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Liquid Diet Online

by Jack Curtin

I drink no cider,
but feast on Philadelphia beer.

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

JUST A LITTLE BREWPUB YOU PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF. I'm posting early today, and more briefly than usual (pause for applause), because I'm bound, just about an hour from now, for some obscure brewpub located deep in the heart of Delaware, hard by the shores of the Atlantic, for a beer dinner of some sort. It's in Rehoboth Beach, to be exact, where men are men and there's nothing wrong that.

Can't seem to remember the name of the pub itself, some sort of fish is involved, I think. Maybe Catfish Beers? I dunno. I have a feeling this is just one of those places, you know what I mean. They never get any publicity, nobody seeks out their beers. It's all very sad.

The brewer's name is Calamari or Calzone or something like that, and I keep conjuring up this image of an unkempt little guy with a beer belly and scraggly beard who's never had a date in his life and who women totally ignore.

Ah well, duty calls and I can but take up the challenge. I'll let you know how it all turns out next week.

RAIN OR SHINE MANAYUNK TURNS OUT JUST FINE. Manayunk is where the pretty people go to play and the popular Manayunk Beer Festival has always been about sunshine and pretty ladies on the deck as much as it has about beer. Yesterday, with the weather not cooperating (for only the second time in the life of the event if I'm remembering correctly), we learned that two out of three ain't half bad. Manayunk is the largest local festival each year, aside from the Michael Jackson Museum tastings, and it appears to draw an equal number of men and women, giving it a somewhat different ambiance than all the others. It never really rained after things got underway at noon and despite just a bit of chill in the air, the young lovelies did themselves proud and, for the most part, did not give in to any unseemly urges to don more clothing than absolutely necessary.

In many ways, with some brewery tables spread throughout the inside of the pub and the other under tents on the deck, it was a lot easier to move around than usual. The place to be was still the deck, for sure, but even the guys hidden away in the dark reaches of the second floor got more than their share of the crowd.

I worked the Sly Fox table a good part of the time (interest in next Sunday's goat race appears to be immense and if the weather is good that could be some afternoon) and wandered the rest, tasting beers and chatting up whoever would deign to talk to me. I had the Mai Bock from Otto's Pub and Brewery, the new brewpub in State College which I'll have more to report on in a future entry; Matrimoniale, another cleverly named and tasty brew from General Layfayette's Chris Leonard, and a very nice Schwarzbier from the Wayne John Harvard's. Also Fancy Pants Pale Ale and another glass of the wonderful Old Willy's Ghost Barley Wine from Nodding Head which I raved about last week.

The traditional after-festival gathering at Dawson Street Pub was low key and pleasant. We drank Yards ESA on the hand pump until it was gone, then switched to Victory HopDevil on one of the other handpumps (with three handpumps and good beer man Dave Wilby at the helm, Dawson Street continues to live up to the designation as "world's greatest bar" which I bestowed upon it lo those many years ago). It also continued its tradition of always allowing me to eavesdrop on a fascinating conversation or two, the high point yesterday being a discussion of 401K and IRA programs between two highly unlikely characters whose identities I will protect for their own images.

Near evening's end I managed to lift my head from my pint long enough to snap the "Separated at Birth" photo of Manayunk brewer Larry Horwitz and Nodding Head's irrepressible Spanky which appears below and then, thankfully, we came home.

REMEMBER THAT STORY ABOUT HOW ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS BORN IN A LOG CABIN HE BUILT WITH HIS OWN HANDS? The highlight of the German Beer Dinner at Sly Fox on Thursday night, at least for me, was the three-year old Doppel Ice Bock served with the delicious German Chocolate Cake for dessert.

However, like an annoying relative counting back to the wedding ceremony when a newly-wed couple has their first baby, I must point out that Brian O'Reilly, for all his skills, would be hard pressed to have produced a three-year old beer at the Fox, since he's only been there a little over a year himself.

My goodness, it's a mystery, yes it is. Or maybe its a science-fiction thing, one of those time travel stories. Or (gasp!) could it be that a sixelle purchased from the late, unlamented New Road Brewhouse in Collegeville and carefully stored in a Philadelphia cellar somehow found its way home to its loving brewer? Whatever the case, it was one fine beer.

Other beers served were French Creek Helles as the "welcoming beer," Pikeland Pils with an interesting Kielbasa Goulash, more Royal Weisse than you might ever expect (23oz glass), served with more sausage than any normal man was ever meant to eat at a single sitting (a portion reminiscent of the "huge, honkin' piece of meat" that closes out many Monk's beer dinners--see photo), one-year old Ice Maibock with an Onion Tart and the very drinkable Instigator Doppelbock with Sauerbraten.

A good time was had by all, as they say. Want proof? I got your proof right here. The photo below captures Sly Fox owner Pete Giannopoulos and pal Charlie Somners, a local graphic designer (who we hear is working on a new beer bottle logo for somebody or other) who also fronts The Charlie Sommers Blues Band. You think they're not having fun? (Photos in this section by Mary Giannopolos)

UNCLE LEW WANTS YOU. Lew Bryson is aroused. And what's got his ire up is Gov. Rendell's proposed tax increase on beer. To put it as bluntly as possible, Lew is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. He wants you folks to sign on to a serious protest about the inequity of it all. Lew's challenge has all the passion and power you'd expect from one of beerdom's best writers--plus he gets to talk about himself with the editorial "We," always a cool thing. Trust me, you can't hardly find that sort of thing anymore. You can sign up for Bryson's Battlers right here.

MATT GUYER GOES BIG TIME. Just about a month ago, I wrote in passing about a Thursday night get-together at the Beer Yard where kindly proprietor Matt Guyer, right hand man Mark Sauerbrey, dragooned customer Bob Rodgers and Your Humble Correspondent tasted a selection of spring beers at the request of a writer from Time magazine, who apparently does brief beer pieces in its pages from, yes, time to time.

The resultant story ran in the April 28 issue, out this past week, although all of us aside from Guyer were left, as the poem says, "to blush unseen and waste our fragrance on the desert air." He, on the other hand, has now recapture his youthful visions of becoming a beer purveyor to the stars. "It seems like every other customer who walks into the store has seen the story," he told me.

The five beers mentioned in the article were Stoudt's Blond Double Maibock, Troegs' Troegenator, Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock, Frankenheim Alt and Ayinger Celebrator Dopplebock, which was the lineup suggested by Matt. Our tasting involved all but the Einbecker beer, which never arrived, and also included Sam Adams' Spring Ale, which we were under the impression the writer wanted included. The article cited Matt, two NYC bartenders and an "amateur beer aficionado" in its conclusions that Stoudt's ranked first in the group and Troegs second; our Beer Yard tasting reversed that standing. Either way, a nice showing for a pair of local beers.

Mr. Guyer will be available for autographs at the store between 2 and 4 daily, except when he isn't.

NODDING HEAD BERLINER WEISSE RETURNS...AND ALSO TRAVELS A LITTLE BIT NORTH. Berliner Weisse will be back at Nodding Head a week from tomorrow. The ever-effervescent Brandon Greenwood sent along the news via email on Friday, along with an explanation of the style, which is still relatively new to a lot of beer folks:

"Berliner Weisse is a low alcohol (2.8% by volume) German wheat beer common to only the Berlin area. Unlike its Bavarian cousin Berliner Weisse lacks the characteristic banana and clove flavors. Instead, it is very tart and effervescent. The aroma is that of citrus fruit and the flavor, although tart, is complex and quite enjoyable on a hot summer day. Often the beer is served with a dash of Waldmeister (a sweetened extract of woodruff) or raspberry syrup to balance out the tartness. It will be available beginning May 5 and throughout the summer. Please stop by the pub and try a pint!"

Turns out there's at least one other place in Philadelphia where you'll be able to sample this tasty concoction as well, a fact I discovered with a bit of good old nose-to-the-grindstone journalistic ingenuity. Well, okay, what I did was listen in on a conversation between Nodding Head's Curt Decker and that Scoats fellow during Split Thy Skull last weekend.

That's right, the Grey Lodge Pub will also be serving Greenwood's Berliner Weiss this summer. A Nodding Head beer on tap off premises is a rarity, folks, and it must have taken some convincing.

Who knew Scoats was such a smooth-talking charmer?

AT VICTORY, IT'S A WHOLE 'NOTHER SMOKE. When I saw the Subject Line on an email from Victory's Bill Covaleski on Thursday, I knew I was in trouble. It read

why I love the beer media... "smoked hops!"

Smoked hops? Uh-oh. Nothin' to do but stand there and let him slap me around. And why should you miss out on all the fun. Here are Bill's comments in two emails he sent me (with a little news thrown in too, so some good came out of my sloppiness after all):

"Thanks for the kind words on your site for our beers and the Beer Yard V-12 sampling,. Please, though, do us all a favor and let folks know that smoked MALT is used in rauchbiers. I know of none that use smoked hops as you attributed to ours....[the rauchbier] has a name now. Scarlet Fire....This sucks. I have had a chalkboard in the works for weeks now and you'll claim both the glory and the satisfaction when it goes up. Jack, I think I can find a good double chamber bong that has not gotten use in years if you are looking to smoke any more hops. Yours in the preservation of dignity and truth in brewing."

Yikes! Busted. I am properly chagrined and have fixed the error so that it will never again be seen by mortal man (I do love the internet). That said, I am reminded of some wisdom my old pappy passed on to me a long time ago: "son, if you do something stupid, just take your medicine then shut up and get out of the room."

Good advice.
[posted Sunday, April 27, 2003 9:15 am edt]

AN EVENING IN DOWNINGTOWN, WHERE MEN ARE MEN AND BEERS ARE SURREPTITIOUS. I arrived at the Victory brewpub shortly after 5 PM last Tuesday evening to find our pal Richard Ruch ensconced on a barstool at the deadman's corner at the far end of the bar. You'd think by now that they'd have put a nice shiny nameplate on it for him. A familiar face was a welcome, though hardly unexpected, fillip for a planned couple of hours enjoying some of the best beers made in America. With the security of someone to whom I could pontificate as conditions required, I was free to devote my attention to deciding which Victory delights I would experience.

"You know, they've got 17 beers on tap right now," said Richard, thus increasing my anticipation. "Great," I said. "Where's the beer list?" Oh wait... I remembered where I was. In Victoryland, no such thing exists. One must depend upon the kindness of strangers...er, servers. Fortunately, our bartender for the evening was a good one, Kris, I believe. First thing he said to me was "we have a new Rauchbier on." Actually, Richard had told me that the night before, when he made his every-Monday trip to Sly Fox (Victory is closed on Mondays), but it was nice to reminded and it let me know I was in good hands.

The beer was wonderful. but as I told Bill ("the beer doesn't have a clever name, it's just rauchbier because we've moved beyond being clever now and are just turning out more and more beers, but, hey, we still don't need no steekin' chalkboard") Covaleski, who joined us as I was sipping it, "I'd never have known this was a rauchbier if I hadn't been told." He seemed taken aback slightly, although acknowledging that partner Ron Barchet and he were surprised at the relatively mild smoky flavor even though Barchet had used 60% smoked malt in the brewing. The fact that I didn't get even a hint of smoke until several sips in may be testimony to my inadequate palate, I suppose. I did take a growler home with me (like I said, a wonderful drinking beer) and used some of it to boil two bratwurst for grilling and slowly drank the rest. The warmer it got, the smokier it got. Makes sense at all sorts of levels, doesn't it?

My next beer was the wonderful Dark Mild, the one beer everyone I've talked to in passing about Victory in recent weeks has raved about and one I'd enjoyed during the Beer Advocate trip earlier this month (scroll down if interested). That was followed, at Kris's urging, by a Bathtub Bock, a tribute to the Prohibition era which is a half & half made with St. Victorious Doppelbock and St. Boisterous Hellerbock, eminently drinkable, one of those the-whole-is-the-sum-of-the-parts inventions which benefits from the fact that the parts are damned fine on their own. It was in fact for a growler of St. Boisterous that I had come, still trying to reverse my failure to score some pints of same following the Beer Yard tasting a week ago Friday (scroll down yet again if you're inclined toward that sort of behavior).

Before I departed with both growlers in hand, I had another brew or two, a Workhorse Porter on cask, I think, and another lost to fading memory. I did reject out of hand another combination pint which a customer had apparently invented the night previous. "It's a mixture of Storm King and St. Boisterous," Kris explained. "We call it a Fat & Loud." That conjured up a beer-related mental image so disturbing that I knew it was time to head for the door.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME, TAKE ME OUT IN THE FREEZING COLD... Thursday dawned cold and dismal, as I knew it would, and progressed over the next several hours to the farthest ranges of both those characteristics. Of course it did. I was going to the Phillies' Business Person's Special and no matter that the day before had been sunny and warm, with temperatures topping 80 degrees. The gods know and whom they would destroy they first make damned uncomfortable.

This was a Matt Guyer production (even more reason to suspect the gods might treat it badly), which meant that beer was surely involved. When he offered a ticket, his last remaining friends having turned him down, I at first demurred but as he murmured "Monk's...Standard Tap...Ludwig's..." I caved right in. I caught a ride down with another member of our party, Brian O'Reilly, who was off to make a beer delivery to the Tap and offered to help me with my secondary purpose, delivering copies of Celebrator Beer News to Ludwig's, Nodding Head and Monk's. I also had in hand a large bottle of Brother Dave Ale, a special brew done for the Toranado's David Keene by the folks at Anderson Valley Brewing, which he had given me for Tom Peters during the Barley Wine Festival in February and which has been lurking in my upstairs closet ever since.

We took a taxi uptown from the Tap, leaving the Sly Fox truck parked there with fond hopes it wouldn't be mugged, and after dropping off the first pile of Celebrators at Ludwig's Beer Garten, proceeded to Nodding Head. Nothing would do, managing partner Curt Decker insisted once we got up the stairs, but that we try Brandon Greenwood's just-on-tap Barley Wine. Good thinking, that. This golden colored elixir may have been the best beer I had all day: dry, wine-like and very drinkable, with just a hint of its 10% ABV sending up warning signals to the unwary brain. O'Reilly was also impressed, which was nice, as there's nothing worse than a grumpy brewer as a traveling companion, especially when you're forcing him to lug around heavy piles of magazines.

At Monk's we found Guyer waiting, along with the fourth member of our party and Sly Fox's Corey Reid, who was part of another group which had seats several rows in front of ours along the third base line. I gave Tom Peters his beer, eliciting a promise that he and Guyer and I would enjoy it some time down the road. He told me that he's off to Scotland this week to visit Jim Anderson and their new hotel endeavor in Scotland. In the back bar, I had a Fantome Saison and an Urthel Novicius Vertus (a 6% Belgian ale), along with the fantastic Boudin Blanc Sausage sandwich and Pomme Frittes with Bourbon Mayonnaise which is my favorite lunch in the entire city. Tom then brought out a 1.5 liter bottle of Hair of the Dog Adam, Batch 31, which was a fine way to prepare to go out in the cold and sputtering rain.

The game was godawful. The Phillies were behind 0-2 before we even got into the park and rapidly fell further behind. We somehow (inertia?) sat there for seven innings of that, with only plastic cups of Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada to help us through. the only fun part came right after we entered and went to the Chickie & Pete's bar for our first beer. Former National League umpire was working behind the bar. I think Sly Fox should hire him to act as judge of the Goat Race two weeks from today and tried to put the process into motion by asking for his feelings on goats as he poured my beer. "You bring it here and I'll eat it," was his laughing reply, which might not be too encouraging. We'll see.

After the game, we took the subway back up to center city, somehow crammed seven of us into Corey' little Neon and made our way to Northern Liberties, where I had a chance to visit two new places I hadn't gotten to yet. At the very pleasant Abbaye, we chatted up the owners and staff and I downed pints of Leffe Bruin and Maradsous, warming up considerably. We then walked a block to North 3rd, where a Yard's Saison did the trick. The latter bar was more crowded than the former but that may well have been purely a function of passing time as we were now well into Friday evening. Both were places I'd visit again, and will. The Standard Tap was the final stop, where owner William Reed was gracious and generous as always. I had the Pulled Pork Sandwich (probably my second most favorite lunch in the city and a damned fine dinner as well) and two pints. One was Dogfish 60-Minute IPA. The other was....well, I can't remember. O'Reilly drove home. I helped him by being very, very quiet.

SKULL-DUGGERY. In contrast to Thursday, Saturday of course was warm and bright and sunny, the sort of day you want to spend outdoors watching spring develop before your eyes. Every Easter Saturday I've ever planned to spend underground at Sugar Mom's, sitting in the darkness sipping strong beers, has proven to be one of the finest days of the year. Why would 2003 be any different?

On the train downtown, I ran into Tom and Laurie, Sly Fox regulars who were also bound for Split Thy Skull 8. These are interesting people, among the very small percentage of Americans who don't own a television set and remain essentially oblivious to its attractions and impact on our lives. They are also, both of them, avid homebrewers. Tom and Laurie brought a selection of their beers to a party last summer and they were impressive. I've never gotten into homebrewing myself, but I admit, if I didn't have a TV set to my name, I suppose I'd want to be creating alcoholic beverages to consume too.

Sugar Mom's was crowded enough, during the two hours or so I spent there, to lead me to believe the event was a success, though perhaps not as large a one as in recent years. Given the confusion about whether or not it was even going to be held this year, I'd guess that's more than understandable. There were ten beers on this year, eight of them also offered as four-beer flights. I tried three, the Heavyweight Old Salty Barleywine 2002, Rogue Russian Imperial Stout and Nodding Head Wee Heavy, all personal favorites. I heard a lot of people expressing satisfaction with Unibroue Maudite and Weyerbacher Quad as well. Other beers in the lineup (and please don't take the above to mean they weren't well received as well, it's just that I didn't happen to hear much talk about them): Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA, Victory St. Boisterous Hellerbock (first I couldn't find it, now I can't get away from it), St. Bernardus 12 (okay, if I didn't have this at home, I'd surely have gone for it), Sly Fox Incubus and Yard's Old Bart (a couple of people did suggest to me that this one was beginning to sour and turn).

Shortly before leaving, I was chatting up that fine gentleman and beer writer, Lew Bryson (soon to be coming to a bookstore near you with his New York brewpub and brewery guide), when Corey Reid appeared, something of surprise. Given his state when last I'd seen him in Northern Liberties, I figured he might never drink again. Yeah, right. He'd been to Standard Tap for Brunch and was now fortifying himself for that afternoon's Flyers NHL PLayoff Game (which turned out a lot better than the Thursday Phillies debacle). Corey allowed as how he'd forgotten all about Split Thy Skull until a group of beer tourists from New York showed up at Sly Fox on Friday and mentioned it to him. "Who do you think sent them to Sly Fox?" laughed Bryson. Turns out these folks had found Lew's website and emailed him for suggestions about where to visit. They started out at Selin's Grove Brewing, then moved on to Victory and Sly Fox, before getting rooms in Philadelphia and spending an evening at Monk's, he said. And sure enough, one of them, Dave, showed up at Bryson's shoulder as he and Corey talked, to thank them both. Neat.

THE GREY LODGE GOES UPSCALE. ARE HANGING FERNS NEXT? Okay, that's not gonna happen, but the Man Known As Scoats is ramping up some other areas of his Frankford Avenue pub now that he's become the Beer King of the Northeast. This arrived via email yesterday: "After years of being a great beer bar, it's now, finally, time for us to branch out and have a some great wine too. With the sage advice of Katie Loeb, Striped Bass's beverage manager, we will keep a rotating selection of wine by the glass. And like with our draft beer selection, we will keep switching things up. The current selections are Covey Run Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 and Kenwood Sonoma California Sauvignon Blanc 2001. We also have Foxhorn Merlot, but that's not a Katie pick. On deck: Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir and Covey Run Cabernet Merlot."

I wrote back that the idea of drinking a glass of good wine at the Grey Lodge just tickles me, so I'm all for it. He responded: "We're building a whiskey selection as well." Geez. Maybe no ferns, but I'm having visions of little tables out front. With umbrellas over them. And from there it's just a short jump to umbrellas in the drinks...

HERE'S A BIT OF BEER NEWS WHICH WILL LIKELY HAVE NO EFFECT ON YOUR LIVES AT ALL. A bit of "insider" news passed on to me by a guy who should know if anyone should, Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell. "It appears the North American Guild of Beer Writers has been folded. I got a letter postmarked April 11th notifying me that the board voted to dissolve the group because of financial troubles, along with partial membership dues refund. All About Beer magazine had been donating the time of one of its staffers, Natalie Abernathy, to handle the duties as administrator. But the mag has withdrawn that service." I check with Natalie ("trust but verify," one of the few things Ronald Reagan ever said that I agreed with) and she confirmed the demise, with a caveat: " Yes, this is correct. I have already had a couple people express interest in keeping it alive." We'll see.

Why should Sixpack be a solid source on this one? Well, probably the major function of the Guild was its annual beer writer awards and in recent years our favorite Philadelphia Daily News columnist has been one of the top winners. Hell, in 2002, he blew away the competition. Good for him and good for the city. But when an organization exists primarily to pat its members on the back, you have to wonder what the point is and I suspect that has as much to do with the folding as anything. As for the awards, they were certainly a boost for Russell, who presumably has to constantly keep hard-nosed editors convinced that he should be able to write about a subject which most mainstream media happily ignore. Overall, though, I don't know how much anyone cared.

Back in 1998, your Humble Correspondent won a second place in the History category for Philly Brews: Past Is Prologue, a story about the city's revitalized brewing industry which ran in American Brewer. Winning it had absolutely no effect on my professional life than I could tell. Granted that could have been a matter of my own failings, but we don't want to go down that road, now do we? I thought not.
[posted Sunday, April 20, 2003 3:20 pm edt]

WELCOME TO THE BEER YARD. WOULD YOU LIKE A FINE BELGIAN OR A SPICY WIT WITH YOUR CRABCAKE THIS EVENING? If you've never been to The Beer Yard, well then, shame on you, not least because you'll not be able to picture how weird the scene was: all these fine Main Line folks standing around chomping on mussels and crabcakes and salmon and sipping a wide range of delicious Victory Brewing Company beers, including the (let me go on the record right now) awesome just-released V-12, in a place which, as it turns out, just like the farm girl in all those romantic movies, "cleans up right nice."

Matt Guyer threw one swell party Friday night, upping the level of his weekly tastings many, many notches. To introduce his customers to Victory's latest Belgian delight (did I mention yet that it's awesome?), and, yeah, maybe sell a few cases, Matt brought both in the folks from Christopher's, the fine eating and drinking spot on nearby North Wayne Avenue, to provide hors d'oeuvres and Victory sales manager Steve German to provide cheerful patter. A grand time was had by all.

The food lineup, all non-menu items created especially for the evening, consisted of Steamed Mussels in V-12 Sauce (extraordinarily good), Home-Cured Salmon on toast, Crabcakes with Remoulade Sauce, Achoite-Cured Pork Bobs and Focaccia. This was, might I say, a far cry from some of the stuff I've seen Matt, Mark and whoever's doing the heavy lifting that day consume for lunch in the very same spot on all too many occasions. Chefs Chris Todd (co-owner of Christopher's) and Ryan McCauley kept the food coming as fast as the crowd could eat it, which was damned fast, aided in no small part by, of all things, a small George Foreman grill. The Pork Bobs were all going to be done on a small charcoal grill set up out front, but when that proved too slow, the grill was added to the mix to speed things along. It worked beautifully, even if another Christopher's co-owner, Jennifer Bailer, who showed up later in the evening, is going to be chagrined to see this "chef's secret" revealed here.

German is one of the area's great beer ambassadors, urging every one who came in the door to cleanse his or her palate with a sample of either Victory's just-released and very good Whirlwind Wit or HopDevil IPA before experiencing the V-12. In his best Animal House persona, he greeted one and all with a hearty handshake and booming "Hi... Steve German, Rush Chairman... damned glad to meet ya!" The man needs help.

Several of the ladies in attendance slipped over to the Starbuck's which blocks the Beer Yard from view by passers-by on Lancaster Avenue and took advantage of the facilities. Word came back in due course that the number of small plastic tasting cups that were left on the ladies' room sink was truly impressive. We can only imagine the cleaning crew coming in at night and wondering just exactly what went on there during the day.

Many in the crowd ended up at Christopher's afterwards, where they apparently paid serious attention to a sixelle of Victory's St. Boisterous Hellerbock that Todd and McCauley picked up on their way out the door. This is another great beer out of Downingtown (I'm beginning to sense a pattern here) which was probably the highlight of last week's Beer Advocate tour for me, and I figured I'd either stop for a pint on the way home or come back Saturday. When I couldn't find a parking spot I opted for the second approach. But when I got to Christopher's late Saturday afternoon on my way to dinner with friends, I learned that the thirsty hoards had blown right though the keg Friday night. Damn, I hate it when that happens.

By the way, give all due credit for the photographs that appear in this section to Beer Yard employee Rich Story (or, as we call him, "Ryan's replacement"), who brought along his camera and snapped the shots between stints at the cash register. Here's a particularly frightening one to close things out. It's like that monster in the closet of your worst nightmares finally emerged....and he's carrying three beers! What to do? What to do?

JOE SIXPACK, WRITING UNDER THE INFLUENCE...Writing as always, with a beer by his side, our pal Joe Sixpack had an interesting column on Governor Rendell's proposed new beer taxes in Friday's Philadelphia Daily News. Read it here. The Rendell proposal, which would raise the tax from eight cents a gallon to 25 cents, is the first increase in the excise tax on malt beverages in 56 years, so I suppose we don't have too much room to complain (most estimates guess the consumer might pay an extra nickel or dime per glass). However, this aptly named "sin tax" (levies which put the burden on "undesirable" products such as tobacco and cigarettes) is sadly in tune with a scary national effort aimed at subtly curtailing or eliminating the enjoyment of beer and spirits, sort of a creeping neo-Prohibition. In fact, Sixpack, who is in reality mild-manner reporter Don Russell, had a news feature story in the News about that very topic earlier last week. And he even tossed in this sidebar report on the way it was in Philly's bad old days during the Prohibition era.

In a column two weeks ago which I forgot to link to, Sixpack pretty much predicted The End of Life As We Know It with the departure of Jim Anderson for the less-than-sunny shores of Scotland. You can still read it here. My take? Anderson was undoubtedly a seminal figure in the resurgence of brewing in Philadelphia and environs which took hold in the early Nineties and his Real Ale Festival deserves every bit of the praise Sixpack gives it in terms of its important place in local beer history. Like everyone, I wish him Godspeed and good fortune in his new venture. Realistically, though, "a lot of beer fans are wringing their mitts, wondering what will happen to the local beer scene" because of Anderson's departure is a bit over the top. In large part of his own volition, Jim Anderson was not a prominent figure in Philadelphia beer matters in recent years. He ran his three, very successful events (Real Ale, Split Thy Skull, Santafest) and was always available to put his spin into the ears of neophyte reporters of our beer culture, but Beer Philadelphia had effectively died as a print medium and the BP website was updated erratically at best. There was a sense, now verified, that he had moved on.

Yes, he'll be missed. I'll miss him...hell, I was already missing him for all practical purposes, since he rarely showed up at beer events I attended and even more rarely responded to email and telephone messages. But I suspect we'll survive. In fact, support for my optimism is coming up in the very next section. How fortuitous. You'd almost think I was in charge around here.

THE SKULL LIVES AND OTHER EVENTS IN OUR FUTURE. One of the consequences of Jim Anderson's departure, it appeared, would be the demise of Split Thy Skull, the Easter Saturday Big Beer gathering at Sugar Mom's. His response when I asked him about it in mid-March was a cavalier "Hey, I'm leaving for Scotland on April 1," even though the event was (and still is) promoted on his website. Fortunately, though, beer guy Chris Morris has stepped into the breach and Split Thy Skull 8 will go on this Saturday from 1-6 PM as scheduled. You can read about it, as you'd expect, on the Beer Yard Events Listing. Here's hoping that Chris or someone else will take on the Real Ale Fest as well.

If you took the time while visiting the Beer Yard link above, you saw that the week after Easter offers three straight days of beer fun, beginning with the Thursday night Sly Fox German Beer Dinner, then the next Iron Hill Brewers' Reserve Night in West Chester on Friday and the always visually stimulating but damned-hard-to-get-information-about Manayunk Beer Festival on Saturday. Who said April was the cruelest month?

Coming up in the weeks after that will be such popular gatherings as the Sly Fox Bock Festival & Goat Race on May 4, the Brews, Blues & BBQ Festival at Ortlieb's Brewery & Grill and the Brandywine Valley Craft Brewers Festival at Iron Hill in Media, both on Saturday, May 17 (the intrepid beer geek can do the Iron Hill event in the afternoon and catch the Ortlieb party in its evening session), the Pennsylvania Microbrewery Festival at Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh on June 7, Stoudt's Great Eastern Invitational Microbrewer's Festival in Adamstown on June 14 (also on August 2 and October 18) and the State College MicroBrewers & Importers Exposition on July 26.

Also, while it's still a long way down the road, September 6 to be exact, I'm delighted to tell you that the Kennett Square Brew Fest seems to have really gotten its act together and is planning some very special things for this year's outing. More on that as the event gets closer. Know, though, that if you were there last year and perhaps not as happy about conditions as you would have liked, adjustments are being made. The beer tasting itself will be in two tents this year (the food tent will be moved elsewhere), there will be tasting glass as part of the entry fee (thus eliminating the horrible backup when people would come to the brewery tables and request five, six or more plastic sample cups at a time), and they won't be allowing those giant baby carriages into the tent area. Kennett was my home town and I thus have a special interest in wanting to see them not be overwhelmed by success and manage to keep this event one of the season's highlights, so I'll be keeping close tabs on this one.

FROM THE RUMOR MILL. As we all know, Yards is the only full scale brewery now located within Philadelphia city limits. I hear that could change, probably sooner rather than later. Somebody else is looking for a brewery location in the city. I could tell you who, but then I'd have to kill myself.
[posted Sunday, April 13, 2003 3:15 pm edt Photos Added Wednesday, April 16, 2003 9:45 am edt]

MY AFTERNOON WITH BRANDON. Tuesday past, I went where few have dared to go and confronted the Angry Brewer in his den. Actually, make that "formerly" angry brewer. More than content with the way things have gone in recent years in his personal and professional worlds, the once irascible Brandon Greenwood is now laid back, thoughtful and even cautious in his pronouncements. And, comes to that, Nodding Head is surely a den most beer fanciers would happily enter. Hey, I'm just trying to inject a little drama here.

Still, it wasn't all that long ago when a two-hour-plus exchange of ideas between Brandon and me would produce more than its share of fireworks. One of those, which would be legendary were it not restricted to our memories alone, stretched over nearly four hours and three bars in the middle of Narberth, most of it captured on tape. That conversation was never transcribed and the tapes have long since been either discarded or taped over, but I think I have Brandon convinced that they still lurk out there like a bit of kryptonite I keep in case he ever becomes SuperBrewer and attempts to take over the world. Shhh, let's not tell him otherwise, okay?

While I sipped, consecutively, a Wee Heavy (a Greenwood favorite of mine since his first version back at Red Bell in the Bad Old Days), Pilsner and just-released Spring Ale, and ultimately consumed a lunch much larger than anyone could actually need, we talked about beers and brewing, the economics of the business and specifically the state of things at Nodding Head, which appears to be very, very good. His usual partner-in-crime and putative boss, Curt Decker, was supposed to join us but he was delayed while waiting for a furniture delivery to his new house. Brandon used that as an example. "Curt is moving to a new house, a couple of other people here have bought houses in last couple of months and I almost bought one myself," he said, "but I just refuse to pay the kind of money they want for houses in the city these days. I guess you have to conclude we're doing okay, right?"

"Doing okay" he defined as "just trying to make the best beer we can and staying out of trouble." He's pleased with the eclectic crowd the pub's center city location attracts and now admits that it took him much of Nodding Head's first year to get a handle on who his customers are. "I brew certain beers because they're beers I really like and enjoy making," he said. "Berliner Weisse, for example, is a beer nobody else was making and which I wanted to have, if only so I could drink it. I brew some other beers because they're popular and bring people in the doors. I don't brew a lot of really 'big' beers, and I guess that hurts us a bit with some of the serious beer geeks. I'd rather you came in and had three or four beers instead of just one, both as a businessman and a as a brewer."

The multi-award-winning Grog is, not surprisingly, Nodding Head's best selling brew, edging out the former leader and aptly-named PBA or Bill Payer Ale. While he says he's not particularly interested in getting into the everybody's-brewing-Belgians mode that has swept across craft brewing, Brandon promises that a Nodding Head Triple is in the offing. "I'd really like to do that with a new and different yeast strain than the ones everybody seems to be using," he noted, adding that he's made that wish known to Monk's Tom Peters, who is eager to see a Nodding Head Belgian style and who is, as we all know, just the person you'd like to put on that assignment.

I was also assured that Nodding Head will once again hold its unique "Royal Stumble" beer event this summer, in which all the participating brewers dress as pro wrestlers and the idea is to be the first to empty your keg. And with that comforting bit of information in hand, I took my leave of, yes, the Happy Brewer.

INVASION OF THE BEER ADVOCATES. I behaved rationally and consumed moderately on Incubus Friday, undoubtedly thrown off my game by a guest appearance by peripatetic ski bum and erstwhile brewer Brian O'Reilly, and was thus in fine shape yesterday morning as I embarked on an adventure in which I embedded with the Beer Advocate troops while they marched inexorably along the road from Downingtown to Phoenixville, consuming vast amounts of beer to show the natives that they were friendly. The army was about 50 strong at its peak and the photo below captures most of that happy band outside Victory Brewing Company following lunch.

The photo was taken by the invaluable Other One, Steve, who was reduced to a posse of one for the day, loyally standing with me even as the masses surged into the gravitational pull of our pal, Richard Ruch, who put the event together, attracting BeerAdvocate.com members from five states to a foray along Route 113 in northern Chester County.

Things started out at Victory around noon, where a very nice buffet lunch was available to the BA crew for $10, featuring a Crudities Platter with Two Dips, Victory Wings with Bleu Cheese and Celery, Beer Braised Bratwurst Sandwiches with Sauerkraut, Caramelized Onions and Roasted Red Peppers and Assorted Victory Signature Pizzas (the pizzas in particular were extraordinary). Such a deal.

Steve and I went to pay Richard, each proffering $20. He managed to make change for Steve and then fumbled his way through vast handfuls of money to no avail while searching for $10 to give me. "I'll buy a beer and get change," I said, whereupon he handed me back Steve's $20. At that point, I could have walked away, come back with $10 and been $10 ahead, right? Well, it got better. I gave the $20 back to Richard, got my beer and change and went back to pay the $10, joking as I did so, "let me have my $20 back, okay?" And damned if he didn't. I have to admit, visions of just following the man around for the rest of my days, scamming my way into a vast fortune, did cross my mind. But then I remembered that such a lifestyle would inevitably lead to my having to watch him play pool occasionally and honesty prevailed.

St. Victorious Doppelbock, Whirlwind Wit, Workhorse Porter (a firkin, on cask, yum!) and St. Boisterous Hellerbock were my choices for that first stop, and there's likely no finer quartet from a single brewery consumed on any of the Beer Advocate gatherings across the country that day, you can book it. So, great food, great beer....now if we could only convince Bill and Ron to put up a listing board so that we'd know what was on tap when we walked in the door rather than having to depend on servers to tell us, the place would be even more perfect.

The next stop was The Drafting Room, Exton, where Sly Fox Rt. 113 IPA and Heavyweight Baltus were both on tap during most of the week and which I had high hopes of enjoying. Both kicked on Friday, of course, life being the unfair bitch it is. So I was forced to make do with Stone Brewing Pale Ale, Three Floyd's Black Sun Stout and Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA. Yeah, "make do," that's my story.

Owner Howard Weintraub was on duty, which meant bar manager Patrick Mullen was off but he and his inamorata Tracy Ransom showed up anyway and then followed us up the road to Sly Fox. What a guy.

I was told that several people on the trip had come, at least in part, to get their first crack at Brian O'Reilly's beers, especially the Belgian styles, at Sly Fox and I have to assume that went well, given the bottles of Ichor and pints of Saison Vos and Abbey Xtra I saw going across the bar. Rumor had it that even samples of the elusive Incubus could be had if one asked ever so nicely. For myself, having consumed my share of all those goodies the night before, Sly Fox Pale Ale and Burns Scottish Ale were just right to wind up my day with the Beer Advocates, the last hour or so of which, I confess, is gone from memory, so here endeth our tale.

Oh yeah, one more thing: Ed and Heather, call your parents.

FOR THEM AS CARES ABOUT SUCH THINGS... ...the newest issues of Celebrator Beer News and Ale Street News are out and each contains some of my deathless prose. Celebrator has the first installment of "Atlantic Ale Trail," my new column covering Philadelphia and environs (page 49) and Ale Street has two stories, a report on the new craft chocolate venture by "Wicked Pete" Slosberg (page 10) and a story about the Toranado Barley Wine Festival (page 30). The latter publication is widely circulated at bars and taverns in this area, of course, and Celebrator is now also available at a few select locations. You can find out where at the Beer Yard Store Notes page.
[posted Sunday, April 6, 2003 2:45 pm edt]

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

--A. E. Houseman

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