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1 February 04
West Coast comes East: A Monk's Cafe event.
Tommie Arthur of Pizza Port & Port Brewing, Tom Nichols of Oggi's Pizza & Brewing and Eric Rose of Santa Barbara Brewing Company were the featured guests at the latest in Monk's ongoing series of brewpub dinners last Tuesday night. As I've said before, such events are perhaps even more of a service to local beer aficionados than the more high-profile dinners with the likes of Michael Jackson and Stephen Beaumont (see further down) because they provide an opportunity to taste the beers and chat with the brewers from establishments across the country which many will never have a chance to visit.

I made my way through the wintery night in the company of Brian ("I'm from New Hampshire and I can drive through anything") O'Reilly and Tom Foley and wife Lori Limper, a two-hour journey (normally half an hour or so) during which we amused ourselves by calming O'Reilly's incipient road rage. Upon arrive, I found my seat at the big rectangular table up front, as opposed to the big round table up front. Among my fellow diners were The Happy Brewer, Nodding Head's Brandon Greenwood, and Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sixpack (Theresa's gonna kill me).

We were just in time to hear Home Sweet Homebrew's George Hummel introduce the guests, chortling quietly as we saw the expression on Nichols' face when George referred to "Oggi's Mission Brewery" and then settled in for what was, as I told both Tom Peters and chef Adam Glickman, one of the best matchings of food and beers I've ever had at Monk's. That is said, however, with a caveat that I'll get to shortly.

We started off with a pre-dinner glass or two of Monk's Cafe Sour Red Flemish Ale, a late replacement for a scheduled beer from Russian River Brewing Company, which was supposed to be part of the touring brewers group but had to pull out (Vinnie Cilurzo, who brewed there from its opening in 1997 and then bought the brand from Korbel Champagne Cellars in 2002, is still getting the relocated brewery up and running and working on BATF approvals).

The first course, Deep Sea Scallops wrapped in serrano ham with apple wood-smoked tomato sauce, was served with Oggi's Mission Pale Ale (thus the Hummel error), which was, I'd say, the best brew of an evening filled with good ones. Nichols noted that it was an attempt to blend a "soft yeasty Belgian character" with a "dry, crisp hoppy California character." It was brewed eight months ago and must have packed some--to coin a phrase--"hop wallops" back then, given how the hops came across even after all that mellowing time. He pegged the ABV at about 5%.

The next two courses were accompanied by Pizza Port brews, Solana Beach Skunk Drunk Monk with a duck liver, mung bean sprouts and cellophane noodle Spring Roll and Solana Beach Mother Pucker Kriek with Venison Loin Medallions with dried fruit and a Mother Pucker demiglace. Skunk Drunk Monk (5.5% abv) was brewed last March and aged in Chardonnay barrels (and the occasional Mother Pucker barrel). It was inspired by the classic Rodenbach Red Ale and if someone wanted to argue that it was in fact the best beer of the night, I wouldn't put up much of a fight. Mother Pucker, on first taste, seemed a bit over the top but when accompanied by the venison it smoothed out wonderfully. If an abv was offered, I missed it.

Here's that caveat I promised. I would have planned a meal which separated these two beers, probably with a salad course of some sort (with the saison). I think all three beers would have been better served presented in that order, even though, as I said, they were damn well served just as things stood. All this may, in fact, just be a reaction to the final course, Stuffed Brook Trout, which I thought was the one off-note of the evening, too large and too fishy for my tastes.

Santa Barbara Saison accompanied that final entree and was the least notable beer of the evening. Then again, this is an area which produces a number of excellent saisons so it takes a lot to impress. Rose said the beer was inspired by Arthur's SPF 45 Saison and fermented at very high temperatures before being keg-conditioned for six months. He estimated an 8.5% alcohol content.

Dessert, always a Monk's highlight, was an incredible Banana Cream Pie, matched with Stone Vertical Epic 03.03.03, and that beer got me to thinking: Given the guests and a couple of the attendees already present, all the night lacked was Greg Koch (and maybe Sam Calagione) and we would surely have had us a world-record level of brewer testosterone.

Not that such an achievement would have necessarily been a good thing...

I didn't get to Iron Hill, but I had spies there.
Once they left here, the California brewery traveling squad went off to Washington, DC for events at the Brickskeller and D.A.'s Regional Food&Drink (RFD), then came back to Wilmington on Friday night for a special Brewers' Reserve Night at Iron Hill, Wilmington Riverfront. I didn't make it down for that one, but never fear, I had some of the posse's top people on the scene.

The Big One and The Other One were present, I'm told, though nary a word has been heard from either. For shame. On the other hand, Joe (On the Road Again) Meloney and Richard ("just enter `HopDevil' in Google") Ruch were not only there but kind enough to pass along their thoughts. Here's a surprise: they had a good time and really liked the beer.

MELONEY: "Despite the overcrowded bar, a good time was had by the two-old beer geeks. Pizza Port Swamis IPA and Oggi's Ding Ding Double IPA were my favorite West Coast brews. Iron Hill's cask Uberhop and Imperial IPA were also outstanding. I'm now under a doctor's care for severe hop-burn."
RUCH:"The Santa Barbara IPA(the Double Star Imperial IPAwas not served) was my favorite. It actually had some malt and balance. Very hoppy, but drinkable brew. The Pizza Port Hop 15 was quite tasty too. The two brews from Oggi's (their IPA and Imperial IPA) were what extreme hops is all about. Although there was this one of the obvious bitter Left Coast brews, I was blown-away by the flavor. I really don't know how the palate tolerate it, but it wanted more. Unfortunately, Russian River brews were not part of the line-up. I guess they were all consumed before they made it to Wilmington. I hate when that happens.

The place was slammed. Big Dan and Steve were in attendance. Patrick Mullen also showed up. Finally, Mr. Decibel Man was in the house. And, of course, there were brewers everywhere, including lovely Larry Horwitz Great time!! Great place!!

P.S. The Uberhop IPA (dry hopped) and the Barleywine from Iron Hill on the firkin were very enjoyable as well.

("Mr. Decibel Man" is Ruch's characterization of this guy, who should soon be Buzz-ing again now that we're in a new month.)

Chris Firey at Manayunk.
Chris Firey, formerly a staff brewer at Victory Brewing, has moved to Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant as head brewer, replacing Larry Horwitz, who went off to Iron Hill's new pub in North Wales, which will open next month.

Actually, Chris is betwixt and between at the moment, finishing up his last week at Victory and getting ready to go to the new job full-time a week from tomorrow. You can read about it in a story I posted here.

Chris tells me that Larry has been a big help to him in the transition--no surprise there--and Larry tells me he'll still be poking his nose in now and again to see what becomes of the steinbier, two-year-old barleywine aged in a bourbon cask, a "super" lager ("not quite a triple bock but bigger than a double bock") and Framboise made with Rodenbach yeast and real fruit that he left behind. Even less surpirse there.

By the by, I promised a while back to clarify whether or not that barleywine was originally brewed by previous brewer Jim Brennan and Larry says it was. It's been, as the Brits say, "sexed up" a bit since.

Sly Fox lease has finally been signed.
What's been "unofficially official" is now, well, official. Sly Fox has a signed lease on a 12,500 square foot site in a strip mall on Lewis Road in Royersford, one-half of what was previously a Drug Emporium.

A decision has been made, wisely I think, not to make too much of this right now but to wait until things are a lot closer to opening. I will be putting up a story at the Fox website and at the Beer Yard website this coming week which will provide some of the basics.

Assuming no further complications or delays, things should be up and running by early summer and we might see bottles before the year is out. But assuming, as we have all learned, is a dangerous game.

The Slow Pour.
I have jury duty tomorrow so I'll miss 2004 Groundhog Day at the Gray Lodge. Sigh. The burden of being a good citizen lies heavy...Those fine folks at Celebrator Beer News, who sign some of my checks, have a week of February beer fun planned in San Francisco. Just click on the Celebrator link above and then on the image you'll find there to see the complete schedule. Hmmmm, I haven't been out there in a year now...

I haven't seen it yet, but the latest issue of Celebrator is out and I know it contains both my interview with Inquirer restaurant and food critic Craig LaBan and my regular Atlantic Ale Trail column, since I've received a nice email about the former from fellow beer scribe Stephen Beaumont and a rather snarky one about the column from a local brewer who is not at all pleased about what I wrote, or more precisely, what I didn't write. Hey, tell me it's good or tell me it's bad, as long as you're reading, it's all good...

Speaking of Beaumont, he'll be in town a little over a month from now for his annual dinner at Monk's during the Book and the Cook 2004. For a schedule of that and other beer-related events during B&C, could there be a better source than the Beer Yard Calendar? I think not. Go and be enlightened...Beer Geek Clue of the Week: Bloomsburg.

[Posted 2:30 pm est]

8 February 04
Downtown Saturday.
Given that a crisp beautiful winter's day had dawned to replace the icy, rainy and spirit-crushing gloom of the day previous, and surely due in part to the fact that I had been most responsible and reasonable during the previous evening's "Incubus Friday" at Sly Fox, I happily spent a goodly portion of Saturday visiting several of Philadelphia's finest beer-purveying establishments in the company of two boon companions. This is our story.

But first, a word from our Legal Department, which has alerted me that the substantial profits and life-altering benefits I earn by devoting my Sundays to posting these ramblings might make me the target of predatory lawsuits from unsavory sorts. While safeguards are being put into place and documents drawn up, I have been instructed to employ pseudonyms to protect the guilty. Presumably this won't go on much past this one segment (i.e., I can hardly be expected to maintain this conceit for a whole column), but for now I will identify my companions only as Codename: Pinky and The Shill.

Our first stop was a relatively new neighborhood bar about which many good things have been said and which none of us had previously visited: Ten Stone Bar & Restaurant (while Ten Stone has no website, here's a nice writeup to give you a sense of the place). We were joined there by Mysterious Beer Advocate Woman (not her real name, in accordance with legal restrictions) and enjoyed an excellent lunch and grand array of brews. Given both the quantity and quality of the food--a fondue style mushroom and cheese appetizer that Pinky ordered more than served all four of us and I had an Italian panini and expected, you know, a nicely flattened small sandwich but received instead what appeared to be half a loaf of very good Italian (maybe French) bread stuffed to the gills with fine meats and roasted peppers--Ten Stone may offer one of the best dining bargains in the city. I enjoyed a tasty Leffe Brune draft from Interbrew/Abbaye de Leffe to whet my appetite and a just-right Tuppers' Hop Pocket with my sandwich.

Mystery Woman faded off to wilds of New Jersey and the complicated pleasures of visitors from Connecticut after that and we proceeded on, as a favor to me, for a quick, albeit circuitous, route which allowed us to drop off copies of the new Celebrator Beer News at Monk's, Nodding Head and Eulogy for their customers. This was a bit real altruism on my part as it will likely lead to even more attacks on my already shaky reputation. Why? Read on. All will be revealed eventually.

We stopped next at Standard Tap, which Pinky had never seen at all and which I, astonishingly , had not yet seen in all its full glory with the new space opened and ready for business. I'd crawled through and around it during various stages of construction and was eager to see the finished product. That section turned out to be closed during the afternoon but, fortuitously enough, we found affable William Reed in the kitchen and he graciously opening things up to show us around, but not before we stopped at the upstairs bar and acquired a brew to sustain us. I grabbed a pint of Legacy Brewing's Duke of Ale (it's back, hurrah!), William a pint of O'Reilly's Stout from Sly Fox and Pinky and Shill went for glasses of Heavyweight Biere d'Art, which I was most surprised to find available on tap.

Upstairs at the Tap is downright stunning. We wandered through the two news rooms and out onto the not-yet-christened deck area while William regaled us with stories and pointed out all sorts of neat little touches. There are, throughout the premises, various older paintings which have been, shall we say, "added to" here and there to change their natures considerably. The best one is on the wall to the left of the door going out to the deck and must be inspected closely to catch the change. Indeed, one might even have to read the small title line added at the bottom to call attention to the joke. It is hilarious, but not for the timid.

A more authentic and striking piece is a framed tin piece, probably a promotional item in its day, which was long ago. It was given to William by David Mink, his landlord when he was the brewer at the former Sam Adams Brewpub on Sansom Street (now the home of Nodding Head). It is dated 1776 and promotes the ales of the Robert Smith Ale Brewing Company which was created two years earlier and which eventually became Schmidt's of Philadelphia. The piece features a somewhat effete brewer happily pouring himself a pint in front of various kegs labeled with titles like "India Pale Ale," "Burton" and "Old Musty." Pointing at these, William laughed and said "if they'd kept brewing beers like these, maybe Schmidt's would be something more than just a big ditch these days." The site of the old brewery, a few blocks from the Tap, has recently been raised and will be home to an immense new residential and commercial complex. One rumor says the owner seeking 11, count 'em 11, liquor licenses.

Our last stop of the day was only a few blocks away, another and just-recently-opened project of Reed and partner Paul Kimport, Johnny Brenda's. I've mentioned this revitalized corner tappie before and wanted Pinky and Shill to see it. The premises were brightened by the presence at the bar of the ubiquitous Curt Decker of Nodding Head and a photographer from Philadelphia Weekly, which is apparently in the process of doing a review. "I figured I'd get in here one last time before the hordes descend after reading the review in the paper," said Decker, but he wasn't speaking of the Weekly's forthcoming one but rather... Well, as I keep saying, read on. The truth is out there.

Our plan was to have just a quick beer (mine was a Victory Prima Pils) and hit the road, but Pinky's attention was caught by the grilled octopus on the menu and nothing would do but that we share a plate of same. Excellent thinking on his part. Besides, having introduced him to Decker, as I had to William Reed earlier, I enjoyed watching as the Shill tried yet again to work his not-considerable (this is not a typo) charms on a hapless publican to try and set up a forthcoming invasion by a crazed and thirsty band of Beer Advocates on the loose into the city and environs. Greater love hath no man...

Friday the Firkinteenth: a split in time...
This Friday night brings the first (of two) Friday the Firkinteenth celebrations at the Grey Lodge Pub and I must admit to a bit of trepidation. Scoats has amassed 15 beers for this one (and projects 16 brews for the August one). As a result he will have to offer the beers in two separate pourings, one beginning at 6 pm. the second at 9 pm.

Given that Scoats hasn't made a misstep yet, I couldn't let my doubts stop me from posting the two-tiered tapping schedule on the Beer Yard calendar. Let's hope Matt Guyer reads it whenever and wherever he wakes up in Belgium this week.

Celebrator: Egregious Errors Department
As anticipated last week and confirmed above, the new Celebrator is now available in this area at selected locations. This issue has my interview with restaurant critic Craig LaBan (page 8) as well as the usual Atlantic Ale Trail column (page 41). This column centers around a couple dumb things I've said about beer (part of a set, collect them all) and that's highly appropriate given... Well, here's the letter I fired off to fine and forgiving editor Tom Dalldorf once I was able to tear my horrified eyes away from the page:

I don't know whether I'm more concerned that [copy editor] Pamela Evans might smack me upside the head or that beer geeks all over the country will be wondering if I lost my marbles, but when I wrote in Atlantic Ale Trails that "as a one-man operation, [Sly Fox brewer Brian] O'Reilly produced some 9,000 barrels out of his 10-barrel system last year," I was about as on-target as your average politician discussing the Budget. 900 barrels, dummy, 900. The guy's a brewer, not a miracle man.

Sometimes I get to typing and those zeroes just keep on comin'. At least it happened in a column about dumb things I've said. Nothing like a real live example to strengthen the argument.

Let the hilarity begin. I can take it. Been there before. As Bill Covaleski enjoys (all too much) reminding me, I once wrote about "smoked hops" in a rauchbier story. And, hey, at least I look good in the photo on page 3...

Celebrator's "Best of 2003"...and mine too. How about yours?
One of the features in this issue of Celebrator is "Best of 2003," compiled by sending our questionnaires to all us contributing writer types and other beer folk. Readers are invited to participate for an updated version of the results (page 28). There's supposed to be an electronic poll available here but nothing's there as of this morning.

For what it's worth, here are the results as given in the issue and my own vote in each category:

BEST CRAFT BREWER: Anchor Brewing (I voted for Stone Brewing, based upon their expansion eastward in 2003 and always clever promotion efforts)
BEST BREWPUB: Elysian Brewing Company (this either wasn't on the ballot I was sent or I skipped it
BEST IMPORT CRAFT BREWERY: Unibroue (my vote as well)
BEST NEW BEER: Brouwerij Bosteels Deus Brut des Flandres (this was titled "New Beer of the Year" on my ballot and I chose Michelob Ultra, not for the quality of the beer, heaven knows, but for its impact on the business)
BEST FESTIVAL: GABF (I didn't vote)
BREWMASTER OF THE YEAR: Garrett Oliver (my vote as well)
BEST RESTAURANT BEER LIST (TIE): Higgins Restaurant, Portland, OR & Monk's Cafe, Philadelphia, PA (I voted for Monks)
BEST BEER BOOK: The Brewmaster's Table by Garrett Oliver (but of course)
BEST INDUSTRY LEADER: John Hickenlooper (it was called "Industry Leader of the Year" and I voted Anheuser Busch, on the same basis as the above vote for Ultra)
BEST INDUSTRY STORY OF THE YEAR: Craft Beer in a Can (I voted for Extreme Beers)
BEST ALEHOUSE: Falling Rock Tap House (I didn't vote)

Those other beer writing guys.
If you like reading about craft beers, was this the week for you. In addition to Celebrator, we've seen arrival of the latest issues of Ale Street News (lots and lots of Lew Bryson), Mid-Atlantic Brewing News (good local stuff by Dale Van Wieren, George Hummel and Gary Monterosso) and American Brewer (two more by Bryson, who clearly is not drinking enough and working late into the night, which I think is against the rules).

Not to mention other guys writing about beer.
Crag LaBan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the restaurant critic I interview for Celebrator, has a very favorable review of Johnny Brenda's in this morning's paper (this is the review Curt Decker was talking about way back up there paragraphs ago). LaBan loved the octopus, by the way. For some reason, it's not up on the paper's website as of yet but sooner or later you'll find a link to it here.

Each LaBan weekly review is accompanied by an "Or Try These" listing of other venues in the same vein as the one being reviewed. A suggested alternative to Johnny Brenda's in this morning's paper is McMenamin’s Tavern in Mt. Airy, and who's gonna argue with that?

Making it an even better day for the beer community, right under the LaBan review appears this Food column by Rick Nichols which reviews N. 3rd, another of the many good dining and beer drinking spots in Northern Liberties. It's located right around the corner from Standard Tap and just down the street from The Abbaye.

Five beers, ten geeks.
A good Monday Night Tasting Session at the Fox this week past, with five interesting beers shared by the usual roster (Ruch, Mayberry, Meloney, O'Reilly, Tom & Lori, Rick & Jean, the Shoemaker's son, faithful bartender Corey and, of course, Your Humble Correspondent). We do it all for you.

Beers tasted were Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock (I'll say), Bar Harbor Brewing Company's Cadillac Mountain Stout, Sonora Brewing Company Old Saguaro Barleywine (who knew they did this kind of thing in Arizona?), Brasserie Jeanne d'Arc Ambre des Flanders and another wonder out of homebrewer Foley's never-ending basement cache, his unnamed Dubbel. I'd tell you more, but who can remember?

The Slow Pour.
Incubus Friday brought out all the Usual Suspects of course, even in the cold and icy rain. This year's batch is coming along right nicely and a brand-new batch of Renard d'Or golden ale shows promise of being the best yet. And John Giannopoulos was on hand with renderings of the new site in Royersford, which it appears at the moment will be called the Sly Fox Brewery...Looks like there will be no Monday Tasting at the Fox tomorrow, as most of the regulars seem bent on going to the Iron Hill Barley Wine mini-festival in West Chester. Can't say as I blame 'em, given what I've heard about Chris LaPierre's apparently remarkable Golden Hoppy Barley Wine. Can't say I won't be joining them either... Here's a fun thread in which pals of the Shill make plans to invade the city and drink copious amounts of beer on the last weekend in March. Picture, if you can, 30 guys trying to get into the back bar at Monk's, never mind getting a beer if they pull that off, on a Friday night around 7 pm. Such fun...In closing, let me just say to those who've complained that I haven't been posting as extensively as usual in recent weeks, let this entry be a reminder that you need to be very careful what you wish for.

[Posted 3:00 pm est]

15 February 04
Firkinteenth Fun & Frolic.
If it really is the journey rather than the destination that matters, as some deep thinkers have suggested, most trips to a Friday the Firkinteenth at the Grey Lodge Pub have had their moments for the Sly Fox traveling all-stars. All too many moments the night we were trapped in a "you can't get there from here" traffic jam in December 2002; life-threatening moments a year earlier when we were crammed, along with several barrels of beer bound for The Standard Tap, into a rolling deathtrap of a van from the long gone and unlamented New Road Brewhouse.

Our moment two nights ago was watching a great column of flame shooting some 100 feet into the sky due to a nearby gas main break as we rode up Roosevelt Boulevard (officially the nation's most dangerous road) in our rented van (with driver). Eerily beautiful, although horrible for those it affected.

We arrived early, around 5:30 pm, thanks to Dan (the Big One), who arranged the trip. Many of us, most vociferously Brian O'Reilly and I, had suggested that, given the new two-tiered system of pouring the cask-conditioned beers this time out, we would probably be better served arriving somewhat later. Dan turned out to be dead on right. A half hour before things were scheduled to start officially, the Grey Lodge was already packed.

Right inside the door we found Philadelphia's Terror Twins, Curt Decker and Brandon Greenwood of Nodding Head, whose Imperial IPA was fortuitously enough on tap right there where they were standing. I suppose you can argue having the best beer you're going to have all night as the first beer you have all night can make everything anticlimactic, but I'll quarrel with that, based on the pint that Curt graciously bought me. During an evening in which I missed several beers, as you shall see, I have to admit I found time to down two additional pints of the Nodding Head brew, including the last one drained from the keg. Brandon told me that it was the same as the IPA I'd sampled and enjoyed at GABF, but that he'd backed the alcohol off from 10% to 8%. Whatever he did, he should keep on doing it.

Scoats had taken out all the seats in the place aside from those at the bar, but it was still clear that this was going to be as crowded a Firkinteenth as we'd yet seen. Dan, Steve (the Other One) and The Other Dan had found an alcove opposite the bar and were working a system with Rick, Jeanne and Lori, who were at the bar. It is probably the best way to deal with these events: purchasing pitchers and sharing them. I'd already gotten an Iron Hill Old Ale, which lived up to the word-of-mouth praise which had drawn me to it, but finished that and joined in the pitcher sharing in time to try Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer conditioned with treacle (my second favorite of the night) and General Lafayette Scotch Ale, also quite good.

Manayunk Buster Brown Ale, one of Larry Horwitz's last at the brewpub, was a disappointment, overwhelmed with yeast (Larry told me later he figured the keg had been rolled about, roiling up the yeast) and I was steered away from John Harvard Heather Ale and Flying Fish Big Fish Barley Wine by various people. The latter was likely bad advice. I was first told the beer was overwhelmingly bitter, but several other people praised it highly later, one telling me it was even better than in the bottle. It was gone before I had a chance to find out. Ditto the Dogfish Head Aprihop, about which I also heard many good things.

Meanwhile, outside, a line was forming, reaching well down the block at one point. Scoats, in what I think was a terrible misstep by a guy who's made very few in turning the Firkinteenth into arguable the city's most attractive beer event, had made no provision for brewers and other beer industry types who'd helped both the evening's and earlier Firkinteenths be a success to pass through the ranks and be admitted without hassle. The result was that I saw too many familiar faces in the long line whenver I ventured out for air. I'm pretty certain at least one brewer left in disgust before ever reaching the door and that's a real shame.

With the line in mind, I was a bit hesitant when Booming Lew Bryson invited me to join him, wife Cathy, Cathy's gal pal, sweet and gentle Rich Pawlak (who's doing this again during The Book & The Cook in March) and a beer geek named Gary for a sojourn to Johnny Brenda's for dinner. Still, food would be nice, it was still an hour and a half before the second tier would be tapped and sitting down would be a good thing. Off we went.

Did I mention sitting down? It is to laugh. The Craig LaBan review in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer (which still isn't up on the web for some reason) had done what some feared and drawn the masses to even so unlikely a destination as the corner of Frankford and Girard. The place was packed and we spent most of the time standing. As it turned out, I was the last to be served and did managed a seat at the bar when my sandwich came. William Reed was at the Grey Lodge when we returned and smiling as happily as you'd expect of a man who's a partner in two of the city's hottest dining and drinking establishments.

Ah yes, getting back to the Grey Lodge. It was nearly 10 pm when we did so, an hour after the second pouring began. There was no line to speak of but the guys at the door seemed bent on turning us into one, despite the fact taht people were leaving as we stood there. We were, shall we say, firm in our protests and they soon threw up their arms and let us enter. The place was still packed, maybe more so than ever. I had that sinking feeling. The beer I'd wanted most to taste was Troegs Nugget Nectar Ale, the latest of their single-batch, cask-only brews. Too late. It had already kicked. I got a small sampler of Legacy Duke of Ale (which I'd been drinking at Johnny Brenda's) and made my way to the rear where there figured to be more room and air. Dan, Other Dan and all the rest were still in the same place as I wormed my way through; you gotta admire stamina.

Once in back, I fell in with bad companions. The good news is that beers were constantly pressed into my hands. The bad news is that I have little knowledge of what beers they were. One may well have been Yards George Jefferson (a blend of their General Washington Porter and Thomas Jefferson Ale), another was malty enough to have been either Weyerbacher Scotch Ale or Sly Fox Scottish Ale, most likely the former. None of them was Brewers Art Green Peppercorn Triple, which also had been high on my list of must-have beers. Ah well...

Lots of beer types were gathered there in the back: O'Reilly, Horwitz, Reed, Jon Zangwill (with wife Deirdre) and Tim Ohst of Flying Fish, several of the Iron Hill guys (see next item) and Jenna Snowden, a budding young beer writer who keeps claiming me as her mentor and role model (surely an unwise career move, that). Things were said, ideas exchanged and beers drunk. Then Big Dan came and told us it was time to go home.

Dueling Tastings.
As I had predicted, a majority of the usual attendees at the regular Monday Night Tasting held at Sly Fox bailed on it last Monday to instead travel out to West Chester for the special barleywine event at Iron Hill. Among the defectors was, well, me. But I redeemed myself later. Really. You'll see.

I pulled into town just a few minutes shy of 5 pm, when things were supposed to officially begin, and found free parking space right down the block, which was an excellent harbinger. As I walked by the front of the pub toward the door, I glanced in through the large window which looks out on High Street and saw Richard Ruch and O'Reilly sitting at the bar, small glasses lined up in front of them. Surely a harbinger as well, but of what?

I joined them and quickly amassed a quartet of glasses myself, the Barley Wine sampler, a great bargain at $8.00. They were Old Tom 2002 and Cask-Conditioned Old Tom 2002, both brewed by former West Chester brewer Brian Finn, now at the Wilmington location; Old Tom 2003, brewed by Bob Barrar, brewer at the Media location, and Golden Hoppy Barley Wine, created by Chris LaPierre, current West Chester brewer. The first three all clocked in at 10% abv, while Chris's version hit 9.6%. All were quite good and Golden Hoppy, the one several people had raved about to me, was as notable as promised. It is not in the traditional style, lighter in color and notably hoppy for what is usually a malt-dominated brew.

I got to chat with Chris a bit before the place began to get crowded and he told me the idea for this sort of mini-festival was something of a "why not?" decision and designed to ramp up the crowd a bit on traditionally slow Monday nights. That latter part worked, since we were soon joined by fellow Tasting refugees Rick Mayberry and Joe Meloney and Sly Fox regulars Bob and Barbie Riker and Steve (the Other One).

Ruch was disconsolate and befuddled early on--not only was the Victory Brewpub closed as it always is on Mondays, but his usual fallback location, The Drafting Room, Exton, was also shuttered for maintenance purposes--but he regained his equilibrium as familiar faces and several beers reaffirmed his briefly shaken worldview.

Another round of barleywine was out of the question, given the drive home, so I opted for a pint of cask-conditioned 90S Scotch Ale before setting out. I wanted to stop by at the Fox and see how things went there. Sure enough, our absence had shrunk the Tasting but not precluded it. Rick and Jeanne Smiledge, Tom Foley and Lori Limper and, of course, that Shoemaker fella, were gathered at a table, happily sipping away. I got the last bit of Lori's homebrewed Barley Wine (the quality of the beers she and Tom turn out is surely an argument in favor of their austere, television-deprived lifestyle) and left for home with this wonderful warm feeling because I had managed to both explore an appealing one-time option and yet honor my roots. Or maybe it was just all that barleywine...

Missing the pint.
Within minutes of my walking into the Fox for the Monday night visit detailed above, Rick Smiledge was tugging on my arm. "Victory is doing away with its pint glasses," he said, "and going to 14-ouncers. Wha's up with that?" Okay, of all the people in all the world, Rick might be the last ever to say "Wha's up" with anything, so I made that part up. In any case, I assured him I'd look into it.

Rick and Jeanne said that there was a notice pasted at Victory about the downsizing which attributed it to the rising cost of ingredients for brewing and it was their understanding that Victory was selling off all its old pint glasses. My intention was to take a ride out there yesterday and see for myself, but the aftermath of Friday the Firkinteenth rendered me non compos mentus, if you know what I mean. Wisely, I'd already dispatched an email about the change to Bill Covaleski and received an official answer earlier in the week:

Ron and I are not fans of the chunky pint glass and it rather invaded our service line up by way of the Sunday and Tuesday printed pint glass promos. It got worse as in an effort to speed service bartenders stopped asking 'large or small' and just filled the one-size-fits-all pint. We just don't feel that a pint glass is the best glass for all of our beers. So we had to kill the beast. No more pints to fill but we will continue to develop printed ones that will sell here for $1.50 to keep the collectors happy.
He also noted what looks to be an attractive new offering at the pub:
Sundays and Tuesdays we'll feature '8 Quarter Order' which permits you to sample many of our beers by lowering the cost of the small (12 oz. pour) to $2 for our standard gravity beers (ie: higher price for Old Horizontal, Storm King and Golden Monkey). 8 Quarter Order is for all open hours Tues. and Sunday.
I don't know if that clears anything up, but it's all I got. I will say, from my standpoint, if such a change is necessitated by rising costs, I'd prefer the Victory option of a slightly smaller glass to a higher price per pint, so long as the change is not something being slipped by customers, but rather made perfectly clear and done out in the open. Victory met that criterion.

I'll still go see for myself, of course, first chance I get, quaffing down as many beers as I can in as many glasses as I can in order to test this new policy. There were 17 beers on tap last time I was at Victory, so it may take a while. Remember, as I keep saying, I do it all for you.

Dr. Bill on Dr. Bill.
Okay, that sounds a bit like the title of a bad gay porno flick about a guy with a multiple personality disorder, but we all know this isn't that kind of site, right? What it actually is, is this interview at RateBeer.com in which Bill ("Dr. Bill") Sysak, who has graced this space several times in the role of the beer-geek-of-beer-geeks, tells the story of his romance with our favorite beverage. I found it right interesting and figured some of you might as well.

If you do take the time to read it, you'll find that he names Heavyweight and McKenzie among his favorite American breweries and has Monk's listed sixth among his favorite U.S. pubs. I know he gets beers shipped to him from all over the country and I've sent him several Heavyweight beers myself, but the only McKenzie brew I shipped west is still in transit. I was also under the impression that he'd never been to Philadelphia, much less Monk's. So I asked him about those things and got this response:

I was at Monks in the summers of '99 and '00, both sessions way too short both about 3 hours. I'm dying to get back there and get serious.

McKenzie Brew House- never been there, but I've tasted everything they have brought to the GABF and I've had bottles of the Saison, Trappist Pale, and what DaveR [Dave Rodriquez, I'd guess] called an Abbaye 11 which I still have. I believe I may have had the Wit in an unmarked bottle before also.

The Slow Pour.
Warning, this is not a Shill-free zone...Come next Sunday, Bill Covaleski will be brewing beer, not in Downingtown, but in Vienna, Austria. Say what? You can find out what's going on right here...When something happens involving Victory, of course, we can count on The Shill to go into action. Here is his effort to convince some of his BA pals that they need to travel to Europe with him in April to help consume the results of Covaleski's adventure...Meanwhile, as I noted in the last LDO, there was a photographer from Philadelphia Weekly on the premises when I visited Johnny Brenda's a week ago yesterday. She took a photo of my traveling companions, Pinky & The Shill, which appears with this review in this past week's issue. Scary, innit? Thankfully, it doesn't appear to have hurt JB's business...

This piece by Bryson is very, very good, one of his best. And, as long as I'm acting as his press agent, Lew's article on Nodding Head and Brandon Greenwood in the current Ale Street News is also top notch...Speaking of good things, the Drafting Room website (which you can check out on the link which appears in the "Dueling Tastings" section above) has greatly improved. Since I spent a lot of time bitching about it to Patrick Mullen in the past, I thought I should say that...

This week's Beer Geek Alert: "Randall the Enamel Animal." Here's a clue: Sam.

[Posted 3:40 pm est]

22 February 04
Randall the Enamel Animal--Revealed!
To give credit where credit is due (an outdated notion, I know, but I cling to the old ways), I was first alerted to this latest "Sam Thing" by none other than Lew Bryson.

Like me, Lew wasn't at RFD Washington the night it happened (during the recent hops-happy tour of Philadelphia, the nation's capitol and Wilmington, Delaware by a band of marauding West Coast brewers as written about here last month) but he was told about it by someone who was and had the story confirmed by Dogfish Head's irrepressible Sam Calagione during the Groundhog's Day celebration at The Grey Lodge Pub.

Hey, I can talk to Sam too (so far; I understand Ashcroft is thinking of putting him on the Banned List) and I did. This is his story, as he lived it and as he tells it:

THE STRANGE BUT TRUE STORY OF
RANDALL THE ENAMEL ANIMAL

Randall, a Dogfish invention, is an organoleptic hop transducer module. A three-foot-long, stainless steel cylinder-filter packed with a half a pound of whole leaf hops that we affix to the beer line leaving a keg of 90 minute. The alcohol in the 90 minute strips the oils off the hops on the way to the tap faucet inducing the most pungent and glorious fresh hop experience known to man.

We unveiled Randall at the East Coast vs. West Coast lupulin-slam at RFD in Washington, DC. A Randallized keg of 120 Minute IPA won the event for the East Coast.

The West Coast guys were duly impressed with Randall's hoppifying potential and intend to install them in their pubs to continue preaching the word of the glory of the hop. Randall is great for educated beer lovers on the taste touch and smell of whole-leaf hops. RFD and Brickskeller will be installing Randall's as well. What we have here is a full-scale Randall Revolution and it hits the Big Apple on March 3. Randall hits the Windy City on March 5.

Sam didn't tell me where in New York or Chicago but he did tantalize with hints of upcoming local appearances:
I may bring Randall along with me to [a yet-unscheduled Friday Night Tasting in March at The Beer Yard] and he'll definitely be joining me at the Michael Jackson Saturday Tutored Tasting at the University of Pennsylvania Museum during Book and the Cook 2004, also in March]. I'm building Randalls for a couple of West Coast beer bars in addition to the ones on the East Coast. We're going full-on-Linux-open-source-mode on this. We will make no profits and take no patent on Randall the Enamel Animal. We just want to see beer savvy places install them and further preach the word of the hop.
If you're wondering, as I was, what in the hell "organoleptic" means, the dictionary says "relating to perception by a sensory organ." As for "lupulin," here's the official definition: "minute yellowish-brown hairs obtained from the strobili of the hop plant, formerly used in medicine as a sedative." Sounds kinda icky, don't it?

But isn't it neat that Sam can write in foreign languages?

Okay, you really want to see this thing, right? No sweat. I got a photo:

Speaking of photographs...
I have no explanation for this one. I have no understanding of what this one is all about. But it does have a certain charm, ya know? And it was sent to me twice, once by my underground operative and deadly ambassador known only as Pinky, and once, "by accident" (likely story), by the subject hisownself. So I'm posting it, though I have nothing to say about it. Well, maybe one thing to say: wouldn't this make a lot more sense if that were a bottle from Victory Brewing Company?

And speaking of hisownself...
The Shill, pictured above in a situation which would be embarrassing to almost anyone else, sent out an email yesterday linking to a 2000 story by Greg Glaser in Modern Brewery Age, entitled "The late, great Ballantine.(traditional American ale)". It conjured up memories of how I first began to learn about beer as a serious beverage and I wrote him back with that story. I thought it might be interesting to some of you as well, so here it is, slightly edited:

Long ago and far away, I was working for what is now Cigna as the editor of two magazines, one for the employees and one for agents and independent insurance agents. What made this job so great was that I got to write, not once, but twice, about whichever major corporation was the subject of the corporate advertising program that month ("We Insure...").

One month, it was Ballantine.

I did my stories (did them very well, if I may say so myself). And when I got home to my 21st street apartment one evening, I found two, count 'em two, cases of Ballantine on the doorstep.

But when I carried them inside, they were not the expected Ballantine (make the three ring sign...) beer. They were Ballantine IPA.

I opened a bottle and gave it a try.

Acckk! What the hell was this? Bitter. Quinine flavor. Not beer.

Acckk!

But there were 47 bottles left. And I was young and underpaid.

So I drank them.

And somewhere in there, I began to understand....

The Slow Pour.
That's it. I got nuttin' more. Play among yourselves.

[Posted 11:00 am est]

29 February 04
Some days, the sun don't shine...
...and while it might look bright and sunny outside, today will be a dark and dismal one for those who look forward to a long and engrossing LDO posting each Sunday (anybody?). It's Celebrator Deadline Day (or, more likely, two days after Celebrator Deadline Day--nobody tells me nuttin') and I needs must write "Atlantic Ale Trail."

You may ask, "Why ever did you wait until the last minute, Mr. Curtin, sir?" Hey, the Muse is a fickle mistress. Plus, there was all that basketball yesterday (see below). The point is, things are short and simple today. Live with it. Or, employing the "any port in a storm" theory, you could always surf over and see if anything's Buzzing with the Big Cachinnator.

I should make you look that up, but I'm feeling kind, so here's the definition.

Nugget Nectar: coming soon to a Drafting Room near you.
Well, near me, at least. General Manager and beer guy Patrick Mullen informs me that a cask of Troegs Nugget Nectar Ale will go on the handpump at Drafting Room Exton some time this week, as soon as the current cask of Troegs Oatmeal Stout kicks. He also says that he has high hopes of getting another keg or two of the draft version.

As I did here last week, I commended Patrick on the much improved Drafting Room website and what I've seen to be a refocusing and reinvigoration of the emphasis on good craft beers. He agreed that things had perhaps gone a bit awry for a while there and assured me that he was on the case, noting his "Style of the Month" program as evidence. There's apparently an email sign-up you can do on the premises to get info about that and upcoming beers and he further promises to send me some details on all that.

I'll likely post that information as a news item at The Beer Yard site this coming week, so keep an eye out (I'll be sure to add a link from here to that story next week as well).

On Monday, our best beer was a cider.
I've had this bottle of Cider Etienne Dupont 2000 in my refrigerator for over a year now, possibly even as long as two years, and finally broke it out for the Monday Tasting at Sly Fox this week. It turned out to be fantastic. How fantastic? Within minutes of opening the bottle, a bunch of us were figuring out how many cases to buy.

The Domain Dupont website linked above suggests that bottles should have been stored upright and the cider consumed by the end of last year. This particular bottle was on its side most of the time and we are, well, past the cutoff date. All I can say is, if this bottle was somehow ruined by my treatment, I can't wait to try one that hasn't been. I'm not really a cider guy, but Etienne Dupont is one of the best beverages to delight this old palate in a long time.

What else was poured Monday? Embarrassingly, I don't really remember. I was distracted in part because my mind was boggled by the fact that the Ever-Present Karl was missing (what's up that?) and mostly because a lot of new and different people were on hand and I wandered around a bit to chat with them. They included Bernie Van Order, ace brewer at Virginia's Old Dominion and star of this video, who was in town to head off to New England and a week of skiing with Brian O'Reilly. Brewers, man, they got the life.

The Slow Pour.
I keep meaning to get up to Zieglerville and check out the new Ortino's Northside, which The Big One, The Other One and assorted Pottstown area denizens have been assuring me is even more impressive in its beer list than the smaller and more casual Ortino's Restaurant & Takeout down the road in Schwenksville. Until I finally make the trip, this review in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer Montgomery County edition will have to do...

Tom Peters and Fergus Carey strike again. You can read all about it here, where else? And here's a Fergie profile, also from today's Inquirer...Covaleski's back but ain't talking about the Vienna trip on the (fair enough) grounds that, since Don (Joe Sixpack) Russell paid his own way to accompany him to Austria and watch him brew HopDevil, the story rightly belongs to Russell. Bill does promise that his adventure will result in a Vienna Lager on tap at Victory somewhere down the line. Good enough for me. If you're new here and don't know what I'm talking about, here's the official Victory account of what the trip was supposed to be all about...

Okay, time to 'fess up. One major reason I'm still struggling with my deadline is that college basketball fans in the Philadelphia area, of whom I am one, had one of those days to remember yesterday. Three fantastic games featuring local teams were on the tube from noon to roughly 10 pm, with a break of only a couple of hours around dinner time. They were ultimately decided by a total of six points and each one went down the very last second. What you got was more drama and tension and pure excitement served up than you could find in a month's worth of NBA games.

First, #2 St. Joseph's escaped with their now-certain and miraculous undefeated season intact in a 57-55 win at Rhode Island. Then, unranked and struggling Villanova went down in overtime, 75-74, to #8 Connecticut when the Huskies' Emeka Okafor, the nation's leading shotblocker, did just that to the potential winning basket as the buzzer sounded. Finally, last night, the Villanova women, who upset #1 Connecticut in the Big East championships in New York last year and ended their 70-game winning streak, took on the (still) #1 Huskies at home and did it again, 59-56. What a day for local hoops!

[Posted 12:30 pm est]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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