, I was enticed by an Offer I Couldn't Refuse... which is okay, because attending the Capital City Festival turned out to be a Very Good Thing.

For one thing, I got to correct an erroneous impression I had formed during the Kennett Square Microbrew Festival when I first tasted HopBack Amber Ale from Troegs Brewery. My initial reaction was that this 5.8% abv brew (the second in the brewery's Single Batch series of one-time, draft only beers) was that it was--as we've learned to expect from Troegs--a well-made, dead-on and very drinkable beer. It must have been the crowded conditions at Kennett which skewed my judgment, because on Saturday HopBack literally blew me away. I quickly followed my first sampling with two others, savoring the balanced hop flavor and spicy finish. HopBack was my favorite beer of the festival and I'd suggest you give it a try while you can if the opportunity presents itself. The first beer in this series, Troegenator Double Bock, won a place on the regular brewing schedule and this one would be welcome there as well by this drinker.

As long as we're on the topic of favorites, I'd give second place for the afternoon to Twisted Kilt Scotch Ale from DuClaw Brewing in Maryland. It's a brand new seasonal, just released this month. Definitely worth seeking out if you're taking a trip south anytime soon.

New beers from breweries we don't see much around these parts were also reason enough to make the drive up to Harrisburg worth it. Whether they turned out to be my favorites or were just beers I'd not tasted before, they made the day interesting. Among new beers I tried:

a tasty Red Ale from Johansson's Dining House (Westminster, MD); a Rauch Bok which notably lacked the smokey flavor the name implied, from the Bullfrog Brewery (Williamsport, PA); a very drinkable and pleasant Oatmeal Stout from Bube's Brewery (Mt. Joy, PA); Kclinger's Brown Ale, brewed for Kclingers Tavern (Hanover, PA) by Weyerbacher Brewing Co.; an interesting Biere de Garde brewed by Black Rock Brewing Company (Wilkes-Barre, PA) and a nice Belgian Dubbel from Red Star Brewery & Grille (Greensburg, PA).

I had a particularly interesting experience at the Lancaster Brewing booth, where the self-described "beer geek just helping out the brewery" convinced me to try a mixture of the brewery's popular Milk Stout and Amish 4-Grain Ale, which he said he'd invented and enjoyed. Done his way, poured half and half, it came across as drinkable enough but was reminiscent of a brown ale that had lost its way. I did love the name he came up with for the concoction, though: "Amish Milkmaid."

Finally, I picked up two good stories at Appalachian. I talked at length with Sven Vollmerd, a German exchange student who was finishing up his second stint with brewer Jeff Fegley at Bethlehem Brew Works and he had some interesting insights into the differences between beer festivals in this country and those in his native land.

And I caught up with Jeff Goss, whose Market Cross Pub in Carlise, PA impressed me enough the one time I visited it to inspire dreams of moving out there in the middle of nowhere so it could be my Local. The pub is brewing its own beers again, something that hasn't been going on since the demise of Whitetail Brewing and brewer Wade Keech's retreat to more profitable endeavors. They had the very first batch of their first beer, so new it's not even on tap at the pub as yet, at Capital City. It still needs some tweaking, I'd say, but Patrick Mullen of The Drafting Room (Exton) was impressed enough to give the new brewer his card and suggest he bring a couple of kegs along should he ever be in the area.

Who is that new brewer? What did Sven have to say about Oktoberfest? All that will revealed in my next posting, appearing here one day real soon.[posted Tuesday, September 17, 2002 7:00 pm edt][end]

OF BEERS, BEER NEWS & BEER YARDS. The story I promised in the last posting about my interview with a German exchange student who described the differences between beer festivals in his county and the U.S. is now available right here. The other story I also promised should be up in the same location no later than tomorrow.

Why, you may ask, am I sending you to another site, The Beer Yard, to read these instead of posting them right here? Well, I happen to be the (God, I hate this term) Content Provider for that site, the guy who posts the new beers, the news, the events and whatever else comes along. I do it on a freelance basis and since owner and Powerful Local Beer Guy Matt Guyer pays me to do it (albeit not nearly enough), I figure it's only fair that I post any hard news or interesting feature stories there.

Understand, you can always get the latest news I've been able to ferret out by visiting here and clicking on either Beer News or Beer Yard in the Links shown in the left column of this page. And I make it easy for visitors here to check out those, or any, links I add to these ramblings. Just click, go see what it's all about and then hit your Back link in your toolbar to jump back here.

At the Beer Yard site, though, you might want to look around a bit before rushing back. Today, for example, in addition to the story mentioned above, I also add a story about the award-winning performances of beers from local breweries Victory, Weyerbacher and Stoudt in the recent summer judging in the United States Beer Tasting Championship.

And I also added two new beers to the "New Arrivals" section, Super Baladin and Nora Ale from Le Baladin, an Italian brewery, founded in 1996, that you might not be familiar with. And there are more news items, a listing of beer events which caught our eye and 800-plus beers there for your perusal as well.

Note: Pennsylvania laws do not permit the shipping of beer either in-state or, most definitely, out-of-state, so please don't join the dozens of people who email poor Matt from around the world every week asking him to do so. I mean, you choose to live in Georgia or Alabama or Australia, you have to deal with the beers that are there, you know?

Should you be inclined instead to email him with a suggestion that he dramatically increase my remuneration, however, go for it.
[posted Thursday, September 19, 2002 5:00 pm edt][end]

NO SIPPIN', NO RIVER... This was to have been the year that I finally got to Sippin' by the River, Philadelphia's annual celebration of world-class beers and wines at Penns Landing along the Delaware River. Once again, though, I was sidetracked, which may indicate that the universe is trying to tell me something about my compatibility with this particular event.

Instead of resting up prior to heading downtown, I spent this past Sunday morning finishing my entry in a 24-Hour Short Story Contest and then the early part of the afternoon doing my usual Sunday morning tasks of updating websites, invoicing subscribers to my new comics subscription service and preparing eBay auctions.

After all that, I was in no mood or condition to do anything more active than collapsing on the couch to watch the Philadelphia Eagles kick the Dallas Cowboys' asses all over Veteran's Stadium.With beer in hand, of course, in this case a pint or three of Sly Fox Pikeland Pils, which is my current house beer, on draft in the converted refrigerator on the back porch.

...BUT FINE BEER NONETHELESS. Dinner, though, especially since I'd missing out on all the fun down by the river, called for something special, a treasure from the (figurative) beer vault. It took only a glance inside to reveal the perfect choice to accompany the spicy Szechaun stir fry I had in mind: Heavyweight Brewing's Biere D'Art, a big, malty (and apparently one-time-only) biere de garde from the creative Tom Baker.

Those who have been following along with these postings from the start (part of a series, collect 'em all) may recall how pleased I was when Tom presented me with one of the 750 ml. bottles at the Kennett Square Microbrew Festival because Biere D'Art is not available in Pennsylvania. That's unfortunate. It means a lot of people I know won't get a chance to taste one fine beer. At 7.7% ABV, it packs a bit of a kick, especially given its drinkability. It was, as I expected, an excellent match for my meal.

More details about this bottle conditioned beer and the striking art which graces its label can be found here, where Baker goes into some detail on the concept, brewing and fermenting of Biere D'Art. It's a nice little added touch at the Heavyweight website, one I'd like to see more breweries adopt.

COMING UP. If all goes well (man, talk about "famous last words"), this weekend I'll have reports on a brewery presentation and beer dinner for the press and major distributors at Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery this Friday night and the Oktoberfest Block Party at Ludwig's Garten in Philadelphia on Saturday.

DALLDORF, MAN & MYTH. Finally, here's a story about Tom Dalldorf, editor and publisher of Celebrator Beer News which ran in the San Francisco Chronicle a week or so back. Why, you ask? Hey, if a writer can't suck up to his editor now and then, what's the point, you know? Seriously, this is a well done piece and one nice to see appearing in the mainstream press. The URL they give for Celebrator at story's end is wrong, however. This is the correct one.
[posted Tuesday, September 23, 2002 1:00 pm edt][end]

SAM'S WORLD. Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery is, according to Michael Jackson, "America's most interesting and adventurous small brewery." It's hard to argue with that.

Founder/brewer Sam Calagione has recreated an ancient elixir served at the funerary feast of King Midas. He's produced the world's strongest commercially available beer, WorldWide Stout (this year's batch is expected to top the 20% ABV mark), as part of a friendly competition with Boston Beer (Sam Adams). And it's not just about beer any more. Earlier this year, Dogfish Head's brewpub in Rehoboth Beach became the east coast's first distillery-brewpub.

To top it all off, Calagione, who started in 1995 with "the smallest commercial brewery in America" (three kegs with propane burners underneath), has now got himself a spanking new brewery.

On Friday night, Dogfish Head hosted a group of its major distributors and a few beer writers not adverse to fighting the late afternoon traffic on I-95 and U.S. Route 1 to trek the 150 miles or so south to Milton, DE for the official opening of the new facility. The Milton plant, which produced its first beers last July, makes Dogfish Head one of the five largest microbreweries on the east coast. It's big, it's clean and it's a long, long way from the old place in Lewes, which went online back in 1997. As a cornerstone of a new complex to be known as Cannery Village, the brewery is likely to become a regional landmark.

Calagione and brewmaster John Gilloly told us all about the new facility as we sipped pints of Shelter Pale Ale, Punkin' Ale or (my choice) 90 Minute Imperial Pale Ale and had a brief taste of the forthcoming 2002 WorldWide Stout.

After another 15-minute drive further south to the brewpub, we sat down to a four-course dinner on the upper level, beginning with homemade Mojitos made with Wit Rum, fresh mint, lime and rock candy syrup. Those were followed by Old School Barley Wine, the "world's strongest bottle conditioned beer," a 15% ABV brew made with figs and dates.

A first course of Three Cheese Soup made with tarragon and ale, was accompanied by IBA, a tasty brown ale. Steakhouse Blue Cheese Salad followed, served with bottled Raison D'Etre (my favorite Dogfish brew and one of my favorites, period) and a small sampling of Midas Touch Golden Elixir. A smashing main course of Assorted Gourmet Woodgrilled Pizzas was well-served by pints of Chicory Stout, as was Homemade Raison D'Etre Ice Cream with Carmelized Dogfish Brown Honey Rum Sauce by a snifter of Immort Ale.

Done? Not quite. Brown Honey Rum, smooth and scarily drinkable, finished the formal part of the evening.

I sat with Sam, his wife Mariah (the brewery's Office Manager), Home Sweet Homebrew's George Hummel & Nancy Rigberg and Eddie Friedland (distributor to the stars) and his wife. We even listened when Sam got up to speak periodically, setting ourselves off from most of the room.

I was feeling right proud of myself after dinner, what with being reasonably sober and coherent and all, but I was waylaid by Sam as I was leaving for my motel. Uh-oh. Quite a while later, I found myself babbling mindlessly to a table of distributors--who never did (thankfully) figure out who I was.

Hell, it took a lengthy period of contemplation on the boardwalk staring at the ocean the next morning before I was clear about that myself. [posted Sunday, September 29, 2002 2:00 pm edt] [end]

Malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.

--A. E. Houseman


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