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7 December 03
You're getting to be a habit with me.
One thing I managed to do, the last thing actually, before being laid low by whatever it was that had me coughing, gasping and performing other unseemly acts that left me in less than desirable condition for properly fulfilling my function in life, the consumption fine beers, was to attend the official debut of Three Philosophers from Brewery Ommegang. That happened in the back bar at Monk's Cafe on Tuesday, November 18 and marked the third straight Tuesday evening I spent in that hallowed space, following the Elysian Brewing Dinner and the Stephen Beaumont Exotic Meats Dinner.

The room was full and Tom Peters was so excited he grabbed my camera and went behind the bar to take the photo at right of a display he'd set up with his very own hands. Since he replaced the missing camera with a goblet of Three Philosophers, I raised nary an objection.

The event gave me an opportunity to catch up with brewer Randy Thiel and meet Laurent Demuynck, president of Ommegang since the brewery's purchase by Duvel Moortgat last January. It also swayed my opinion somewhat about Three Philosophers, a brew which had not particularly impressed me previously; I'm more a fan of Ommegang's Rare Vos and Hennepin.

While this was the "official" introduction of the beer (Monk's was the first stop on a six-day tour), Three Philosophers has been available at the brewery for months now and several bottles have made their way into my hands. Maybe it was because it was on draft, but 3P came across as smoother, more balanced and definitely more drinkable that night. It is a Quadruple style ale made by blending Lindemans Kriek with a Belgian strong ale made at Ommegang (whether this is the namesake Ommegang or a special brew isn't clear). I wasn't the only one there who seemed to think this 3P differed from earlier versions, but brewery representatives present, and there were several, uniformly denied that it had been tweaked or changed.

Given the state of my health, I only stayed at the reception for an hour or so but I did manage to snap this photo of Belgian Consul General Stephane De Loecker (whose name and title I didn't have in hand for the original posting and which I now add with my apologies) and the ineffable Peters on my way out the door. Happy, ain't they?

This Tuesday night thing is clearly addictive. I'll be back at Monk's this week for the Annual Holiday Dinner, usually one of the year's best. I'll let you know how that goes in the next LDO.

Back in print.
The latest issues of Celebrator Beer News and Ale Street News hit these parts this week and, fortuitously enough for my landlord and other creditors, various examples of my deathless prose grace their pages.

In Celebrator, my regular "Atlantic Ale News" column (page 41) takes a look at how East Coast breweries fared at GABF, with particular emphasis on the Philadelphia region where "more high-quality beers in a wider range of styles are being produced...than anywhere else in the country," and at expansion plans of five local breweries. "Distinguished Tour of Germany and England" (page 15) is my report on the European tour about which I've written extensively here at LDO. And my review of New York Breweries (page 19) finally appears, along with commentary by editor Tom Dalldorf.

In Ale Street, I have a short piece (page 12) about Yards release of Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale and George Washington Porter in 12oz bottles.

Right now I'm working on a major story for American Brewer Magazine about Distinguished Brands International, the new importing company which hosted the aforementioned Europe trip. I'm also interviewing an influential person from outside the beer industry about his new-found interest in craft beers this coming week; I hope that will see print in the next Celebrator along with the column. We shall see.

Three from Dogfish.
The fine folks at Dogfish Head sent out some samples of their new seasonals a couple of weeks back. Of course, since Sam is apparently as careful with my address as I am with the name of the Belgian Ambassador, he had to call Matt Guyer at The Beer Yard to get it yet again. Matt, in self-serving wisdom, had the beers sent to the Beer Yard instead, thus being in position to force me to share at least one of them with him and loyal cohort Mark Sauerbrey.

They chose (who wouldn't) WorldWide Stout 2003 and we are all three pleased to report that this year's version looks to be a winner. The 18.8% ABV is just a touch higher than the wonderful 2001 vintage and I'd have to guess it's gonna age right nicely into the same sort of drinkable delight.

Dogfish describes its Festine Lente as a "neo-lambic ale" and notes that 400 lbs. of Delaware peaches are used in the brewing process. It's very tart and, I thought, very interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens as it ages in the bottle. I brought this one to the regular Monday night tasting at Sly Fox this past week (see "Monday Tasting Notes" below) and the reaction was not as favorable as my own, I must admit, but several of the tasters also acknowledged not being fans of lambics in general.

Pangaea is what you call a "gimmick" beer. It's brewed, we're told, with "an ingredient from every continent." To what purpose? Just because, I guess, since there no discernible effect on the taste or character of which I'm aware. I had this on draft several months ago at the Rehobeth Beach brewpub and found it undistinguished. The bottled version did nothing to change that impression.

Also just out from Dogfish Head but not yet sampled is Au Courant, a Belgian pale ale which, like the above two new brews, comes in at 7% ABV. I'll let you know about that one as soon as I get to sample it.

In Vino Veritas?
Can this possibly have been written by Lew Bryson, a man who once, in all seriousness, described wine to me as "ruined fruit?" Last month he embraced Truth, this month the Vine. It's an ongoing epiphany, it is. I have to believe that the Big Fella's ability to learn new things and broaden his horizons will be an inspiration to ex-librarians everywhere.

Rumors, innuendo and half-truths.
Look for a major local microbrewery, which has been contract brewing some of its beers since Day One, to move everything in-house in 2004. A wise move, methinks...Rumors have been floating out of Downingtown for weeks now about a "secret project." All will be revealed, and available for purchase, at Victory a week from Wednesday night. Here's a clue: Hop Wallop...Insiders are all agog at the report that a brewer in a brewery far, far away snuck out the back door rather than greet and talk to one of the industry's biggest beer writers when he showed up at the bar. Can it possibly be true?

Monday Tasting Notes.
I asked posse stalwart Rick Mayberry to do the honors this time around. These are his notes on the beers we tasted last Monday.

Great Adirondack Brewing Smoked Porter in a growler. For a smoked brew it was a bit mild on the smokiness. It was dark in color as you’d expect. Had smoke in the nose and a touch of hop. The hop was subtle yet nicely balanced and it got more interesting as it warmed. The smoke came out a little more after warming.

Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel. Dark coppery color was observed immediately after pouring. Nicely carbonated with a creamy colored head. Slightly sweet nose with no alcohol detected. The taste was just on the sweeter side, crisp clean back end. The taste however didn't stick around, it just sort of disappeared.

Jim Andersen Double Bock (Home Brew). Nose was sharp with alcohol but enjoyable. I enjoyed the smooth buttery mouth feel. Great color, nicely carbonated. Very good home brew.

Dog Fish Head Festina Lente. 750ml Corked & Caged Bottle. Sam calls this a “neo lambic.” I call it insane. It’s infused with peaches that are easily detectable in the nose. The color was light straw and was very bright. The taste is tart and reminiscent of the “Sweet Tarts” candy.

Urthel Tonicum Finiboldhus. 750ml Corked & Caged Bottle. Very nice brew. Hoppy and very dry. Bottled in January of 2001. I don’t believe it’s lost a thing in the aging process. Reminds me of liquid gold. The nose reminded me of a fresh cut clover pasture. The taste was very good and mouth feel was nicely carbonated. 7.5% ABV

Affligem Tripel Abbey Ale. Had a nice light color and pleasant nose with a touch of alcohol. The brew was tangy yet sweet but nicely balanced between the two. As it went down, it warmed inside to a smile. The carbonation reminded me of a good quality champagne carbonation. Very pleasant.

Valley Forge Brewing Porter. Growler. Good color very hoppy nose. This brew was not especially warm or balanced and it was more like a very black and dark IPA. The nose was quite strange, not anything like a porter at all. VFB needs some work.

Tom Foley Christmas Ale (Home Brew). 750ml Crown Corked bottle. Carmel, dark, with a candy cane like nose. Nicely hopped and extremely well put together. Great job Tom! Brewed with buckwheat honey and cardamom. Just a spectacular brew.

Two Brothers Brewing Northwind Imperial Stout. A pair of 12 ounce crown corked bottles. Very good color and nice milk chocolate head. Nicely balanced hops which were northern brewer and cascade. Not nearly Storm King but good anyway. It’s a “big beer” with moderate alcohol at 7.5% ABV.

Score one for the homebrewers, then, with Foley's Christmas Ale the Beer of the Day.

Finally, our sympathy and best wishes go out to Bill Covaleski and his family. Bill's father succumbed to cancer on December 2 after a year-long battle.

[Posted 4:00 pm est]

14 December 03
SantaFest. Johnny Brenda's. A quiet little party in Wayne. Saturday's are such a drag, ya know?
The annual SantaFest drinking & shopping get-together was something of a stealth event this time around. I only found out about it when Brian O'Reilly called me Tuesday to tell me, heaven knows why, that organizer Chris Morris had just called him for a keg of Sly Fox Christmas Ale. It was also the most crowded one I have yet seen, with Sugar Mom's Church Street Lounge filled with guys drinking at the bar and young lovelies prowling about the rest of the room admired and purchasing craft goodies for themselves or for gifts. Maybe it was because we didn't get there until late in the afternoon and I'd never stayed long enough to see the crowd build in previous years. Maybe it was because Jim Anderson left town. Who knows?

I went with O'Reilly and Steve (The Other One). We were to meet Dan (The Big One), who'd been on the scene since 1 pm or so because that's the kind of guy he is, and Tim Ohst, Flying Fish brew guy. The plan was to have a brew or two, then move on to Johnny Brenda's, the new Fishtown bar opened by William Reed and Paul Kimport of The Standard Tap. I'd been there during the construction stage but not since it was finished.

No sooner had we walked in the door, to find the Big One, amazingly, still upright on his stool (and given his size, upright is pretty damn big, let me tell you), that Mike Murphy, who is going to wander in and out of this column all day today, so get used to it, insisted on buying us a beer. Seemed like a pretty good deal, even if he did insist that he also would choose the beer he'd buy us. He picked N'Ice Chouffe because, what the heck, a barleywine is the perfect first beer of the day, innit? It really was a great choice, to be honest, as it's been a long time since I've had one and I'd forgotten how smooth and easy-to-drink N'Ice Chouffe is. That's the sort of thing you don't want to ever forget, lest it get you into trouble one day when not paying attention. The Winter Koninck that I follow up with was also very drinkable and not nearly so dangerous.

With the Big One and Tim added to the ranks, now we were five crammed into O'Reilly's two-door toy as we wended our way through Northern Liberties and over to Johnny Brenda's. The place is, as you might expect if you've seen The Tap, beautiful. Here's a view from just inside the front door, across the pool table which is in the center of the front room. The bar runs all along the wall to the left and into the open kitchen which you can just barely make out in the right background. There's additional bar space and a few free standing table in a small back area beyond the kitchen. It was relatively early when we arrived, about 5:30 or so, and the place was empty except for a few solitary souls, but filled up somewhat over the course of our stay. When we left shortly after 7 pm, there was a passable crowd in place, and guys playing pool (really badly) to add to the ambiance.

Same concept as at The Tap as far as beer goes, all local and all draft. I had a Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA to start, followed a Troegs Rugged Trail Nut Brown Ale with a tasty sausage sandwich. We also shared a very good serving of hummus with pita bread triangles and a couple of plates of salty, greasy addictive shoestring fries (which also accompanied all the various sandwiches). It's an interesting but weird menu for what is essentially a neighborhood bar. It includes the likes of a baked Brie sandwich (the Big One's choice, believe it or not) and lamb chops, but nary a burger of any sort, nor wings nor the sorts of pub grub you might expect. Then again, with William and Paul, expecting stuff is a chump's game.

Our last stop of the evening was out in Wayne, where a nice young couple named Shannon and Lisa Warner annually throw a little Christmas bash for 100 or so of their nearest and dearest friends. First of all though, we dropped in at The Beer Yard, to hassle Matt Guyer. I'd suggest this as S.O.P. for anyone driving through Wayne of a Saturday evening as it's the sort of thing that will help build his character. He plied us with beer, as is his wont, and after The Big One and The Other One plucked down big bucks for a gift for our hosts, off we went.

A little background here. The Warners moved to Wayne from Virginia in 1997. They'd thrown a big Christmas party back there and did their first one locally in 1998, but really hadn't gotten to meet enough people hereabouts, outside of work, to get things rocking. Somewhere shortly after, they met Our Man Matt and he quickly worked his way into position to become a de facto co-host. "We met a lot of the people here through Matt," Lisa told me, pointedly looking back and forth at the members of our traveling party. "And he gives out invitations to some of his customers...." She looked around. "I do think I know everybody here," she said, cautiously. Here's the storyline the way I see it. Sweet and innocent young couple move to Main Line, fall under the spell of slick-talking con man.

The Warners have a beautiful three-story house just off the center of Wayne, including a unique bar room on the top floor. The party was in every room, with kegs of Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA, Sly Fox French Creek Helles, Troeg's Oatmeal Stout and Legacy Brewing Steamhorse Lager, as well as a vast array of bottled beers of all sorts. The crowd included Sly Fox Tasting Session regulars Rick and Jeanne Smiledge and former Red Bell brewer Jim Cancro. I see the former a lot, Cancro hardly ever, so it was good to have a chance to chat with him. The photo at right was taken at the upstairs bar. That's Shannon and Lisa on the left, Cancro third in from the right in the dark collarless shirt and Guyer, who's slowly growing a beard so he can look more like his idol, in the right rear. The other two, probably thankfully, are unknown to me.

Monk's 2003 Holiday Dinner turns into a Bryson moment.
Usually, the big round table up front at Monk's is where the evening's Guest of Honor is seated, a placement which also usually offers the questionable "benefit" of being surrounded by the disreputable beer press in all its glory. All the usual suspects were there last Tuesday: Ale Street News stalwart Lew Bryson and wife Cathy (about which more in a moment); Mid-Atlantic Brewing News Philadelphia and Delaware columnist George Hummel and wife Nancy Rigberg, his partner at Home Sweet Homebrew; Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell of The Philadelphia Daily News and me, loyal scribe for Celebrator Beer News. Rather than a distinguished brewer or beer personality from out of town, however, we were joined by that Guyer fella. I think we handled the situation reasonably well, all things considered.

The evening started off with a pre-dinner draft pint of Harpoon Winter Warmer. Pan Seared Partridge stuffed with wild rice and with a delightful pear reduction glaze was the first course, accompanied by Weeping Radish Christmas Bock and Delirium Noel. It was followed by Five Golden Rings (you might sense a theme building here) of braised Sea Scallops, with which was poured Dupont Les Bon Vieux (Dupont Noel).

Third course was Lords A'Leaping Marinated Steak Spring Rolls (that theme's a'smacking you upside the head by now), with which Avery Old Jubilation Ale and Gouden Carolus Noel were poured. Before we moved on to the main entree of Roasted Goose with Oyster Stuffing (served with Anchor Our Special Ale 2003 and Affligem Noel), Tom "Santa" Peters arrived at the table with samples of four year old (three at the brewery, one in the Monk's cellar) Rogue Old Crustacean. Extra beer, of course, is just what we needed. Dessert was a Chocolate Peppermint Mousse, nicely enhanced with Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (a beer which has become one of my favorites of late) and draft Penn St. Nikolaus Bock. Ho-hum, just another dinner out...

But enough about food and beer. You want to know about Bryson, right? Big Lew was dressed to the nines (whatever the hell that means), coat and tie and all that, basking in the afterglow of his trip to Rome where he sang for, but did not otherwise annoy, the Pope, still happily oblivious to the blow to his prestige which he suffered while in the Eternal City. He was also pretty pleased with himself for a more personal reason. You see, it was Lew and Cathy's 14th wedding anniversary and he was blessed with the opportunity to take her out for a nice romantic dinner among his peers, where she could see once again the respect and admiration we have for him and thus recall that he was a much better catch than he might appear some days.

Turns out there were more tangible rewards as well. Rising to the occasion with the suavity that has made him the man he is, Guyer got together with Peters and partner Fergie Carey and they decided to put a little real romance into the evening. Just as Lew was explained to us how he had swept Cathy off her feet all those years ago by pleading to the back of her head in a canoe, Matt came out and presented Cathy with a bouquet of flowers and Tom handed Lew a magnum of Deus Brut Des Flandres, the amazingly good champagne-like brew from Belgium's Brouwerij Bosteels. It brought a tear to the eye, it did...

Which disappeared rapidly as Lew rose to the occasion, by golly, and sent Tom scurrying off to the basement to bring out bottles of De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva 2003 for the table. A fine and unexpected way to end the evening. Thanks, big guy (and Dr. Bill, if you're out there, this one was for you).

Losing stuff.
Because Monk's beer dinners are invariably on Tuesday nights, most of us have to get out of there at a reasonable hour. For me, that means catching the 10:15 train to the suburbs at Suburban Station, a reasonable expectation given that things usually get started at 7 pm. It didn't quite work that way this week, especially given Lew's generosity at the end, so I ended up catching the 11:15.

The 10:15 is always the train I aim for when I'm in the city at night, if only because I happen to have an unenviable and still unbroken record whenever I take the later train: I lose something every time. In this case, it was my favorite pair of gloves. In the past it's been books, my notes for the evening and, one terrible night, a large bottle of either Rudolph's Reserve or one of its predecessor big beers from Bethlehem Brew Works. If I could manage that, lord only knows what would happen if I waited for the 12:15 last train out.

All of which is likely of no general interest whatsoever, except that it gives me a sneaky way to call your attention to this fine "Joe Sixpack" column which, if you haven't seen it yet, explains why you'll never see Rudolph's Reserve again after this year. Don't panic: the name, not the beer, is disappearing. Go look. I'll wait 'til you get back.

Think those GABF medals were something? Check out this Iron Hill victory.
There's this hot and heavy Sunday morning football league that pits teams from breweries, bars and other institutions where folks drink enough to stay crazy after all these years against one another. This year's ultimate game matched Sly Fox, regular season champions, against perennial top dog Iron Hill. It was played last Saturday at the Sly Fox home field on the CAT Pickering campus outside Phoenixville.

You may remember last Saturday: lots of snow, lots of wind. Only a fool would be outside if he didn't have to be. Enter Karl Shoemaker, Sly Fox regular, Tasting Session novice, posse member without portfolio. He was there, undoubtedly inspired in part by the possibility of free food and free beer at the end of the rainbow ("Why in the world would anyone think that was strange?" he very reasonably responded recently when someone chided him on his predilection for turning up wherever free food and beer occur). Here's his (slightly edited) report, followed by some photos he managed to take with frozen fingers:

The fact that anyone caught anything was quite a feat. The game time temp was 22 degrees in 8-10" of snow and the wind was a steady 20-30 MPH. Windchill had to be in the single digits.

The Iron Hill QB [Bill Cooper] was on, as were his receivers. Scott Summers was the Fox QB. Final score Iron Hill 10, Fox 5. All the teams that participated through the season were invited back to the Fox for a post-game party but unfortunately none of the other teams showed, so Iron Hill and the Fox and their followers had a lot of beer and food to work on. The whole Iron Hill team stuck around to watch the Eagles game.

Above: The Iron Hill champions in the Sly Fox parking lot; Sly Fox's Amy Love catches a touchdown pass.

Left: Sly Fox fans at the Snow Bowl; some folks just don't know enough to stay in out of the cold.

                               Photos by Karl Shoemaker

When this beer was made, Ronald Reagan was president.
Joe Meloney, God love him, showed up at the Monday Tasting Session at Sly Fox last Monday with a 1988 bottle of J.W. Lees & Co. Vintage Harvest Ale. 'Twas like sipping cognac, it was, the highlight of the evening, perhaps the month (and it has been one helluva month).

We devoted much of our attention this time around to killing off some of the bottles that have been piling up behind the bar because we haven't gotten to them in week's past, but there were a couple of other new entries that created some excitement among our jaded crowd (which this week was graced by the presence of Dan (The Big One) in addition to the usual gang of reprobates. Growlers of Raspberry Imperial Stout from Pittsburgh's Church Brew Works (Mike Murphy, who was in Pittsburgh to...well, keep reading) and Frostbite Pale Ale from New York's Lake Placid Pub & Brewery (Meloney yet again) had the table buzzing a bit.

Others we sampled included Kloster Winter Lager, Julius Echter Hefe Weiss Dunkel and Brewery Ommegang Hennepin Farmhouse Ale.

Biere D'Art. Good enough to brew again. And again.
The good guys have apparently won, which is the way it should be. Heavyweight Brewing's Tom Baker called this week and told me that his sensational farmhouse ale is now slated to be an annual release, brewing in November or December and graced with a different painting by Canadian artist Christine Haley to appear on the label of each vintage.

The label show here (click on it to visit the artist's own website) was used for the original brewing and will also appear on the batch now in the tanks, which will be bottled in January. Amber bottles rather than the original green ones will be used henceforth, which is surely a good thing. Tom says he's spiced the beer up just a smidgen with some pepper and that it is tasting very fine indeed.

The fifth "One Time, One Place" Heavyweight Limited Release should go in the tanks in January as well. It will be a schwarzbier (black beer) and damned if I didn't forget to ask him where it will be on draft in the Philadelphia area. I think I know but I'll check to be sure and let you know before it's released.

Meanwhile, all you poor souls in places like New York and Northern Jersey who read these entries week after week with an inchoate longing in your hearts because you miss out on all the swell beer goings-on down here in Philadelphia, be advised that Heavyweight will be part of a major beer event at the wonderful Blind Tiger Ale House on Wednesday, January 14. It's not up on their website as yet so I'm a bit vague here, but I do know that Tom said he'll be bringing seven (!) beers that night. Whee!

The Slow Pour.
As noted last time, this Wednesday evening Victory will finally unveil its highly anticipated "Secret Project" at the brewpub. If you can't make it all the way out to Downingtown, you can still be among the first to sample this new brew here that very same evening. Or you could wait until Friday night and go here and drink for free while Sales Guy Steve German tells you all about it...Mike Murphy, mentioned today all too often already, was justthisclose to purchasing the brewhouse and equipment of the former Valhalla Microbrewery in Pittsburgh (closed last September) but he was outbid at the last minute. Mike's continuing his search for a 15 to 20 barrel system to take along with him when he returns to Rome and Starbess in January...The long-awaited first barleywine from one of the more successful local breweries is about to be released. The guy who was supposed to bring me a sample this week screwed it up, so I can't report anything first-hand, but all reports are that it's a winner...Finally, the Beer Geek Word of the Week: Royersford. 'Nuff said.

[Posted 5:00 pm est]

21 December 03
Miss Lulubelle Lager...Sheriff Matt...Really bad southern accents...why, I do believe Hop Wallop has arrived.
Victory Brewing Company's eagerly awaited Hop Wallop finally made its debut at a party for distributors and the craft beer trade press (okay, Bryson and me) which was held at the Drafting Room Exton Tuesday night. This was followed by a public debut at the same location, plus the Victory pub and the Drafting Room Spring House, the following evening. I'm here to tell you about Tuesday's event.

To understand some of the goings-on and costuming, you need to know "The Legend of Hop Wallop," a tale which appears on the label of each bottle. Since those bottles are right hard to come by, and because that section of the label is unreadable by human eyes except those possessed by persons too young to even drink beer, I suggest you go instead and read it at The Beer Yard site, where I posted a story on Wednesday, including the complete text. You'll also get some background on this whole "secret project" there. Go now and do so. I'll wait.

The first thing I saw upon my arrival was Victory Sales Manager Steve German who, as the photo at left will show, had become rather hirsute since last we met. My eyes quickly shifted to Miss Lulubelle Lager, who also is shown at left, for obvious reasons and because it was she who was handing out the cowboy hats and sheriff's badges. Now these are not items I would normally be eager to obtain, but since acquiring them, especially the badge, gave the bearer free beer for the evening, I adjusted my stance on the issue.

Once the formal presentation began, with commentary from both Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet, using some of the worst imitation southern accents you're every likely to hear, they called the Beer Yard's Matt Guyer up front to name him Sheriff for the evening. that was okay, although I'm not sure he's the kinda of person you want to give that sort of power to. Then they dragged my sorry ass up and named me Deputy Sheriff. Now that was downright demeaning. Deputy to Guyer? Shoot me now. The photo here shows me being "crowned." There was some discussion about just what I was looking at during this procedure. Careful analysis will show that I was studying the camera in my hand. Really.

I'm a somewhat concerned that this whole section is going to come across as a bit of an ego trip, given that almost all the photos I have in hand seem to have me in them, but then again, this whole site is hardly the work of a shrinking violet, now is it? That said, here's the official photo of Matt, Lulubelle and me in full regalia for your edification.

And here's Matt, mad with power just as I had feared, insisting that he wear his Weyerbacher sweatshirt in order to annoy Covaleski (left) and Barchet.

The beer, a big, hoppy IPA with lots of spicy flavors and aromas (except you're not allowed to call it an IPA when Bill and Ron are around or they give you dirty looks, so say "very hoppy ale" and they'll just melt), was well received and well consumed. If you read the news story I linked to above, you'll know that this was a very small release. You'd be lucky to find a case anywhere at this point and if you do, grab it. Trust me. And if you're lucky enough to be near any of the few bars that have it on draft, run, do not walk.

A second batch, now in the tanks, will be bottled and released in January and that's it until next year. By then, if Victory's new brewhouse is up and running, they should have the tank space to brew a lot moreHop Wallop for 2004. LIke Troegs Mad Elf, another seasonal that was gobbled up almost over night this year by eager consumers, this is likely to be an annual release you need to keep an eye out for. It's also being restricted to Pennsylvania only, so expect your out-of-state beer geek pals to be begging you to get some for them.

I ran across some folks I hadn't seen in a while over the course of the evening , including ace beer sales guy Tony Knipling of Pittsburgh's Vecenie Master Distributing Company. Tony pried 50 cases of Hop Wallop out of Victory's hands for his accounts. Also on hand was The Standard Tap's William Reed (see photo at left), who chastised me slightly for saying something nice about his new bar. Now that doesn't happen very often. You'll read about it further down.

Finally, if only to prove that Miss Lulubelle Lager didn't appear in every photograph taken during the evening (I should note that all of those in which I appear were the work of Covaleski), I leave you with this fine portrait of me and another lovely creature who graced the event with his presence, getting out of a sickbed (or was it a wine bar?) to spread honesty and truth to an eager populace.

And if that doesn't give you nightmares for the holidays, it could be that you're just not drinking enough beer.

Who's that lady with all the good beer?
This Monday's Tasting Session at Sly Fox was, as usual, marked by lots of good beers, two of the best being provided by a guest, Sherri (whose last name I've never caught, and I apologize), who carries the double burden of being a BeerAdvocate and hanging with Mike Murphy. She brought us a large bottle of Grottenbier and a small one of Traquair House Ale which was a dozen or so years old. You can't hardly get better guests than that.

Joe Meloney provided a growler of Lake Placid Pub & Brewery's flagship Ubu Ale, and the amazing Tom Foley showed up with a 10-year-old bottle of his homebrewed Imperial Stout. Rick Mayberry raided his Belgian collection to put us in the holiday mood with a 750ml bottle of Gouden Carolus Noel. There was also a special tasting of a beer I'm not allowed to tell you about so Richard Ruch doesn't get into trouble (but we have photos just in case he gets uppity).

We all are getting terribly spoiled and really do have to stop meeting like this. But not yet.

And since we won't, there's a movement afoot to give ourselves a real identity. You know, a name. Leading contender at the moment is the Sly Fox "SOBs," which can stand for "Savants of Beer," Sommeliers of Beer" or "Silly Old Bastards," your choice. Regular membership at this point numbers ten: are Foley, Meloney, Mayberry, Brian O'Reilly, Ruch, Karl Shoemaker, Jeannie & Rick Smiledge and your Loyal Correspondent. Mike Murphy would be on that list be he's off to Italy in a few weeks and that will make attendance kinda tough. Bartender-to-the-stars Corey Reid holds honorary membership because of his excellent service and because he doesn't steal too much beer as the bottles pass through his hot little hands. Pete Giannopoulos and the Sly Fox ownership have special status, not to mention the group's eternal gratitude, for putting up with it all.

Dan (the Big One) throws a big one.
Every December, usually after Christmas, I think, but yesterday this time around in order to accommodate the schedule of Steve (the Other One), Dan (the Big One) and the always pleasant Kelly throw a party which...well, let's let him explain it in his own inimitable style from his emailed invitation:

That's right kids, it's time for Mr. Dan's leftover beer party. Or in some circles, properly-aged beers. It is going to be held December 20 at 1 p.m. Some of the stars of this show, 3-and-half year old Chimay, an original bottle of Sam Adams triple bock from 1996. PLUS, some beers from the Sly Fox cellar, also from the Dude, some right smart stuff in the big bottle. And more stuff from Ommegang, and Belgium, and stuff from right here in the good old U.S.A. Most of this beer is at least 6 to 12 months old, and is waiting to be drunk by you! There will be great food and a surprise beer on tap. (sorry, I kicked the last keg of PBR on cask) So, come one, come all, in one car...Parking is limited, but the drinking is not. Well it is, but it sounds good that way.
Self-explanatory, I assume ("the Dude") is Scott Morrison of McKenzie Brew House).

I got there about 1:30, after picking up Steve (the Other One) at his humble abode. I lasted until 5 pm when the better part of discretion required me to leave, not least because I have invariably gotten lost when leave Pottstown. I finally broke that jinx this time, having forced Steve to write me out clear directions back to Rt. 422; on the other hand, I damned near got killed trying to read said directions and drive at the same time. It's always a trade-off, innit?

So what can I tell you? Well, I don't know if the Dude ever did show up, and if he didn't, neither did that mystery keg. A bottle of both his Triple and Saison were poured, and enjoyed, early one. Ditto as to whether Brian O'Reilly made the scene with those beers from the Sly Fox cellar. Beers I can recall that we sampled included several from Brewery Ommegang, Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine, Dupont Saison, Delirium Noel, N'Ice Chouffe and De Dolle Teve ("Mad Bitch"). You may intuit from that why it was a good idea to leave after a couple of hours.

Lots of familiar faces, but perhaps the most interesting part of the afternoon was playing "Where's Karl?" about one which was missing. Beer-geek-in-waiting Karl Shoemaker was invited and, as we rounded the corner just before Dan's place, Steve swore that he saw Karl's car backing out of the driveway and disappearing down the street. Throughout the day thereafter, various attendees swore that they also saw that very recognizable automobile cruising through the housing development that can be seen through the woods behind Dan & Kelly's back yard. The general assumption was that Karl was out there, a lost soul, wandering and forlorn. I assured them that, wherever he was, Karl had found someone to give him beer. It's a survival instinct.

ALERT! ALERT! This just in from the Big One, accompanied by photographs:

The party was over around 11:30 after we had to choke down some Sly Fox brews that Brian bought. There is also another 6 or more bottles from Tom and Laurie and Brian that didn't have labels, so they didn't get in the final picture. I got more beer now, I think, than I started with.
I'm sure he's really complaining about that. The photographic evidence:

Sad news from Manayunk.
The local beer community was shocked this week to learn of the death of Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant owner the death of owner Harry Renner 4th this week, from complications following surgery in Florida a week ago. You'll recall, I'm sure, that Renner's father, Harry Renner 3rd, was murdered during a late night robbery at the pub back in September 2003. Our condolences go out to the family.

There's other news from Manayunk, and it ain't good either. The following classified advert is running at ProBrewer.com over the signature of the pub's head brewer, Larry Horwitz:

The Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant in Philadelphia is seeking a new head brewer. The candidate should have experience in pub brewery production, bottling, and facility maint. Preference will be given to applicants with school. This full service facility does about 2000 BBLs per year with 2 part time assistants. We fill several small contracts, and package using a Maheen.

I am the old brewer and am leaving on very good terms.

No response from Larry so far to a request for more information.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?
I got a hard time this week about calling Johnny Brenda's, the new neighborhood bar developed by the guys at Standard Tap, "beautiful" in last week's posting, but since the guy giving it to me was the Tap's William Reed, I guess that's okay. Hey, I find the wood paneling, tin ceiling, exposed brick walls and new bar and open kitchen area attractive. And I'm hardly alone. Check out this from local food and beer maven Rick Pawlak:

They've exposed and repaired the smart tin ceiling, rebuilt the original bar and retained the simple wood back bar, while adding a showy open kitchen and a question-mark shaped dining counter attached to the original bar. Several small halogen pendant lamps hover over the bar and counter stylishly. The main room has a restored, red felt pool table in dead center, surrounded by small two and four-top tables. There is an additional back room for overflow dining and drinking. The bar is dotted with small red and orange Christmas lights with some red lighting rimming the ceiling border. Natural, neighborhoody, friendly.
In late November, Pawlak took over as host of the Beer Forum at the eGullet site where that message was posted. I've added it to the links listing at top left of this page, under "Beer on the Web." Meanwhile, Johnny Brenda's is at the corner of Girard and Frankford in the city's Fishtown section. Get thee hence. Tell me if we're wrong.

Another Victory legend in the making.
This story stretches the boundaries of credibility a bit, but it surely has the ring of truth.

A lot of people hustled over to Victory early Wednesday afternoon, to be sure to get a shot at purchasing some Hop Wallop. The pub doesn't open until 4 pm, of course, and they found a surprise awaiting them in the parking lot. It turns out that Richard Ruch arrives there an hour or two before the pub opens just about every day and sits in his car staring longingly at the doors. In fact, we're told that, if Richard is not inside and at his favorite stool by 4:05 at the latest, the bar staff figures he's probably dozed off. Someone is thereupon sent out to shake the car and wake him up.

Truth or fiction? We report, you surmise.

Happy holidays, see you in 2004.
Here's hoping that one and all enjoy a happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever celebration you participate in at this time of year. And, of course, best wishes for a happy and successful New Year. LDO will end its 2003 run with this posting. I'll be back January 4, 2004. See you then.

[Posted 4:00 pm est]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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