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31 July 04
Philly Mag Names Sly Fox "Best Local Brewery."
In its annual and just-released "Best of Philly" issue, Philadelphia Magazine has selected Phoenixville's Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery as "Best Local Brewery."

I just added the magazine's comments at the Sly Fox website. You can read them here.

The magazine said Tria, the oft-praised wine and cheese spot at 123 South 18 St. which recently received a rave restaurant review in the Philadelphia Daily News for its new-found beer savvy, has the area's "Best Beer List," citing its range of choices on tap and in bottles.

In other beer-related news, be advised that Fergie Carey (of Fergie's Pub, Monk's Cafe et al) now has his own column in Philadelphia Weekly, "Ask Fergie." He tells me he's getting paid what he's worth (which would set him apart from most of us). Still, I guess the only recourse we writers have at this point is to open a pub or two. Bryson first...

[Posted 3:20 pm edt]

Beer Geek Rumor of the Week.
It was almost 11 months ago to the day when Sly Fox announced it was withdrawing from negotiations to create a new brewery and pub in Phoenixville's historic Foundry building. The Fox has moved on these days, with a new brewery set to begin making beer in Royersford late next month and an adjacent pub opening there around October. But what about the Foundry?

Reliable sources tell me that another brewery is now in negotiations for that site and that news of a deal could break soon. If it's true and if it happens, I think most everybody reading this will be shocked. Stay tuned.

This will be part of your permanent record, young man.
The face of the individual making this rude gesture during the Royal Stumble two weeks ago is mostly obscured, but I'm betting you can all recognize the body. If you have any doubts, think loud.

As you can see, I'm in the picture with him, somewhat stunned at his behavior, so I surely can't be blamed for imposing this sort of unfamily-like scene on you poor innocents. Well, okay, I can, but I'm merely a conduit, a tool in the hands of evil forces. This photo was passed on to me by a very active member at an online beer site that our villain of the day is wont to participate in (when he's not being thrown off or driven away). The photographer is a brewery employee who's probably acting out in face of the growing realization that photographs of him from that same event will haunt him forever. Indeed, if you scroll down far enough on this very page, you might just see one of those.

The moral, boys and girls? Be very careful how you behave when there are cameras around. Think of each lens as your kindly old mother's watchful eye. What would she think?

[Posted 1:00 pm edt]

30 July 04
'Twas just shy of five months before Christmas...
Confusion reigned and beers poured on Monday evening as the Monday Tasting pushed the limits and then some. The plan was, oh so original, to celebrate Christmas in July with a presentation of big winter brews. Yeah, it's a concept that has become trite with amazing rapidity, but tell me you wouldn't embrace any opportunity to devote a couple of hours to big, tasty beers after weeks and months of pretending man can really make do with just wheats, wits and saisons. Not deliberately, heaven knows, as that would have taken planning, but O'Reilly even got into the spirit of things by releasing his big, new Black Raspberry Wheat that very afternoon.

But there always the ones who don't get the news, y'know? The sort of people who were asleep in the barn the night Paul Revere rode by? Steve (the Other One) Rubeo showed up with a creamsicle, Ted Johnston with his homebrewed saison, Bill Huber (who knew you could break up the set?) arrived with a pair of out-of-town ales and Del Massey brought a pair from way out of town, like Belgium.

You know what they say about lemons and lemonade and that old bromide about where one man sees a problem and another sees an opportunity? Well, by gosh, by golly, we were nothing if not cockeyed optimists. Surely we could knock off six "extra" beers before we got to the main event, ten Christmas beers? You betcha.

This is how it happened, and don't even get me started about the beer-drinking duck thing. That's a tale for another time.

The prelude.
Did I say creamsicle? That was the general consensus about Buffalo Bill's Orange Blossom Cream Ale. Rubeo insists, by the way, that I note here that this beer was given to him, proving he'd rather be seen as cheap that as a fan of bad beer. Good thinking. There seems, by the way, to be this thing going on out west of late about mixing beer with oranges or vice-versa. Don't really know. Don't wanna. Well, all right, I could see this might be refreshing on a really hot summer's day, so long as nobody saw you drinking it...

Any delicate sensibilities which were rent asunder by the unusual opening brew were quickly set right again when Del uncorked bottles of Saison Dupont 2002 and Oud Beersel. And Ted poured his very good, just-brewed-in-May Saison between that notable pair. It takes a man with supreme confidence to present his saison right after DuPont's. You gotta admire that.

The Single Huber (actually, this one's married and the other one is single, but you know what I mean) appears to have been visiting New England (and one of my favorite islands this side of Hawaii) as he brought us Atlantic Brewing Company's Special Old Bitter and Bar Harbor Brewing's Thunder Hole Ale. Honestly, I was afraid that Joe Meloney was gonna get up and smack him upside the head for poaching on his territory.

With that, which was pretty much a regular Monday tasting, behind us, we moved on to the main event. And you just know what had to be the first beer, don't you?

Affligem, meet Noel.
Yep, the classic Affligem Noel from Brouwerij De Smedt, a nice 9.0% abv opening treat from Rick and Jeanne Smiledge. This earned a shouted Wow! from apprentice beer geek Karl Shoemaker, thus making it our first weekly Karl's Choice selection. Why? And why Karl? 'Cause our editorial team figures it will be worth some giggles. Mr. Shoemaker's palate is, um, eccentric. You'll see.

Meloney, still shooting daggers with his eyes at Huber, then poured De Koninck Winterkoninck, nicely unaggressive for a holiday beer at 6.5% abv. Speaking of unaggressive, usually reliable Richard Ruch came up small next with Anchor Christmas Ale, a beer that I actively dislike. It was but a passing moment and then we moved on.

"On" led us to Brasserie La Binchoise Speciale Noel, another 9%-er from the Smiledges. Unfortunately, this one had seen, one likes to think, better days. It wasn't seeing one this day. This bottle might have been as old as 1996, Rick estimated, maybe 2001. Whatever. And this was, of course, exactly the sort of situation Tom Foley lies in wait for. He stepped forward with homebrewed Foley's Winter Warmer '02 (7.5 % abv) and once again basked in the plaudits of the crowd. Lots of Fuggle hops, a quarter pound of chocolate and copious quantities of dark honey made their presence known. "You tend to use a lot of honey," I mentioned to him. "Hey, it smooths out the flavors and jolts up the abv," he snapped back. "What's not to like."

We then poured Corsendonk Christmas Ale (8.5% abv) brought by Lori Limper, who wants it known that she didn't say some of the things I've said she said. As I pointed out to her, this is the Official Record and if I say she said it, then she's just going to have to live with that. The power of the press belongs to the guy who owns one...wait, that's not true any more. Damn.

In some ways, everything to this point had been merely prelude, not just the first six un-Christmas beers. Now we were ready to roll out the Big Boys.

Make N'Ice, Samichlaus, or else.
Here's the thing. I've never much like Samichlaus. But I bought a case of vintage four-packs a couple of years back (1 1995, 2 1996, 1 1997) and have been using them as gifts when the occasion warranted. I figured this occasion warranted and brought a pack to the Tasting so we could open one or each. The extra 1996 I gave to the Smiledges as part of my ongoing campaign to finally get them to allow to use that photo of them in their wayward youth that I wrote about a few weeks back.

Wouldn't you know it, this was the night that I learned to love Sami. Don't it always go that way?

We opened the youngest bottle first and worked our way back. All three beers were 14% abv, at least in theory. Samichlaus 1997 had a very nice malty and chocolatey flavor that shocked me. I've generally found these beers musty on the palate. 1996, which proved to be the overall favorite, was significantly sweeter and had an astonishing chocolate nose, I thought. It was, in fact, too sweet for my tastes, at least standing alone. Would it be sacrilegious to suggest this might be quite delightful poured over some vanilla ice cream? The 1995, perhaps showing its age, had a much smaller nose and more fruit characteristics than chocolate.

This was, all in all, one of our more intriguing tasting moments, with everyone sampling back and forth and offering opinions. I preferred the '97 when all was said and done.

In order for all to be said and done, there was one final beer to be consumed, courtesy once again of Ted Johnston: N'Ice Chouffe 1997. Strong (10%), fruity, just a touch of hops, a great beer and a great ending to a particularly enjoyable Monday session.

[Posted 2:30 pm edt]

29 July 04
Firkinteenth Beer List.
Those among you who are hot for Friday the Firkinteenth, be advised that I just updated the Event Listing at the Beer Yard site to show the beers which are expected to be poured. As far as I know, this is the first publication of the list anywhere to date. You can find it here (it's the fifth item down).

Now I'm off to distribute copies of the lastest Celebrator Beer News (the one which broke my heart, see below) to Monk's, Nodding Head, Victory and Drafting Room, while my man Tim Ohst, who's delivering beer for Sly Fox (where the issue already is available), covers Standard Tap and the Grey Lodge Pub. Who loves ya, baby?

[Posted 11:45 am edt]

28 July 04
Bummed out.
The Month From Hell, which seemed to be easing off a bit (I was, for example, downright pleased with the 24-Hour story I came up with over the weekend), went crashing to the bottom again yesterday when I slogged off to do my weekly on-premises penance at The Beer Yard.

The August/September Celebrator Beer News had arrived on Monday. That was a momentary bright spot until I grabbed a copy and determined that the Iron Hill story I wrote way back in April had been bumped for a second time because of space limitations. That's not only depressing, it's downright embarrassing.

Whatcha gonna do, y'know? Writers write, editors edit and so long as we don't resort to violence against one another, it's all good. I keep telling myself that.

Anyway, that little disappointment has thrown me off my game a bit. I have the Monday Tasting report scribbled in notes here on the desk (including the semi-dramatic return of Bob's brother Bill, or as we call it, the "Single Huber Theory," and the introduction of a brand new segment, "Karl's Choice") and I have Joe Meloney's notes on the Penn State Festival in hand as well. So there's some good stuff coming just as soon as I can work up the energy to get to it.

And, counting today, the Month From Hell has but four days left to batter my fragile psyche. I should be able to handle that, right?

[Posted 10:45 am edt]

25 July 04
Kicking back and resting.
Our crack (crackED?) editorial staff is plumb wore out after spending last night writing the entry for the 24-Hour Short Story Contest (see below) and then totally revamping it this morning into something much better, plus cobbling together a bunch of eBay auctions to help pay the bills, so we're shutting down the offices for the day.

Which basically means walking across the room to get away from the computer, in case you're wondering.

Can't do it, though, without taking note of this Associated Press story which ran in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer. Definitely worth reading. But I'd have headlined it Helmut Fritsche, Reinheitsgebot Rebel.

For extra credit, just imagine what the German Brewers Association would think of Dogfish Head.

[Posted 2:45 pm edt]

24 July 04
1000 words. 24 hours.
In a simpler world, I'd be at the State College MicroBrewers & Importers Exposition right about now, wandering hither and yon and sampling beers. Afterwards, I'd be off for a couple of brews at a German spot a few miles from State College whose name I can never remember and then up to Selinsgrove for the night, with dinner and multiple beers at the Selin's Grove Brewpub. Never been there. Want to go there. It's the most disappointing aspect of the fact that I'm not doing any of those things today.

I was scheduled to go and had already arranged my press pass. The trip would have been with kindly old Richard Ruch and whoever he could talk into also going with him. It has since morphed into something of an event, with roughly half the Monday Tasting group now scheduled to do the whole tour. I'm not sure if that would have made it better or worse but I do know it would have made things more interesting.

Part of my backing out has to do with the tangled and convoluted circumstances that are currently complicating my life, but mostly it has to do with the fact that today is the date of the WritersWeekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest Summer 2004, a quarterly event I really enjoy.

I figure most people who wander in here would describe me as a guy who writes about beer. I, on the other hand, would shorten that to a guy who writes. I don't write exclusively about beer and related topics. Comes to that, until just over nine years ago, I never wrote about beer at all.

I've written about politics and sports and books and health care and comic books, just to mention a few areas. I've written a lot of corporate stuff, from advertising and PR copy to national and international company magazines to corporate histories, and , come to think of it, I did write two stories about the old Ballantine Brewery for a corporate employer over a quarter century ago, so I guess I did write about beer before the summer of 1995. I've created magazines, edited magazines and, some would suggest, killed magazines. I've sold stories to a wide range of local and national magazines and one of those publications I created and edited (for a while) was itself a newsstand magazine.

Fiction is my real passion and, given my druthers, I guess being a successful novelist and short story writer would have been my dream. I've sold a little bit of my fiction (and a lot of stuff a few cranks might want to argue was fiction), but hardly enough to matter.

The 24-Hour Short Story thing is both fun and challenging. Entrants pay a small entry fee and at 1 pm today (noon Central Time) we all received a topic for this contest and a specified word limit (see below). Stories must be emailed back by 1 pm tomorrow. Winners are selected and announced roughly a month later.

The first time I ever did this, I was totally blank throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning. Inspiration suddenly struck around 10:30 that morning and I dashed off a story, 1000 words as I recall, which I finished at roughly 11:55 and fired off without even time to proofread. It finished among the top ten, somewhere around third or fourth, best I can tell. These days there are listings of the top three and lots of other breakdowns; back then it was much simpler.

Aside from the disturbing suggestion that I shouldn't think too hard about what I write, which is implicit in the way that first story was done (and no story I've entered since has done as well, though I've won a couple of additional small prizes), the experience was rewarding enough that I try to enter every time. And as for that write-it-in-one-draft thing, well, I wrote my Master's Thesis in English Literature (on the novels of Graham Greene) in a single two-day sitting, so it's just something I can pull off every now and then.

I wrote all the above earlier this morning to have this ready to go up as soon as today's topic and word limit arrived and I could include them. Here they are:

Today's Topic!

It had taken him almost an hour to climb over the rocks to the hidden beach. His metal detector was strapped to his back and he didn't think many other treasure hunters would go to this much effort. It was low tide, so he started at the water line and began sweeping the detector back and forth. On his fifth pass, the detector gave a strong beep...

Word Limit: 1000 words

Now it's time to write. I'll let you how it all turns out a month or so from now.

[Posted 1:03 pm edt]

23 July 04
The Friday Monday Beer Tasting report.
We started off on Monday evening with a growler of Lancaster Brewing's Altbier brought along by Wanderin' Joe Meloney. It had a very enjoyable malt start, which seemed to be overwhelmed by hops through the remainder of my first sampler glass. A second glass, however, had the malt holding true to the finish, neatly balancing the hop kick. One of the better Lancaster beers I've had.

Tom Foley then opened bottles of Heavyweight Two Druids Ale, an herbal brew which manifests Tom Baker's ambivalence toward hops. It;s not one of my favorites, although I can imagine times when it would work nicely, say with the right picnic lunch or as a refresher after a long bike ride or tennis or similar draining activities. Lori (Limper) made him do it, it turns out, probably because the brewing involves sweet gale, which is a swamp fern with which she is strangely familiar. If that makes no sense to you, scroll down to the July 6 entry. It'll still make no sense, but at least you'll be informed.

Rick & Jeanne Smiledge were next and they brought a growler of Two Brothers Domaine DuPage, a French country ale which was very nice. They had a bottle as well, mostly because someone had told them that this beer has gone sour in the bottles. We never opened it and I found it resting on the seat of my car when I left after they had. I haven't tasted it yet to...wait, what am I saying? I'll go try it now. Hold on...

I'm back. Well, there's certainly a touch of sour in the nose but the beer itself seems okay. And that's "okay" in every sense of the word (read "just okay") as it seems to lack the character I remember from the growler. Could be it's just too cold. We'll get back to it in a bit and see.

Richard Ruch, bless his twisted soul, had a bottle of Three Floyds Gumballhead, a very tasty wheat beer with a very weird label. I've seen this described as highly hopped bubble gum and that ain't too far off. Saying a beer is bubblegummy is usually a pejorative, but it appears to have been intentional here and it works.

Time for another sip of the Domaine DuPage: okay, more of the malty caramel flavor is coming through as it's warmed up a bit, and there's a touch of hops on the tongue. Maybe, just maybe, there is some hint of sourness in the finish. We'll press on and get back in a bit.

He Whose Name Need Not Be Spoken 'Cause He's Rarely Here Anymore, which is to say, Rick Mayberry, was in attendance early but had to limp away home not long after in order to take even more of the painkillers he's living on to deal with the agony of his injured foot (if I told you he fell through the kitchen floor, you probably wouldn't believe me, so I won't).

In any case, he left behind a bottle of Unibroue Blanche de Chambly. What can I tell you beyond the fact that his is one great beer, and you already knew that. On second thought, I do know what I can tell you. When I went to the Unibroue website just now to get the link above, I saw this listed as a new product: Black currant Éphémère. Whatever's up with that, I want some.

I'm now officially tired of playing with this DuPage stuff trying to come up with a Profound Judgement, so let's just do it. I'd say it's not nearly as good in the bottle as it was in the draught version, and remember that the draught I tasted spent at least a week in a growler. I'd agree that there is a slight sourness at the end, but also suspect that it's there in the draught as well, just better balanced and hidden by the caramel and malt notes. Overall, nothing really wrong with this bottle IMO, just nothing outstanding about it either.

Anyone who has studied these Monday gatherings--I fully expect there will be doctoral theses and psychological case studies a few years down the road--will be aware that, always, I say, always, Foley is lying in wait, preparing to win the acclaim of the masses with one of his terrific homebrews. True again this week, although it was just a bit of overkill. Aside from the Unibroue offering, the competition was not particularly stiff and yet he had two beers to present.

The first he termed his Grand Cru, a description he defined, when pressed, as I went all out. Tettnang and East Kent Golding hops, a La Chouffe yeast strain and 2.5 lbs. of honey added up to a peppery, 10%-plus abv ale which was among the best he's ever brought us. Better yet, it's very young and we can expect to see it in its maturity sometime down the road. That is a Very Good Thing.

And here's an Even Better Thing: it wasn't even his finest beer of the night. An absolutely, mind-bogglingly delicious Foley Tripel Wheat(!) finished off the night, 10.5% abv and 30% wheat, made with a Unibroue yeast strain. No, really. Why would I lie?

New Look for Sly Fox.
I've done some cleaning up over at the Sly Fox website in preparation for a complete new look to be designed by the folks at Virtual Farm. We've decided to wait and do a one-time rollout rather than leak things as we go, so you'll all just have to patient while we put together a site which will feature the brewery, two pubs and information for both customers and distributors, plus whatever else comes to mind.

If patience isn't one of your virtues and you'll be at the State College MicroBrewers & Importers Exposition, you'll get a sneak look at a new festival banner and a pair of placards featuring the logos for Pikeland Pils and Royal Weisse on hand as well. Yeah, this goes against the overall marketing plan, but we never have been able to control O'Reilly.

[Posted 3:20 pm edt]

22 July 04
Ortlieb's future?
I've just gotten off the phone with brewmaster Bill Moore so I can officially confirm that Ortlieb's Brewery & Grill in Pottstown is closed until at least Wednesday, September 1. It is scheduled to reopen on that date, but at least three industry insiders I've talked to over the past 48 hours share my doubts that it will happen.

I've also been told that the brewery was shut down due to tax and financial issues even before Henry's death and have posted a more complete news story at the Beer Yard site.

Monday Beer Tasting report?
I'm on it, I'm on it. Tomorrow. I hope.

[Posted 5:35 pm edt]

21 July 04
On the Money (after a fashion).
In a great breakthrough for contemporary journalism, Money Magazine has discovered craft brewing. Damn. That's just snarky on my part, isn't it? So let me repeat...

Oh, never mind. It's a nice article and, he said ever so hopefully, every one of these "great revelations" stories could open the door to allow some more serious coverage of serious beer in the mainstream media. I have a couple of writers in mind if anybody calls.

The link above leads you to the story. This one gives you their list of five great American beers (there's a link to these within the story itself as well). Get the impression this guy got caught up in that Big Beer thing?

Thanks to Todd Palmer for putting me on to this.

[Posted 9:30 am edt]

20 July 04
There are tastings...and then there are tastings.
I attended the weekly Monday Tasting last night but I think I'll save that for tomorrow since it pales next to what follows. The one and only Bill Sysak checked in this morning with a tale he calls Thomas Hardy Vertical O'Brien's. It has been punctuated, paragraphed, enhanced via HTML links and otherwise made more comprehensible by our editorial staff for your convenience and reading pleasure:

Last Saturday, we finally did it. Tom Nickel and I decided to make history. We sat down with a couple of friends on the patio outside of O'Brien's Pub & Microbrew in San Diego and tasted one of every bottling of Thomas Hardy's ever produced.

That's right. Not just every vintage of Thomas Hardy's, but every bottling of Thomas Hardy's. This included the rare three bottles from 1968, of which one may have stole the show. Call it geeky but anyone who knows me knows I like to do things right.

Seven of us took part. Eric Rose (Santa Barbara Brewing Company), Jeff Bagby (Oggi's Pizza and Brewing Company) and Bill Sobieski (one of the finest brewers of lambic style beers outside of Pajottenland) all tasted most of the run. but only four people can lay claim to tasting every bottling of Hardy's in one sitting, those four being myself, Tom Nickel, Tomme Arthur (Pizza Port Solana Beach) and my buddy Steve (Steiny).

For a full report you'll have to wait for the article that is in the works, but some of the best were a non-corked '68 (the other two were corked, in more ways than one), '75, '80, '83, '84, '87 (150th Anniversary, oak aged) and the '90. For those of you who worry about palate fatigue, never fear we took care of that, along with the ever-present pitchers of water, regularly cleansing our palates with Sierra Nevada Celebration and Santa Barbara IPA...

Drinking 32 different Thomas Hardy's and multiple glasses of Californian IPA is fine, of course but after such an historic event we needed (I needed) a little more.

We started with perhaps the best beer from Anderson Valley Brewing Company you've never had, a 7% Saison created by ex-head brewer Brit Antrim that was about two years old. I believe he did this in homebrew batch size and obviously didn't distribute it to the general public. Luckily Tom had a 75 cl bottle in his cold room.

We followed this with a two year old Dupont Avec Le Bon III that was just reaching its peak, and next came Bill's Vignerrone, a three year blend that is amazingly lambic-like, (I'm looking for him to go pro over the next year or two).Hansens Kriek followed (from the batch that Sidy won best Kriek in Belgian two years ago). This is one of my favorites and very under appreciated as far as I'm concerned. What could follow that but a Saint Lamvinus Cantillon, fabulous as always.

Before we knew it, it was time to go as I had a 16-hour stint the next day at the old ER, but not before downing a pint of Tom's new double IPA, Hop Juice. If you haven't heard of this beer yet, you will (read GABF).

After three months of 70-hour work weeks, I'M BACK! Cheers, Doc

Okay, everybody 'fess up. How'd you like to have been there? Better yet, how'd you like to have been a patient in Doc's Emergency Room last Sunday?

[Posted 11:30 am edt]

18 July 04
Stumblin' along.
Nodding Head's Royal Stumble (the fifth in a series, collect 'em all) was, of course, sold out well before hand. When I got into the city about ten minutes before the gates were to open yesterday, the line of waiting geeks was already stretched well down Sansom Street toward 16th. Thank God, and Spanky, for press lists at the door. It was so nice to be able to walk right in that I've even decided to, at least for now, give ol' Spanky a free pass on his vicious attack on me in the event program (which will probably become a collector's item in years to come as a result--or maybe not).

Fourteen breweries were in attendance, as promised, including past champions General Lafayette (2000-2001), Weyerbacher (2002) and Independence (2003). The others: Bethlehem Brew Works, Dogfish Head, Flying Fish, Heavyweight, Iron Hill (West Chester), Manayunk, Nodding Head, Sly Fox, Troegs, Victory and Yards.

More so than in any previous years, I thought, the breweries overall sent some very popular and sought after beers to the Stumble. Victory sent its latest and just-released varietal pils, Keller Hallertau mf (Mittelfrueh). Yards poured the reformulated and much-talked-about Philadelphia Pale Ale. As it turns out, these two were right next to one another and there was a convenient place where an aggressive attendee might sit right between them and just offer his glass right or left as the spirit moved him. So, of course, Lew Bryson found it. Bryson will figure in these chronicles a bit later, as we go searching for ho's. Isn't that what guys do?

Other beers on hand that would have brought on beer geek smiles under any circumstance were Troegs Dreamweaver, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Sly Fox Keller Pils, Weyerbacher Hefe and Nodding Head's own Grog. Tom Baker brought Heavyweight Groin Pull Back Beer (I don't name 'em, I just report 'em), a very tasty black lager which, at 4.5%, is the lowest abv beer he's ever done< can report that he looked properly chagrined about it.

Iron Hill poured Chris LaPierre's Wit (and poured it and poured it, with young ladies cruising the premises with pitchers and orange slices); defending champion Independence and brewer Tim Roberts had an IPA; Chris Fiery at Manayunk brought the day's biggest beer, 7% abv Call IPA, and newcomer Bethlehem Brew Works served their ESB. Both Flying Fish and General Lafayette held to what is becoming their tradition, bring some jazzed up version of a regular offering to the table. Jon Zangwill had Hop Slam Farmhouse Ale, which was the regular regional favorite packed with Simcoe hops, and Chris Leonard blended his Imperial Porter and Session Ale to produce 6.9% abv Red Thunder.

The winner, which you probably guessed if you read carefully above, was Iron Hill, emptying their keg in just under an hour if I remember right, certainly not much longer than that, for a new Stumble record. And those laid-back country folks from Troegs smashed their image all to hell with the wildest costuming. In fact let's go to the pictures:

TOP: The Winnahs!
CENTER: A couple of quiet fellas from Harrisburg.
BOTTOM: Maybe it's the Bethlehem
BalloonWorks?

It seems pretty evident that Nodding Head could have sold double, maybe triple the tickets to this year's Stumble without any real effort. It's growing too big for the pub's cozy digs, which were crowded enough with 200 on hand. Spanky wants to look into moving it to the Blue Horizon, Philadelphia's legendary boxing arena; general manager Curt Decker is talking about trying to get the city to let them shut down Sansom Street for a Sunday afternoon and hold it outside (which would be cool as hell). Whatever they do, count on me to be there every time.

As promised, a search for ho's.
Tom Peters told Bryson and me early on in the Stumble proceedings that he'd just put a vintage 1998 Victory Old Horizontal on in Monk's back bar, so nothing would suffice, after Iron Hill's victory had been acclaimed, than that we walk the couple of blocks over there to make sure that was the case. Tom's not drinking this month and his memory is therefore not as reliable as usual. At least, that was our excuse.

Sure enough, Old Ho' was there awaiting us. We ordered up a plate of Frites and a pair of brews. What wonderful beer this is. I've come more and more to the position espoused by Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet that this beer is at its best when fresh and young, but age had done nothing to wither its delights on this batch.

While we were trying to decide what to have next, Lew spied a bottle of Lindemans Rene Cuvee in the cold box. Better yet, three guys walked in and sat down next to us and turned out to be admirers of Lew. Great admirers. Now generally this can be a bad thing (you know how he gets when they start throwin' the love at him), but this fine trio insisted on buying our next beer, even though we warned them what it was. They did, we of course shared, and a fine time was had by all. This is gueuze as gueuze should be.

Then that nice Mr. Peters showed up, still all coherent and straight, and when he saw what we were drinking he said, in effect, What you guys need now is a bottle of Dire Fonteinen Oude Geuze. I have some of the 1999 vintage in the cellar. Um, okay, we could see our way clear to trying that. It got better. I have it both chilled and at cellar temperature. Which would you prefer? Some days just, you know, work out.

We opted for a cellar temp bottle and, again, shared it with our three new found best friends. How to describe this beer? Well, since the link above sends you to the Shelton Brothers importers site, let me quote the gist of their description :

"[Brewer] Armand [Debelder] believes that this blend from 1999 is the best Geuze he has ever made. It is a classic blend of one, two, and three-year old lambiks, bottled in 1999 and carefully watched while it continues to re-ferment in the bottle."
Not yet satisfied with his largesse, Peters then gave Lew and me each a bottle of Girardin Gueuze to take home. Gueuzed out for the moment, we were trying to decide on a final beer before leaving when in walked the triumphant Chris LaPierre and his posse and we decided to let him buy it for us. Lew chose a Hommelbier which he found somewhat off; I wisely elected for Philadelphia's very own Yard's ESA from the handpump and was delighted.

While we downing our selections, Sherri, BeerAdvocate's gueuzegirl, arrived at the bar with her new beau and friends and ordered up, what else, Dire Fonteinen Oude Geuze. Hers was chilled and we got to have sip of that as well (very nice but the flavors and complexity were more evident and enticing at cellar temp) and thus end another grueling day in the life of struggling beer writers.

[Posted 1:30 pm edt]

17 July 04
Worldly, sophisticated intellectuals. Who knew?
Okay, I can picture Todd Palmer, the head guy at Virtual Farm (the folks who are doing the branding and graphic design work for the Sly Fox makeover), as a National Public Radio fan. And Tom Foley? Yeah, I guess I can get my mind around that too. But...Brian O'Reilly?

Those three were among the first of many LDO readers to email me (or telephone, in O'Reilly's case) yesterday morning after they'd heard the story NPR's Morning Edition did about the "Victory switches Philadelphia distributors" thing (as I reported they would a week ago this very day in this very space). I was already on that case, of course, and had even taped the session with the intention of playing if for O'Reilly later. I mean, who knew?

I'm toying with putting up a transcript here, even though I'm really tired of this whole story. Unless I'm wrong, LDO is currently the only source with lengthy Tom Peters and Bill Covaleski statements and links to all the other stories which have appeared on the topic, so maybe there's something to be said for completeness.

Then again, transcribing it would be a major PIA and I recently made a vow to avoid those. We'll see.

[Posted 10:20 am edt]

16 July 04
Construction notes: Nodding Head.
The Nodding Head brewery project is back at ground zero. Brewer Brandon Greenwood told me about it Tuesday night prior to the Mars vs. Venus dinner and managing partner Curt Decker confirmed it on the telephone last night. The NH guys were looking seriously at a property in Northern Liberties, but in the end it just didn't seem right, they said.

Decker:

When we started looking down the road a few years, it didn't seem to make much sense, primarily because there was no room to expand. It doesn't make any sense to put that much money into something and then have to start over again from scratch in five years.
The search will continue, both men said. They're looking for a spot big enough for a brewery and a small attached pub and, so far, they're looking exclusively in city limits. We're a Philadelphia brewery and that's what we want to be, Greenwood stressed.

Construction notes: Sly Fox.
At the moment, it looks like it will be the of August and maybe even after Labor Day before the first beers will be brewing at the new Sly Fox Brewery in Royersford. All the framing is in place and the walls starting going up this week, but there's still a lot to be done and progress is relatively slow for now.

It's my experience that there comes some undefined magical point in construction projects where everything suddenly clicks and the whole process starts flowing at a pace that seemed unimaginable even 24 hours earlier. These guys ain't there yet, although brewer Brian O'Reilly and newly hired jack-of-all-maintenance-trades Karl Shoemaker are busily polishing and cleaning up the brewhouse.

If I can find anything photographically interesting, I'll get some new photos up here next week.

A note from management.
Both the above stories, combined into a single news item, were posted last night at The Beer Yard.

[Posted 7:30 am edt]

15 July 04
Mars vs. Venus.
Tuesday night's beer/wine faceoff at Monk's Café was fun, as expected, and the meal was one of chef Adam Glickman's best yet, perfect light fare served in reasonable portions. But it was also, how do I put it, odd.

Odd in the sense that some of the beer and wine pairings seemed off-the-wall to me. the problem, I think, was that wine gal Marnie Old approached the meal with a sommelier's sensibility rather than a competitive one (I must have a red wine and I can't follow a big red wine with a lighter one, to put it in simplest terms) and Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione figured he could use the event to showcase a few new and/or rarely seen outside Rehobeth brews and then triumph easily with a couple of powerhouse beers at the end, utilizing Randall the Enamel Animal as a secret weapon. You'll see how that worked out for him.

Maybe it says something that the best beverage I had all evening was a pre-dinner beer. Of course, that one was enhanced since it was presented by Sam's tapping my on the shoulder and saying those words we all love to hear: I just bought you a beer. It was one-year old cask-conditioned 90 Minute IPA and it was creamy, smooth and very, very drinkable. Yes, jumping ahead of myself here, it was better (more balanced, easier on the palate) than the Randallized version he brought out as one of his big guns later.

The obligatory pre-dinner mingling about.
Dinner was late, so I had plenty of time to chat with Nodding Head's Brandon Greenwood and Home Sweet Homebrew's George Hummel (Monk's perennial toastmaster), as well as New Jersey beer geek Mark (I travel in search of beer almost as far and as often as Joe Meloney) Haynie, as well as Sam. Tom Peters and, later, Fergie Carey, were hustling about, somewhat bemused by all the wine people cluttering up the premises.

I sat at a small booth in the middle section together with the guy I know only as Larry the Regular, Don (Joe Sixpack) Russell and Carla Ranicki, a research editor for Food & Wine, who'd come down from New York for the event. Aside from of those Homer Simpson D'oh! moments when I asked her if she was originally from Philadelphia despite her obvious British accent, and the fact that Russell and I spent entirely too much time on insider beer talk, I think we made her welcome and comfortable enough. And that was despite her astonishingly complete and somewhat disturbing knowledge about endive and her defense of both Rosé and White Zinfandel as serious wines.

Aperitif and first course.
The official evening began with an aperitif, draft Dogfish Head Weed Wacker Wit going up against Ironstone Vineyards Obsession Symphony 2003, a sweet white varietal made by blending Muscat and Grenache Gris grapes. Too sweet for my tastes. There are wines which absolutely need accompanying and usually contrasting food to be enjoyable and this was surely one. The Weed Whacker was no great shakes either, but it got my shaky vote for Round One and also won the overall voting for that round.

The first course was a marvelous Corn Broth made with "fresh corn, flying fish roe & scallops," accompanied by Dogfish Head Liquor de Malt (made with three different American corns, as we know, so a clearly appropriate choice although it seems odd at first glance) and De Wetshof Estate Chardonnay 2003 from South Africa. This was much drier that the opening wine, even slightly tart. It was also unusual for a Chardonnay in that, as the extensive notes on each wine that Old prepared for the diners said, it had no oak notes in the flavor. From my scribbles, it appears I voted for both of them, but that can't be right. In any case, the Chardonnay was the winner in the voting.

I haven't mentioned, have I, that both Marnie and Sam were rushing about in semi-frenzy between the rooms (the front and middle rooms were used for the event, with regular customers, poor bastards, being banished to the rear bar) explicating their selections and urged voter support? You just don't get that kind of bonus in your big fancy restaurants...

The rabbit and the snapper.
The next course matched Dogfish Head Sweet Home Amber Lager and Domaine Tavel Rosé 2003 with Rabbit Over Pappardelle (wide flat noodles) with tomatoes, morels and chanterelles. There was no real beverage competition in this round as a chagrined Sam urged everyone to vote for the wine because his lager was, well, flat and uncarbonated . It was a nice gesture, undermined within minutes when he rushed back to tell us Hey, I've been talking to the people in the other room and the wine ain't so hot either. Flat beer? Rosé? I wrote PROTEST! on my ballot and voted for neither. Wine won big.

Now came Sam's power play, starting off with a Randallized pouring of the aforementioned 90 Minute IPA to accompany the main course of Red Snapper with spinach & herb Risotto. Of course, having the fish course follow the meat course was Monk's not-so-subtle attempt (acknowledged on the menu) to stack things in favor of beer but, hey, Old knew she was coming into enemy territory when she took the gig, right? She poured a very good Renzo Masi Rufina Chianti Reserva 2001, which brought back visions of summer evenings in Tuscany, but the big, hoppy beer won the vote, including mine.

I don't think it would have changed the eventual results, but here's where I would have differed from Old's approach, given that these were the wines I had to serve. I'd have put the Chianti with the rabbit, where it would have been very well matched, and moved the Rosé down to the fish course without not been concerned with serving it behind a big red. Then again, as George Hummel noted afterwards, the beer Sam should probably have poured with the meat dish was Raison d'Etre, in which case, he'd likely have had the event already won instead of being tied 2-2 going into the dessert course. Of course, maybe that was the idea all along.

And the winner is...
Dessert, Fresh Berry Shortcake, was a fitting finish to a truly fine meal and, appropriately, the final round of the battle of the beverages was the most competitive. Sam rolled out Midas Touch and told the wonderful story of its creation, probably with an eye to winning a few of the wine-lovers' hearts. Marnie countered with Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d'Asti 2003, a glorious semi-sparkling dessert wine. This is the wine you may remember as Aspi Spumanti, with the name changed, the alcohol content lowered and some tarter characteristics strengthened to offset the sweetness, all in an attempt to remarket it in this country.

It was a tough choice. As someone said (Hummel again, I think, the wine went perfectly with the shortcake and whipped cream topping, the beer ideally enhanced the berries. Larry and I were both thinking about voting for the Moscato d'Asti but our votes were preempted by a Kathleen Harris-like move on the part of Russell, who grabbed up the four remaining ballots (our New York tablemate left early to catch a train, carrying a bottle of Midas with her), quickly scribbled in votes for Sam's beer and tossed them into the ballot box. Taking my cue from the Monk's Beer Menu, I quickly announced that I will no longer be reading your corporate owned column because I disapprove of your deplorable behavior. He didn't seem the care.

Hummel appeared in the doorway. The room hushed. He paused to enjoy the suspense and then:

It was a blowout.

Moscato d'Asti 31, Midas Touch 21.

Wine wins!

Stunned silence followed the announcement, finally broken by a haughty Well, of course! that drifted over from one of the wine tables where guys in blue blazers and green pants were awkwardly giving one another high fives. A soft sobbing could be heard from the front room, where a forlorn figure had laid his head on the bar as tears dripped down onto his Haggar Slacks.

Suddenly a very large man in a very small, beer-stained tee-shirt leapt (as best he could) to his feet and screamed Get 'mm! Both sides of the room rose as one and faced off...

Okay, maybe that last part there isn't entirely accurate. But you never know...

[Posted 2:45 pm edt]

13 July 04
The few, the brave, the proud.
I skipped last night's Monday Tasting at Sly Fox and it appears that put me on the cutting edge. According to a MotherRucher Report just in from Richard Ruch, only he, Joe Meloney, Tom Foley, Ted Johnston, Karl Shoemaker and "some mysterious head brewer who shows up occasionally" were in attendance. He did note "a cameo appearance by Karl's lovely sister, Kristy Jo" and reports that Jimmy Wasko and Tim Ohst were hanging around the edges, as they do.

The absence of so many dear friends hardly gave this particular Dirty Half-Dozen pause, it appears. They pressed onward, drinking and taking notes so we wouldn't have to.

Here, slightly edited and reorganized for clarity, is what Richard had to say about the seven beers they tasted. Foley checked in as well with a few comments and those are added with a nice "TF" to identify him. Note that he didn't ignore the first beer but arrived late and that he offers no comment on his own brew.

Avery Eleven, the brewery's 11th Anniversary Ale (Double IPA) was gifted to the tasting session by Patrick Mullin at Drafting Room Exton. Thank you Patrick!! Pretty hoppy, but a tasty brew. 9.0% abv.

Stone Vertical Epic 04-04-04, brought by Joe Meloney. Strange, spicy brew; we needed Lori there to keep a scoreboard of the various herbs and spices. It definitely would benefit some aging time. [TF: Quite yummy, kinda like a spiced Belgian Golden Ale.]

Honey Brown Ale, homebrewed by Tom, vintage 1/04. At 7%-plus abv, it a remarkable, delicious brew, with a very soft and subtle mouthfeel and taste. Tom really needs to think about a career change.

Ted Johnston then presented a Vintage Barleywine Collection: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale 1995, George Gale Prize Old Ale-1997, Victory Old Horizontal 1997 and his own homebrewed Old English-style Barleywine 2000.

IMHO, the older vintage brews had lost their real character and flavor (generally on the tart and sour side), but Ted's homebrew was spectacular. Rich, dark fruit flavors with a subtle, but noticeable hop finish. I have no idea what the abv is, because I didn't notice alcohol taste at all.

[TF: Bigfoot--outstanding, the hop bite really mellowed. I think there were some cherry flavors in there. Gales Prize Old Ale--past its prime. Old Horizontal--Yummy. Johnston's Barleywine--lots of Fuggles and Kent, outstanding. Maybe some licorice flavors.]

I think we all unanimously agreed that the homebrewers stole the sampling session last night. Way to go Tom and Ted; keep those homebrews coming.

That's it, the complete beer-stained report. I was hoping there'd be a meaningful clue or two in there somewhere to the unnamed person behind that "mysterious head brewer" reference which might confirm my suspicions as to his identity. But, since there's no report of anyone screaming
This beer is oxidized!
several times during the evening, I guess I have to admit I'm stumped.

[Posted 5:10 pm edt]

11 July 04
It's too late for me, save yourselves.
For reasons having to do with health, wealth and survival of the species (meaning, y'know, me), our entire staff (also meaning me) will be hunkering down and pulling back from its active social life (hah!) for the foreseeable future. To mix and mangle two old clichés, that stuff which rolls down hill has hit the spinning blades.

I expect to keep posting here regularly, albeit perhaps not as often and not always with the "I was there" familiarity that I've tried to make the hallmark of this stuff. While I'll still be attending as many beer functions as I can which have some professional merit (i.e., I can write about them and get paid for it--see below: If you're having beer for dinner, what wine do you serve with it?), more personal activities such as the party I had to blow off yesterday and the Monday Tasting Sessions will be on a catch-as-catch-can basis for the nonce.

It's not all bad. Passing up the party allowed me to avoid yet another opportunity to become hopelessly lost in Pottstown and gained me a menagerie of drunken "friends" screaming Lame Ass!! on the answering machine last night.

And thus we press onward, aware that which does not kill us weakens us for the next thing that comes along...

[Posted 8:00 am edt]

10 July 04
Hi. I'm still not dead.
From what I'm hearing, National Public Radio's Morning Edition will be doing a short piece on the seemingly inexhaustible "Victory switches Philadelphia distributors" story next Friday morning, July 16. This will be, I have to assume, a local cut-in and not part of the national show. I mean, come on...

Let's see now. This story was broken by a major metropolitan newspaper, picked up here (where there were something like 3500 hits around the day it was posted), turned into a major thread at BeerAdvocate.com, then explicated in some detail here--including the first public comments of one of the major participants (nearly 9000 hits that go-round), revitalized at BA in an even longer thread, covered yet again in Philadelphia Weekly, at the end of June (see The story that will not die below) and now apparently merits attention on perhaps the most serious radio news entity we have.

As it turns out, each new story to date has provided at least some additional information. You know, I gotta think the guy who angrily told me I was "beating a dead horse" on a story nobody cared about must feel a little silly about now.

If you're having wine for dinner, what beer do you serve with it?
Tuesday night at Monk's is the Venus & Mars Dinner at which Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione and wine maven Marnie Old will select a beer and a wine to be paired with each course and guests will vote on which works better.

Tom Peters told me a few days ago that he and chef Adam Glickman put together the menu and gave it to Sam and Marnie with no input from their side whatsoever. He said he's already seen Sam's pairings and "a couple of them strike me as a little odd." Now there's a shocker.

This is a repeat of a similar event which was held at Dogfish's Rehoboth Beach pub recently. And it's been done in the city before, way back when. Jim Anderson and wife Anne, who was at the time un-wife Anne and the general manager at Brigid's (no website), put together a five-course beer and wine dinner with the same premise which was great fun. Beer won by a 3-2 vote, but I've always thought it was a bit of a setup.

All the wines came from one distributor and none were really top-of-the-line, while Anderson ranged freely among all the various beers in the Brigid's stash. Plus the dessert was a big, rich chocolate thing that just cried out for a big and smashing beer (I believe Anderson poured Rochefort). This time around, if I understand it correctly, that restrictive shoe is somewhat on the other food, since Sam will be using only Dogfish beers. Not that he doesn't have a helluva range to choose from right there...

I really find this event appealing because the only thing I abhor as strongly as I do the sneering wine snob reaction to beer is the equally pretentious reverse-snob attitude expressed by too many beer geeks. Both beverages are essential to living the good life and each, in its own way, enhances a meal, both a fine dining one and a quite simple one. To summarily dismiss one or the other beverage out of hand due to lack of knowledge and experimentation or with a "tried it once, didn't like it" Bud-drinker style rejection, is simply foolish.

In fact, I have ten or so empty bottles lined up in the corner over there here at LDO World Headquarters, each of them an under-$12 (Pennsylvania priced) wine that I've purchased over the past couple of months which turned out to be a real bargain and which I've been saving so I can talk about them here. That'll happen one of these days, presumably.

Doing things differently around here.
With today's posting, I've ceased linking every first mention of every brewery, pub or beer to its own or another appropriate site, a practice I've employed since this site first went up. I'm beginning to find that procedure intrusive and, lord knows, it's terribly repetitive, given how certain venues and brews turn up here with great regularity. The long and always-being-added-to list of links along the left side of this page provides easy access to a wide range of (mostly local) beer sites, so in a sense, my in-story links were unnecessary anyway.

Here's how it will work if I remember what I'm doing. Most references to local establishments will go unlinked. When not linked, brewery and pub names will be bold-faced, beers and events will be italicized. Out of area breweries, news stories and events will usually be linked, unless there seems no real reason to do so. News stories, event listings and other stuff posted at The Beer Yard site will usually be linked because there is often information there that is not included here. Besides, you should be visiting that site regularly if you want to keep up what's happening around these parts. An example of that approach appears in the entry right before this one.

We'll see how this goes. Nothing is writ in stone, especially around here.

[Posted 2;00 pm edt]

9 July 04
Royal Stumble update.
When I found myself in center city shortly after lunchtime, I decided--with nothing to dissuade me except for All The Things I Should Be Doing--that it would be a fine opportunity to check in at Nodding Head and see what I could find out, knowing that there are three stories bubbling away up on that second-floor Sansom St. site at present.

I could spend some time basking in the always fascinating wisdom of the Formerly Angry Brewer; I could play song-and-dance with the fast-thinking Curt Decker and try to get something, anything, on the record about the proposed new brewery; I could corner the inimitable Spanky and get the scoop on the a-week-from-tomorrow Royal Stumble, one of my favorite local beer events each year.

One out of three ain't bad (but who's counting?).

No Greenwood or Decker in sight, but Spanky was behind the bar, pouring, serving, pontificating and otherwise moving at a maniacal pace, which is to say, behaving normally. I enjoyed a couple of pints of the very good GABF medal-winning Boho Pilsner (a filtered pilsner, imagine that), nibbled at a bit of sausage and cheese and pinned him down for the names of the 14 breweries who will be in attendance at this year's Japanese-themed Stumble.

I've posted the list at The Beer Yard (just scroll down to the Updated Listing under Events). I know that both Bethlehem Brew Works and Troegs are virgins at this whacky event, not entirely sure whether Iron Hill has participated before or not. All the others are old hands and properly corrupted into doing anything to win.

Speaking of that, a new wrinkle this year, which should make for a more level playing field, will be the use of souvenir glasses rather than plastic cups. That means that friends of the brewery can't just get fills and then desert the cups any handy place they can find. Everybody will have a glass. You wanna help somebody win this year, you gotta down some beer.

[Posted 6:50 pm edt]

The story that will not die.
You'll never guess what this article in Philadelphia Weekly dealt with last week. Here's a teeny clue: the headline and subhead:Beer Shift: Local bar owners react to distribution changes at Victory Brewing Co.

Same old, same old for the most part, with this one intriguing new argument for the distribution change offered by Victory:

In addition, Victory co-founder William Covaleski claims Friedland intends to go the way of other small wholesalers and sell his business to a larger conglomerate.
Eddie Friedland denies it. And the beat goes on.

Meanwhile, since I've opened this door again (will I ever learn?), allow me to quote, in full, this message from Scoats, creator, owner and mastermind of the Grey Lodge Pub, when asked for his thoughts on the issue at BeerAdvocate.com. I think it offers yet another perspective that I'd like to have on the record here:

I am officially and personally neutral on the issue. I see both sides.

I will say that Eddie and Co are great to work with and that Eddie allowed the Grey Lodge to grew into a decent account for them (and consequently for Victory and other Phila area micros). Other distributors wouldn't, and still won't :-) , give us the time of day (Shangy, Kunda... hello?). I, like Tom Peters, feel a lot of loyalty to them and know how much the Philadelphia beer scene owes to Eddie.

Up until a few months ago, we did not buy any beers directly from Penn. In fact we weren't on Penn's radar for years. That changed when they got Magic Hat and started to come a'callin'.

We get deliveries from Friedland weekly. We now get deliveries from Penn about once a month. Doing the math, one can see that we will now get a barrel (maybe two) of Victory per month, rather than a new one every week or so. I would expect this may be true for other beer bars in the city, thus opening some rotating tap handles for more Dogfish and Weyerbacher beers to flow through. Conversely Penn will succeed in getting Victory into many places that it wouldn't otherwise be, which volumewise will most likely be a gain for Victory.

Bill contacted me and it looks like the price issue regarding Victory specialty barrels is going to be corrected, which means we'll be running Scarlet Fire, the various Pilsners and other funky lagers when they are available. Assuming of course I can decypher what the very nice salesman is trying to sell me.

So to make a long answer even longer, it will sort of be business as usual, not exactly but not too different.

The "price issue" he refers had to do with a pricing difference between the cost of certain beers as offered by Penn as opposed to how they had been offered by Friedland and, as you can read, it's no longer an issue.

[Posted 7:15 am edt]

8 July 04
Embracing Heresy.
Last night brought the official introduction of Weyerbacher's Heresy at Standard Tap.

Here's a question. Can "heresy" be "official"?

Beer industry movers and shakers, who don't concern themselves with philosophical questions like that, were on hand. Among them: Weyerbacher folk including Dan Weirback, new brewer Chris Wilson (okay, he's been there six months or so, but this is the first time I met him) and other familiar faces; Eddie Friedland and the team from Friedland Distributors; Bill and Nancy Barton from Yards (party crashers); Patrick Mullin and new bride Tracy from Drafting Room Exton (where Heresy will get another roll-out tonight); the inimitable Scoats, and the Beer Yard's Matt Guyer (how we gonna miss him if he keeps comin' back?).

Since the beer and eats (Roast Wild Boar skewers, Roast Lamb with Dill Sauce, Baked Swordfish) were free, the press was also out in force: Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell, George Hummel and Dale Van Wieren of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and this big loud guy who seemed vaguely familiar. And, oh yeah, me.

Heresy more than lives up to its promise. It's smooth, rich and redolent with flavors. We were drinking it on draught but a sample bottle at the Beer Yard yesterday provided a preview of the extraordinary nose: you'll swear you've just twisted off the cap of a pint of good bourbon. This one is gonna be a real hit with the geeks, trust me.

Johnny Brenda news.
I had a chance to chat with William Reed during the evening's festivities and picked some good and interesting news about what's happening, or about to happen, at Johnny Brenda's. I posted that story late last night over here. Go read it. Be happy.

Henry Ortlieb dies.
Bill Barton told us at the Tap last night that he'd seen an obit for a "Henry Ortlieb" in the Philadelphia Inquirer that morning. It was a very brief notice and made no mention of any brewing connection. My call to Big Dan Bengel, usually a solid source for Pottstown news and gossip, yielded no confirmation that it was the Henry we knew.

Confirmation came this morning when I checked the Pottstown Mercury on line and I've just now put up an obituary here.

Condolences to his family.

[Posted 6:50 am edt]

7 July 04
Bud, Red Hook expand distribution deal.
Critics of Victory Brewing's shift to Penn Distributors in Philadelphia, back when that was the Greatest Issue in the History of Man about, oh, five or six days ago*, often brought up the Budweiser/Red Hook relationship as a case in point for the possible horrors which might ensue.

Well, according to this news item

Seattle-based Redhook Ale Brewery, Inc and Portland, Oregon-based Widmer Brothers Brewing Company have created Craft Brands Alliance LLC to advertise, market, sell and distribute each company's products in the western United States. Redhook has also extended its distribution deal with Anheuser Busch through December 2024. The exchange increased A-B's ownership of Redhook from 29.8 % to 33.8%.
Red Hook doesn't seem all that put out about how things have gone (although admittedly having lost ownership points).

That can be found here, by the way, where you can apparently go and read the weekly email newsletter to the trade send out by Distinguished Brands International, the nice folks who took me to Europe last fall and for whom I naturally have something of a soft spot.

(*during which Your Ever Humble Correspondent was assailed for the perceived sins of "bitch-slapping Victory" and--figure this one out, I challenge you--gratuitously dragging poor Tom Pastorius of Penn Brewery into the fray; like I keep telling you, I couldn't make this stuff up)

[Posted 4:50 pm edt]

6 July 04
Monday afternoon comin' down.
As far as I'm concerned, the Monday Tasting Group at Sly Fox as we have come to know it was born on Friday, July 4, 2003. Yes, Richard Ruch, for whose salvation from a dreary and lonely life we first gathered, recently visited his astonishing record of every beer he's ever consumed (like I said, lonely and dreary) and came up with proof that we actually first shared an outside beer at the Fox on April 25, 2003. But just as social and cultural historians contend that the era we know as the Sixties really began on November 22, 1963 and ended on August 8,1974, I'd argue that it was that wild and memorable afternoon (memorable for some, that is; there are others who recall very little of that day, a group of which I am a charter member) which turned a casual weekly gathering into an event.

This year, things were on a smaller scale, quieter and steamier (talking weather here, not you-know, although some dialogue which shows up later in this report may convince you otherwise). Richard Ruch, Joe Meloney, Rick & Jeanne Smiledge, Rick & Stephanie Mayberry, Tom Foley & Lori Limper, Karl Shoemaker & Your Humble Correspondent were in attendance by 4 pm, give or take ten minutes.

Curiously missing were the Brothers Huber, who had been somewhat adamant on Monday previous that we not only gather but do so early because of the holiday. The Membership Committee will look into that at its next meeting. If there was a Membership Committee. If there were meetings.

Ten beers were poured. Mayberry, being ever so nice with his wife present, started us off with his brew-on-premises brewed Honey Wit, which featured a sweet honey nose and flavor, the latter quickly kicked up with a welcome hop bite and lingering aftertaste. A fine beer for the muggy afternoon. As was the three-month old (of course) growler of Victory Prima Pils which Ruch pulled out that mysterious refrigerator of his. In this instance, I thought the lengthy wait had deprived the beer of its hop character, but no one else seemed to mind.

Two Saisons were poured next. Meloney, who had ridden his bicycle to Manayunk Brewery over the weekend as part his weird predilection for travelin', ever travelin', and was still sweating, brought along Clipper City Red Sky at Night, a very good new beer (as I noted a week or two back). Unfortunately, it was poured a bit too warm to be enjoyed properly but, oh my, the flavors that were revealed... Challenged, Foley leapt to the fore with his own home-brewed Saison, which was still a bit young (only a month in the bottle, I believe he said) but, as it always with his beers, drat it all, was also most drinkable and had a superb nose.

All these, you will note, were the sorts of light and refreshing beers folks tend to drink this time of year. That changed abruptly for the rest of the afternoon.

Foley again, setting us on the path of doom, with Floreffe Dubbel from Brasserie Lefebvre. A great beer, this one, 8% abv and rich in the mouth. Not to be outdone, Lori thereupon shouldered him aside and brought out Steenbrugge Tripel Blond from De Gouden Boom, the best beer of the day in my estimation. Great spicy nose and flavors and just the right touch of dryness in the finish to bring it all together. Also 8% abv.

The Smiledges took us up a notch, just what we needed, with a growler of Legacy Euphoria which Rick had pulled fresh from his keg at home within the hour. Ruch mounted a protest that no growler should be poured before it had ample time sitting in the back of the 'frig, but was shouted down. It was still as fine as it had been a week earlier (see Smiledge Sunday below) and still a big 8.7% abv. What was to follow would make it seem almost like a session beer.

Meloney's second offering provided the impetus for a verbal exchange that will go down in Monday Tasting lore. The beer was Unibroue Edition 2004, the beer which is replacing the scheduled 12 according to this posting of a news release from the brewery by BeerAdvocate co-founder Todd Alstrom this very morning. I found this strong Belgian pale ale (10.5% abv) very interesting but am not sure if I'd order it on any regular basis were I to have the opportunity.

A question was immediately raised about the unusual flavor note in the brew and Lori replied just as quickly and firmly: sweet gale, she said. We all looked stupefied. Now, a little research this morning shows sweet gale to be "English bog myrtle, or bayberry," a revelation which may or may not have drawn the same befuddled looks, but Ms. Limper, didn't have that description at hand when, to her immediate regret, she tried to clarify things. You rub it on your pork, she offered.

Silence. Exchanged glances. The beginning of sophomoric giggles. Then Ruch rose, as it were, to the challenge. Until firm, he shouted gleefully. It must said that he appeared to have some knowledge whereof he spake. And I know I saw Shoemaker's eyes light up.

Moving on, it will be of little surprise that, given the trend of things, we closed out the session with a pair of beers from Stone Brewing. A second Mayberry provided brew, this one credited to Stephanie for legal reasons, was the just-released 2004 Imperial Russian Stout (10.8% abv) and my contribution was Old Guardian Barleywine 2004 (10.6% abv). If the first one don't getcha, then the other one will. They got me. My notes wander off into unreadable squiggles thereafter.

Hashing?
From today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

An eccentric sport that combines running and drinking, and places no value in coming in first, hashing was invented by bored British expatriates in Malaysia in 1938. They based it on the children's game of Hare and Hounds and dubbed themselves the Hash House Harriers, combining the nickname for the club they all frequented and the British term for a cross-country runner...

Irreverence - some might call it sophomoric humor - is key to hashing. All hashers go by nicknames, which are usually insulting or lewd and generally unprintable in a family newspaper. "More people know me by my hashing name than my real name," said Bob Hranek, dubbed "Horny Hands," a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin who has been hashing for two decades.

The rules of hashing are few. Nonrunners are welcome to walk the course and teetotalers can opt to chug a glass of water during the raucous post-event beer-drinking ritual known as the "down-down." But one thing the freewheeling clubs all emphasize: Those easily offended should stay home.

"Hashing is politically incorrect," said Jeff Harbison, a.k.a. "Dips--t," a longtime member of the Philadelphia Hash House Harriers, which claims never to have missed a weekly run since it began in 1978. "That's one of the key things that makes it work. The whole point is to get out there and have some fun and let your guard down. You don't have to worry about pissing anyone off. You can just be silly and irresponsible and play in the mud."

Damn, this sounds like my kinda sport. Well, the "down-down" part anyway.

[Posted 5:10 pm edt]

5 July 04
Adrift in Pottstown.
Big Dan threw a small party yesterday for his nearest and dearest and me. We sat out back in the yard and drank beer while he slaved away over the grill, which seemed perfectly right all 'round. As I've noted here before, however, Pottstown is my bete noire, a place to be avoided at all costs since I've never yet found my way out of the damned place without problems. Sure enough, I got to the party with relative ease-- despite a detour that forced me to be inventive--but again became thoroughly discombobulated after leaving and ended up wandering the nooks and crannies of that miserable town until I could finally wend my way home.

Lordie, lordie, RikerFest (don't ask) is next weekend, just down the road from yesterday's gathering. Maybe I'll just plan to sleep in the car. Or stay there forever. Whatever works.

The Slow Pour.
When I got home last night (just so you know that my issues in Pottstown were not--entirely--caused by the consumption of strong drink, I finished up and posted the interview with Matt Wieber, Sly Fox's new Director of Culinary Operations, who turns out to be more of a local guy than I'd realized and to have a right extensive background for the job...I'll be having lunch with Jeffrey Norman this week to discuss the 2004 Kennett Square Microbrew Festival, which, as I reported here several months back, has separated from the annual Mushroom Festival this year and will be held on Saturday, October 9. I guess that means no poor brewer will be stuck with the task of creating a mushroom beer this year, for which thanks should be given. After missing last year's event because I was in Europe, I came up with an improbable idea for how I might contribute this time around. It was pretty much a pipedream, but recent conversations and an as yet unannounced event which is happening during GABF in late September have suddenly changed the picture. Maybe I can pull it off. Gotta help my old homies, you know...

[Posted 9:20 am edt]

4 July 04
Incubus Friday.
The crowd at the July first Friday of the month gathering at Sly Fox was pretty much the size it always is, a fact that can be verified by the almost mystical kicking of the draft Incubus within five minutes either way at 6:30 pm. Given that this was the beginning of a summer holiday weekend, that suggests either some major economic or social trend of which I am blissfully unaware or the fact that the buzz keeps, you know, buzzin'.

I'm going with the latter theory. And I think we're in the first stages of a "food buzz" joining the "beer buzz" in bringing in the customers. New Director of Culinary Operations Matt Wieber's first menu was introduced Wednesday last and the reaction appears to have been overwhelmingly positive. Count me in that column, based upon a lunch and dinner. I'll have an introductory interview up at the Fox website by tomorrow (maybe even tonight) which I think will be of some interest. I've know Matt slightly since his days at New Road, but I learned some important things I never knew in our brief talk yesterday.

Most of the regulars were present, as you'd expect. Ruch even inveigled a bevy of wandering BeerAdvocates to fill a table and then abandoned them to their fate. The brewer, who do like to visit the old homestead when he gets a long weekend, was absent, as you'd expect. So too was the assistant brewer, scared off after having been dragooned into working in the kitchen on Wednesday and Thursday nights as the place was slammed and everything was new and different. Mamma Ohst didn't raise no fools.

Oh, and the Incubus keeps getting better each month. The nose is perhaps a bit overly (and deceptively) alcoholic at present, but the flavors are dead on perfect. We should be nearing the end of the 2003 batch, I'd think, so it's time start bugging O'Reilly to get on the case. He's got Saison Vos and Fuggles Anniversary IPA (the last of the eight single varietal brews in the 2004 IPA Project) in the tanks right now and those should be on soon.

Smiledge Sunday.
Lost in the shuffle and my work schedule last week was any mention of the party thrown by Rick and Jeanne Smiledge at their country estate a week ago today. Four beers were on tap, three from Rick's own home system (Sly Fox Helles and Keller Pils--or Pale Ale, memory fails--and the wonderful Euphoria from Reading's Legacy Brewing), plus the last of a sixtel of Stoudt's Hefeweizen which Steve (The Other One) brought along from the previous day's gathering of Rubeo Family Youse-rs at Camp Terry.

We sat around the pool, marveled at the small whirlpool bath by its side which swirled at a pace that would swallow up a small dog or child, and drank and ate, fine practices both. There was an awkward moment when Dan (The Big) One wandered down into the Beer Cellar and offered to sell his Pookie's soul if some bottles there were opened immediately, but otherwise all was pleasant. Me, having learned recently that I may have to move, I was contemplating if I could sneak in and live there the 90 percent of the time or so that the Smiledges are the road to Cleveland and points south.

The reason all this slipped my mind, I suspect, was that I established a mental block of serious proportions after we all discovered a photograph of Rick and Jeanne in the prime of their youth. This amazing record of times long past basically exploded all our comfortable preconceived notions of what they must have been like. Truly mind-boggling, it was. I am, although they don't know it yet, in negotiations with them to post same here as a object lesson to all you young folks and I'm willing to do a similar Then & Now treatment to myself if they cave. We owe it to the next generation...

Bourbon Imperial Stout Thursday.
This one hasn't happened yet. Weyerbacher Heresy will have a Coming Out Party of sorts this Thursday at Drafting Room Exton. You can find the particulars here, where I posted them yesterday. Dan Weirback will be there to charm one and all and Heresy will be available both on draft and in bottles. Congratulations to Patrick Mullin (whose name I have apparently been misspelling for months now) for seeing an opportunity and grabbing it. That sort of thinking is what makes TDR such a treasure and a "Must Visit" for serious beer aficionados.

[Posted 11:00 am edt]

2 July 04
"No, that's not sweet water. It's regular water."
I keep telling you I couldn't make this stuff up. Maybe this will do the trick.

During last Monday's Sly Fox Monday Beer Tasting, I was asking our here-again, gone-again brewer Brian O'Reilly how things had gone at the Old Dominion event in Virginia last Saturday and whether he'd gotten to Sweetwater Tavern while he was down there (as a matter of fact, he did--and got thrown out twice). Our waitperson, having just dropped off a pitcher of water at our table on the terrace and started to walk away, turned back and said...well, you read the headline.

It wasn't quite the Grand Moment exemplified by Big Dan's almost killing himself trying to jump over a two-foot high brick wall (those size 14 feet do tend to drag), but it wasn't a bad moment of surrealism for a Monday night in Phoenixville.

This description of the evening, as our buddy Joe Sixpack might say, was written last night with a bottle of Perkuno's Hammer. That means that I not only had to fight off the effects of 8.3% abv, but also to reject any deleterious influence on my clear-eyed views caused by the "insights" of Lew Bryson, which are intrinsically bound up in this brew (read the label).

Channeling Lew would be an affront to everything I still believe in. Admittedly, that isn't much, but still...

Roll call.
Couldn't Keep 'em Away If You Tried:
Richard Ruch, Rick Mayberry, Joe Meloney, Tom Foley, Lori Limper & a pair of Hubers (Bill & Bob).

Show Up When They Choose To:
Ted Johnston, Brian O'Reilly.

Annoyingly Independent, But Funnier Every Week:
Karl Shoemaker. I have to start writing down some of the stuff he says...but then, I'd have to explain it.

Second Time Around:
Anne Michelle ("not Nicole") Smith.

In & Out:
Jimmy Wasko (early), Lee Marren (late).

Behind The Bar :
Some guy named Corey Reid, who seemed vaguely familiar.

There So You Didn't Have To Be:
Your Humble Correspondent.

The beers.1
Ruch, as Ruch is wont to do, reached into the back of his refrigerator and found a long forgotten growler. This time it was a three-month old Appalachian Anniversary Maibock and, quite simply, the best Appalachian beer I've yet tasted, having lost not a smidgen of its carbonation. Those guys definitely know how to fill and seal a growler. Call Richard persistent.

Richard's bestest buddy, He Whose Name Dare Not Be Revealed, otherwise known as Rick Mayberry, brought Heavyweight Biere d'Art, the second, or 2004, bottling. This beer, whenever it was bottled or kegged or whatever, is one of my favorite beers ever. Assuming this is all about me, Call Rick perspicacious.

Meloney chipped in with a big Alaskan beer, Midnight Sun Cohoho Imperial IPA, and also Great Lakes Anniversary Ale, a tripel. Both were excellent, but there do appear to be a lot of that "anniversary" stuff going round, don't there? Doesn't anybody these days make a beer just because, what the hell, it's a beer? As for Meloney, call him on the road.

The beers.2
Someplace in there, Wasko, who wasn't even working and came anyway, and who seems to make runs to Adamstown almost as often as the meandering Meloney, stopped in briefly with a bottle of Stoudt's IPA and then went off to do whatever it is that he does on his own time (don't ask). Johnston, probably gone prideful because of the success of the various homebrews he's brought in the past, did a Ruch and reached back into the dark recesses to pull out a bottle of La Trappe Quad 1995. It turned out to be sour and corky. That'll teach him: to thine ownself be true.

Lori's contribution was Vichtenar, an easy drinking 5.1% abv kriek, while hubby Tom poured Grimbergen Optimo Bruno, a 10% abv killer. I think they're playing with our minds. I like it.

Those Huber boys, getting a bit uppity with demands to now be known here as "Robert" and "William" (like that will happen), each brought a lambic. Next thing you know, they'll start dressing alike. Bob's beer was Chapeau Faro from the small Belgian brewery, De Troch, 1997 vintage. A nice sweet/sour sorta brew. Bill brought St. Louis Gueuze Lambic from Van Honsebrouck, 1999 vintage, which somebody described, if not grammatically, certainly effectively, as "the most mildest Gueuze you'll ever drink."

The mysterious Ms. Smith, who is apparently known to Ruch and Mayberry but otherwise seems okay, brought two beers. Elysian Brewing's Perseus Porter, a 1999 GABF Gold Medal winner, was as good as promised; Bear Republic Old Scuttlebutt #11 Barleywine was, what can I say, sour.

That was it for the evening, aside from my own contribution, which was Brasserie Géants Gouyasse, a pleasant 6% abv Belgian blonde ale.

[Posted 7:30 am edt]

1 July 04
The Slow Pour.
Weyerbacher Heresy will be released tomorrow, though not too many folks may see it until next week (it's due at The Beer Yard on Tuesday, the same day Guyer returns--talk about your mixed blessings). The word of mouth on Heresy has been strong and favorable from geeks who have tasted it at various festivals. It's a true bourbon stout, aged in three different barrels and then blended to create the desired whiskey, vanilla and oak characteristics. I must admit I'm really looking forward to this one.

I've added http://www.cask-ale.co.uk as a link in the ever-growing list on the left side of these ramblings. The site is the home of The Gotham Imbiber, a brewszine out of that city to the north (current issue here), but also has lots more of interest for lovers of cask beers. The Imbiber requires the ability to read PDF files, which any respectable computer system ought to have anyway, but, good guy that I am, I've added a link for downloading Acrobat Reader (free) at the bottom of that ever-growing list on etc. for anyone who needs to use it. Who loves ya, baby?

The Tasting Notes promised last month or last night, depending on your perspective (complete June postings were archived here this morning), are in the works and will be up tomorrow. I think.

[Posted 7:25 pm edt]

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

--A. E. Houseman

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