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31 December 2004
Day 365.
This will be the last posting of 2004, which, given that this is the last day of 2004, is hardly earth-shattering news. Things will be silent around here for a bit (as if they haven't been for pretty much the last week) while our extensive staff does some site housekeeping, makes some significant changes and otherwise cranks up for the year ahead.

Meanwhile, there's the perennial question: what are you doing New Year's Eve? Partying a bit, as it turns out, at least during the daylight hours (still have that "can't see to drive at night" issue) and where, how and why that's going to happen supplies, in part, the answer to another perennial question that perceptive readers ask all the time (which is what makes it, y'know, "perennial"):

What exactly is the place of Big Dan Bengel in the great scheme of things?

The answer, my friends, is not only blowin' in the wind, it is summed up in the following two emails received from the big fella, the first on December 16:

Twenty years ago, a tall, skinny young man had a dream. The dream wasn't that one day he would be short, fat and ugly. Instead he hoped to gather friends and family together one morning, but not just any morning, New Years Eve morning. And on that day, we would gather and eat and toast our good fortune towards the world.

NAAAAAAAH!

That dream was just that, a dream. But the part about twenty years ago is true.

So every time New Years Eve falls on a Friday, Saturday or a Sunday, my semi-annual New Years Eve Day Brunch takes place. At 10:00 a.m. on Friday the 31, the fun, the frolic, the pure stupidity of what I will do on that day will come to light.

All of your happy breakfast fare till 1 p.m. All of your crazy breakfast drinks from Baileys and coffee, to mimosas and bloody marys.

After a short prayer service and general cleanup, the next round of fun shall begin! We will be pouring Genny Cream Ale thru Randall. I also got a firkin of Aspen Edge aged in a rum barrel. And last but not least, all those 1, 2 and 3 year old bottles of stuff I keep trying to get rid off. So come one, come all to the worst show on earth. Your next e-mail with the Q and A will be next week. Till then don't drink less you got a reason!

That was followed by this one on December 22:
Boy oh boy, those e-mails and calls with questions keep coming in. Let's answer some.

Q: My dog ate my e-mail, so like what's the hub bub? The hub is this. On December 31 at 10:00 a.m. It's my New Years Eve Day Brunch. You can find me at [ADDRESS REMOVED]. I am the tall guy.

Q: Can I bring my kids? All well behaved children are welcome. All brats can wash the dishes and take out the trash.

Q: What should I wear? If your are very attractive or rich, it's clothing optional. For the rest of us, it's layers.

Q: I don't want to be a bad guest, what can I bring? Since I only invited bad guests, this one almost threw me for a loop. You can bring one of the following: large sums of cash, a bottle of something you always wanted to share with me or some type of evil snack food. That way I can yell at you "I'm tired of washing my orange hands!"

Q: How about parking? Ah yes, parking. Here is the scoop. Turn into my driveway and go to the back and turn around. Then proceed to parallel park on the right side of the driveway.

Q: There is no more parking there, now what? Go out and turn right onto the road. After the second house, turn right again. It's development world. Just park across from the houses and not near anyone's driveway.

Q: Will we have fun? Even the no fun twins will have fun on that day!

Q: Are there any rules? Yes, according to the great English poet Sir Nick Lowe, What is so funny about peace, love and understanding? Nothing. Well not till midnight anyway. That's all for now. Next week a glimpse at the menu. Till then, Ho, ho, ho and all the stuff!!!!!!!!!

So I'll be off to Big Dan's place this afternoon to sip a few with old pals (looking forward in particular to the arrival of Lew Bryson, who claims to be bringing a sixtel of the just-released Victory Resolution Baltic Porter, which he had a hand in formulating) and while away some of the final hours of what has been, in sum, a not very good year.

Dan's posts, by the way, are presented as received with some very minor editing (like paragraphs, to rest the eye). I did remove his address and telephone number because this is, of course, a private party and he's only invited his friends, their friends, everybody he's met in a bar over the last two weeks, a couple of strangers on the street, the entire Pennsylvania Congressional delegation and, oh yeah, Karl.

Happy New Year.

[Posted 9:20 am edt]

22 December 2004
Goin' out like he came in.
Well, not exactly, but I did try to bring a touch of synchronicity to last night's send-off for Brandon Greenwood.

The one-last-once gathering of the faithful was held at Grace (the only place in town where you can get Nodding Head beers other than at the pub itself), and I brought along a bottle of the Red Bell Wee Heavy I wrote about last week in my report on the Monday Tasting. Patrick Mullin of Drafting Room Exton, who discovered a sixpack of this long-gone brew in his stash, was kind enough to contribute one as a gift for the man who formulated Wee Heavy back in 1996-97.

I stopped in at Nodding Head beforehand in order to get a ride over to Grace from Curt Decker and had time to have a pint of what I presumed was Brandon's last new beer made in Philadelphia, the awfully good Belgian-style Sour Brown Ale he named Tart ("I'll have a small tart" is such a cool thing to say at a bar), but it turns out there will be one more.

Brandon and Home Sweet Homebrew's George Hummel got together Monday to create a beer called George's Fault, which will go on in a couple of weeks. This is based on Hummel's award-winning homebrew Grand Cru recipe and the name, he told me during the Grace bash, is based upon a history which shows that this very big and deceptively drinkable brew causes people to do some, um, unusual things now and then and it's convenient for the barstaff to be able to explain, "It's George's fault."

In addition to chatting with Brandon, who was working not all that successfully to act like he wasn't pleased everyone had gotten together to say goodbye, I talked briefly with Gordon Grubb, to whom Brandon has turned over all the Nodding Head recipes, and he seemed very comfortable with things. "Things have changed and they're still the same," he said. In fact, I'm told, Grubb has been doing virtually all the brewing at the pub for months now, rather than just the last few weeks as I originally believed.

On the way over, I asked Curt for his reaction to Greenwood's resignation. "Of course, I'll miss him professionally," he said, "because Brandon's a tremendous brewer and we were lucky to get five great years out of him. But I'll miss him as much personally because he's a good friend. Looking at it realistically, he probably has way too much talent and knowledge to be brewing in a seven-barrel brewpub, but we had a great run."

Brandon, meanwhile, while still playing it cool, did whisper something in my shell-pink ear which will hearten the beer geeks (you know who you are). "Management at The Lion (the 100-year old Wilkes-Barre brewery where he will start as brewmaster at 7:30 am on January 3, 2005, for those who haven't been paying attention) is eager to try some new things," he said. "Keep watching."

Got it, pal. Godspeed.

[Posted 9:10 am edt]

21 December 2004
Destiny calls in Phoenixville?

"With nearby Sly Fox Brewing, the new Iron Hill means Phoenixville (pop. 14,788) will have as many brewpubs as Center City..."
Thus spake Our Pal Joe Sixpack in his column last Friday. It turns out that, as our esteemed president might say, Joe may well have misunderestimated the situation.

Can you say one more brewpub than center city, boys and girls?

Word has it that someone is looking at the former home of the Moose Club on Main Street for just that purpose.

Hey, I been dining out on Phoenixville rumors for well over a year now. You didn't think I'd let the holidays pass without a new one, did you?

The site is about a block and a half off Bridge Street and, together with the prospective Iron Hill location and the presumed Kildare takeover of the Foundry building, forms a neatly little, nearly equidistant drinking man's triangle in that section of town.

Not content to leave well enough alone, by the way, Word goes on to suggest that the prospective tenant is a long-time homebrewer who feels that having a pub of his own is his, um, destiny.

[Posted 2:50 pm edt]

19 December 2004
Just another Wednesday at the Drafting Room.
Like hell it was! It was downright extraordinary. Let me count the ways...

Oak-Aged Weyerbacher Insanity
Oak-Aged Weyerbacher Heresy
Oak-Aged Stone Arrogant Bastard
Oak-Aged Old Dominion Stout
Troegs Mad Elf Ale
Stoudt's Double IPA
Sly Fox Odyssey
Yard's Trubbel de Yards
Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale
Flying Dog Wild Dog Double Pale Ale
All on tap!

And here's the thing: I haven't even listed the best beer of the night yet. It was over there on the handpump where all the crowd is standing...

Cask-Conditioned Drafting Room
10th Anniversary Ale!
My friends, when the best beer in the house is the "house beer," you are standing in a bar where you definitely belong. I said it earlier this year and I'll repeat it here: Patrick Mullin is back at the top of his game and we are all the beneficiaries. And while we're at it, toss a bouquet or two to Howard and Drew Weintraub who, y'know, came up with the Drafting Room concept and made it all possible.

The 10 Anniversary Ale was brewed for The Drafting Room by Troegs, with Mullin assisting in the formulation. This was the last keg of 10th Anniversary, he told me, with the caveat that there may still be one lurking in the other Drafting Room location in Spring House. "But," he continued, smiling, "there's no reason you can't have a 10th Anniversary beer even after the anniversary has passed, is there?" Indeed there isn't. Hell, rename it if you want to. Just bring it back.

Wednesday past was an event which wasn't really an event, sort of a last minute presentation of some of the best beers in the cellar and it attracted, as you'd expect, all the usual suspects, and then some, to Exton. In fact, the pouring of all those beers was so auspicious that it even initiated a rare confluence of the schedules of both Mr. and Mrs. Ramblin' Joe, together again for the first time.

I traveled in the company of Steve Rubeo, the Other One, and on the way home we somehow found ourselves at Sly Fox, where we sampled the just-tapped (and still to be named) Belgian Dubbel and more Odyssey. Some guys never quit...


Simcoe, dammit, not Styrian.
So many people have told me that I was wildly off-base in my praise for the Styrian varietal at the Sly Fox IPA Project extravaganza a week ago Friday that I'm now inclined to think they're right.

If I'm remembering the layout of the serving sheet correctly, East Kent Golding, Styrian and Simcoe were all down in the lower right hand corner. Since the Amarillo and Cascade at the natural beginning point for tasting, top left, had lost much of their allure, I made a mental note that the good stuff was lower right and then mixed up the two. I kinda recall a quick conversation with Lew Bryson at the other end of the bar where he was sitting and being slightly puzzled when he criticized the Styrian.

No big deal one way or the other, but I figured I should clear the record. Simcoe was apparently my favorite of the day (opinion subject to revision, he said cautiously).


Sam Calagione. It's all true.
For years, I've joked, both in print and while prattling along after a few beers when the subject of Dogfish Head comes up, that "the way I figure, Sam used to wake up in the morning, goes out into the back yard, kicks something loose from the ground and thinks to himself, I can make beer out of that."

Well, I thought it was a joke. Comes now an anecdote from Travels with Barley, the delightful new "beer culture" book by Ken Wells, a book in which Sam is a central figure. In fact, in recent interview with Peter LaFrance of Beerbasics.com, an internet beer and food newsletter for professionals, Wells was asked to name the "most memorable" person he'd met in his beer travels, and his first words were:

“...the owner of Dogfish Head, Sam Calagione. He is young and thirty-something and dynamic and is right at the edge of the extreme beer movement. He is doing a lot of interesting stuff. It puts the best sort of funny face on beer and brewing, a kind of sense of humor that you need.”
And here, in Sam's own words in that book, is proof that I was on to something all along:
"When we first opened I was a twenty-five-year-old English major with no business experience and no money...So we had the dubious distinction of being the smallest commercial brewery in the country. I'm pretty sure our brewing system was the only one ever delivered by a UPS truck. We ripped the tops off of three kegs, slapped propane burners beneath them, and went work brewing ten gallons at a time. While it truly sucked from a labor perspective, since I was brewing two or three times a day, five days a week, it was great from an experimental perspective. I brewed so often that I would get bored brewing the same recipes. So I would wander into the kitchen of our brewpub and grab some raisins. or maple syrup or apricots...We took risks with nontraditional ingredients and the worst-case scenario was ten gallons of horrible beer. Thankfully this didn't happen too often."
Okay, things were not exactly the way I described them (although I wouldn't be surprised if he did hit the back yard once or twice), but my vision certainly close enough for gummint work.

I am so proud.

[Posted 11:55 am edt]

18 December 2004
In a funk.
Every time I sat down at the computer the last few days to update this site, my mind went blank, who knows why. So apologies for the unaccustomed silence. I'll make it up this weekend with a plethora of postings, shorter, faster, less garrulous posts than are the custom around here.

Fear not, lovers of the status quo: verbosity and I are long-time fellow travelers and run-on sentences et al will not be held in check for long.


Monday Night Tasting.
A most interesting evening this was, marked by a rare appearance by Drafting Room Exton's Patrick Mullin and his contribution of two quite rare brews, a seldom-seen bottle of 9% abv De Dolle Special Extra Export Stout and a who-thought-we'd-ever-see-that-again bottle of Red Bell Wee Heavy from 1998 or so.

The former was one of the evening's best beers (a large group, as we'll see) and the latter not only somewhat historic but admirable for its condition and quality. I thought at first that this might actually be from the period when Brandon Greenwood was at Red Bell (he's the one who formulated the Wee Heavy, probably the best beer that star-crossed brewery ever produced), but he tells me bottling began after he left. The brewer was likely Jim Cancro and this might have been a sampling of the only Wee Heavy bottling ever. It was a highlight for not only this Monday, but the year.

Tom Foley and Lori Limper's double entry was certainly another contender for top beer; try choosing between the marvelous Artevelde Grand Cru from Belgium's Huyghe Brewery (brewers of Delirium Tremens et al) or 1999 (Lord help me, I first posted this as "1995," brain-locking on the fact that Victory didn't even open until 1996) Victory Old Horizontal, go ahead, I dare you. Yeah, I thought so.

The Smiledge-contributed Alesmith Belgian Grand Cru wasn't anything to be sneezed at, not at nearly 11% abv, no sir. Nor were the bottles of 10.4% abv Van Steenberge Gulden Draak which I brought. The first of these had a surprising and very pleasant tobacco character that I've never tasted in this beer previously; the second did not, so it was likely an aberration which, had O'Reilly been present, I'm sure he would have evaluated at great length.

O'Reilly really should have been there, 'cause Bill Huber brought a bottle of Ichor, the tasty Quad that has been the only bottled brew so far in his Sly Fox years. That, a Joe Meloney-provided bottle of McKenzie Abbey 11 (the first bottling, if I remember correctly) from the Dude Down the Road and Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale (also from Huber), along with the Red Bell and Victory beers, gave the night a strong local flavor.

We also had a quite good bottle of this year's Fuller's Vintage Ale (from Ted Johnston) and Casco Bay Winter Ale (Old Port Ale) (Smiledges), this last being, truth to tell, a bit over its head in the stellar company.

How do these gatherings keep getting better and better by the week?


Biere de Garde Tasting at Monk's.
"Come about half and hour early," said Tom Peters, when he called to invite me to the annual Monk's Holiday Dinner which was held at, where else, Monk's Cafe Wednesday evening. "I'm putting together a little tasting of Biere de Gardes I picked up in France this summer."

Sure enough, when I walked in the door around 6:30, George Hummel was already there (shocker!), seated at the big round table up front, the table itself covered with shiny empty glasses awaiting the pour.

The thing you need to know about tastings at Monk's is that they tend to grow exponentially once things get underway, so that our group grew from the intended half dozen or so to pretty much the whole front room once Tom began pouring.

The beers, sadly, were mostly disappointing. The first four all came from Thiriez Brewery In Esquelbecq, France and included L'Esquelbecquoise (5.6% abv), Blonde d'Esquelbecq (6.5% abv), La Rouge Flamande (5.8% abv and best of the lot) and Patate Feest, which is apparently a 5.6% abv unfiltered lager especially brewed for this singular event.

The fifth and final beer was a 'nother smoke altogether, a little local brew called Bavay with which you might all be familiar, which enabled us to finish up on a positive note and proceed to dinner.


Monk's Holiday Dinner.
Dinner was excellent, with the caveat that the entree was, in the Monk's tradition, a big honkin' piece of, well, fowl in this instance, beyond the capabilities of mortal man to consume.

We started off with Country Terrine and Savory Chevre & roasted Onion Tartlette, bite-sized servings of each, accompanied by two pre-dinner beers, Anchor Our Special Ale (not a personal favorite) and draft Delirium Noel.

The first course was a wonderful Lobster Pesto Roulade (huge chucks of lobster here, which came with a new arrival from Germany, Mahr's Christmas Bock, my second favorite beer of the night, and draft Brasserie Dupont Avec Les Bon Veoux.

Second course was Pan Seared Scallops and the beers were the always welcome Rogue seasonal, Santa's Private Reserve and the evening's best beer, Jenlain Biere de Noel from Brasserie Duyck in France. Now this, my friends, is a biere de garde.

The entree, as noted, was huge, Roast Duck in Cranberry Sauce, served with a wonderful pairing of Oyster Gueuze Stuffing and Roasted Acorn Squash. The beers: Troegs Mad Elf and Affligem Noel from Brouwerij De Smedt / Brouwerij Affligem. Call it local pride, but I have to say the Mad Elf was perfect with the duck (and, I guess I should have and will now note that the appeal of the Christmas Bock was how well it paired with the lobster dish.

Two-year old magnums of Brasserie Dubuisson Scaldis Noel were poured with a rich and satisfying Buche Noel for dessert, sending us off happily into the night filled with holiday cheer.

And beer.


Celebrator fans rejoice.
The end-of-the-year issue of Celebrator Beer News, which should have arrived hereabouts at the beginning of the month ("hereabouts" meaning at The Beer Yard, because Nice Matt Guyer foots the freight bill to enable local distribution) will instead get here this week, probably on Christmas Eve, given my luck. Look for copies to appear at better beer spots, or at least the ones we can get to, the week between Christmas and New Year's. Or later.


More to come.
Tomorrow, should the gods smile upon us all, I shall will cover The Drafting Room Exton Holiday Blowout; Simcoe, Dammit, Not Styrian; The Shocking News: What I Always Suspected About Sam Calagione Is True!, and...well, heck, won't that be more than enough?

[Posted 4:35 pm edt]

14 December 2004
Iron Hill Phoenixville update.
The official news of the Iron Hill expansion to Phoenixville was bannered across the front page of this morning's Phoenix. Fortuitously enough, I was already scheduled to talk to Mark Edelson today about that very thing. So I did, got some additional information and corrections on the newspaper story and you can read the result here.

Who loves ya, baby?

[Posted 12:15 pm edt]

12 December 2004
IPA Project report.
My plan for the IPA blowout at Sly Fox Friday was a well-thought out, mature one. We all know, of course, how that sort of thinking usually turns out.

The idea was that I'd pop in early so as to be sure not miss anything, sample all the beers, then come back here to either work or nap. I'd go back in the evening when things were likely to get as wild as they were going to get to gather a final impression.

It didn't quite work out that way. I did a single six hour-plus stint, from noon to nearly 6:30, before I carefully dragged myself home. The change in plans came about primarily, but not entirely, because I made late morning arrangements to finally sell the set of golf clubs that had been staring at me forlornly from the bottom landing of the stairs, virtually untouched, for going on three years now. I had to meet the buyer at Sly Fox at 4 to close the deal, and by the time I had the money in my pocket, the evening crowd was beginning to wander in and each new and familiar face was reason enough to linger longer.

But enough about me. What you want to here about is the beers. Then we'll get back to me when you can concentrate.

Odyssey Imperial IPA is a fine example of the style, nicely balanced, an unique and rarely recalled concept which means it doesn't blow the top of your head off with hops overkill, despite the eight varietals used in the brew. While I at first tended to be more impressed by the cask version, as I'd expected, toward the end of my stay I was leaning more to the draft. Since that's the one that will be hanging around for a bit, at both Phoenixville and Royersford, that's probably a good thing.

A few of the Anniversary Varietal IPAs, notably Amarillo and Cascade, had lost some of their original character, due, I assume, to their age. None was bad, understand, nor uninteresting, and there was some disagreement as to which ones had changed the most, so the above is purely one man's observation and other reports may disagree. Or not. In any case, I doubt anyone will be, y'know, complaining. Overall, as best I can recall, the Styrian Golding was my favorite varietal of the afternoon.

I say "as best I can recall," because, in truth, once you sat down in front of a nine-beer sampler, there was one helluva lot of hops coming at you. Even consuming large quantities of water between sips didn't entirely clear my palate after the first four or five. I started with the draft Odyssey because I wanted to be sure to approach it from a clear perspective, then worked my around the sampler presentation, which was very nicely done on large, well market serving sheets. Comes to that, the bar and wait staff were on top of their game throughout, from what I experienced and also saw. "We actually thought this one through a bit," bar manager Corey Reid told me, laughing.

After the fourth varietal, realizing everything was beginning to blur together, I took a break for a casked Odyssey pour from the firkin on the bar. And then, I confess, a second of same. After that, I gave up the battle to figure it all out and just enjoyed the beers and had fun. About the only thing that cleared the omnipresent hops flavors out of my mouth (briefly) the rest of the afternoon was a bowl of the killer special chili. I'd like to see this one added to the regular menu, albeit with at least two levels of spiciness offered as, while it delightful to me, this version would likely be too hot for a significant segment of customers. It was made with Amarillo and featured a hop bud floating on top. Leis of hops were given to each arriving guest, by the way, while they lasted. The leis, that is, not the customers.

A wicked thought comes squirreling out of my subconscious that, given the beer being consumed, these were probably the only sort of leis most attendees would enjoy that night, but since this is a family column... You laugh? Surely there must be a family somewhere which gathers together to read LDO in front of the fire. Otherwise, where do I find the inspiration carry on?

Just about everybody you'd expect to be there was there at one point or another, certainly most of the regulars and irregulars who wander through these accounts. All those BeerAdvocate types who'd promised to take the day off from work actually did and set up a command post at the far end of the bar. Tom and Lori, our Monday Night homebrew couple, each came over at lunchtime, sampled some brews and then went back to work. I presume their performances there during the afternoon were much like mine were in those long-gone days when, as a PR type in a big corporation, I was required, I say required, to down several martinis at lunch most days while entertaining various visitors to our fair city.

I had a lengthy discussion with BA Dave (Davo) Rodriquez, who was a Ruch house guest for a day of wretched excess. They started with lunch at Royersford, spent several hours at the IPA event, moved on to Drafting Room Exton and finished up at Victory. That exchange, I'm somewhat stunned having to say, changed my mind about a few things and has been thinking about others. More about a bit down the road (by which I mean "days," not "paragraphs").

I spoke with The O'Reilly Saturday morning and he told me that the day had been a success, and then some, from Sly Fox's perspective, one of the biggest days in the pub's recent history. And he reaffirmed that, roughly 364 days from now, he'll be doing it all again, this time with ten, count 'em, ten Varietals building to the final event. We're are truly blessed that the man is insane, are we not?

[Posted 1:45 pm edt]

7 December 2004
Brandon Greenwood Leaves Nodding Head.
Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant's Brandon Greenwood submitted his resignation today.

Greenwood, who has been Nodding Head's brewer since the downtown brewpub opened its doors in December 1999, has accepted the position of brewmaster at The Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre. He will continue at Nodding Head until December 23 and starts at The Lion on January 3, 2005.

Greenwood, who holds a Master's Degree in brewing and distilling from Herriot-Watt, Scotland's famed brewing school, brewed at Red Bell and Yards in the late '90s before joining Nodding Head. He won five Great American Beer Festival medals there over the past three years: Gold for Grog and Bronze for BoHo Pilsner in 2002, Silver for 60 Shilling and Berliner Weisse in 2003, and Silver again for Berliner Weisse this year.

The Lion, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2001, is a regional brewery which produces a wide range of beers under various labels and contract brews for several smaller breweries, including all of Stoudt's 12-ounce bottles until the Adamstown brewery moved everything in-house this year. Lion brands include Stegmaier Gold Medal, 1857 & Porter; Liebotschaner Cream Ale (a three-time GABF Gold Medial winner), Gibbons, Bartels and Esslinger. Its line of Pocono lagers and ales (sold under the Brewery Hill label until May 2002) is its most successful brand and Pocono Lager is the brewery's best selling beer. It was named Mid-Sized Brewery of the Year at GABF in 1999 & 2000.

As brewmaster at The Lion, Greenwood will be working under previous brewmaster Leo Orlandini, who has moved up to the newly created post of plant manager.

The resignation does not leave Nodding Head high and dry. Assistant brewer Gordon Grubb has been on board for over a year and he's been doing much of the day-to-day brewing in recent months. While there was no formal agreement in place, Greenwood said, he would be leaving all the Nodding Head recipes for his successor. "Gordo knows the job," Greenwood said.

Nodding Head's stalled efforts to build a production brewery in the city contributed in part to Greenwood's decision. He has also said several times over the years that he considers himself a "brewer" and not a "craft brewer" and that he would be happy working in a mainstream production brewery if that's where his professional path took him.

The Lion has been quietly looking for someone to step into Orlandini's spot, Greenwood said, and he was recommended to them by another person in the industry. "He put me together with Leo at a Brewmasters of America meeting there at The Lion, and we started talking and have continued to do so for several weeks now until we came to an agreement last week. This will absolutely be a challenge for me, to go from a brewpub that does 60-700 barrels a year to a facility which does 350,000 barrels a year in beer and soda is a big leap. Plus there will be many more employees I'll be responsible for."

Greenwood said that giving the news to Nodding Head managing partner Curt Decker yesterday was "difficult and painful. Curt's a good guy and my friend, but he's not one who would stand in the way of anyone's career development. It was a sad day but I have to keep my career moving forward. I was going to go back to a production brewery sooner or later. It just happened sooner than I expected.

"I've been losing my edge," he continued. "I haven't been using my whole breadth of knowledge about brewing, There many more areas of the business in which I have experience and training which I'd like to get back to using. This is what I do. I intend to retire from the brewing industry. My long term goal is to stay in brewing and I want to always be able to support myself and eventually a family."

Greenwood was also a final candidate for a position at Boston Beer Company, brewers of Samuel Adams, in their Cincinnati production facility. "I turned them down the same day I accepted the job at The Lion," he said.


Monday Tasting Notes, presented without my having been there. Don't try this trick at home.
I wasn't at the Monday Tasting last night, but Wanderin' Joe Meloney sends this summary along to make it feel like I was:

Attending tasters were:

Bill Huber, Del Massey, Rich Ruch, Ted Johnston, Tom Foley, Lori Limper, Karl Shoemaker and Wanderin' Joe.

Beers:

Huber brought River Horse Tripel Horse and Stoudt's Triple (new batch---12 oz).

Massey had Liefmans Goudenband.

Ruch poured Stone Old Guardian Barleywine.

Johnston brought Rogue Shakespeare Stout.

Foley & Limper gave us Medalla Light in an aluminum can from their Puerto Rico trip, then Tom's homebrewed Honey Milk Stout and finally, Sam Adams Triple Bock-1994.

Meloney brought Lancaster Winter Warmer and Gritty's Blackfly Stout.

Del's Goudenband and Foley's home brew took top honors. Both the Old Guardian and the Winter Warmer deserve honorable mention.

And the Sam Triple Bock was as it is always...rich...complex....warming...a real treat. Love it or hate it, it gets your attention. A thanks to Mr. Foley!

Okay, this not only makes it feel like I was there, it makes me wish I had been there. Except for Foley's showing off, of course.

Honey Milk Stout? Wa'sup with that?


New kid on the block.
Twin Lakes Brewery will make its first beers in its Greenville, Delaware plant in January. Its creation will help preserve historic old farmland and keep the brewing tradition alive in a town where the current brewery will shut down on New Year's Eve.

You can read all the details here.

[Posted 6:45 pm edt]

6 December 2004
Geez, if you can't trust Ruch on Victory stories...
Maybe his brain was addled from too much Storm King. Maybe he had a senior moment. Or maybe he was misinformed. In any case, I am shocked, I say shocked, to have to report that Richard was a bit off base in his update on Victory's beer scheduling which I posted here on Saturday.

Received from the horse's mouth via email just now:

Just an important correction. Baltic Porter will roll out New Year's Eve, as we'll be open for that holiday, not on 12.23 or 12.27. Cheers, - BC
You know, I can picture myself driving out mid-day and getting a growler of that. My approach to New Year's Eve and other amateur nights like St. Patrick's Day is to stay home and keep below window level in case they start shooting. Beer helps. A big kick-ass Baltic Porter would really help.

And maybe I'll grab a second growler for January 1, to accompany me through the always enjoyable ritual of not watching the Mummer's Parade...

[Posted 10:50 am edt]

5 December 2004
I knew I should have gone to Iron Hill North Wales Friday night.
Bryson did, and he got the skinny on the Iron Hill opening in Phoenixville story. It's here:

12/5/04: The Next Iron Hill: This one's straight from Mark Edelson's mouth, folks. The shoe has finally dropped: Iron Hill has signed a lease on a property in Phoenixville. It's on Bridge Street, near the 'famed' Colonial Theater (location of the "running out of the theater" scene from the 1958 crap sci-fi classic "The Blob"). It's a smaller site, Mark told me as we were sampling oak-aged beers at last week's Barrel Aged Beer event at Iron Hill North Wales (also attended by Jim Brennan (formerly of Manayunk and currently at Flying Fish) and Bob Davis (formerly at Weyerbacher, Red Bell, and most recently Black Rock), who was looking good). Smaller site? Need a smaller brewery, then...and Mark's working on a deal to pick up a used system, which would be a first for Iron Hill, where it's been all brand-new Specific Mechanical systems. But this used system is also a Specific, from a recently closed PA brewery...draw your own conclusions. Anyway, don't expect things to pop anytime too soon, but judging by Iron Hill's past track record, don't be surprised to see it open by this time next year. And likewise, don't be surprised to see another Iron Hill coming along: Mark also told me that they're still scouting in south Jersey.
The site in question looks pretty small to me and I can't figure out how they'll have the parking they'll need, but Iron Hill doesn't make many errors, do they? In other words, what do I know?

This is the first of the two big steps which would make Bridge Street a destination spot, the other being whatever will happen (or not) in the Foundry building.

And, no, this is not the news I suggested you'll get here tomorrow. Stay tuned.

[Posted 11:55 pm edt]

5 December 2004
Trubbel in the back room.
Those weren't the first words Tom Kehoe said to me when I arrived at the Annual Yards Brewing Christmas Open House yesterday afternoon, but they were definitely in the first 100 or so. Yes, Trubbel de Yards, AWOL in 2003, is back and a keg was on ice. I finished the pint of Philadelphia Pale Ale I'd grabbed at the bar soon as I walked in and followed Tom and the lovely Linda (Mrs. Tom) up the ramp from the main party space to the brewery and to a small room hidden away back among the tanks.

Trubbel 2004 is as good as you remember, or if you don't remember, so good you will remember. Smooth, soft, wonderful raisin undertones, entirely too drinkable to be safe. Sadly, this is a draft-only release (this beer cries out for bottling and aging), and a small quantity one at that, so it's likely you'll have to keep an eye out and then journey to a good Philadelphia beer bar to taste it. Rest assured I'll be working Mr. Guyer to try and worm a sixtel or two out of the brewery for the Beer Yard (but I also may just grab one of those as it comes in the door, y'know?).

The Trubbel keg was a "secret," one that everybody eventually knew about. One of the funniest moments came while I was standing in the area of the room where it was kept while talking with the Usual Suspects, Brandon Greenwood and Curt Decker of Nodding Head, and a phalanx of BeerAdvocates walked briskly and in formation by us and into the room, let in on the good stuff at last and looking oh-so-proud of themselves. Beer geeks on a mission. It was heart-warming enough to bring a tear to the eye. Not mine, heaven knows, but someone's surely.

Lew Bryson was on hand and I'm trying to decide just how to describe his, um, outfit. I guess the simplest way to put it is that you have to admire a man who apparently has no vanity. We got to chat about several things, including the efficacy of Extreme Beers in the big picture and, based on some of his changing opinions on the issue, I discovered that, wonder of wonders, Lew has read a book about wine. There's hope for him yet.

Many in attendance had been at the Iron Hill North Wales Brewers Reserve on Saturday evening and there was nothing but praise for both the event and the beers. The hit of the night appears to have been the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout and the only beer that seems to not have benefited from the aging process was the Oak Barrel Oud Brune. As North Wales brewer-in-residence, Larry Horwitz probably deserves some kudos, but since his predecessor at Manayunk, Jim Brennan, confessed that he and Larry spent part of the night making fun of, of all people, me, I won't issue same.

I did something unique in terms of visiting a Yards event this time around: I actually took directions off the website and followed them. Damn, it's easy that way! Heretofore, my approach as been to drive to that area of the city and then sorta wander around, keeping an eye out for nervous-looking suburbanites in expensive cars. I like a challenge now and then.


Check back tomorrow.
There's a good chance that a pretty important story about the local beer scene could break tomorrow or Tuesday. You might want to make a point of stopping back here in the afternoon to see. I'd normally put any big news story at the Beer Yard site but, if things go as scheduled--not a sure thing by any means--the Beer Yard site will be in the process of being migrated to a new host tomorrow and I won't have access. Don't be a stranger. All I'm sayin'.

[Posted 7:38 pm edt]

4 December 2004
Monday Tasting Notes: New Glarus, Southern Tier, La Chouffe and...Victory V-10?
That's right, V-10, the beer they say they'll never make in Downingtown again because of problems the first two times around. I found a bottle deep in the bowels of the Beer Yard stash room and figured why not give it a try. I mean, says I to me, suppose it's good?

Guess what? It was. The bottle was from the second bottling of the first batch, November or December 2002, I believe, and it was very pleasant and surprisingly drinkable, given all those sour bottles back in the day. A trifle carmel-y for my tastes, but certainly not a beer to be turned away and one I'd like to try with some proper food. If anyone has some of these stashed away, wondering whether to dare, I'd suggest giving one a try in the near future. And let me (and the curious masses gathered here around our cyber-campfire) know. Could be we've found a near rarity for everyone to frantically seek out.

Following that discovery, we moved on to Casco Bay Oktoberfest, provided by Mr. Ruch, who apparently ran out of six-month old growlers from the back of the 'frig. This was very nice, one of the best examples of the style I had this year.

That nice Smildege couple made it possible for me to taste my first ever beers from Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, NY and I have to say I was very impressed. We had Phin & Matt's Pale Ale (5.6% abv) right after the Casco Bay entry and Tripel (9% abv) a bit later on. I was particular taken the with the former, a very good, citrus-y (grapefruit, primarily) version that I could happily consume in quantity. Nor was the tripel to be sneezed at.

I called them nice but the Smiledges are also, y'know, pushy, so they had a third beer to force upon us, Grant's Hopzilla IPA (a surprisingly low 5% abv for an IPA). Now this is exactly the beer I'd pull out to make my argument that hop-zealous West Coast breweries often lose sight of what they're supposed to be making. Beer should be balanced, dammit, and this was just hops, hops, hops. Yeah, it was bitter and so am I.

The elusive Mayberry set things right with the Beer of the Day, New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red (5.1% abv), and it was his last bottle too. Upon realizing that as he watched the smiles on our faces, he pulled out his cell phone and called cousins from Wisconsin who should be arriving at his house for a visit right about now to urge them the fill up their car with more bottles. We can only hope...

Ted Johnston, who came in late, gave Mayberry a run for the money in that Beer of the Day competition (and if it went to a vote rather than my summary judgement and he won, I wouldn't complain) when he pulled out a bottle of La Chouffe (8.0% abv). Sure, he was just showing off, but nobody complained. World class beer is world class beer, that's our motto.

Following the Southern Tier Tripel, we went to Bill Huber's contribution of Victory's 2003 V Grand Cru (9% abv), about 18 months old if I have my dates down correctly (bottled a year ago June). A really good beer and the one in the V series that I've had least. Something's wrong with that scenario.

Where, you must be asking by now, is the ever-present Meloney? Why sitting quietly over to the side, ready to finish our get-together for us with a bottle of Mendocino Talon Barleywine (10.5% abv). This was okay but pretty thin in the malt for the style, in my opinion. Gotta give Meloney props for tying in his beer offering with his bird-watching fixation, though. They say it's the small victories which offset life's ongoing tragedy. Okay, I say it. Whatever.


Speaking of Victory...
...he said cautiously, sure that this will somehow get him into trouble, there's news about new beers on tap and old favorites returning in bottles (courtesy of, who else, Ruch), not to mention that we needs must acknowledge that the brewery has a newly revamped website (courtesy of, would you believe it, Mayberry).

Starting with the latter, you can check it out here. Now we know what Mayberry's been up to all those missing weeks. Nice, clean and informative, innit? But where are we going to go now for our women's bike racing fix?

And, in a pair of emails, the Ruchster passes along this info to brighten the holidays for Victorians everywhere:

The Baltic Porter (the last 25-bbl batch made in the old brewhouse) will be released at the brewpub on 12/23 or 12/24. Ron collaborated with Lew Bryson in developing a recipes for this brew.

I am pleased to confirm that some of your and my favorite seasonal brews will be bottled this year, including both St. Victorious and St. Boisterous as well as Dark Lager. This is really good news!!

They just put a cask-conditioned version of the ESB on the pump and Prima Pils from the new brewhouse is now on tap. The slow pours of this stuff never tasted better.

The 2004 version of 2004 Old Ho was introduced Friday night at the brewpub. It is truly awesome!...I must say that this year's version may be the best that Ron and the brew staff have produced. The balance is back; the malt nose with discernible hops and a pleasant dry finish reminds me of the vintage bitch.

The draft Storm King now available off the new brewhouse is immensely delicious. The velvety smooth, soft taste of the chocolate malt is lovely along with a noticeable hoppy aroma and flavor.

I think the boys have dialed in the new brewhouse...

He's so cute when he's shilling.


Coming and going in Greenville.
The latest issue of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News came out this week and those of you pouring through its pages in search of wisdom and information may have noted in George Hummel's "Craft Beer in Delaware" column news that Brandywine Brewing Company will close its doors at its Greenville, Del. site on New Year's Eve. I am told, entirely by coincidence in an email from an old family friend on another matter entirely, that owner David Dietz is looking at a one-year hiatus before resuming brewing at a new spot. However, one of LDO's regular (and reliable) informants, who told me about this closing several weeks back, later followed up with what he thinks will the site of the new Brandywine Brewing. I'll be checking that out.

What has apparently slipped under everybody's radar so far, however (not mine, again thanks to my regular source of information from that part of the world), is that as one brewery fades away, a new one is being born in Greenville. I'll give you the skinny on that this coming week.


Things I missed...
I didn't get to either the Brewers Reserve Cask Night at Iron Hill North Wales or Incubus Friday at Sly Fox Phoenixville (you know things are growing around here when we have to start ID-ing brewpubs by their addresses) even though I got up in the morning intending to hit both. When push came to shove, it was just more appealing to settle in, open a couple of good Belgians and catch up on some things. Inspired by the third place finish (and the cash) which I earned in the recent 24-Hour Short Story Contest (which I told you about last month), I spent a lot of time this past week revamping another story, cutting 800-plus words out to meet the requirements, and submitting it to yet competition, this one with much greater potential rewards, so there is much to catch up with to get back on track.

Plus I am confronted with an increasingly problematic situation when it comes to driving at night except in familiar areas. Thing is, I don't see all that well.

Maybe I just grow old. Not that I would wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, of course.

This literary reference, part of an occasional but obligatory series necessary to maintain my equilibrium, has been brought To you with a wink and a nod toward the mermaids singing, each to each...


Things I won't.
I plan to be at the annual Yards Christmas Party at the brewery this afternoon. Maybe'll see you there.

[Posted 11:40 am edt]

2 December 2004
Travels With Barley.
I've been reading the recently released book bearing that title, written by Wall Street Journal editor and writer Ken Wells, the last couple of days. I'm only about a quarter of a way through (though I've skimmed ahead here and there) and I feel comfortable in recommending it as an enjoyable and interesting read.

What I like particularly about Travels is that it's not an "insider" book, written by a geek for geeks. Wells was essentially a beer novice when he embarked on his investigation of American beer culture. He's built the book around a journey he took through the heart of Middle America, south along the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana, in search for "the perfect beer joint."

It's precisely because Wells is not all-knowing and entirely caught up in beer lore and legend that the book works for me. He see things with a fresh eye and his trip takes him places a lot of "real beer people" might overlook or ignore.

And oh yeah, I really, really want to visit a bar called Casino on Pearl Street in La Crosse, Wisconsin, indeed I do. Read pp. 65-71 of Travels With Barley and you will too.


LaBan on Monk's.
Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic and incipient beer geek Craig LeBan turned his attention to Monk's Cafe last Sunday. You can see what he had to say here.

When I did my interview with LaBan for Celebrator Beer News earlier this year--you can read that here--I asked him about Monk's and why he'd never reviewed it. He said he'd get around to it one day, but made the point (which is in my interview) that he'd not want to do so based on a beer dinner, as such special events don't give a true picture of a restaurant. Seems he changed his mind.

It's a good, fair review, I think, mixing high praise with some insightful criticism. On the whole, I suspect a lot of restauranteurs who would love to have a line like this included in a review:

It's a place where brewers from around the country and the world come to debut their newest beers, and a destination where star chefs linger after their own kitchens have closed, wolfing down boudin sausage and meltingly tender veal cheeks stewed in Leffe brown ale.
Especially if that review then concluded
Whatever your brew, chances are that Monk's will pour it - if it's any good, that is. One isn't invited to join the Knights of the Brewers' mashstaff for serving anything less.
For me, though, the best thing in the piece was four simple words: woolly co-owner Fergus Carey. Worth the price of the Sunday paper all by itself, it was.

Tasting Notes.
We had a very pleasant and interesting session this past Monday night. I'll see about getting the notes up tomorrow or Saturday at the latest.


Archived.
The complete November postings have been archived here.

[Posted 6:50 pm edt]


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

--A. E. Houseman

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