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1 JUNE 03
What's up (for those who came in late). Liquid Diet Online is a weekly chronicles of my adventures in the craft beer world, mostly in and around Philadelphia. We've been shut down since early May while I revamped this entire site (you can find links to other pages on the site at the left). A weekly entry is usually, but not always, posted here on Sundays. And, in fact, speaking of sometimes erratic posting, next week's update will most likely come on Monday. I'm off to Pittsburgh for the weekend for Pennsylvania Microfest 2003 (scroll down), in the company of the lovely and talented Lew Bryson. Two beer writers, no waiting.

While we were away. Beer festivals at Iron Hill in Media and Ortlieb's in Pottstown took place during the LDO hiatus. I went to the former to run the Sly Fox booth along with Fox regular Dave Boston (Brian O'Reilly, the peripatetic brewer, was out of town...again). Dave brought in his father and his nephew to help us. Well, he brought them in. That's Dave and relatives to the right. We, as you might expect, charmed the crowd. Happily enough, Dave managed to not punch me in the nose for giving away his $15 Cuban cigar. What he did was, he went and took it back from the poor girl, wrestling her to the ground and screaming at her. At least, that's what I heard; I was too busy doing the work of two people to check it out. And, finally, we continued what is apparently a Sly Fox tradition by having their brand new cold plate stolen from our truck while we kicked back inside the Iron Hill pub afterwards. A full day's work, that.

The announced crowd at Iron Hill was 800 but I think it was probably less than that. They announced 1200 a year ago when the place was packed and this seemed around half that. Over at Ortlieb's, which was doing their event for the first time in afternoon and evening sessions, things started off really badly. Only 84 tickets sold for the afternoon session. "People kept coming up to me and asking if this was GABF Baltimore," reports Bryson, who was in Pottstown trying to hawk copies of his Pennsylvania Breweries second edition (he's just biding his time until the New York book comes out in a couple of weeks and makes him rich and famous). The evening session, though, had an announced 400 tickets sold and, from on-site estimates I was given, maybe 250-300 attendees. Looks like a one-session, evening festival might work out for them. Dan, the Big One, manned the Sly Fox table and is ever so proud that he brought back his cold plate safe and sound. Doesn't take much to make some guys happy.

Saturday a week ago, I took a trip down to Monk's with Steve, the Other One (if you don't understand this "Big One/Other One" stuff, you're gonna have to plow through the archives to figure it out because it makes my head hurt to explain it). It was something of a command appearance. A few nights earlier, my phone rang around 10:30 PM, usually not a good sign. In this case, though, it was the inestimable Tom Peters, announcing that his new Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale had just arrived and that any beer writer worth his salt would haul his ass down there as soon as possible and give it a try. And so we did, although I'd already had a bit of a taste at the annual Monk's Michael Jackson Beer Dinner in February.

We sipped both draft--Tom has 100 kegs and says the beer will be available on draft only at Monk's until and unless distributor Eddie Friedland slips a keg or two out the door to some other accounts--and bottled versions. Bottles will be available for distribution around mid-June and we all know where I think you should go buy some. A very quaffable and enjoyable beer, similar to Rodenbach Red. Better in bottles than on tap, I'd say, but I expected that going in.

We then hustled up the street to Nodding Head for a sample of the recently released 2003 Berliner Weisse. Not my favorite style, but pleasant enough drinking when taken straight, without the Woodruff syrup. We moved on to the award-winning Grog and other brews and whiled away the rest of the afternoon.

On the way back, we swung by The Beer Yard (see above, "where you should go buy some") so that Steve could pick up some beer for his birthday bash the following day. Somehow, we there acquired an quartet of Italian guys. We're talking from Italy here, gang, not South Philadelphia. They wanted to follow us to Sly Fox, our final destination, where Steve would purchase even more beer. Say what you want about him--no, really, go ahead--he definitely knows how to throw himself a birthday party. Lead them we did, and at last glimpse they were happily ensconced at the bar, multiple plates strewn out in front of them, intent on ordering, it seemed, damned near everything on the menu.

The doctor makes a house call. Well, not really. This isn't a fantasy, after all. But he did the next best thing: he sent beer. Our old pal, Doc, a dedicated--some might say obsessed--beer guy Matt Guyer and I met on our California sojourn in February, UPS-ed 12 large bottles of fine California brew to my door this week. The booty included Hoptown DUIPA (a 10% ABV double IPA specially bottled for a friend of his which is usually only available on tap), Hoptown IPA (6.2% ABV), Hoptown Old Yeltsin Russian Imperial Stout (9% ABV), Lagunitas Old Ale (5.2% ABV), Lagunitas Brown Shugga (9.9% ABV) and Marin Eldridge Grade White Knuckle Ale (9% ABV), another double IPA. Doc is, you might say, a fan of big beers. This is a two-way street, by the way. I shipped Doc out a 24-bottle selection of Heavyweight and Weyerbacher beers, Victory Dark Lager and a three-year run of Brooklyn Monster about a month ago. Unfortunately, I have to give Guyer half of this shipment. Bummer. Reports will appear here as they are consumed.

That which surpasseth all understanding. So O'Reilly dashed out of Sly Fox on Friday afternoon for the airport. He said he was off to pick up an old buddy, whom he described as "a short Mexican guy you'll all really like." He came back instead with a lovely blonde lass. Incredible. We'll try to discover and explain how in the world this happened for next week's posting. One thing is certain: there is definitely hope for us all.

[Posted 8:00 am edt]


8 JUNE 03
"Dated, different and unconcerned." That was Bryson's response this afternoon when, during our long ride home from Pittsburgh and points north, I casually mentioned a couple of ideas I'm considering for this little corner of cyberspace. "That's no way to talk about my website," I protested. "Website?" he snorted. "I meant you."

Ah, how sharper than a serpent's tooth, you know? Bryson is, of course, Lew Bryson, author of Pennsylvania Breweries, the forthcoming New York Breweries and lots of other stuff, much of which can be found here. If you've been paying attention, you know that he and I were part of the throng at Penn Fest this weekend.

I'm sorry to have to tell you that my promised report on the doings in the 'Burgh will have to wait until tomorrow, maybe even Tuesday. Quite simply, Your Humble Correspondent is beat to hell after a whole lotta good beer and very little restorative sleep. Before I hie myself off to bed, though, let me say up front that I learned a couple of important things out there on the western end of the state. One, Pittsburgh is a lot cooler city that I remembered or have been led to believe by its detractors here in the Philly region and one key to that coolness is a plethora of good and interesting beer bars. Second, If the Fort Pitt bridge and tunnel are closed, you just can't get there from here in that town.

Bear with me while I get my act back together and I'll have more to say about what was a great trip and festival. You definitely will want to hear about the infamous moment when Lew stunned an already perplexed Australian with a shocking request, trust me. All that, plus news of a brand new (and very ambitious) brewery about to be launched in a place where the waters once famously rose, the recent invasion of the brewspapers, the results of my investigation into the matter of Brian O'Reilly's mystery woman and whatever else I can squeeze in. Look for it in the next 24 hours or so on a computer screen near you.

In the meantime, go here. Tell them Bob sent you.

[Posted 9:45 pm edt]


9 JUNE 03
Penn Fest. The night before. Driving with Bryson is an adventure. That's Lew Bryson and that's all I'm gonna tell you. I'm tired of explaining the man and directing people to his web site. Do a Google search for heaven's sake. Everything's going to atrophy if you don't use it.

Anyway, Bryson drives in an interesting fashion and, to tell the truth, it's really quite comforting that he sometimes watches the road as he does so. And I note that, while "road rage" is not his thing, "road indignation" might accurately describe his feelings about many of his fellow motorists. He'd undoubtedly argue that these are just the nervous mutterings of a person of advancing age. Since he pulls all this off with a certain rough-hewn panache and handles a car right well, we'll let it go at that. Otherwise, I'd have to tell you how, just this side of Ogle, a mile or so short of Ryot, on the long downhill slope of Pleasantville Mountain, he damned near got us smooshed in his pursuit of fresh ground horseradish. That sort of thing would just upset you.

One way or another, he got us to Pittsburgh by late afternoon Friday, just as promised. Better yet, he knew where he was going, having lived in Pittsburgh and--close your eyes and picture this now, all you who know him--explored the town hither and yon on his trusty moped. That knowledge of where things were and how to get to them stood us in good stead, given the shut-down of the Fort Pitt bridge and tunnel for construction. From what I could figure out, the easiest way to get anywhere in the whole city would have been via that connection. Lord knows, the incredible preponderance of signs trying to help folks figure out how to get places indicated that the city fathers were of a similar conviction.

I loved Pittsburgh on first (in a long time) sight, almost enough to forgive it for Rick Santorum. It appears to be a very livable city and it is blessed with some great bars and pubs, most of them known to Bryson and all of which he determined we needed to visit before finding out whether or not it was still possible to get to our hotel (that bridge thing again). I was not in a position nor of a disposition to argue.

Our first stop was at the Squirrel Hill Cafe (5802 Forbes Ave.), a long time watering hole (since 1933), about which I remember little except that my pint of Penn Dark Lager was a fine way to be introduced to the beer of the 'Burgh. From there, we proceeded to D's Six Packs and Dogz (1118 S. Braddock Avenue), which was my favorite stop of the day. What this is, basically, is a long hotdog counter with several good taps (my choice was Anderson Valley Hop Ottin') and a stunning cold room in the rear with 750 (!) beers. Whoa! That info came from manager Jesse Seager and it sure appeared accurate upon inspection. This is a great concept. The food part isn't all that complex (paper towels on rollers at the counter provided "napkins"), the beer is the centerpiece. If somebody doesn't do this in Philadelphia soon, I'm gonna start wishing I had the money to pull it off.

From there we went to Chiodo's Tavern, which is actually not in Pittsburgh but in Homestead at the end of the Homestead High Level Bridge over the Monongahela River (107 W 8th Ave). This is one of those places with a great gimmick (the "mystery sandwich"), stuff hung all over the ceiling (yeah, the usual bras and such, but much more) and a surprisingly good beer selection if you take the time to look (my selection was Great Lakes Edumund Fitzgerald Porter, about which more when we get to discussing Penn Fest itself). Chiodo's has been there for 56 years. Long may it prosper.

I'm gonna get vaguer as I go along, be prepared. Next came Smokin' Joe's (the corner of East Carson and 20th), which featured 44 taps and 250 bottles. And then Fat Head's South Shore Saloon (1805 East Carson Street) and Piper's Pub (thank God one of these places finally had a website). Check it out. At this point, even Bryson was willing to acknowledge that perhaps seeking out our accommodations wasn't just the desperate plea of a saner man. One last stop, he said, a quick beer at Sharp Edge (302 S. St. Clair St.) and we'd call it a night.

Well, I dunno know if that would have happened under any circumstances--Sharp Edge is one of the great beer bars I've ever been in (check out the web link to see why)--but this evening it had the added appeal of the Nodding Head tag team of Curt Decker and Spanky sitting at the bar. Great fun would inevitably ensue from that fortuitous meeting, I thought, and it did. Soon we were all engrossed in deep philosophical exchanges between Decker and Bryson on such diverse topics as the tragedy of a brewery's unrequited love and the importance of parking as editorial parameter (you had to be there). More beers were consumed--don't ask, can't tell--and we somehow proceeded to what I presume was Kelly's Bar & Lounge (6012 Penn Circle South), which had a great outdoor area in the rear and a memorable darkhaired (ink-black, actually) waitress who put up with us.

Things fell apart. We arranged to meet again at yet another Dee's, this one apparently a classic old bar, but Bryson and I became conmuddled and befused (hard to believe, innit?) and instead finished off our evening at Gooskie's (3117 Brereton Street, Polish Hill), where, for reasons that have not been made clear to me even now, someone came rushing out from behind the bar and presented us each with t-shirts. This is not a bad thing, understand, just not normal. For me, anyway.

The evening was over but its most incredible moment awaited. At Hawthorn Suites, which was to be our home away from home, we acquired our room keys and hauled our luggage upstairs to our purported room. The keys did not work, a fact which Bryson was commenting on at Bryson sound levels (not something you want going on in your neighborhood at 2:30 AM, trust me), when the door in front of us flung open and a befuddled young man clad only in a towel confronted us. "What are you doin', mates?" he asked, in a decidedly Australian accent. "Why are you trying to get into me room?"

Okay, I need you to work with me now. It strikes me that there are a few appropriate reactions to a situation such as this one. The cowardly thing is to turn tail and run. The gentlemanly approach is to explain that there has clearly been some error made. A middle road might be to stumble and fumble about and slink away. In all the wide range of existence, I--and likely you--would never, ever, come up with Bryson's response. "I really have to pee," he said, winningly. "Can I come in and use your bathroom?"

To be continued. Say what? Oh, come on! Are you thinking this is just a ploy to get you to come back tomorrow? Do you believe I have no shame? Well, okay. But even so, this is most terribly long, is it not? And then there's all that good stuff down below which I put together early on just to get the synapses working again. You really must read that. Really. It has it all: sex, violence, rock and roll (or a derivative thereof). Don't leave until you've devoured every word.

The rest of our Pittsburgh adventure will be posted on the morrow for your edification. Be here or be there.

Attack of the brewspapers. Just when you thought it was safe to go into your local bar again, those madcap beer publishers unleashed their dead-tree products on us. Damn, I hate it when they do that. No, wait...some of them pay me for my inchoate beer ramblings. My bad.

In any case, all three brewspapers available locally all appeared last week like a plague of hops-driven locusts. My home base, of course, is Celebrator Beer News (which is available at a few select local beer outlets courtesy of Pennsylvania's best beer distributor, The Beer Yard in Wayne). In this issue is my new regular column, Atlantic Ale Trail (I don't name 'em; I just write 'em) and story about the Stone Brewing launch in New York City last March. This latter is opposite an offbeat story by local writer Priscilla Estes, just returned from a grueling two-year stint in Belgium, poor gal. Her topic was the annual Golden Age of Beer in Philadelphia tours. Tough job, since one of my favorite beer writers really said it all about that baby last year.

Squeezing into the few column inches left over by Bryson, I've been doing some stories for Ale Street News as well of late, and I have a short article about the departure of Jim Anderson for less sunny shores in this current issue. Another schedule piece, about my visit to Anderson Valley Brewing Company didn't make the cut. I'll be checking to see if that's still in the mix for the August/September issue and let you know. Wouldn't want to miss a bit of my deathless prose, would ya?

Also out there at the moment is the latest Mid-Atlantic Brewing News with local columns and stories by good pals Dale Van Wieren, George Hummel and Gary Monterosso, so be sure to check that out as well. If you become a fully informed drinker, you'll be able to offer strangers in bars all sorts of interesting facts. Then again, there is that problem of getting beaten up in the parking lot...

'Sup with these fools? Front man here is Sam Calagione, that Dogfish Head white boy who has more identities than the entire freakin' Justice League. Backin' up is Dogfish Head main man and brewin' fool Bryan Selders, who we figure is just lookin' for a trip back to the big city. Word up: they now be The Pain Relievaz, which their publicity machine shouts out as "probably the finest beer-geek-hip-hop group of our generation." Whatevah. Tuesday night, which is tomorrow from where I'm sittin', they're gonna be at Monk's Cafe to kick out their new (first, ya know?) CD, featuring the hit single "I got busy with an A-B salesgirl" and other songs which, well, ain't yet hit singles. It's gonna be (quotin' again) "a mini-concert, beer tasting, soul food throw-down featuring the amazing eats of Chef Adam." Monk's food, Dogfish beer. You know the drill. Peace out. Hollah.

Yo, Sam! Rap and CDs are just so yesterday, man. We're part of the DVD generation. A copy of the just released The Victory Brewing Experience, a DVD history of Downingtown's most famous brewery, was slipped into my hands by bartender Kris Reid last week which I was at the bar sipping the latest Varietal Pils and the just released Sunshine Weiss (can you say "cloves," boys and girls?). Why you ask? Well, could be employee pride. Could also be that his Brainstorm Multimedia produced it. I'll watch it this week and let you know what I think.

The O'Reilly mystery. Okay, I'm writing this one off as a mass hallucination. To believe the story as O'Reilly tells it (that's Brian O'Reilly, brewer extraordinaire at Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery and if you don't know what's going on here you gotta scroll down and catch up; don't blame me, that's the way the web works--come in late, you have to read backwards), you need to believe that a striking young woman would work out an elaborate hoax to fly in here from San Diego in place of one of his good ol' boys just to hang with him. Or that she once sent him a goat hand puppet (stop thinking that, you nasty people). And that she's coming back in a couple of weeks. I mean, a gal like that would have to be, well, Canadian. It's just too damned bizarre for words. Nothing but a chimera. Trust me.

This column was written with a pint of Dogfish Head Raison d'Etre and a broken spellchecker. It would appear that the guy who wrote the chalkboard for the opening of Ortlieb's Grill at Sunnybrook Ballroom a while back has moved on to find work as a copy editor at the Philadelphia Daily News. From the Joe Sixpack column this past Friday: "Former John Harvard /Flying Fish/Red Bell brewer Chris Rafferty has landed at Kutztown's Golden Avalanche Brewing. You can taste his Onyx Cream STOUDT (emphasis mine) on June 19 at Brewer's Reserve Night at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (30 E. State St., Media)."

The Big Fella's big fall. I have been taken to task by a regular reader for not reporting on the appalling bit of athletic ineptitude displayed by Dan, the Big One, last Friday evening at Sly Fox. It would be impolitic of me to reveal who this evil minded-person might be, so I'll only note that in a situation where you have the Big One, odds are that you'll also have an-Other One. The story is quite simple. Dan tried to leap up and over a relatively low barrier, the kind which, you know, anybody could easily manage, but his size 15 feet did not choose to make the journey with him, thus causing him to take a terrible pratfall in front of thousands. I want to say that I would never report on something like that because it is humiliating and personally embarrassing, mostly for those of us who were so unfortunate as to witness it. Have a little humanity, folks. We must maintain standards around here or who knows what might be revealed.

Clearing the record. I feel obliged to note that it has been brought to my attention by someone close to the matter (you have no idea how much annoying email I get every day) that reporting how Bryson said that I, or my website, or both of us, were "dated, different and unconcerned" cleverly painted him as a mean and insensitive lout. Not my intention, I assure you. I wear the label he bestowed proudly and, truth to tell, he aspires to earning a similar designation for himself one day if he can become more like me. Besides, I'm saving all my vicious personal attacks for August, when things are slow.

[Posted 11:50 pm edt]


10 JUNE 03
Penn Fest. The event. We awakened late Saturday morning, 10:30 or so, still tired but certainly comfortable. I know you've been hanging on tenterhooks, whatever they are, so, yes, the Australian did let Lew in to use his bathroom. Cool folks, those Aussies, if perhaps not as cautious as they should be. And, since they'd given away our room, the Hawthorne Suites folks had to give us what they had, which turned out to be a two-level, two-bedroom/bath suite. So it was up late, fumble around, hit Denny's for breakfast and stroll into the first Penn Fest session about half an hour late.

Lew was there to peddle books for all three sessions and he did reasonably well, not to mention reaping a whole buncha psychic energy from folks who already owned copies and wanted to tell him how much they enjoyed the book. He set up shop on a small corner of the Ale Street News table in the rear corner of the top level of a parking garage attached to the Penn Brewery where Fest vendors are stationed (there is also a rooftop deck with seating and food). I was duly impressed by the sales of "Beer Goddess" shirts racked up by ASN publisher Jack Babin to ladies of all sizes and shapes over the course of the day. I had my doubts about the viability of the whole Beer Goddess thing when it was first introduced, but no more.

With no specific task at hand, I mostly wandered about and caught up early on with Penn's Tom Pastorius, whom I'd not met before, to thank him for his hospitality and to offer congratulations on what I was already recognizing as a well-run and enjoyable festival (I expressed the same to his wife Mary Beth at the close of the final session). I was gathering information and meeting people and tasting beers, all in the name of work. I took a couple of photos and since I realized this morning that I had overlooked our late night visit to Church Brew Works (3525 Liberty Avenue) in my earlier listing of Friday night's activities, I figured I'd use that one here. That was my only reason for choosing this one. Honest. I mean, why else?

Two of the notable Big Beers I tried ("notable" being short-hand for "I remembered to write down tasting notes about them") were a striking 6.7% ABV DeGroen's RauchBock from Baltimore Brewing Company, and a big and warming Oak Barrel Stout from Old Dominion Brewing Company (I'll be down in Ashburn, Virginia for their beer festival at the end of this month). Other, not all (I eventually stopped keeping track), new and enjoyable brews I tried were Youghiogheny Red from Maryland's Deep Creek Brewing Company, Church Brew Works' Bell Tower Brown Ale, and West Virginia Brewing Company's Raspberry Wheat.

My two favorite beers of the festival were already known to me, albeit one of them only briefly. That was the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter from Great Lakes Brewing Company, which I had at Chido's Tavern Friday night (see below). I spent some time talking with brewer Luke Purcell and we exchanged Brian O'Reilly stories (apparently O'Reilly really was the "cool brewer" during his time at the Cleveland John Harvard's) while I sipped a porter or two and tried the also excellent Burning River Pale Ale. My other favorite of the day was Nodding Head Spring Ale, with its big hoppy nose and eminent drinkability. I spent a lot of time at their table, and also with Tom and Peggy at the Heavyweight location, seeking the comfort of familiar faces. Didn't hurt either that Tom had a bottle or two of Biere d'Art squirreled away under the table.

I met Tony Knipling from Vecenie Master Distributing Company while visiting with my Heavyweight pals and commended him on the great job he does getting Philadelphia brews into the Pittsburgh market. It was an appropriate place to meet, given that I had been noticing since we'd arrived in town the strong Heavyweight presence in virtually every bar we entered. And, speaking of distribution, when I wandered over to the Stone Brewing table (arrogantly, of course) to have a Stone IPA, I got to meet brewer Ed Fido who assured me that he was the reason for the California brewery's suddenly strong presence in Pennsylvania. Turns out he's from the Pittsburgh area and told Greg Koch he wanted to be able to drink Stone beers when he was home on vacation. Nice story. Take it for what it's worth.

When the long day was finally over, we repaired to our palatial digs and were joined by a couple of brewery pals as we worked our way into early Sunday morning with the help of several growlers, including that very fine Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout. Troegs Brewing Company's John Trogner revealed himself to be one of the funniest brewers around as he and Marketing/Sales guy Ed Yashinsky regaled us with tales of dysfunctional fellow workers and aggressive homebrewers. Still, it was Dan Weirback of Weyerbacher Brewing who got off the line of the weekend (okay, maybe it was second to "Can I come in and pee?")

Trogner had stressed the point that he had never been a homebrewer during one of his stories. Later on, though, he began talking of roasting his own coffee beans, having someone milk goats specially for a goat cheese he liked and other behavior which one might term, um, slightly anal. As he finished, Weirback lifted his glass in mock toast and said quietly, "John, I think you're exhibiting latent homebrewing tendencies." Maybe you had to be there.

Shortly after, and thankfully, nobody was there and we finally got to sleep.

Penn Fest. The day after. The logical thing to do, clearly, was to get into the car and come home. We, however, did the Lew thing. Was there ever any doubt?

Things got off to a rousing start with breakfast at Bob's, as cool a place as you're likely to find (the website's a hoot; if you didn't click on the link when I first put it up here on Sunday night, do so now; I'll wait). The place was jammed to the walls and once we tasted the food, served in huge quantities and very reasonable prices, we know why. Still, it's the personality and ambiance of the place that gets you.

We were lucky enough to get two seats at the counter rather quickly and after couple of minutes, I looked up from my coffee to find a woman standing in front of me in uniform, pad and pen in hand. So I started to order. "Two eggs over...." "Hon," she asked firmly, "do I look like a waitress to you?" Well, yeah. Anyway, she took the order and she also turned out to be "Bob." The original had, she told us, "bobbed his ass out of here a long time ago." Apparently, the place does regular "Bob" events, including free meals for people named "Bob," and otherwise entertains while feeding. I only wish it was located right around the corner.

Lew enjoyed it as much as I did, but he was also burdened by an obsession. A guy writes a book about Pennsylvania breweries and prides himself on having visited each and every one, he doesn't like being told there exists a five-year old brewpub he's never heard of. That was the word he'd been getting on the internet, though, and nothing would do but that we drive to Johnstown, city of the great flood of 1889 and also the alleged home of this alleged pub, and see what we would find.

The pub we were seeking never existed. Lew emailed me the truth about that late Sunday night (I told you he was obsessed) after he'd made a concerted effort to track down the story: "there was a beer from Johnstown, not a brewery. Jones Brewing did a contract brew, Morley's Red Beer, for a group in Johnstown. But a number of (stoopid) beer websites never caught this as a contract beer and listed the brewery as existing in Johnstown."

Bryson, however, must live right. Because what we found instead was the brand spanking new, about-to-open Johnstown Brewing Company. What the heck, why not let Lew tell you that story hissownself. You can find details right here. I'll only add to what he wrote that JBC has had the restaurant in operation for nearly three months and is packing the place (they have 64 employees already). Plus they're selling so much of the beer that they've put on while waiting for the brewery to be up and running later this summer, brands like Amstel Light, New Castle Brown and other Usual Suspects, that the local distributor is trying to talk them out of doing the pub at all so he can hold onto their business. I think it's really going to be interesting to see how this all turns out.

One final thing. The ride home was very long. But we made it.

[Posted 1:30 pm edt]


15 JUNE 03
One firkin thing after another. The last time the posse set out from Sly Fox Brew House in Phoenixville for the wilds of the Near Northeast and Friday the Firkinteenth at the Grey Lodge Pub it was a journey into horror, two-plus hours on the road with every indication that we would not only never arrive at our destination but might well not be able to get back home again either. This Friday it was 50-minute a piece of cake, the trip marred only by a brief interlude during which brewer Brian O'Reilly (breaking tradition and staying in town for the weekend) began yelling out vaguely Germanic words from the rear of the van to which he had been banished, for reasons to which I was never privy.

Upon arrival, we had a first for the posse archives. Our traveling party included, on his maiden voyage among our number, Bartender-to-the-Stars Corey Reid, and he brought to the group a cachet no other member has or could ever hope to achieve. Bless his sweet, innocent face, Corey was *carded* at the Grey Lodge door.

There were eleven of us, including Libby the Driver, in the party, but only ten on the ride in. Steve, the Other One, having finally figured out that already being in the city and then driving out to Collegeville so he could take the ride back in was a non-productive use of drinking time, met us there. Youse have no idea how nice it is to watch a mind developing (not a typo, an inside joke). We arrived shortly after 6 PM to find the Grey Lodge packed and Steve, hidden away in a corner awaiting our comforting presence, told us it was already that way when he got there at 5:30. Grey Lodge owner Scoats, the genius behind Friday the Firkinteenth and other inspired beer celebrations which have made his pub one of the city's true destination points, allowed as how the crowd had never been so large this early before.

We were packed in so tightly for a while there that it looked like not another person could get in the door, certainly not a person of the, um, substance of Lew Bryson. Both Dan, the Big One, and Rich (Golden Age of Beer in Philadelphia Tour) Pawlak claimed he'd sent them emails promising to be there early, but Lew was nowhere to be seen, or even more tellingly, heard. This left Pawlak pacing back and forth nervously, no easy task in a room jammed to the walls I have to tell you. The rest of us shrugged and sought out the beers.

There were three brews on the announced list which I was most curious to try in a gravity pour and those were the three that were first suggested to me when I asked around for recommendations. Dogfish Head Aprihop, Flying Fish Farmhouse Ale (dryhopped with Simcoe, a flowery, citrusy hop with which I was not familiar) and Weyerbacher Hefeweizen all proved to be delightful. I started, however, with a Sly Fox Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale (aged in a Jack Daniels barrel), because O'Reilly ran for the head as we came in and told me to get him a beer and I knew what that meant. I'll comment more about this beer after it is poured in similar fashion this Friday at the Fox.

Iron Hill Ironbound Ale was another winner, as was the Nodding Head Old Willie's Ghost Barley Wine, about which I have raved here before. The real shining moment of that brew, however, came out on the front sidewalk, onto which the crowd eventually, and thankfully, spilled. It was easily recognizable because of its clear golden color and when Nodding Head's Curt Decker looked over and saw group drinking it by the pint glass, he almost dropped his own. Trained drinker that he is, he managed to hold on.

Another popular brew, one that eventually became the first firkin to kick, was Brewers Art Resurrection Ale, which I somehow managed to miss. The Farmhouse Ale kicked second and the Gang Aft Agley third, followed General Lafayette IPA, which I tasted only a bit of from someone else's glass. Ditto the John Harvard's Imperial Stout. Both seemed highly regarded by the crowd. In addition to the Resurrection Ale, I also missed out on the Manayunk Vienna Lager and Yards Black & Tan, both of which kicked in the middle of the pack. I did get to talk with Manayunk's Larry Horwitz and Yards' Bill Barton, though, and that ought to count for something.

Finally, as the beers were dwindling down to a precious few, there appeared the aforementioned Bryson, or "Mr. Decibel Man," as an attendee at yesterday's first session of the Stoudt's Annual Microfest termed him in an email to me last night (I'll be at the Stoudt's October session, by the way). He was smiling and happy and accompanied by lovely wife, Cathy, which may have accounted for that. Why so late? Brace yourselves. He was delayed by his fencing match.

Lew Bryson. Fencing. True as I'm sitting here. Now quick, let it go. Save yourselves, it's too late for me. That unlikely vision, and the image of him tooling around Pittsburgh on a moped in his younger but not smaller days, which he described for me last weekend, has me awakening screaming in the night of late.

Come think of it, though, it is becoming less frequent. Damn, I may have finally discovered the one advantage of growing old and forgetful.

While Tom's away, the Pain Relievaz will play. Dogfish Head's Sam ("it's not about me, it's about the beer") Calagione and Bryan ("hey, I'd forgotten about all these tall buildings since I left town for Nowhere, Delaware") Selders, the Rehoboth Beach kids who got together to form The Pain Relievaz, were a smash at Monk's in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, introducing their five-song CD, Check Your Gravity, to a receptive audience. Marring the evening was the absence of head monk Tom Peters, who managed to smash up his foot during the afternoon by dropping a keg on it, and was in the hospital getting x-rays while frantic partner Fergie Carey tried to do the work of two men. As the evening progressed, we got word that Tom's injury was a severe sprain and not the feared broken bones, brightening things up a bit.

Still the show, and the beer, must go on, and the incipient rappers knocked out all five songs over the course of the evening: "I Got Busy with an A*B Salesgirl," "We Are the Pain Relievaz," "Worst Brewing Day Ever," Brewers Bling*Bling" (my favorite) and "Go Old School." Filled with beer references, autobiographical bits and funny, if raunchy lines, the songs, and the performances, made for a fine evening. All we lacked was food and beer....oh wait.

Yeah, we had food. My God, as is usually the case at a Monk's dinner, did we ever have food. A marvelous first course of creamy golden grits with gulf shrimp (I told chef Adam Glickman it should be added to the regular menu immediately) was followed by fried catfish strips & oyster puppies with fried green tomatoes. The catfish and tomatoes were perfect; the oyster puppies (essentially deep-fried chopped oyster balls) at our table were a bit dry and hard to deal with, but others told me, and showed me, that theirs were closer to what I expect was intended. Either one of the two puppies would have made a full dinner for many people, as would the huge piece of catfish.

So that meant the entree course would be small and light? Yeah, right. Out came humongous, and I mean humongous, plates sprawling over their edges with a huge slab of St. Louis ribs and a massive buttermilk-fried half of a very large chicken, accompanied by potato salad, collard greens and ham hocks with corn pone. Another triumph, the chicken in particular being just right, juicy and tender. Things finished off, for those who were up to it (hey, I had to be; it's my job) with an almost reasonably sized miniature sweet potato pecan pie.

And yes we had beer, all from Dogfish, of course, including old familiars like Shelter Pale Ale, Indian Brown Ale and, with dessert, Worldwide Stout, 2002 vintage, the only bottled beer of the night and a fine way to close things out. Two of the other three beers served are relatively new and the third is undergoing a face-lift of sorts.

Midas Touch, which I'd only had out of the bottle before this, accompanied the grits and shrimp course. I was sitting with Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum molecular archeologist whose discovery and analysis of residue in a drinking vessel found in an ancient Turkish tomb reputed to be that of King Midas himself inspired this unique brew and provided Dogfish Head with a template for its creation. So, while discussing the beer, which we both felt was one of the night's best, we also got into the fact that Midas is being repackaged in standard 12oz bottles instead of the corked champagne bottles in which it was introduced. I think that's a mistake, given the nature of the beer. I've always envisioned it as something you serve as a cocktail at a lawn party, as an alternative to wine (granted the 9% ABV and drinkability could leave with some guests sprawled on the lawn, but what the hell) and that its image and special nature will suffer in the repackaging. Sam joined us briefly (I'd expressed this same opinion to him at his brewpub some weeks earlier) and said that the primary motivation for the smaller bottles was that his distributors had recommended them. Time will tell who's right.

I also was compelled to tell Sam that I just don't get 120-Minute IPA (am I a swell guy to invite to dinner, or what?), although Tuesday night's serving was perhaps the best sample of it I have had so far. I find the beer unbalanced and entirely too sweet. It may be that my opinion has been warped by the very first taste I had, at the University Museum tasting sessions during The Book & The Cook )when it was much to young to serve), because most people at the dinner appeared to enjoy it well enough. I'd be interested in hearing from any of you about your reactions, pro or con, when and if you get to try it.

The other new beer of the evening was the recently released Prescription Pils, yet another Dogfish release which has me in a bit of quandary. I liked the warm, not-yet-ready taste of it I had from the brewery tanks pre-release, but was less impressed by a sample tried in Pittsburgh last weekend. Tuesday night's pour was more promising. I'll reserve judgement for now.

One final beer made its appearance before we headed for the door. The Beer Yard's Matt Guyer pulled out a 750ml bottled of Unibroue's new La Terrible which someone had brought him from Canada and the only polite thing to do was sample it with him, you know? I mean, the man was crying out for attention. How was it? I'll go for the easy line: it wasn't terrible. Indeed, this abbey-style brown ale was what we've come to expect from Unibroue: big, bold and good.

Victory: the beer, the dream, the DVD. Yesterday, once my addled brain had recovered from Firkinteenth overload, I finally got to take a look at "The Victory Brewing Experience," the new DVD I mentioned last week. It's a very nice and very professional piece of work and also as clear and informative presentation of the brewing process as I've seen in a while.

Much praise goes to the cast of course. Victory's Bill & Ron are the putative stars and their writers gave them some great lines. In Ron's case, it was "Of course I'm proud of every beer we make and if I'm not, we change it until I am." Bill's best bon mot was "Hey, it works out alright," which needs to be seen in context (playing off another great Ron remark) and which I won't ruin for anyone beforehand by providing that context. Still, brewer Bernie Van Order steals the show as he walks the viewer step-by-step through the making of a batch of Golden Monkey.

Kristian Reid, Adam Smith and the guys at Brainstorm Multimedia did a great job here and I've linked the promo piece at the right directly to their website where you can purchase this tribute to our best local brewery if you're so inclined. It's also available at the Victory pub, where you can save shipping and handling charges and buy yourself a beer instead.

In summary, this is a real feel-good romance about two guys and their beer. And rest assured that the big orgy scene is handled in good taste. But, my goodness, who knew *that* about Ron?

Payback will be a bitch, trust me. Remember that Sly Fox cold plate that Dave Boston and I supposedly lost during the Iron Hill (Media) beer festival last month?(Scroll down to the 1 June entry if not.) You know how badly we've felt about that? The lost hours of sleep? The overwhelming sense of guilt? Well, okay, I managed to put it behind me but poor Dave has been beside himself. Not a pretty site.

Iron Hill's Mark Edleson gave the game away at the Grey Lodge Friday night. As I'd suggested all along, the cold plate was taken into the Iron Hill building as part of the cleanup of the parking area where the event was held. Dave and I were among the last to break down our booth and had to carry things from there to where we were parked about a block away and this happened at a moment when we were between points.

Unaware of the mendacity and evil nature of some people, Mark started joking with me about the situation and let the plate out of the bag, as it were. It's certainly not difficult to figure who the mastermind behind the insidious cover-up was and his brewin' ass is mine, I guarantee you, just as soon as I figure out how and when. God only knows what Boston will do....

Hmmmm. Maybe I shouldn't tell him? Yeah, that's the ticket. We can all have fun watching Boston sweat some more. Cool.

See how cruel that sounds? Be afraid, O'Reilly, be very afraid.

Coming Attractions. Next week we'll have a report on the Mid-Summer's Eve Firkin Party at Sly Fox (sans O'Reilly, who's winging his way across country again, still trying to keep the myth alive and escape my wrath), a selection of photos that Dan (the Big One) took for us at Le Mondial de la bière in Montreal and maybe some tasting notes. Or maybe not.

[Posted 10:15 am edt]


22 JUNE 03
This was the week that was. The past week began with what beer pal Richard Ruch termed "a beautiful, spontaneous evening" and ended with a nostalgic journey which took me back, however briefly, to people and places which are an integral part of my past and who I am today. All achieved with minimal benefit of sunshine, of course, as the long wet spring slipped quietly into summer without any noticeable change in our Seattle-like weather.

"I think I know who that guy is." That's the second, and last, Ruch quote you're gonna get here. I don't want to encourage him, you know? We were sitting outside on the patio Sly Fox Monday night, sipping Whirlwind Wit. Karl Shoemaker, who is to Sly Fox what Ruch is to Victory (that is, omnipresent), was with us. We were considering how to conduct an impromptu sampling of beers we'd brought with us. Richard had the just-released V Grand Cru in hand and I'd toted over a bottle of Marin Brewing's Eldridge Style White Knuckle Double IPA. Brian O'Reilly, stuck in Phoenixville briefly between parties and planes, had committed a bottle of Ichor if we let him play too. The night was already showing great promise. It was about to get a lot better.

A young man had walked in the pub wearing a Beer Advocate tee-shirt and that's what caught Ruch's attention (that, and I think he was actively trying to tune out what Karl was saying). He had recently exchanged emails with another BA type who used the handle "Romabrew" and expected to meet up with him at Victory later in the week. Given the fashion statement, he figured this might be the guy. He ran (honest) inside and soon came back with a happily smiling Mike Murphy, who was indeed "Romabrew."

A local guy, Murphy went off to Rome to study landscape architecture and Italian in 1999 and ended up the co-founder and brewer for Rome Brewing Company. How that happened is a great story involving a pretty woman with a dream and some inventive and ingenious machinations on his part...and it's a story I can't in all fairness tell here right now. Why? 'Cause first thing I did after we'd finished drinking that night was hustle home and sell it to Tom Dalldorf at Celebrator Beer News. Momma didn't raise no fools.

I can tell you a lot about Mike's beers, however, since he allowed as how he'd bottled a few and brought them home with him and might be willing, with a bit of encouragement, to hustle on back to his parents' place and bring them over for us to taste. Richard immediately picked him up, slung him over his shoulder and carried him to his car. You gotta admire that kind of enthusiasm.

Our new-found best friend returned with six beers which we proceeded to try. The first two were variations of his Pioneer Pale Ale, one rather malty and the other more traditionally dry and hoppy. Both nicely quaffable. The next was his Wit, brewed with an American yeast, a nice wheat beer rather than a true wit and he's since renamed it Summer Ale to placate me (I like that in a brewer). Next was a pleasant keller version of his Paulver Lager (named in his brother's honor). This was followed by a very tasty Union Smoked Porter which was more a rauchbier than a porter in my opinion. Either way, a very good beer. We closed out with the powerful Starbess Strong Ale (12% ABV), hardly a style you'd expect from Rome. Turns out it's one of his most popular brews. Go figure.

The other beers of the evening? Here's how I described the wonderful V Grand Cru (granted, with the cyber-voice of Bill Covaleski whispering in my ear) at that place where you should go to buy all your beer. If you don't know my opinion of Ichor by now, you just haven't been paying attention. Here's a clue: it just keeps getting better. The White Knuckle was drinkable enough but in way over its head in that trio. This was one of the beers I was shipped by my Pasadena pal, Doc, late last month which I promised to report on. That in mind, I should add here that, also on the patio at Sly Fox a week earlier, we poured Hoptown IPA and were disappointed. I'd guess the bottle was well beyond its time. There are other Hoptown brews in the package and the place has too good a reputation for that to be anything but a bit of bad luck. I hope.

Summer Solstice. Torrential downpour. What, you were expecting sunshine? With the skies opening up outside, the Mid-Summer's Eve Firkin Party at Sly Fox kicked off at 4 PM Friday, just as scheduled. Well, it may have kicked off a bit early, but bartender Corey Reid, his visage not nearly so innocent as I thought at the Grey Lodge Pub last week, fended off that charge with an enigmatic smile. The Rt. 113 IPA, which needs must be a standard Fox offering as soon as we can get O'Reilly's attention, was the hit of the evening, big, hoppy and grand. That firkin kicked by 6:30. Did I mention that O'Reilly was nervous that not enough people were aware of this event? It is to laugh. Ho-ho.

The Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale, bigger, stronger and sweeter, went more slowly but appeared to be equally well received. Several people commented with apparent surprise on the vanilla notes in this Jack Daniels cask-aged version, surprising me in turn since vanilla is such a strong characteristic of the whiskey itself. A younger version of me might well have ordered a shot or two in order to prove the point. Ah, those were the days...

Ruch was already at a table, three glasses in front of him (a small scotch ale, a small IPA and a pint of Pale Ale to give him something to do while he was making mental notes on the other two for his BA report), accompanied by Mike Murphy. Mike apparently spent the week trailing back and forth between the Fox and Victory, becoming in the process sort of a hybrid of Ruch and Shoemaker, a concept too terrifying to pursue any further. Behind them, ensconced at the bar, was Dan, the Big One, soon to be joined, in order that the universe maintain its sense of humor, by Steve, the Other One. Old pal Wardell made a rare appearance, bringing along pregnant wife to provide protective cover. His performance as an acting posse member in April during the Manayunk Brewfest and later at the Dawson Street Pub have earned him a spot on the posse waiting list if he can just get his attendance figures up to snuff.

Dan, bless his soul, brought along a selection of fine Canadian brews which were passed around for tasting. Just what we needed, more beer. And, say, speaking of Dan and Canada....

Hi, my name is Dan. Buy me a beer and I'll tell you about my trip to Montreal. The Big One, much to the dismay of the State Department, crossed the border into Canada early this month for Le Mondial de la bière. No international incidents ensued so he's been released from custody following a debriefing (he kinda liked that part) and offers us photographic evidence of his adventures. You can check those out here. In addition to the photos, I've included his email commentary, slightly edited 'cause it was too damn long (I should talk, right?). Reading it over just now, I suspect we may be on the verge of inventing a whole new literary style: stream of unconsciousness.

"Cheap beer, friendly clientele and quirky attractions." Loyal reader and erstwhile posse-member-in-absentia Carl P., who lives near the real Seattle and has recently enjoyed a lot nicer weather than we have here in the drought-less east, sends along this from the Des Moines Register. A fun beer story, from a whole different perspective. Carl is also egg-l-static because his local grocery store is now carrying a selection of beers from Dogfish Head in both sixpacks and large bottles. I sent him Raison d'Etre and a couple of "off center" ale glasses at Christmas and the poor boy got hooked.

Yesterday's tomorrows. Yesterday afternoon I took a trip out to the place where I grew up some 30 miles or so west of Philadelphia for a visit with my oldest living relatives, who still reside in the historic farmhouse where my father grew up and to meet with my brother and his family, in from Ohio this past week to sit in their luxurious rental home by the sea in Avalon and watch the rain fall on the beach. My journey involved, to some degree, the consumption of good beer and a brief visit to one of the area's better beer bars, so you might be interested. The overall report seemed more appropriate for the Great Disconnect section of this website, so I've posted it there should you want to go take a look. There will be a test.

On the road again. I'll be leaving Friday morning for Old Dominion and their annual three-day brewfest where I'll be gathering material for my next east coast column in Celebrator and also working the Sly Fox booth (yep, O'Reilly will be off partying again). Since I won't get back until mid-day Monday at best and have promised to write and file the column before day's end, it's likely the next LDO won't get posted until Tuesday or Wednesday. Sorry 'bout that. Play nice among yourselves and don't break the furniture.

[Posted 3:00 pm edt]


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

--A. E. Houseman


2003 ARCHIVES

MAY 2003

APRIL 2003

MARCH 2003

FEBRUARY 2003

JANUARY 2003

2002 ARCHIVES

DECEMBER 2002

NOVEMBER 2002

OCTOBER 2002

SEPT.16-30, 2002

SEPT. 1-15, 2002


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