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4 January 04
Goodbye, Larry. Hello, Larry. How we gonna miss you if you don't go away?
I can only assume that, deprived of these weekly words of wisdom over the holidays, the loyal readership spent its days keeping up with things by reading stories like this one I posted at the Beer Yard website. Larry Horwitz has left Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant and will be brewing at Iron Hill North Wales, which opens next month. Despite the smart ass headline above, the fact that Larry's staying local is great news, 'cause he's one of the good guys.

Before he left Main Street, though, Horwitz had him some fun. "I made Stein Beer today," he told me on December 23, "We made a fire, plunged rocks into wort and steamed it. Nobody got hurt and the beer should be really good. It's a Vienna-style lager and should sit at least 6 weeks." And then he sent along this photo to prove it.

You can find a lot more details on the brewing in this Joe Sixpack column. Don Russell was on the scene and that's him being cautious and curious at right in the photo, with his photographer to his right and Bob Davis (see next item) in the red shirt and blue cap.

As you see in both my Beer Yard story and the Sixpack column, Larry's left several beers behind for the next Manayunk brewer to finish up. Sixpack reports that the barleywine was in fact brewed by Jim Brennan, the previous brewer, something I wasn't told. I'll check into that just 'cause, you know, I can.

There will be two new brewers on Manayunk's Main Street.
That Horwitz, what a guy. On his way out the door, he also helped his pals up at the other end of Main Street at the Red Bell Brewpub come up with their first brewer ever, putting them in touch with the aforementioned Bob Davis, formerly at Weyerbacher. Davis will be on the case any day now, maybe already is.

Did I really say "first brewer ever"? You bet. Not a drop of wort has ever been produced at the location, which has served up Red Bell Philadelphia Lager and Red Bell Light Lager brewed at F.X. Matt Brewery in New York, which produces the bottled versions of those beers under contract.

Somewhere, you just know, a tear of pride must be rolling down Jim Bell's cheek. He always promised us, not to mention all those gullible financial writers and investors, that this day would come. The only question was which one of the chain of Red Bell pubs would open first. Center City? Atlantic City? State College? Any number of Undisclosed Locations (hey, Dick Cheney has to drink somewhere)? Don't ya just miss him terribly?

Speaking of the Beer Yard website...
...which I was doing up top there, it has a new look and lots of new functionality as of this morning. Web guru Pete Ruckelshaus has been tinkering with this baby for months now and the result is that the best internet site around for news about Philadelphia events and activities, not to mention beer news and, oh yeah, actual beers (even if I do say so myself) is better and more fun than ever.

I haven't been able to get into the administrative area and play around enough to check out everything. Indeed, not everything is fully in place as yet (notably the "New Arrivals" list on the home page as of this writing) and some of the changes are not readily evident on first look. But things work differently, and more efficiently, in a lot of areas and the Big New Feature is that visitors who create a site profile will be able to log in when they chose and do things like rate beers and sign up for a "notify me when comes in" feature. That will get them an automatic email when an out-of-stock or new beer arrives. Pete says users who are already registered will receive a password via email shortly and be able to start right away.

As I said, it's not quite finished and surely will have a couple of early glitches, but hie yourself right over there now and take a gander if you didn't do so back in the first paragraph. Just click here.

Walloping a visitor from the West.
Don Scheidt (writer of the "Puget Sounds" column in Celebrator Beer News) and his wife were in town the Saturday after Christmas and I met them and a pair of friends out at Victory, where we were lucky enough to catch one of the elusive kegs of Hop Wallop on the taps.

This second batch is, dare I say it, slightly different from the first, and even more quaffable. They all had a pint, I had two and then the keg was kicked before we could have more. C'est le wallop.

Not to worry, though, the invaluable Joe Meloney stopped at the pub Tuesday night on a passing whim (i.e., he didn't just pass by) and found cases on sale, only 15 left. He quickly bought himself one and me one. What a guy.

An email from Bill Covaleski informs me that cases will go to distributors this week (Wednesday in Philadelphia) and be in stores by week's end. Were I inclined to go looking for more (and considering I've promised one sixpack to Brian O'Reilly and another to my son in Colorado and will put a few in a shipment I'm sending out to the ineffable Dr. Bill in California, I just might be), I'd call around now and see if I could find a retailer whose stock is not already spoken for.

Expansion at Selin's Grove Brewing.
The latest newsletter from Steve Leason and Heather McNabb at Selinís Grove Brewing was forwarded to me by Richard Ruch, who's on the road in California, spreading joy and Hop Wallop among fellow BeerAdvocates. They report that this year they will

...move the brewery 50 feet to the east and upgrade from a 3 to a (still tiny) 7 barrel system.

One not so obvious treat that you will get to experience are more gutsy beers as we start to think of our 3 barrel as a test kitchen for future S.G.B. beers....

Dunkle Weizen, Midnight Chocolate Stout, St. Fillinís Barleywine ale and Solstice Dubbel will continue to grace our taps into January. Razz Merry Ale, made with Raspberries from the Northwest will be ready for sampling by early January, sorry for the delay!...

There's lots more and you can email Steve and Heather to see if they'll add you to their list. I'm gonna...and I really, really gots to get me up to Selinsgrove (yeah, that's how it's spelled) sometime soon.

Ruch exposed.
I don't want to risk turning this into an All-Ruch-All-The-Time column, which would surely be reason to consider shutting down and going off to seek honest work rather than live with the shame, but last time I saw Richard, he was in a state of high dungeon (as opposed to the state of California, where he'll be until tomorrow) about my story in December recounting his habit of arriving at the Victory parking lot well ahead of the pub's opening time and sitting in his car staring longingly at the door. Tweren't so, he sputtered.

To tell the truth, I was kinda inclined to go along with his protests and print a retraction today. After all, I had only rumors to back up the story. What the hell...it's a new year; toss the poor guy a bone.

But then the following email arrived, sent me by a BeerAdvocate with a conscience who, to protect his identity, I'll merely call "Davo."

I can vouch for the fact that Rich gets to Victory's parking lot and waits for the place to open. He has gotten upset with me in the past because I usually arrive exactly when the doors open. I think Joe can back me up on this.
In order to also protect "Joe's" real identity...well, damn, that isn't actually possible, now is it?

The story stands. Welcome home, Richard.

First Kennett Square "connoisseur beer" confirmed.
With a BeerAdvocate posting here, Kennett Brewfest's Jeff Norman reveals that Scott "The Dude" Morrison of McKenzie Brew House has found a way to get free help by promising that his newest beer will debut at the Kennett event this September.

By the way, I saw Jeff at Iron Hill, West Chester recently and he told me there will likely be some changes at Kennett in 2004, including possibly no longer being part of the annual Mushroom Festival and being held later in the month. I'll let you know when and if I find out more.

The Slow Pour.
I finally had a bottle of Troegs Mad Elf on New Year's Eve, courtesy of Steve (The Other One), with whom I traded a whole buncha lotta beer for it. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and definitely did. One of the best holiday ales of the year...So here's what I did New Year's Day. Monday Taster and posse initiate Rick Mayberry invited me to an open house at his place. I wrote all morning then set out for a couple of hours of "traditional fare and good beer." Trouble is, the MapQuest directions I got kept leading me to a right turn which didn't exist, no matter how hard I searched. Frustration. But being a cool modern high-tech guy, I'd loaded Mayberry's telephone number onto my cell phone for just such an occasion. What I hadn't done was unplug the phone from its charger atop my desk and bring it with me. Arrrghhh. So what I did New Year's Day was drive around a lot and then go home. Such fun...

Speaking of writing, I finished up my latest "Atlantic Ale Trail" (in which I follow the lead of Lew "The Truth Shall Set Ye Free" Bryson and reveal something you'll find difficult to believe) and sent it off yesterday, only a day behind deadline, a new record. A second piece, an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer Restaurant Critic Craig LaBan, who's been doing a lot of writing about good beer of late, will go into the emails on the morrow...

Here's an unlikely update. Yep, that was our very own Karl Shoemaker driving around and around Dan (The Big One)'s house two Sundays ago, lost and forlorn, as reported in my final December entry ( see December Archive). He may have missed the party but, just as I surmised, he found himself some beer, ending up at Ortlieb's. I still find it hard to believe he could be that close to free food and beer and not find it...Incubus Friday at Sly Fox drew most of the usual suspects, despite the holidays. This second tasting of the new batch suggests that it's going to age even more gracefully and tastefully than did last year's. That's a good thing...

Secret beer geek clue of the week: Black Hole.

[Posted 2:00 pm est]

11 January 04
Maybe we ought to just move these tasting sessions to Ohio and get it over with.
Another excellent tasting session at Sly Fox Brewhouse on Monday past. Rick and Jeanne Smiledge, who pop over to Cleveland as casually as Richard Ruch drops by Victory Brewing Company, if not quite as frequently, contributed a growler of Amarillo IPA from Buckeye Brewing Company. As has been the case with every single growler from Buckeye we've tasted, this one blew us away. The Amarillo hops gave the beer a wonderful spicy flavor and great nose but did not add nearly as much bitterness as most big hops tend to. The proof lies in the fact that home brewer extraordinaire Tom Foley, who is not at all a hops fan and who generally avoids IPAs, was seen furtively pouring himself a second glass.

To be truly accurate, I should note that, while the Smiledges were responsible for its being there, the Buckeye IPA was really the contribution of Brian O'Reilly, since it was sent east to him as a gift in return for Sly Fox beers he'd sent to Ohio. But give peripatetic Rick and Jeanne, who followed up their Ohio trip with a quickie out to San Francisco, solo credit for the Benchmark Old Ale from Oregon's MacTarnahan's Brewing (Portland Brewing), a 9.9% abv beauty which was also well-received.

In another high spot, we all had our first tastes of the new Flying Fish Big Fish Barleywine and were duly impressed. This one was my contribution, O'Reilly finally having given me the bottle that he was to pass along. Word is that a cask of "specially hopped" Big Fish will be on the bar at Friday the Firkinteenth at the Grey Lodge next month.

I can't recall all the other beers we tried, but there was (contributed by Foley, I think) a growler of Baltic Porter from Lancaster Brewing which, while not really true to style, was very pleasant drinking.

The big discussion of the evening was whether or not to warn Ruch, who was not present, being instead on a plane winging his way back from bothering Californians, that there would be no tasting tomorrow night because the Fox is closed for the staff Christmas party. The quick consensus, as you might suspect, was to not tell him because we are, let's admit it, a cruel species which loves to prey on the weak and old. But the ever-astute Joe Meloney noted that Richard was likely to have beer with him in order to be sure we'd let him back in and was just vindictive enough to drink it all himself if we left him sitting embarrassed in front of a locked door. Good thinking that.

Somewhere, across the sea...
Monday night marked the last appearance, for a while, of Mike Murphy, whose threat to go back to Italy finally became reality on Thursday. On his way out the door, he bought the bottling line which Sly Fox had acquired when it bought the defunct Hoster Brewery equipment last January. O'Reilly intends to bottle only in the 750 ml size and Sly Fox subsequently bought a 16-valve, Prospero bottling line from Dogfish Head toward that end.

As I noted last month, Mike tried to acquire the former Valhalla equipment in Pittsburgh but was outbid. What it now appears I forgot to report the following week (my bad) was that he found a company in Canada which has an affiliate in Italy and they are putting together a 20-barrel system for him. With the bottling line now added, it appears that what happens at Starbess (Rome Brewery) will be something we'll keep an eye on in 2004. A road trip may be in order.

"Ninety percent of it I'll spend on wine, women and song. The other ten percent I'll probably waste."
That was the response of Tug McGraw, the great relief pitcher who went to the World Series with both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies during a 19-year career, when asked what he'd do with the millions from his first big contract. It was exactly what anyone who knew him expected from McGraw, a brash, funny and slighty self-depreciating response.

McGraw died last Monday at the age of 59, of brain cancer, which he'd been fighting for nine months and appeared, for a brief moment at least, to have beaten. He threw the most famous pitch in Philadelphia baseball history, striking out Willie Wilson of Kansas City in the ninth inning of game six of the 1980 Series to win the city's only baseball championship ever. The photo at the right (taken by George Reynolds of the Philadelphia Daily News) shows him leaping off the mound in celebration at that historic moment.

You can read the local memories and retrospectives here, here, here, here and here to get some idea of what Tug McGraw meant to this city and its sports fans.

Tug was famous for many of the things he said, most notably "You Gotta Believe," the slogan he coined with the 1973 "Miracle" Mets and which he brought with him to victory-starved Philadelphia. My favorite, and the most poignant, given his untimely demise, was this:

I front-loaded my life, just like I did my contracts.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
So there we were, O'Reilly and I, talking on the phone when he says something like "I was at Kimberton Whole Foods yesterday and I spilled coriander all over the floor..." Whoa there! says I, and not because I'm startled that Brian was clumsy. Been there, seen that. But Kimberton Whole Foods? Who knew?

Sure enough, yesterday morning I drove a quarter mile or so past Sly Fox (the car tried to turn in, but I held firm on the wheel), bore right and shortly found myself in the center of Kimberton, a village I haven't visited in nearly two decades. And there indeed was Kimberton Whole Foods, which turned out to be not only a natural and organic foods outlet, but a really good one, aisles and aisles of groceries and meats, sauces and pastas and cheeses, and even a very nice small cafe.

Wha's up? Well, I'm not a health nut, but of late I've been adjusting my diet and eating habits. For one thing, I just acquired, courtesy of my daughter and son-in-law at Christmas, a slow cooker to allow me to prepare somewhat more healthy versions of my normal diet. This trip marked the beginning of phase two, a process that I call (having chosen names out of the phonebook at random) The Tom Baker & Peggy Zwerver Philosophical Readjustment Regime. Nothing totally radical, mind you (hell, I just had my traditional sausage and omelet for Sunday breakfast), merely a tweaking of how I eat.

I went in to see if I could get a few spices for the small chicken which is currently cooking away, slowly, in the kitchen. I walked out $50 lighter carrying things like Vegetarian Pad Thai, Bombay Curry Sauce, Roast Garlic Couscous and one of my favorite pre-dinner treats, Hummus.

And now I feel so pure, I do, I do, almost like I was a serious nutritional ...um... Heavyweight.

The Slow Pour.
Attention Hop Wallop freaks (you know who you are): a keg of Victory's most elusive brew will be tapped right smack in the middle of the Main Line Tuesday night. Find out where right here...And this story which I put up at the Beer Yard website on Friday, based upon the fine work of this guy, affirms the plans at Stoudt's Brewing to move all bottling in-house in 2004, explains what "Big B" is and reveals the fate of the rumored Stoudt barleywine. Go forth and read..."This guy" also buzzed forth with his Best (& Worst) of 2003 at his site, making it sort of a "must visit" this week. Some interesting choices there. Make note in particular of his remarks about Inquirer Food Columnist Craig LaBan; I have an interview with LaBan coming up in the next Celebrator Beer News. Read both and see what you think...

Jeff Norman follows up on my comments about the Kennett Brewfest last week with this additional information: Still not sure on the fest date but it looks like if it is on the date of the Mushroom Festival, Saturday September 11, it will be at a new location in town....Karl Shoemaker, our Beer-Geek-in-Training, is coming on strong in his effort to surpass Richard Ruch as the most amusing and confusing character to wander through these chronicles. Karl, you will recall, was unable to find a beer-tasting party at the domicile of Dan (The Big One) even though he was actually parked in the driveway. Turns out he also failed, as did I, to find the party thrown by Rick Mayberry on New Year's Day. But he missed it by 48 hours, setting out on his vain search two days late, on last Saturday. You know, I couldn't make these guys up...

[Posted 1:00 pm est]

18 January 04
A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
There will be an historically brief LDO posted today as our entire creative staff has chosen to embrace this intriguing new concept: making a damned living! This could be a major breakthrough. Or maybe not.

Very little happened during the week past in any case, aside from the quite successful and eminently enjoyable Robbie Burns Birthday Bash at Sly Fox on Friday night. The quick abbreviated version: Brian O'Reilly's Jack Daniels Cask-Aged Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale was a mind-blowing, vanilla-tinged bit of perfection, possibly the best beer he's brewed yet. Well, except for maybe the regular Cask-Aged Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale, which was equally spectacular and lent itself more readily to repeat consumption. Wonderful brews.

Brian's parents were in town and he had his mother read a Burns poem just so he could get to drink the dram of scotch she earned in reward. Some guys just can't handle the spotlight, ya know?

Come next Sunday, hustle back here for a further report on all that (including maybe a photo or two), as well as other beer related adventures.

[Posted 1:00 pm est]

25 January 04
An afternoon at Heavyweight.
This is what it says on the label of Heavyweight Brewing's Baltus O.V.S.

This beer draws inspiration from England with the use of pale malt, Germany with a healthy addition of wheat malt and Belgium with some raw sugar for deeper complexity. A small amount of American dark malt provides the color and a classic European ale yeast combines old world and new world into what can only be called "Our Very Special" ale.
Any wonder all the beer geeks love Tom Baker? Okay, as Lew Bryson pointed out somewhere that I'd link to if I remembered where it was, Tom does slip right by most of those guys the fact that hops are not exactly a key element in his beers (read the label again), but the heart of a true homebrewer--and a bit of a poet--beats inside the brewer who could design a brew like this one (said because there's a pint of Baltus on my desk at this very minute, inspiring me). I joke and make fun of homebrewers as a genus a good portion of the time, influenced in no small part by the professional brewers who detest the species, or at least that portion of it who comes into their pubs and breweries and offers to show them how to "fix" their beers (and, yeah, a lot of those same pros started out as homebrewers themselves), but the very heart of this industry, or the craft side of it, is the person who truly loves beer and who knows and understands how great beers come to be.

Okay, let me catch my breath after having just put together a couple of the longest uninterrupted sentences in the history of the worldwide web--beautiful ones nonetheless--and I'll explain what this is all about.

I finally go up to Heavyweight yesterday after more than a few abortive efforts, at least one of which was chronicled here a couple of months back and which involved four new tires I'm still paying off. I went in the company of Rick Mayberry, Tom Foley and Steve (the Other One) Rubeo. We spent a goodly portion of the afternoon driving around New Jersey somewhat but not completely lost, and my trio of companions used much of that time disparaging my character and skills, to their great amusement. Rather than concentrating on that or getting even by using my bully pulpit to expose their own multiple foibles, I've decided to take the high road. This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Mayberry, a U.S. Special Forces vet, pointed out that he knows 14 different ways to kill me using only his pinky.

We started off the day with lunch at the Original Basil T's, the respected brewpub and Italian restaurant in Red Bank, about 15 minutes north of Heavyweight's location in Ocean County. Good place, fine food and tasty beers is the quick summation. I had two pints of the current seasonal, ESB, with my chicken and broccoli rabe sandwich. Very nice, if served a bit too cold. Even better, based on only a quick sip, was Maxwell's Dry Stout, which won GABF Gold in 2002. As luck would have it, Basil T brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler was at the Heavyweight Open House so I had a chance to tell her how we'd enjoyed her work.

We went to Basil T's, by the way, on the suggestion of Richard Ruch, who was supposed to meet us there, was in fact supposed to drive Mayberry up. Richard, it turned out, was just too terribly ill in the morning to even think about making the trip and backed out at the last moment, leaving it to us to rescue Mayberry from a long, lonely day. We were all, of course, more than delighted that, by some miracle, Richard recovered just in time to make it to Victory a little later in the day. I know I saw Mayberry's pinky twitch in pure joy when he found out.

The purpose of the Open House was to debut the 2004 Biere D'Art and Cinderbock Lager; my purpose was to sample both to great excess and also acquire some of each to bring back to my humble abode to await tonight's promised snowstorm. This was partially accomplished: Biere d'Art had just been bottled two days before and was available for sale (with the strong suggestion that the buyer wait at least two weeks before opening). This year's bottles are amber rather than the original green and capped rather than cork-finished, but bear the same label. Labels will change each year for this annual release in the future, always featuring a painting by Canadian artist Christine Haley. The beer? Exactly the same recipe as the first time around, said Tom, with the exception of a bit more pepper (noticeably) added. That means, of course, it's one of the great farmhouse ales you'll ever experience. A shout-out to all those who helped browbeat Tom into making this one an annual part of the Heavyweight lineup rather than just a one-shot.

Cinderbock Lager, unfortunately, has not yet been bottled so I have to make do with copious pints from the taps, mostly poured by good guy Mark Haynie, who has one of the world's more intrigue professions (locksmith at an Atlantic City casino) and who gives a lot of his time as a volunteer at Heavyweight. I cannot fathom, by the by, that I did not particularly like Cinderbock the first time I tasted it and did not fully understand its subtle complexity until it was served with smoked Tilapia, together with Unibroue Raftman at a Michael Jackson The Book & The Cook Dinner at the University of Pennsylvania Museum a couple of years ago.

There was good food as well as good beer, including an irresistible pasta salad, cheese tray and, of course, the great roast beef being sliced at a table in the back...oh wait, scratch that last one. Lots of familiar faces too, including Dave Rodriguez, who showed up late but all excited about getting the sixpack of Victory Hop Wallop that Ruch has promised him. As you'd expect, he was also emotionally crushed when learning of Richard's serious illness.

As far as I could tell, everyone left with a case or more of beer, making the day a nice one for the Heavyweight ledger book as well. And I open negotiations with Peggy Zwerver, the other half of the Heavyweight team, for the horseshoe match that she and a partner of her choice owe to me and Steve (the Other One), as a result of her defiant challenge a few months back after we seriously whacked her and every partner she could find on the shuffleboard tables at McKenzie Brew House. All we need is a venue (oh, and if we lose, it will be Steve's fault...trust me).

And then we left, so that Mayberry could get home and take his mother-in-law out to dinner. Not that I'd ever joke about that. No, sir. Not me. Put down that pinky.

Robbie Burns aftermath.
I said I'd follow up on last week's brief report about Robbie Burns Night at Sly Fox today, but it turns out there's not much to be said. The best news, aside from the spectacular beer, is that the evening was another smash success from the pub's viewpoint and by now is pretty firmly established as one of the high spots of the winter beer event calendar.

The Burns Bash is also building a reputation, I suspect, for its "morning after" effects. I don't think I've talked to anyone yet who was there who hasn't almost immediately brought up the topic. Personally, while I didn't have a headache or any other discomfort, I found that my brain didn't really get functioning on all cylinders that day until late in the afternoon and not all that well even then.

Pause for smart-ass remarks. Smoke 'em if ya got 'em.

As I reported here earlier this week, Sly Fox has put in a new draft system and one of the benefits is that the combining of the two original tap towers in a single one at the center of the bar frees up space for a handpump and cask beer program at the current location some time in the future once the new brewery and pub is up and running. If that means more beers like the Jack Daniels Cask-Aged Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale more often, some of us may have to write off several Saturdays each year.

With the new draft system, we are told that the occasional but famous "O'Reilly pour" will be no more since the gas lines will be properly balanced. Gee, I'll miss that. Not.

Kennett Brewfest is on its own.
Here's a further update from Jeffrey Norman about the when and where of the Kennett Brewfest this year:

We have voted as a committee and will be moving our event off the Mushroom Festival weekend. Our board felt that moving the event out of the center of town diminishes our mission as a State funded Main Street Association... The brewfest has the blessing of Borough Council to move to a different Saturday. We have chosen either Sept 18 or Oct 9...We might do something with the restaurants instead of our own catering. I think it will still have that cool small downtown streetfest vibe even w/o the Mushroom Fest.
Jeff and his committee want to set the final date as soon as possible and also want to avoid any conflicts with other beer events. As far as they know, the two possible dates are "clean." Anybody know any different?

Is there a Melissa in our future?
Our Pal Lew reports here that Terry Hawbaker of Black Rock Brewing in Wilkes Barre has left to take over brewing duties at Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, where Karl Melissa recently left. Sounds like neither departure was on particularly friendly terms

As I noted in the story I did a couple of weeks back on The Beer Yard website news page about Melissa's leaving, he's been talking to a backer-not-to-be-revealed about starting up a brewpub in the Philadelphia area. Now an industry insider tells me he's also in negotiations, and perhaps very close to a deal, with another interested party about creating a brewpub with a distinctive flair in a town a lot closer to Williamsport. It must be nice to be loved...

[Posted 5:30 pm est]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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