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31 October 2004
Sly Fox Royersford will open Nov. 8. That's definite. Probably.
There was a pre-opening "Appreciation Party" at Sly Fox's new Royersford location last night, for family, friends, vendors and the press. The place is shaping up right fine (great looking bar, two gas fireplaces, large game room) and O'Reilly finally did his first brew in the afternoon (getting the system operating on all cylinders has been a bitch), an Alt which will be poured opening night. After weeks in which he's been a grumpy, tired and frustrated brewer, he was in good spirits again (it could be the approach of ski season) and singing the praises of the facility.

Opening day is now officially schedule for a week from tomorrow, November 8. There's still one more gummint inspection that has to be completed successfully this coming week that could screw that up, but it's unlikely it will. Everybody familiar with the area says the place is gonna be slammed by crowds when the doors open. We'll see.

Me, I'm in the market for a notebook with a wireless modem so I can spend a couple of afternoons a week writing the Great American novel in front of one of the fireplaces and still stay connected to the world. And, oh yeah, the bar.

What we tasted last Monday.
Once again, this will be quick and dirty. Lots still to do to meet one last deadline by Tuesday or Wednesday, then I might, I say might, get things back to normal around here.

We started out with a growler of hoppy, always drinkable Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, brought by Richard Ruch. Followed that with Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale from Tom Foley's collection. This is the standard version of the Imperial Pumpkin I tasted at Falling Rock during GABF and wrote about earlier this month. Gotta say, those extra hops and alcohol make a big difference.

Jeanne and Rick Smildege then poured Maradsous 10, a 2001 bottle of the wonderfully soft and balance tripel from Duvel-Moortgat, and Foley came back with Young's Double Chocolate Stout. It was shaping up to be a very good night.

That feeling was further strengthened by Joe Meloney's offering of Stoudt's Double IPA, the reformulation of its India Pale Ale into an Imperial style (10% abv) and now in the small bottles. We were duly impressed, but it turned out that Meloney was just setting us up. He then blew our minds with the Beer of the Night, a year-old bottle of another Double IPA, Three Floyds Dreadnaught. Whoa.

We backed off the hop wagon for the night and turned our attention to a second Smildege offering, Quelque Chose Something, a cherry ale made with macerated cherries and meant to served steaming hot (like coffee or cocoa) in its own special mug. We did the best we could, drinking it slightly chilled at room temperature and putting two tasting glasses full in the microwave to sip it right. This bottle was pre-1998 and still very nice. The "Something" has since been dropped from the name, as best I know, and I don't believe the mulling instructions are still attached to each bottle (but I could be wrong).

We ended up with couple of bottles of Weyerbacher Insanity which I contributed. This bourbon barrel-aged version of Weyerbacher's Blithering Idiot Barleywine was well accepted but our opinions soon led to a debate, pretty much split evenly, about whether this or the Easton brewery's earlier Heresy (barrel-aged Old Heathen Imperial Stout) had the bigger alcohol presence and flavor. Nothing would do, we decided, except to try both side by side as soon as possible. I'm working on that.

[posted 11:58 am edt]

27 October 2004
Iron Hill? Kildare's? Both? Where? What's happening in Phoenixville is, um, confusing.
A pair of interesting stories in the local papers yesterday and today about the future of Phoenixville's historic Foundry building (a saga which has been rolling along in fits and starts for nearly two years now) and the long-rumored interest of Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in coming to town.

The hometown Phoenix probably had it closest to right yesterday:

Kildare's of West Chester, Manayunk and King of Prussia, and Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant of West Chester, North Wales and Media, and Wilmington and Newark (both in Delaware), are both in negotiations to locate in the borough.

[ ...}

Dave Magrogan, of Kildare's, "An Authentic Irish Experience," along with musical entrepreneurs and partner, The Point, in Bryn Mawr, are seriously considering establishing a restaurant and concert venue at the Foundry Building.

Preliminary plans call for approximately 600 seats, a stage and several bars, with the possibility of adding a second mezzanine level.

[ ... ]

Iron Hill Brewery is considering creation of a new restaurant building at 130-136 Bridge Street, next door to the Columbia Bar and Grill...

That's in line with what I've been hearing from a variety of sources and hinting at and around in this space for months. And it is in keeping with what Someone Who Really Should Know Iron Hill's plans (if you get my drift) told me in August. Iron Hill was definitely looking at Phoenixville among its options for a sixth pub (no sooner than 2005), the source said, but the Foundry building, once thought to be the site the brewery had focused upon, was not in their considerations.

I bring this up because there's a similiar story in today's The Mercury, out of Pottstown, home to Big Dan Bengel, which might explain a lot. Today's effort is (how do you Americans say it?) screwed up. The first two paragraphs:

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant is in negotiations for the foundry, 100 Bridge St., in Phoenixville. If successful, this would be the brewery’s sixth location.

The owners of Kildare’s who have three pubs in the Delaware Valley, and the owner of The Point in Bryn Mawr are in negotiations to buy the foundry, one of the last remaining remnants of the Phoenix Iron Co.

Say what? They're both looking at the same site?

Well, no. The Bridge Street address gives it away, as do the closing paragraphs at story's end, where it becomes clear that there must be two different sites involved or it's gonna get damned crowded:

While neither of the new deals are in the bag, Phoenixville Mayor Leo J. Scoda is hopeful.

"But I do believe that when both are fully approved and ready to go, they will certainly be a big asset to the downtown community and downtown businesses," Scoda said. "It would be great if they do get off the ground."

Scoda’s sentiments are shared by Phoenixville Main Street Manager Barry Cassidy.

"These projects are some of the many we have been working on like streetscapes, a new parking garage and neighborhood improvements," Cassidy said about the former steel town. "We’re moving forward with vigor."

Most positive of all is Phoenixville Borough Council President James C. Lolli.

"This is fantastic. I think it’s great," Lolli said.

Two new restaurants will be a big addition to the downtown, Lolli said.

No deals have been completed, I hasten to add. Hell, I can probably get another several months worth of columns out of this before it's all settled.

Erratic posting.
Lots of deadlines last week and this, plus I spent the weekend on another one of those 24-Hour Short Story contests, so we're way off track and likely to stay that way through Election Day.

I did put up this story at the Beer Yard site earlier today. It should bring a tear of joy to the eyes of the Hop Wallop fanatics in the crowd. You know who you are.

I also took time out for the Monday Night Tasting, which was quite interesting, and I'll try to get my notes turned into some sort of readable report on same before week's end.

[posted 5:45 pm edt]

22 October 2004
And now it's Heavyweight's turn.
Today it's Tom Baker and Heavyweight Brewing garnering fulsome and deserved praise in Craig LaBan's ongoing coverage of the big Slow Food event in Turin. LaBan waxes rhapsodic about Heavyweight's "quirky, iconoclastic beers" and likens them to "garage wines" (Vins de Garagiste), the small quantity, high quality wines which are all the rage in Bordeaux these days. A cool comparison, that, and something to build on. I sense a Bier de Garagiste in our future.

[posted 12:50 pm edt]

21 October 2004
GABF Tales: The last (Thank God!) story.
Let's do this quick and dirty and get on with our lives, deal?

Friday night. Get to Falling Rock Tap House a little after 9 pm. Introduce BIll (Drbill) Sysak to Tom (Monk's) Peters. Watch them circle cautiously around one another. All of which I've already written about (scroll way down).

Check out something called Dueling Banjos & Feuding Randalls in the tent outside Falling Rock. Beers from various East and West Coast breweries are poured through two Randalls, one of which doesn't appear to be cooperating, while their makers, at least some of them, look on in understandable horror.

Stay for part of gig by the Pain Relievaz (Sam Calagione & Brian Selders) which features Posers (directed at the West Coast brewers) and a couple of their standards (these guys have standards?).

Look for my son Chris and his friends, who'd been there briefly but disappeared in search of food. No luck. Decide to blow the joint.

Say what? There's Monday Tasting's homebrew genius Tom Foley standing eagerly in the long line waiting to get into Falling Rock. Announces he's already met Drbill and has brought a couple of his beers for the night's tasting. Now I can't leave.

Down to the basement and into the room Drbill's reserved. Find a seat in the corner with his enablers, Steve and Lucy. Foley joins us. Beers are poured. Foley's beers are poured, Belgian Special Dark and Wheat Tripel. Crowd approves. Foley beams. Looks sobriety in the eye. Stares it down.

Intoxicated lady comes over and starts wriggling around in front of him. Pulls off the wedding ring she's wearing and tosses it aside. "We don't need these," she proclaims. Foley aghast. Lifts both hands in the air and begins waving the left one in front of her, pointing to his own ring. "I still have mine! I still have mine!" Panic in the air. Rejected lady gives up.

Turns out her name is also Lucy. The "real" Lucy and I exchange glances. Should we attempt to duplicate the Lucy Sandwich which marked our first meeting in San Francisco? Shake our heads in unison. You can't go home again.

More beer. Maybe a bit more than that. Beer is good. Drag Foley out to a cab. Take him back to the hotel.

And that's the end of that story.

[posted 5:35 pm edt]

LaBan on Yards.
Nice and long-overdue piece about Yards, The last Brewery Standing, in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer. It's by restaurant critic and incipient beer guy Craig LaBan, who also has the first installment of a three-part Slow Food report in today's paper, beginning on page one. Indeed, with that story's "jump," the Yards piece and a couple of sidebar articles, LaBan has all of page A14 to himself. It's a great, um, spread for fans of craft food and beer.

LaBan is in Turin, Italy for the biannual Slow Food celebration, along with representatives from Yards, Dogfish Head, Flying Fish, General Lafayette and Heavyweight. Yards and Heavyweight are representatives of Philadelphia Slow Food.

Yeah, yeah, yeah...
Still busy, still trying to catch up, still not delivering what I promised. But the last of the GABF reports will be posted later today. Really.

[posted 9:30 am edt]

19 October 2004
Monday night. Beer. What else is new?
there was nobody from the Usual Gang of Suspects in sight when I arrived at Sly Fox around 5 pm last night. "No sweat," I told myself and all those who were looking at me in amusement under the delusion that I'd been abandoned, "Meloney will show up. No way Meloney doesn't show up."

Sure enough, in came Wanderin' Joe a few minutes later. Followed shortly after by Foley, sans Lori, who was supposed to come late but never did. He eventaully surmised that she had probably stopped home first and discovered that his latest brew had exploded all over the basement, including onto a treasured white bedspread that was hung there to dry. His reaction had been to flee; hers was likely looking around for something to brain him with when he went back.

Then who should walk in but Corey Reid, former Bartender to the Stars when he worked Monday nights. His attention was quickly diverted by two comely lasses at the table next to us, but he did bring a beer so he gets attendance points. The evening's group was completed when Lee Marrin walked in with some guy he had hired to pretend to be his old friend (might have worked, but they came up with the unlikely name of Derek Fess, which was a bit much), who was subsequently joined by his wife, Meredith.

And so there we were, seven strong, eight if you count bartender Tim Ohst, a different group indeed. All else was as always. Beer was poured. Beer was tasted. All was right with the world.

We began with the Hair of the Dog Fred which I'd brought. This was from Batch 24, brewed and bottled in June 1999 and it was very, very good. An awfully big beer with which to begin, admittedly, but, hey, we stumble to an entirely different drummer now and then.

Marrin then poured Finger Lakes Amber Ale from Ithaca Beer Company in some sort of misguided tribute to his college days in upstate New York, and Fess offered his just bottled and admittedly still-too-young homebrewed American Pale Ale and immediately got involved in geek talk with Foley.

We don't hardly get no beers from El Paso, Texas in these parts. The surprisingly good Old Paleface Ale from Jaxon's Restaurant & Brewing Company which Corey picked up during his recent two-week jaunt across America, casually distributing beers he was supposedly bringing back safely from Denver for Ohst and me to bartenders hither and you to win their favor, indicates that maybe we should.

Fess came back with Dorothy Goodbody's Wholesome Stout from Wye Valley Brewery in Herefordshire, England, which turned out to be a pleasantly drinkable brew, a bit thin for a stout but something you could imagine consuming pint by pint while passing away an afternoon in the pub tossing darts. It was followed by the best beer of the day, though an argument might be made for the Fred and our final entry for the day, Brasserie St. Feuillien Tripel from Meloney. This is a great beer.

Now it was Foley time. You know his tendency to lurk in the background and then, when all defenses are down, spring one of his homebrews on the crowd. As is often his custom, he began with a commercial offering, Pikop Andropov's Rushin' Imperial Stout from Hale's Brewery & Pub in Seattle, then poured his own Strong Double, which was surely in the running for best of the day.

New faces, new beers, a good evening.

The game goes on...and on...and on.
The American League Championships, Game Five, started last night about ten minutes after I walked into Sly Fox. Over the course of the next couple of hours, I glanced up at the screen to see what was going on. The score got to 2-1, Boston early on and stayed that way. And stayed that way. The innings dragged out ever so slowly.

When I was leaving at around 7:15, somebody noted that the Yankees had just scored and gone ahead 4-2. It was the sixth inning and the game was more than two hours old. "Well," I joked as I headed out the door, "I can't wait to tune in at Midnight and see how it turns out."

Joked? Not quite. I was an hour off.

The game finally ended at 11 pm, five hours and 49 minutes after it started. Boston won, which is a Good Thing, but we all know what's coming. I think it was Meloney who said it last night., something like this:

Boston's gonna tie the series and be ahead by three runs in the bottom of the ninth of the final game with two outs. Then the Yankees will get three straight walks, load the bases and the next guy will hit the first pitch out of the park to win the World Series.
There's not a Boston fan alive who doesn't believe that could happen.

The end is in sight.
I'll be wrapping up my report on GABF 2004 tomorrow (and here you thought I was going to just keep blathering along until GABF 2005) with sordid tales of Foley Unleashed, Pair Relievaz in Action, Dueling Randalls and whatever else I can find in my notes. Be here...or be there.

[posted 9:50 am edt]

15 October 2004
Local brewers off to Italy, Sixpack GABF fun.
I've just posted a story about local breweries attending the Slow Food celebration in Italy next week at the Beer Yard, which you might want to check out. There's even a tidbit for you Mike Murphy fans at the end.

Also, there's a new, very good and very funny Joe Sixpack column now up. Lots of offbeat GABF stuff. Use it wisely, as it'll have to serve your insatiable needs for a day or two while the LDO staff concentrates on income-producing ventures. It's a new approach we're trying out.

[posted 12:10 pm edt]

14 October 2004
GABF Tales: Chocolate & cheese.
A double-barreled press event at the Embassy Suites, official GABF headquarters, was, as they say, just the ticket on a rainy Friday afternoon in Denver.

We started off at noon with a Cheese and Beer and Cheese and Chocolate pairing, the latter featuring formerly Wicked, but now Cocoa Pete Slosberg.

The emphasis in the cheese portion of the presentation was on cheddars, with Vermont-based Cabot Cheese playing a central role. Various Cabot selections were matched with brews from Rockies Brewing Company, Rogue Ales and Odell's Brewing Company. The latter's Cutthroat Porter was particularly well matched with Cabot's Chipotle Cheddar.

Odell's, should you not be familiar with it, is a brewery which specializes in British style ales, located in Fort Collins, CO (where there's another brewery of some note with which you surely are familiar). Their Bobby Ale, a Kolsch, was nicely suited to a smooth Gouda from Wisconsin's White Clover Dairy.

I was also taken by the pairing of Stone Brewing's Arrogant Bastard with a four-year old Cheddar from Widmer's Cheese Cellars in Theresa, Wisconsin and Bear Republic Hot Rod Rye with a Sage Cheddar from Spring Hill Jersey Cheese , which is located not where you might think but in Petaluma, California.

Among other offerings, the cheeses of Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy were enhanced by Sawtooth ESB from Left Hand Brewing.

Over at the chocolate tables, I started with Nuts So Serious, a chocolate, hazelnut paste and pistachio concoction which was paired with my first taste of Allagash Brewing's new Bourbon barrel-aged version of their Tripel, Curieux (quite good) and chatted a bit with Pete. He told me and others stories of chocolate-centered dinners he's been doing on the West Coast (mashed potatoes with milk chocolate instead of butter?) and said he's tentatively scheduled to do a Beer & Cheese event at Monk's during the AOB Convention in Philadelphia next April. When he started moving on to stories of squid and the like with chocolate, I did too. Move on, that is.

The other pairings, all of which I tried and enjoyed, where Berry Berry Dangerous (cherry pieces in dark chocolate) with Ommegang Abbey Ale, Maximus Maltus (chocolate covered malt balls made with brewer's malt) with Russian River Brewing Pliny the Elder IPA and Caramel Knowledge with Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout.

GABF Tales: A pseudo-beer judging.
Following the Cheese/Chocolate/Beer gathering (above), those of us who wished to were split up into groups of three and seating with a certified GABF judge (ours was a very nice guy named Bill Pangelly, whose card I've managed to lose but who, if I remember correctly, is currently doing work in the quality control area for Deschutes). We were all given the same three beers and told we were judging in the IPA category. We were given the Beer Competition Style Description and Specifications for Judging sheet that judges get and a Tasting Notes pad with sections for Color and Appearance, Aroma, Bitterness, Alcohol, Style Flavor and Aftertaste, Balance and Drinkability, Technical Quality, Carbonation and Other Comments. All of the sections except the last had checkboxes for Appropriate or Not Appropriate and others, when appropriate for High, Low, Dark, Light, Out of Style and the like.

The three beers were brought to the table and we discussed them one by one. There was general agreement on the first two that each fit the parameters of the style, with varying opinions on matters of bitterness, flavor and balance, none of them at so great a variance to create a strong disagreement. Bill did tell us that he would sometimes use a "X" between rather than in either the Appropriate or Not Appropriate checkbox choices to indicate a degree of ambivalence not provided for in the basic choices, ane I found myself employing this technique in both the Flavor and Aftertaste and Balance and Drinkability areas for beer #2.

When we'd finished, it was evident to all of us that beer #3 was not an IPA and it was quickly relegated to the third position. I spoke up for beer #1 as the truest representative of the IPA style but the rest of the table, including our guide, voted for #2.

Back n the main room, we got the overall results which were all, as best I could tell, in agreement with my own. While we were not told what or whose the beers actually were ("it wouldn't be fair to the brewers, who had no part in our choice"), we did learn that #1 was indeed an IPA and #2 an Imperial IPA.

It was an interesting experiment to see how the system works and gratifying, I'd say, that the majority of us had pinpointed the beer that was most intended to conform to the style. I have to admit I was beginning to wonder a bit when I was out of synch with the rest of my table.

GABF Tales: The DBI event.
As I noted in passing a few days ago and reported on in some detail over here, my pals at Distinguished Brands International used GABF as an opportunity to promote their beer portfolio (hey, all the beer press was already in town) and introduce a new addition to the ranks, Carlow Brewing Company. All the pertinent facts are in the Beer Yard story linked above, but there are some personal notes I'd like to add here.

By virtue of arriving at the tent set up in front of Falling Rock a few minutes early, I became, according to DBI president Jeff (Mel) Coleman, "the first journalist" to taste Czechvar on draft in the U.S. I like being first. I've always had a bit of fondness for Czechvar and I suspect we'll be seeing its tap handles in a lot of bars and taverns come 2005.

Fuller's brought three cask ales to the event and I know I had two, and maybe three, pints of the extraordinary London Porter. There were also bottles of Vintage Ale 2004, which will be the first version of this annual release to be distributed in the U.S. in three years. Long-time readers will recall I tasted the 2003 release fresh out of the tanks at the brewery in London last year and was impressed; this one, still young, shows the same promise. Sadly, when North American Export Manager Sam Galsworthy offered me a bottle to take home, I told him I'd grab it when I left, then forgot. What a maroon.

I also had my first taste of Boris, which is not my cuppa, y'know, but which I noticed several ladies in attendance seem to enjoy; in fact, I suggested to brewery chairman Udo Helgen that they position this as a "chick beer" in a moment of impolitic exuberance. That was a clear sign it was time for me to leave...

GABF Tales: An Imperial Pumpkin Ale?
Wandering around Falling Rock on Saturday evening after the 2004 medals had been awarded, waiting for my son, who drives in from Grand Junction each GABF so we can drink beer, argue politics and otherwise bond, I managed a feat I'd thought impossible: I got a seat at the bar. Hell, I'd barely been able to get within arm's length of the bar most of my previous visits.

I sat down, ordered a sandwich and a pint of Avery IPA, my base beer whenever I'm in Denver (and the Gold Medal it won this year surely indicates my perspicacity) and listened in a bit as the guy next to me chatted up the bartenders. It became obvious he was in the business, working for a California beer distributor, so I introduced myself and started up a conversation (his is another business card lost along the way, unfortunately). When he told me he was drinking "an Imperial Pumpkin Ale," I was a) taken aback and b) determined to have one.

It was very, very good. Not something I'd sit around and drink pints of throughout the night, understand, but one of those instances where the stronger, bigger version of a relatively bland (and often over-spiced, in my judgement) style was a marked improvement. It was bold and attention-getting, the pumpkin notes obvious but not overwhelming and offered just the merely hint of all the usual spices.

What it was not, despite what the beer menu claimed, was Night Owl Pumpkin Ale from Elysian Brewery & Public House in Seattle (winner of Large Brewpub of the Year twice in a row as of that afternoon). It wasn't even a beer brewer by brewmaster Dick Cantwell. Night Owl is Elysian's regular seasonal Pumpkin; this was the very special Great Pumpkin, the 1000th batch brewed at the pub.

I found all this out when, having had "Night Owl" slip my mind, I asked Rogue's Sebbie Buhler to put me in touch with her brother Dick in Seattle and he sent me the straight skinny:

The Great Pumpkin, our 1000 batch at Elysian and brewed by our lead brewer Markus Stinson (Dick Cantwell was in Peru), is an Imperial Pumpkin ale 8% by Volume with 220 pounds of pumpkin meat (roughly 12 pounds per Bbl) and roasted pumpkin seeds spiced in the conditioning tank with Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. This differs from Night Owl Pumpkin ale, our current seasonal, in that there is more of everything.

Here are the facts on Night Owl. It is a big amberish ale brewed with 150 lbs. of pumpkin meat in each batch. Made with Pale, Munich and Crystal malts green and roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin meat in the mash, boil and fermenter. Bittered with Horizon hops. Spiced in conditioning with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Starting gravity 14.9°Plato (1.060) alcohol 5.1% by weight/6.1% by volume.

I'm not sure anybody ought to try this at home, but maybe we'll put Foley on the case for next year. And speaking of Foley, look for his adventures, or at least one night of them, to be recounted in the next installment of GABF Tales, coming soon to a computer near you.

[posted 12:30 pm edt]

13 October 2004
Heavyweight & McKenzie in the Times.
There's a great beer and food piece by Eric Asimov in today's New York Times, Chug This? Shame on You, which gives significant and potentially meaningful props to two fine local beers.

The focus is on Saisons and Biere-de-Gardes and both Heavyweight Biere d'Art and McKenzie Bavay made the list in the latter category, the only two American beers to be listed in the top five among the eleven tasted.

Heavyweight gets a rave in the body of the piece:

The Bière d'Art from Heavyweight Brewing in particular impressed us with its creamy texture and spicy-herbal complexity
and that can only be a good thing for Tom & Peggy. In addition, Biere d'Art got another plug in this sidebar story.

Yet, in the end, the real winner among the locals may have been our pal Scott (The Dude) Morrison. There were three calls to McKenzie Brew House this morning before 10am asking about Bavay as a direct result of the story. That sort of response underlines the appeal of good beer in McKenzie's success.

In the Saison group, SPF 8 from Pizza Port Solano Beach and Cuvée des Fleurs from Southampton Publick House were listed in the top five tasted.

[posted 4:08 pm edt; revised 7:30 am 14 October 2004]

Burton Baton Ale? Afraid not.
Jeff Norman, who's rapidly becoming a regular correspondent here (although this one is not nearly as much fun as his more recent ones), emails that the reputed Dogfish Head Burton Baton Ale World Premiere at the Kennett Brewfest was, in fact, not that at all.

The beer poured at Kennett last Saturday was only the initial half of what will eventually become Burton Baton, a beer brewed and aged on oak which will be blended with 90 Minute IPA to create the final product. This was confirmed by Sam Calagione in an email to Jeff this morning.

This was tasty and interesting beer, as I wrote on Sunday, but it's certainly disappointing that what was advertised wasn't delivered. The fault, I stress, does not lie with Jeff and his team at the brewfest, but with the brewery, which should have made the substitution clear upfront. In advance, for that matter.

[posted 11:05 am edt]

12 October 2004
Monday Tasting Notes, served up on Tuesday instead of Friday, just to keep you on yout toes.
There was a stretch earlier this year when each week of Monday Tastings seemed to be better than the last and Your Humble Correspondent was reduced to using the phrase "maybe the best Beer Tasting ever" so many times that it was reduced to the level of a cliché.

That's not entirely a bad thing. A cliché is a trite, overused phrase or idea, granted, but it becomes such mostly because it is true and sometimes there's just nothing that will work as well to say what needs to be said.

Like now.

The Monday Tasting at Sly Fox last night was maybe the best Beer Tasting ever.

In attendance, in addition to the annoying me, were the inevitable Ruch, the itinerant Meloney, the fraternal Hubers, the sometimes Marrin, the socially-compromised Foley and the long-suffering Limper, the here-again-gone-again Smiledges, and a pair of Coffey drinkers, Mike and Jane. Twelve in all, with Jimmy the Wasko hanging over our shoulders.

Not present, but represented by the beer I brought, was Mellow Matt Guyer, who last Thursday hied hisself up to Selin's Grove Brewing Company in Selinsgrove (you'd think these folks would get together on the spelling) and, at my request, came back with a growler of their Nouveau Ale (a Harvest beer made with hops grown on site).

It was the third beer we had (logically, it should have been the first, but we were holding back to see if Guyer would arrive with the bottles of cider he'd promised) and it was, sadly, disappointing. The beer did not have the strong hop character and aroma expected and was considerably under-carbonated. Still pleasant enough drinking, mind you, but not quite right. Matt told me this morning that he believes the person filling the growlers was "kinda clueless" and that may account for the problems, as might the fact that owners Steven Leason and Heather McNabb have recently moved into a new, larger brewhouse and may still be getting the hang of things.

We started with another growler, brought by the visiting Coffeys (friends of Rick and Jeanne), a really good Amber Ale, redolent with Cascades, from Triumph Brewing Company in Princeton. These folks, with their 2004 GABF wins and this attractive brew, have definitely caught my attention and definitely will be getting more attention around here.

Bill Huber, the one who's not Bob, brought us Reaper Deathly Pale Ale from California's Reaper Ales. This turned out to be another very good, very drinkable beer. Most of us had never heard of Reaper, aside from Joe Meloney, who's probably been there because he's been almost everywhere, and Lori Limper, who has a Reaper t-shirt according to hubby Tom.

The Smiledges then offered up a bottle of Celis Grottenbier and you can't hardly go wrong with that. As we sipped it, Foley told us about meeting Pierre Celis at GABF this year, standing in the long line awaiting entry outside the Denver Convention Center, little plastic tasting cup in hand. Rick and Jeanne then followed with a bottle of Kasteel Kriek, the grand cherry-flavored brew from Brouwerij-brasserie Van Honsebrouck. It seemed pretty obvious they were out to impress their friends, but as beneficiaries, we had no complaints.

Lee Marrin had a bottle of Unibroue Maudite, the strong red ale which is one of the best beers from a very good brewery, and Bob Huber, the one who's not Bill, swept us off our collective feet with one of the best tripels most of us had tasted in quite a while, Brother David's Tripel from Anderson Valley Brewing Company. I was told out in Denver that Anderson Valley won't be continuing this relatively new beer (like the companion Dubbel, named in honor of Toronado Pub owner David Keene) and that's sad news. One of the top beers of a very good night, this was.

Meloney's turn and, bless his heart, he brought us a bottle of Samaranth Quadrium, a Quad from Belgium's Urthel Brewery that I'd not had before. At 11.5%, it might have knocked us down, but not out, and we were more than ready for the Heavyweight B.O.R.I.S Imperial Stout that Richard Ruch pulled out. I just had this big and enticing beer for the first time at Kennett Square on Saturday and now here it was again. That's good karma, I thought to myself.

Indeed it was, because Mr. Foley and Ms. Limper ended our evening with a liter of Redstone Black Raspberry Nectar, the flagship Mead from Boulder's Redstone Meadery. This sweet honey and fruit beauty, 8% abv, was the first Redstone release in July 2001. It was all gone when I finally got to their GABF booth (I had the very good Apricot-based Sunshine Nectar in its place) and I missed their Mead event on Friday of GABF after falling in with bad companions who led me astray.

It was a most good night.

[posted 5:40 pm edt]

11 October 2004
Sounds like a plan.
Apropos my comments yesterday about Clothing Falling Off Girl, Kennett Brewfest honcho Jeff Norman emails

I’ll comp her a ticket next year, if that’s alright with you.

Done deal.

By the way, due to what I can only presume is one of those "architect things," Jeff somehow became more intrigued by the lady's outfit than its proclivity for abandoning her body and he chose to christen her Lime Green Girl while he followed her around the premises.

I think our nomenclature captured the moment more accurately, but, like they say, whatever floats your boat...

[posted 9:35 am edt]

10 October 2004
Kennett Square.
One of my favorite songs, Michael Smith's The Dutchman, has a refrain which begins long ago, I used to be a young man... and I think of it every time I go back to Kennett Square where I grew up. I'm delighted to be able to tell you that the old home town did me proud yesterday, with one of the most enjoyable local beer festivals I've attended in some time.

It was all good.

I admit to having been a bit worried about whether the separation from the long-running Mushroom Festival was going impact negative on the 7th annual Kennett Square Microbrew Festival, but in fact, turning the fest into its own event made things even better.

Things got a little crowded at times, making moving about somewhat difficult, but nothing unbearable. The food vendors out front on State Street were marvelous and, although I didn't get there this trip, the very good Half Moon Restaurant and Saloon was right down the block for anyone who wanted a more expansive menu. The only notable defect was a paucity of porta-potties (nobody knows why that was) and even that didn't bother me. Standing in line for fifteen minutes or so gave me a chance to clear my head and step back into the fray refreshed.

The Connoisseur Tasting beforehand had some very intriguing beers.

Weyerbacher Insanity, which is Blithering Idiot barleywine aged in Bourbon casks, had its World Premiere. This is an early, unfiltered version, done at the same time as the initial batch of Heresy, and thus somewhat different, at least in terms of clarity, that the beer to be officially released in November. Powerful stuff indeed (over 10% abv), with a strong liquor presence not only worthy of but demanding a brandy snifter (a nice fireplace wouldn't hurt either) and there was a general consensus (Dan Weirback told me this was the case at the brewery as well) this it was even better than Heresy. I scored some for a future Monday Tasting Session, so all attendees be forewarned.

Troegs Troegenator Doublebock which was fermented with Mad Elf yeast came in at 9% abv and was another real big delight. This is a one-off and not likely to be seen again, more's the pity.

Another World Premiere--and winner--was Dogfish Head Burton Baton Ale (11% abv), open fermented with both an American and a British yeast strain, barrel condition in French Oak and dry-hopped with Glacier, then blended 50-50 with 90 Minute IPA. This beer is an early selection of the new Michael Jackson Rare Beer Club, I believe, and I really, really need to try it after it's been bottled and aged for bit. Yo, Sam....

Two two beers everyone was hot try during the early session were disappointing to me. Lancaster Old Sourpuss, which has been around for six years now and never before been officially poured the brewery, had an unexpected and off-putting malty and not-so-tart flavor for a purported Gueuze. Ramblin' Joe Meloney, who's been drinking it at Lancaster every one of those six years, allowed as how he felt it had been blending with something different. Legacy Cherry Euphoria, the brewery's strong golden ale fermented with a lambic yeast and a blend of sweet and tart Oregon cherries added, didn't do much for me either although I'm quite fond of Euphoria itself.

All that said, the very best beer I tasted yesterday afternoon was one poured during the regular session. Manayunk Brewery's Harvest Ale (it may have had a more complex name but I never got it). This was a wonderful wet-hop brew which was dead on style and eminently drinkable. Brewer Chris Firey, clearly on a roll, also had a solid Double IPA on tap. I tend to think all this is a result of his thinking I'd told him that Manayunk was a bad brewery out in Denver when what I really said was that the place has suffered from bad management. Yeah, I know the timing doesn't work out, but if I can grab the credit, y'know?

Once we'd gotten over than hump, Firey went on to note that Manayunk is often overlooked by the beer press and beer geeks, which is true and which I at least will try to rectify. At the moment, however, I merely pointed out Ramblin' Joe, who goes there regularly. I didn't bother to reveal that Ramblin' Joe pretty much goes everywhere regularly.

I spent a lot of time during the afternoon talking with Scott (The Dude) Morrison and scarfing down good McKenzie beers and he told me he's adjusted himself to his new working conditions (not particularly pleasant ones, as we've discussed here somewhat but which I don't feel comfortable posting en toto) and is comfortable with his situation for now.

I spent even more time at the Heavyweight booth where good beers were flowing (I had my first tastes ever of B.O.R.I.S., believe it or not, and sampled the very young and just-released Old Salty 2004 barleywine, which shows great promise) and First Lady Peggy Zwerver was, shall we say, somewhat more relaxed than we normally see her since she wasn't going to have to drive home last night. Happy anniversary, Tom & Peggy. Hope you can remember it.

For the record, I drove The Big One and The Other One out to Kennett so now they owe me rides for the rest of the decade. Yeah, yeah, they've carted me hither and yon the past, but let's not talk about the past, people. It's time to look to the future.

And here's note for you BeerAdvocate types. Yes, Dave (Davo) Rodriquez was in the house. Yes, he was evil.

Finally, I'd really like to tell you about the gal we christened Clothes Falling Off Girl, but this is a family site. Let's just say it was a good thing there was a bit of chill in the air to create a certain physiological reaction which was the last desperate hope of a scoop-neck blouse under serious assault by the forces of gravity.

GABF Tales: When legends meet.
One of the things I determined I wanted to do while in Denver was introduce Monk's Cafe's Tom Peters to inimitable Southern California beer nut Bill (Drbill) Sysak. It seemed to me that would be a marriage made in heaven.

I finally managed to pull it off Friday night by the tent outside the Falling Rock Tap House (THE after-festival and often during-festival destination bar). Pretty soon, we were all standing around watching the two of them, who are somewhat similar in height and, um, body configuration, standing there face-to-face for the better part of half an hour as the names of Belgian beers flew back and forth through the air. I love it when things work out.

By all of us, I mean my West Coast pals and Drbill enablers, long-suffering Steve Steinbergs and the lovely Lucinda Collins. I first me the three of them in the Tasting Room at Anchor Brewing February a year ago on a trip to San Francisco. You'll find that sordid tale right here. Just scroll down to Lucy to the right of me, Lucy to the left of me... and, in fact, remember that, because the story of my second (almost) "Lucy Sandwich" will appear here with a day or two as part of a report on how a member of our Monday Tasting Group as Sly Fox stepped into the Big Time in Denver and was scared out of his wits by, well, a Lucy. A tale for another day...

GABF Tales: Shirt off his back? Maybe.
Shoes off his feet? No problem.

The first time I ran into Tom Peters in Denver this year was Thursday morning when Tim Ohst and I were out if front of the registration lobby at the Denver Convention Center, chatting with Rouge Ale's East Coast rep Sebbie Buhler (the gal on the Chocolate Stout label) while waiting for Corey Reid to finish some business best left undisclosed inside at the desk. Up came Tom, all cheerful, bright-eyed and eminently sober. But we recognized him anyway.

Our talk led to a general invite to the annual party that he and his Nodding Head cohorts, Curt Decker and Brandon Greenwood, throw at GABF every year. It was to be that night in their usual suite. This is a well-planned event, not just the food and beer and wine (and, this year, a masseuse in the back bedroom working the aching muscles of anyone who cared to partake), but the renting of rooms above, below and on either side to eliminate, or at least cut down on, noise complaints.

I arrived around 11 pm, following a two-hour visit to the convention floor, another two hours at the DBI press gathering (there will be more on this one posted here later in the week--it was one of the reasons there was that tent outside Falling Rock). After a couple of quick greetings, I head for the back room and the wine. Man does not live by beer alone. And there I found Tom, who stuck out his hand and then said abruptly, take off your shoes. Hey, who am I to argue with the guy who's providing the food and liquor? Besides, they were loafers so all I had to do was kick 'em off.

Now put on my shoes, was the next command. Say what? Cram these feet into those little things. Ain't gonna happen. Realizing that, he stooped down and pulled these weird little Polypropylene (I guess) bags filled with some sort or liquid out of his shoes and dropped them into mine. I kept looking longingly at the wine bottles and realized there was only one thing to do. I put my shoes back on. It was like standing on a water bed. The bags undulated beneath my feet and were, yes, relaxing and comfortable. I just bought them, said Tom proudly. Aren't they great? Well, yes and no.

It was a pleasant sensation and probably would make hours on the hard convention floor more bearable. I thought of the mile-plus trek from my hotel room to Falling Rock (my "safety valve" at GABF is to pretty much walk everywhere to knock off a few calories and encourage sobriety) and realized it might also be nice to be having my soles caressed on those trips as well. Trouble was, when standing still, I found myself kinda rocking and rolling on my feet which, I'd suspect, would get people looking at me a bit oddly after a while. Okay, that happens a lot already, but you know what I mean.

Finally, Tom took back his shoes and his baggies and moved on and I was left to reflect on it all. You know, you just don't get this sort of thing from your everyday publican.

GABF Tales: The Russians are coming, Fal leaves, Fergie's new gig.
Half the fun of GABF, maybe more than that, is catching up with beer people from around the country and getting an opportunity to chat...

Vinnie Cilurzo of the very good Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California, whose beers I first tasted at GABF 2003, told me he will be Philadelphia and Washington in January and expects to make a deal to distribute his Russian River IPA and Pliny the Elder double IPA and Belgian-style ales--Redemption, Perdition, Damanation & Salvation--in the Philadelphia market early next year. I note that the Beer Yard's Matt Guyer has already blurted out that news to a BeerAdvocate who quickly posted it here. Damn, I can't tell that boy anything.

Fal Allen, long-time general manager at Anderson Valley Brewing Company left the company a month ago. He and owner Ken Allen (no relation) were apparently at odds about the brewing program. He looked pretty damned relaxed about it all in Denver, says he's taking some time off before look for a new endeavor.

I also had a beer or two with David Keene, owner of the Toronado Pub in San Franciso, home of the world-famous annual Barleywine Festival which, we both agreed, might see a bit of its luster dampened if the current emphasis on double IPAs and othr big beers leads fewer brewers to producing barleywines in the years ahead.

Somewhere along the way I did get a few minutes with a very harried Chris Black, owner of Falling Rock, for whom the four or five days around GABF is the biggest stretch of the year. I told him that I thought the addition of a tent out in front of Falling Rock was a great idea; he told me it was a great deal of work.

Also chatted up a couple of press guys I went to Europe with last year, Ed Westheimer, who does freelance beer stories for the Cincinnatti Enquirer, and Bill Brand, of the Oakland Tribune and his own just launched Beer Blog (I've added it to the regular links up above on the left). Ed is a GABF judge and we talked about the Kolsh category he'd done that morning. I suggested that light-bodied and relatively uncomplicated style is either one of the easiest or most difficult ones to evaluate, depending on how you approach the task. He neither agreed nor disagreed. With Ed, you never can tell. I sorta like that.

Sometimes the people you run into are from right around the corner, of course. I've been ragging on Monk's co-owner Fergus Carey recently about his recently created and admittedly very funny Ask Fergie column in Philadelphia Weekly, telling him he's taking the food of the mouths of professional writers. So when I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to find him standing there, I should have seen it coming. Would you like to see my press pass, Jack? I guess my only resort is to open a bar...

Now, this was a pleasant surprise.
GABF tales will continue in a day or so, but there are other things that shouldn't be allowed to slip by while I wallow in memories. For example, this story in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

One of the most frustrating things for those of us who love good beer, and even more so for those of us who write about it, is when the mainstream media finally deigns to write about the subject, the story is usually assigned to a staff writer or freelancer who knows little about the subject and then the story is burdened with sops to the Big Bland Brands and dumbed down import labels.

Not this time. Matthew P, Blanchard, who I presume is an Inquirer staffer, pretty much gets it right.

The conceit of his Oktober Best is that this is the perfect season "to become a true beer connoisseur." Blanchard lists five very good regional beer bars and wisely allows a representative from each to name "one good exotic beer" available there. Okay, "exotic" is a bit much, but that's about the only (implicit) pandering to the mass market in the story.

Two local beers get nods: McMenamin's owner P.J. McMenamin allows as how he gets "dreamy" for Victory Moonglow Weizenbock, and William Reed of Standard Tap gives a rave review to Sly Fox Keller Pils. The folks at Ludwig's Garten chose Samiclaus, while up at Isaac Newtown's in Newtown (Bryson country) the pick was Lindeman's Framboise, the only slightly discordant selection of the quintet.Patrick Mullin at Drafting Room Exton didn't go specific but suggested a sampler flight of Oktoberfest beers and the story of that choice which he told me yesterday reflects how Blanchard really did his homework and kept on top of the story..

When Blanchard called and asked him to participate, Mullin said, I told him things turned over so fast we should suggest a flight, but he wanted a specific Oktoberfest so I picked Paulaner. It kicked two days later and before I even got to make the change on our website, he was on the phone saying he'd heard about its going off and agreed to go with the flight idea. I don't even know how he found out so fast.

Good job. Too bad it ran on Saturday, in the least read edition of the paper.

[posted 1:20 pm edt]

7 October 2004
The little beer that shouted "Shazam!"
Remember Billy Batson? He was the boy newscaster for radio station WHIZ who turned into Captain Marvel, the World's Mightiest Mortal, when he shouted the magic word SHAZAM! (an acronym which gave him the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury).

Billy was too young to drink beer and Cap too much of prudish stiff, but both would probably appreciate the magic of lightning creating something grand and powerful out of something, um, very much the opposite which I learned about during a side trip to New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado last week during the Great American Beer Festival.

Sly Fox assistant brewer Tim Ohst, Phoenixville bar manager Corey Reid (who had the foresight to drive to Denver so we'd have a car) and I visited New Belgium on Thursday afternoon prior to the official opening of GABF.

While it appears at first glance to be a pub, the brewery's public area is in fact a large tasting room which doubles as one of the great sales tools in the industry (try walking out of there without dropping a few bucks on glassware, clothing or, y'know, beer. A five-beer sampler (about 3 ounces each) is given to every visitor. It usually consists of New Belgium's basic beers, but in honor of GABF, visitors that day got Dubbel, Trippel, TransAtlantique Kriek, wood-aged La Folie and...Devil's Advocate.

Say what? You never heard of that one? Not surprising, but the bad news is you'll probably never taste it either.

Here's the story the way they tell it at New Belgium.

They were brewing up a batch of Fat Tire one day recently (something's gotta pay the bills) when lightning struck either the brewery or an outside power source, it wasn't entirely clear. The result was that everything shut down. When power came back and they tried to start up again, the lines were all clogged and jammed. Cleaning it out enough to power up fully, they decided to brew through and see what they got.

Devil's Advocate (originally named "White Lightning") was the result, a 10.5% abv Duvel-ish golden ale, the best beer on the table (although the Dubbel was damned close). It was a great beer which can never be duplicated. You had to be there, in other words.

Honestly, I find it a little hard to believe that they didn't do something to that beer to create the final effect, but what I just recounted is the story we were told by at least two people there and which others who visited the brewery confirmed they too were told.

If you're not familiar with New Belgium, or familiar only with their beers, be advised that it's a great operation. The company is socially and environmentally conscious, evidenced everywhere, perhaps most impressively in the fact that the brewery is wind-powered and centers around a Merlin brewing system which uses 75% less energy than a standard one. Virtually every employee travels by bicycle and a new, specially designed New Belgium bike is created each year; new employees are given that year's model free and other employees can purchase them.

We took a self-guided tour of the brewery (I'd gotten a more thorough and "inside" tour last year on a press junket during GABF 2003) and then had another quick sample (1554 Brussels Style Black Ale) at the bar before moving on. Moving on involved popping down the street a bit to CooperSmith's Pub & Brewing, a very nice brewpub where we had a late lunch before ending our afternoon of drinking beer to go off to drink more beer. Hey, somebody's got to do it.

[posted 9:40 am edt]

6 October 2004
Pardon the interruption...REDACTED
The long, sad tale I told here about my telephone woes has been deleted because, sure enough, as soon as I wrote about it, all--well, most--of the problems were solved. If you'd hadn't read it yet, you didn't miss much. If you did read it, please note in your hearts that the customer service lady I was casting as the heroine of the story was in fact its villain, giving me bad information which, had I not been able to make the appropriate corrections today, would have surely led to a horror show of vast proportions.

But make corrections I did and all is well. I have telephone service.

We now return you to your regular programming, already in progress...

[posted 4:35 pm edt, 7 Oct 04]

The happiest man in Denver.
The way it worked out, I was standing maybe five feet from Sam Calagione, with only brewer Bryan Selders between us, when Dogfish Head Midas Touch Golden Elixir was awarded the Gold Medal in the Specialty Honey Lager or Ale category at the 2004 Great American Beer Festival in Denver at roughly 2 pm last Saturday.

Sam shook his fists in front of him and raised his eyes to the ceiling and yelled It feels so good! He hugged the guy next to him, then Selders, his head brewer and Pain Relievaz cohort. When I reached out, he continued holding Selders with one arm and took my hand and almost crushed it in his grip for a long moment. You go get it, you go get it, he said, shoving Selders toward the stage at the front of the hall to pick up the medal and continued celebrating with everyone and anyone around him.

Where we were standing happened to be a primary pathway to the stage and thus I saw a lot of celebrating brewers pass by. Hell, I was almost deafened by the screams of delight from the group behind me when they won. But if there was a happier person than Sam Calagione in the Denver Convention Center last weekend, he must have been overwhelmed with ecstasy and died right on the spot.

I don't know for sure, but I think Sam was beginning to wonder if he'd ever win a GABF Medal. I know I had my doubts, believing that his "off center ales for off center people" were all too far outside of style parameters for the sorts of people who do the judging. But I also felt that, despite all his fame and success, an award from his peers was what he wanted most of all. His reaction when it happened pretty much confirmed that.

For me, it was the most memorable and heartwarming moment of the festival. One of the really good guys got to experience pure joy and I can't tell you how delighted I am to have been there to share it with him.

Coming Attractions.
Sorry to have taken so long to get to business here, but you don't wanna know the troubles I seen, trust me. I'll be posting GABF stories and anecdotes regularly for the rest of the week, possibly starting later today.

I've already posted a summary of local medal winners over at the Beer Yard site (including a link to the official list of all GABF winners). The garnering of Gold Medals as their first-ever GABF wins by Dogfish Head and Triumph is the biggest news around these parts, I'd say, but the developing records of several area brewers is also intriguing. Both Nodding Head's Brandon Greenwood and Iron Hill's Bob Barrar received medals this year, bringing their streaks to three, while Sly Fox's Brian O'Reilly had his three-medal streak broken. Barrar's won six medals over that period and Greenwood five.

More to come...

The complete September postings have been archived here.

[Posted 11:20 am edt]

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

--A. E. Houseman


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