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by Jack Curtin

I drink no cider,
but feast on Philadelphia beer.

--John Adams, in a letter to his wife Abigail


ARCHIVE: OCTOBER 2002


GABF WINNERS. Brandon Greenwood and Nodding Head Brewery were the big local winners at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival judging in Denver yesterday, garnering a Gold and a Bronze medal.

You can read all about it, and other local winners, right here at the Beer Yard website news pages which I maintain.

Thanks to brewer Brian O'Reilly of Sly Fox Brewhouse for calling in these local results almost as soon as they happened, make us the first place on the web that Philadelphia results appeared. Of course, he did have his own horse in that ballgame, as you'll see....

THE HORROR! THE HORROR! If ever there were a match made in hell rather than heaven, it might be this surprise purchase, a story which is also up at the Beer Yard. If you went to see the item listed above, you've already seen it this one too, of course, and I can only hope you've had the fortitude to persevere and get back here.

I can't speak for the beer, but I can assure you that the follow-up stories coming out of this are going to be great fun.

As the story notes, there's no indication so far what all this will mean for brewer (and truly good guy) Bill Moore. He was at GABF and unavailable for comment.

Okay, if you haven't already, go see what I'm talking about. I'll wait right here.

'FESSING UP. Much as I hate to admit it, I was one of those poor benighted souls taken in by Henry Ortlieb during much of his disastrous venture among Philadelphia brewers. And, because we all have to take responsibility for our past deeds, I admit right up front that there is evidence of my misguided viewpoints available right here on this site.I don't have to tell you where, though, do I?

Oh hell, why not? Check out this really egregious example. Anything else, you'll have to find for yourselves.

DEAD TREE DEPARTMENT. Both of our regional brewspapers, Ale Street News and Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, came out with new issues this week. Both papers seem to get stronger and more interesting with every issue.

Neither publication puts its content up online, so you'll have to seek out copies if you're interested. Might I--with no ulterior motive, of course--suggest doing so at the Beer Yard (behind Starbucks off Lancaster Avenue in Wayne). Meanwhile, I'll mention a few highlights here.

Lew Bryson's Mid-Atlantic column in Ale Street features a photo for which Sly Fox owner Pete Giannopoulos might consider buying and destroying the negative and lots of good information about area goings-on. Lew also has an major story about the developments at Dogfish Head Brewery.

In Mid-Atlantic, Dale Van Wieren has a long and interesting interview with Carol Stoudt on the fifteenth anniversary of Stoudt Brewing Co. In his Eastern/Central Pennsylvania column, on the other hand, Dale reveals more about his sex life (mead and hobbits?) than you might wish to know. Or maybe not.

In the same pages, George Hummel has the bad luck to write a big, front page story about the Philadelphia Belgian scene which runs just a week after Cuvee Notredame shut its doors. Excellent story, though. (Anyone interested in my take on the same story back in 1998 can find it here).

That's it for now. Let's all go have a beer.
[posted Sunday, October 6, 2002 1:00 pm edt] [end]

JOE SIXPACK, SUPERSTAR. It's a situation analogous to a film winning the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Script and whatever else the Acadamy could think of.

Our very own Joe Sixpack won an unpredendented six (count 'em, six) first place awards in the annual North American Guild of Beer Writers judging and also being named (surprise!) "Beer Writer of the Year."

Sixpack, whose civilian identity is mild-mannered Don Russell, feature writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, has been a perennial winner of Guild honors for the last few years, but this was a sweep that must have left other entrants crying in their....well, beer.

The individual awards were for Best Column, Best News Story, Best Cultural Reporting, Best Historical Story, Best Humor Piece & Best Travel Story and were presented at the Guild dinner during the Great American Beer Festival last weekend.

Beer writers from around the nation will be meeting next week to decide whether to throw Russell a party or break his kneecaps. I'll let you know how that turns out.

Joe Sixpack's award-winning column appears every other Friday. Here's the latest.
[posted Saturday, October 12, 2002 10:45 am edt] [end]

REAL ALE RENDEZVOUS, October 12, 2002. Sometimes, in the ongoing search for even more great beer, memories betrays. Case in point: for a while there, I was going to skip Real Ale Rendezvous 8, Philadelphia's annual celebration of cask-conditioned beer.

The Rendezvous is one of the longest-running local beer events, and (together with the seven-year old Split Thy Skull ) is the inspired brainchild of Beer Philadelphia's Jim Anderson.

Slightly burnt out and depressed as a result of having to cancel my plans to attend the 24-UUR in Belgium, I seriously considered devoting yesterday to catching up with the flotsam and jetsam of my life and doing some serious writing. Happily, my mind was changed and I was again reminded that the Rendezvous is one of the most enjoyable beer gatherings of the year.

To explain how that happened, I needs must now introduce into these chronicles a pair of characters who shall be known, for want of more evocative names, as Dan & Steve. I leave it to the reader to decide, in the end, whether they are real or imagined, mere figments of an alcohol damaged brain or actual Beer Geeks just the way you always imagined them to be.

Just so we are all on the same page, picture them as a Mutt & Jeff duo, one tall and gangly and forever seeking beer (preferably of the free variety); the other short and somewhat rounded (it would surprise few that he was momentarily mistaken for Yards' Tom Kehoe, the world's happiest brewer, on Saturday) and, if less open in his desire for beer at no cost, certainly willing to partake of same.

It was an ongoing stream of emails from Steve--daily, sometimes hourly pleadings--that convinced me to forego my doubts and attend the Rendezvous. I am grateful for that, of course, although I suppose it could be considered stalking by some people.

It's not easy having your own posse, folks.

The Rendezvous was held at the Independence Brew Pub at Reading Terminal Market. Twelve breweries served 14 beers over the course of the afternoon. All were served, in Anderson's words, by "ultra conservative methods of dispense. No artificial gas pressure, no tank-conditioning and certainly none of those infernal electrikal cooling jackets." Given that the event ran for four hours, there was ample opportunity to taste all the offerings as often as one might desire.

I began the afternoon by embarrassing myself, a procedure not without precedent. After paying and picking up my tasting glass and program, I made a beeline for the Anderson Valley Brewing Company table, where their near-legendary Hop Ottin' Ale was being served cask-conditioned for the first time on the East Coast. As I sipped my first glass happily, there came a tap on my shoulder and Jim Anderson's voice in my ear: "You really should take the ticket out of your glass before drinking." Sure enough, I'd not noticed the small orange raffle ticket in the glass before I put it under the tap.

The Hop Ottin' was wonderful stuff, one of my favorites of the afternoon. Each attending was given a ballot listing all the beers and, in theory, a "Best of Show" award was announced at afternoon's end, though you couldn't prove it by me, so you'll just have to live with my choices of the best brews of the day.

Early on, I was directed to Troegs Brewing's ESB by nearly everyone I talked to. One sip was all I needed to understand why. Smooth and drinkable, and like every Troegs' brew, perfectly balances, this Extra Special Bitter was my early choice for best beer on the floor and maintained that lofty perch throughout the afternoon.

Except...

Late in the afternoon, s I was explaining to Curt Decker, co-owner and manager of the award-winning NoDDing Head Brewery, that their wet-hop Harvest Ale was a very close second in my personal judging, I was challenged by someone there awaiting another beer. As we talked, I realized that I had in fact drunk more Harvest than any other beer in the place over the course of the day. That surely had to mean something.

Call it a tie. I can live with that.

I was also quite taken with Dogfish Head's Old School Barleywine, a beer I wrote about briefly here a week or two ago. Very drinkable and 15.5% ABV, this new entry, coupled with Immort Ale and WorldWide Stout, gives Sam Calagione one of the more impressive "Big Beer" portfolios in the business.

Fittingly, the host site served up two more of the most impressive beers of the day. Oaked Porter was the one that brought me to their taps, but along the way I'd been told to not dare miss the American Amber and that was my first choice. Good choice indeed. This is a single brew (Cascades, what else?) to which brewer Tim Roberts told me he'd added Malted Oats to make it smoother and easier drinking.

Oh yeah, the Oaked Porter was dandy as well. It was served from a forme scotch whiskey cask which had previously held J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale and Victory HopDevil. Now there's a damned impressive lineage.

After the event, we made our way over to Nodding Head before heading for the train, to enjoy more pints of the Harvest Ale and sample some of the GABF Gold Medal-winning Grog. I still remember walking into the Head late one afternoon and having Bar Manager Brendan Hartranft thrust a pint of the just-introduced Grog into my hand, saying "here, this is what you want." Made me feel special, it did. Of course, he was doing that for everyone who came in that day, but still...

We drank. I bought. You should have seen the smile on Dan's face.
[posted Sunday, October 13, 2002 12:45 pm edt] [end]

I HELP A BREWER DO HIS RESEARCH (BECAUSE THAT'S THE KIND OF GUY I AM). Friday night was supposed to start out at the SLY FOX BREWHOUSE, a not unusual scenario, followed by a visit to BREWERS' RESERVE NIGHT at the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in West Chester, where the goodies were to include 3-year-old barleywine and Bourbon Wee Heavy, a Scotch ale aged in a whisky barrel. I've somehow managed to miss out on every one of this ongoing series of special tastings and was looking forward to finally breaking that streak.

But sometimes a man's got to listen to his body--I had a college friend who claimed to use that line on his dates with great success, but he never looked happy enough for me to believe it was true--and mine spent Friday afternoon telling me I was exhausted. A quick nap turned into three hours of deep unconsciousness, followed by a bit of staggering about looking for food and then ten hours overnight. Refreshed I was, but opportunity had passed me by once again.

Not to worry, though. I'd already had a fine evening of beer tasting earlier in the week.

Brian O'Reilly, Sly Fox's fine brewer, called me Tuesday afternoon. "The Dude and I are going to be tasting some beers tonight, Rochefort, Westmalle, stuff like that," he said. "Wanna come over and join us?" Hey, does the Pope slap down programs designed to stop pedophile priests from molesting children? You bet I did.

I showed up with a big bottle of VICTORY V-TEN, the Downingtown brewery's new Belgian-style ale, as my contribution to the evening's festivities. O'Reilly had small bottles of ROCHFORT 10, WESTMALLE 12 and a large Abbott 12 from Long Island's SOUTHAMPTON PUBLICK HOUSE already on the bar. Showing admirable restraint, we awaited the arrival of The Dude.

"The Dude" is Scott Morrison, brewer at the McKENZIE BREW HOUSE, located a half-hour or so down the road in Chadds Ford. He and O'Reilly consider Southampton's Phil Markowski a mentor of sorts, which in part accounted for the presence of the Abbott 12. His nickname has developed because O'Reilly's unfortunate habit of calling folks by that oh-so-yesterday appellation seems to go into overdrive whenever Morrison is on the scene.

Have I mentioned yet that this was a bit of serious business and not just guys getting together to drink good beer? Not that there's anything wrong with that....

Brian will be reformulating Ichor, the well-received Quadruple which he first brewed at New Road in Collegeville before ownership turned the now shuttered site into a brewpub which didn't brew as part if its pell-mell journey into financial disaster.

The reformulation is inspired, at least in part, because this will be a bottled version of Ichor, 500 or so of them, to be sold at the pub during the holiday season, either separately or in a gift basket presenation. The plan was that Brian and Scott would analyze each beer as we proceeded to see what esoteric clues to perfection they might discern, while I provided comedy relief.

The Rochefort, which I fully expected to be my favorite of the evening, and which eventually proved to be just that, surprised me with a much stronger alcohol presence than I was accustomed to on first sip, then settled into the rich, complex chocolate-y, coffee elixir that I expected. The Westmalle, slightly less alcoholic than Rochefort, was--again as expected--very similar in flavor. It was hardly an upset that those two, in that order, were our favorites of the evening.

There was slight disagreement on the third place beer. Brian favored Southhampton Abbott Ale slightly more than Victory V-Ten; Scott and I reversed that standing. In fact, I believe that the V-Ten, as it ages in the bottle, will steadily become an even more impressive beer, which I why I'm pleased I have my case stashed away.

The Dude brought his Abbey 8 Amber Ale along, but this beer was too new to fairly compete with the others. It also lacked adequate carbonation, an issue which set the two brewers off into "Beer Geek talk" which surpasseth human understanding. Soon they were happily nattering away about hints of this and maybe that and all the other fine points that generally escape my unrefined palate.

Speaking of Beer Geek stuff, Scott brought along the GABF judging notes for his beers which he'd received in the mail that morning. I'd never seem copies of those before, and found it fascinating how different judges had widely divergent reactions, such as one proclaiming a given brew "not the correct style" (i.e., you may call this a pilsner, buddy, but it ain't) while another noted that the very same beer's adherence to style was one of its strong points. Two of the the Dude's beers got to the second round of judging, which means he was on the brink of medal consideration.

Brian, on the other hand, was taken aback at the sight of the notes, since his hadn't yet arrived. In near panic, he rushed out to the pub's mailbox to see if they were lurking there and was distraught when he returned empty-handed.

Brewers, you gotta love 'em. Especially when they invite you over for free beer. [posted Sunday, October 20, 2002 2;00 pm edt] [end]

A SLOW WEEK, BUT TAKE A LOOK AT NEXT SATURDAY. WOW! I mostly drank alone since last we gathered here. Sad, but true. No brewers called to invite me to share fancy beers with them, no events lured me into their lairs and no important stories broke to send me out bar-hopping in search of the facts.

There are, however, a couple of Big Stories bubbling away just below the surface that I hope to report on here real soon (okay, maybe I'll do it on the Beer Yard site, but there will be a link here as soon as it happens).

I did get a story up about everything that's been happening at Dogfish Head up on Thursday. Nothing that hasn't already been noted here, except maybe for when you can expect to find Olde School Barleywine on the shelves. If you link over there, check the Events listings just below the news items. This coming Saturday is one helluva day of beer-related stuff, including the official grand opening at Weyerbacher, an Open House at Heavyweight, the Punkin Chunkin World Championship (which is just a really neat excuse to go pound a few at the Dogfish Head Brewpub) and the 24-UUR in Belgium.

Finally, here's the latest Joe Sixpack column, published Friday. Joe's best pal, Don Russell, says I should tell you all that you can get a direct link to the column each time a new one goes up (every other Friday) by emailing him and asking real nice.
[posted Sunday, October 27, 2002 1:00 pm est]
[end]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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