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What I Was Up To

February and March 2003 Archive

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(if I have any; these are thumbnails, click for larger images) 

What I Was Drinking


March 15 & 22, 2003: 

On The Road Again

I took off for Philly at a high rate of speed (no, just kidding, I was completely legal, honest) last Saturday to meet up with Rich Pawlak's Golden Age of Philadelphia Beer Tour. This is Rich's 7th year doing the tour, and it's developed into a real event. Come along, I'll keep it brief. Maybe. Sometimes these things take on a life of their own. 

I met up with the 45 members of the tour at Ludwig's Garten (1315 Sansom St.), the German taproom and restaurant that is, in its Germanic way, almost as big a jewel in Philly's beer crown as Monk's is. True to form, Paul Olivier soon had a liter mug of Spaten Bock in my hand (jealous tour members looked from my mass to their 14 oz. pilsners: "It's good to be the king," I said with a foam-decked grin) and we all trouped upstairs for a luncheon buffet. 

Paul got carried away on the buffet: there was roast beef, roast pork, baked chicken, wurst, and fish, along with a groaning board of salads, vegetables, kraut, and breads. We all stuffed ourselves like pigs. I gave them a lecture on why Philly deserved a beer tour, a brief rundown of where we were going, and then put in a plug for my book. We ate some more, and kept drinking.

Then Paul offered to walk us out his back door and in the back door of McGillin's, our next stop. This was going to be a brief and non-required stop, as McGillin's was well into St. Pat's Day madness, complete with green beer. I went, and we squeezed in the back door, smiled at everyone, and got a beer (see the Bare Knuckle note to the right). It was insane, but fun, especially the squeezing part. 

Back to Ludwig's, where Rich and I realized that he'd screwed up the count, and I would be driving myself, not riding in the vans (they transport everyone in three big 15-passenger vans). Damn! I enjoy talking to the people on the tour! Oh, well, nothing to be done. I jumped in the Jetta and took off for Mt. Airy and McMenamin's Tavern.

McMenamin's is one of the best beer bars in Philly, and hardly anyone knows about it...except for the people who throng the place and keep it busy all week long. It is the place I go when I want a glass of well-kept cask Yards ESA, and that's just what I got. Delicious, estery, slippery malt body... ah. I greeted PJ and chef Larry Melison, grabbed some of the great Irish stew Larry makes to PJ's grandmother's recipe (8 quarts of Guinness to 20 quarts of stew), and settled down to talk to two guys on the tour from Mahanoy City in upstate PA. 

When the Tour arrives at a stop, people kind of spread out all over the bar, some mingling, some sticking to themselves, and everyone looking around at what the bar has to offer. That's what I like about the Tour: it's not just about beer. It's about food, it's about people, it's about place. 

People have asked Rich, 'you pick these places because you know these guys, right?' Let me tell you: half of these places I found, and told Rich about them, and he went there, and said, yeah, this place has to be on the tour. Then he makes arrangements. He's looking for places with good beer, food, and no jerks. Credit where it's due, though: Rich has known PJ's family for years, and he told me about McMenamin's. As you can see, I'm glad he did. 

Sorry to leave, but it had to be done. I hopped in the Jetta and took off ahead of the vans: I had a mission. Down the Lincoln  Drive, into Philly on the Schuylkill and the Vine and off at the Chinatown exit, then up 3rd St. to the corner of Fairmount: I parked and walked into The Abbaye, one of two new Belgian bars in Philadelphia.  I was doing the kind of recon that evolves into the Tour. 

Nice place, very clean, and some good stuff on tap: I got a Brewer's Art Resurrection (nice beer, but served too cold). The menu, on a big chalkboard, looked like a combination of Standard Tap and Bridgid's. Hardly anyone was in the place; not surprising, given it was the first marginally warm and sunny Saturday we'd had in months. I plowed through the beer pretty quickly, paid up, and stepped outside, just as the vans drove by, headed for Standard Tap. They pointed and laughed, I waved, and Jetta'd down to meet them. 

Standard Tap was a happy time, as always. We headed upstairs and I got convinced to try a wood cask Heavyweight Cinderbock: good call, the smoke was good, condition was beautiful, wood was unobtrusive. And it went really well with the salmon tartare crostini (okay, they weren't crostini, but they should have been), skirt steak bruschetta, and the best damned squid I've ever had (and let me tell you, buster, I've lived on the Monterey Bay, where they know squid). 

William Reed came up, hung out a bit, and then told me about his latest toy and we had to go take a look. See, William is a beer gearhead. He's got the best draft system in the city, with all the coolest gadgets and doodads. Makes for damned good beer, too. His new wrinkle was actually pretty cool: a welded set of keg rails down the basement steps. Delivery guys just slowly tip the kegs over onto the rails, and they slide down the rails right to the coldbox door. Sweet! He said the delivery guys love the thing, and they're bugging other bars to put them in. 

Sorry, got sidetracked. We left Standard Tap and went to Yards Brewery in Kensington. Things were wide open, it was a beautiful day. I got me another cask ESA from my favorite Yards volunteer, big bald Dean Browne (see the picture). We all wandered around the brewery in a loosely organized tour, at the end of which Bill Barton "tickled the zwickel" to get everyone an unfiltered tank sample of Philly Pale Ale, a special brewery-only treat (if you ever get this chance, grab it: this is the best way to drink beer). I chatted with head brewer Tom Kehoe, and we all calmed down a bit. 

Good thing, cause we had more bars to hit! Off to the Grey Lodge, where I actually got to have more Yards, a 16-month-old keg of Trubbel that was just atarting to turn, and the sourness put a delicious edge on that rich dubbel character. If you can catch some beers right at the precise moment, going bad can be really good! Scoats and Billy were ready for us, the beers poured, the mushroom-Swiss wraps sliced, and the tomato pies were coming out of the broiler. 

I understand that some of the people on the Tour didn't care for the Grey Lodge: "It's just a bar." Oh, dear. That is its beauty. I go to the G-Lodge and all's well, no pretension. We all drink what we want, Brooklyn Tripel or Miller Genuine Draft, and we talk. "Just a bar"? Sir, bars are the glue of a social people, and the G-Lodge is freaking epoxy!  

Anyway. Time to go. Two Tour regulars leaped into the Jetta (hey, no problem!) and off we get stuck in traffic in Center City. Car show traffic. 45 minutes to get to Independence. We finally jammed the Jetta up over the sidewalk into an unattended lot and ran for it. 

We were late, of course, but dinner came out right on time. Delicious stuff, too, like the roasted Vidalia stuffed with braised beef, served with Tim Robert's Kölsch. I got the peppercorn pork loin with bread filling: I don't know why I did this. I hate all those damned peppercorns. The IPA with it was excellent, though, best beer I've had at Independence: nice job, Tim! Then it was porter with a bananas Fosteresque tart, a very nice pairing. We really got down to talking now, the beauty of the Tour. People were exchanging cards and making plans (I sold some books!), and starting to head for home. 

Seemed a good time to leave. I thanked Rich, said my goodbyes to people, and retrieved the Jetta. Best part is...I get to do it all over again this Saturday, when the Tour rides again!


March 18, 2003: 

Which Just Goes to Show: Jenever is a Great Drink

Tom Peters invited me to the latest beer dinner at Monk's Cafe:  a pairing of beer, cheese, and chocolate, hosted by beer author, cookbook author, and Canadian bon vivant Stephen Beaumont. The convincing for this odd juxtaposition of food and drink supposedly took place at the Jenever Bar in Antwerp, where Tom and chef Adam Glickman ran into Beaumont. "In our advanced state of refreshment, we would have agreed to serve horse meat," Peters said in the evening's menu.

Maybe. But I'll bet it wouldn't be as good as some of this evening's food and drink. Cathy and I arrived just about on time for a change, greeted Stephen, Tom, and Monk's partner Fergus Carey, then sat down with tablemates Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell, the by-now-all-too-familiar Jack Curtin, Sebbie "Rogue East" Buehler, and Monk's (and WhiskyFest) regular Larry Blinebury just as they were serving the first beer, a 'cocktail' of four parts Hanssen's Kriek and one part Rogue Chocolate Stout (Sebbie's on the label of this Rogue beer). Delicious: the chocolate really did deepen and smooth the cherry edge of the kriek. One for Stephen.

Next we got an insanely delicious BLT sandwich. That's Bittersweet chocolate spicy mayonnaise, Lobster Mousseline, and Truffled cheese. I want Adam to come to my house three times a week and make this. The sandwich was a great idea, a beautiful mix of incredible, I'm going to be honest. Call me a philistine: I don't get truffles. The cheese smelled and tasted like a good piece of  havarti to me. I hope to get this one of these days. But the lobster and mayonnaise were outstanding!

The beer choice with this was iffy, in my opinion: Buckeye Vanilla Stout. I didn't get a lot of vanilla aroma from the beer, and I didn't think it went particularly well with the lobster. One for Adam, none for Stephen.

Next was Bosco Stout with a chocolate risotto topped with a wonderfully tender pice of marinated pork loin, in turn topped with a raspberry sauce and a pansy, adorned with slices of goat gouda cheese. Good as the sandwich was, this was my favorite course: my slice of pork was tender, juicy, perfectly done and cut, and richly flavorful. I'll have to try that raspberry thing. The chocolate risotto was mildly chocolatey and very satisfying. The Bosco Stout was a middleweight export stout, rich in flavor but not overly heavy in body, and a glorious match for the food. One each, Adam and Stephen.

The main course was a roasted half-pheasant  on a bed of baby spinach and smoked mozzarella, topped with a savory chocolate vinaigrette, with wild rice and a root vegetable puree. The puree was good, the wild rice was a bit bland but texturally excellent, Cathy and I would both have gone for a full dish of the spinach and mozz. But my pheasant was undercooked to the point of being hard to cut. I like rare poultry, and have been enthralled by rare duck at Monk's, but this was too much. 

The beers were a great idea: Spezial Rauchbier and Rauchenfels Steinbrau, smoked beer to match the smoked cheese. It was not long ago that I'd had Spezial in situ: this was a pleasant memory jogger. But the Rauchenfels did not hold up against memory: thin in body and flavor, less than what I recalled as a bold, almost overpowering beer. Give Stephen one, Adam a half.

Everyone loved the final course, and how could you miss: chocolate porter cheesecake with Rochefort 8° and cask Victory Storm King. Full marks to both Adam and Stephen, though I didn't really find the Rochefort to be the perfect chocolate beer as touted by Stephen; too fruity, a little too much edge. Maybe it's me, or maybe I just don't like fruit and chocolate. Maybe I'm just ornery. But the damned beer's too good to complain much, so I'm not, really.

I do think the best moment of the night for me, though, was when I overheard Jack arguing with Don and Sebbie about Philly's failings as a beer town: the same argument I'd had with him less than a week before, with Jack now taking my side of it! I'm not happy that Philly's not as great as I'd once thought, but to hear discussion of it in company like this may actually bear fruit as people start to consider the possibilities. Plant acorns, and one day maybe we'll enjoy a beer under a spreading oak.

A great dinner, some excellent beers. Heh. Just another night at Monk's.


March 12, 2003: 

Everybody Must Get Stoned...

I met Matt Guyer and the gimp-walking Rich Pawlak at the Trenton train station and caught NJ Transit to NYC: today was Stone Day, the official launch of Stone Brewing's beers for the East Coast at the Blind Tiger in Manhattan, and Stone's Greg Koch had talked me into training to Manhattan for the, er, um, plentiful delicious beer. We talked beer trash on the way up and Rich gave me plenty of free advice on supporting sales of New York Breweries. We took the subway down to Christopher Street, and soon we were scarfing a damned good Cuban sammawich (I had a bowl of cream of spinach soup, too, very good) at a little Cuban place on Christopher St. 

After "laying in a base," we turned the corner onto Hudson Street and entered the Blind Tiger Alehouse. The Stones were rolling already, twelve of them on tap: Levitation Ale, Pale Ale, Smoked Porter, IPA, cask IPA, oak-aged Arrogant Bastard, Ruination IPA, Arrogant Bastard, Double Bastard, Imperial stout, Old Guardian barleywine, and the very limited availability 03.03.03 Vertical Epic. Stunning. We grabbed three glasses of cask IPA, spurning the 4 oz. tasting pours. Very nice beer, smooth and fruity and obdurately bitter, if not particularly bright.  (BTW, O cynical ones: every beer we had this day was paid for. Just like you.)

We got glasses of water and soldiered on. To the shallow end of the taste pool: Levitation (broad, almost English ale character with bright hop notes), Pale Ale (heavier, but clearly Levitation's cousin), and a happy bit of excess with the Double Bastard. The big DB was my favorite beer of the day, and one I would go back to, very fruity (bright, juicy plum with underlying darker notes) and lively for such a huge beer.

Who's next?! Ruination IPA, Smoked Porter, and Oak-aged Arrogant Bastard.  The Stone Ruination was vaunted as an IPA with some hops in it, and it was...but I didn't care for it as much as the cask IPA. Over the top and into the dustbin, I'd say. The Smoked Porter was right tasty, though Rich swore it wasn't as smoky as the one he'd had at the Grey Lodge. The Oak-Aged...I wasn't nuts about, eventually. It was striking, and the oak came through (even though it had only been in contact with the wood for three days--I asked Greg, and he called the brewery to make sure), but I thought the oak was a little overdone. Maybe not: in a beer that big, it's gotta be big to come through. Not my cup of beer, though.

The next round was outstanding, though: Old Guardian, 03.03.03, and the Imperial Stout. Power City, folks. The 03.03.03 was ambitious, a Belgian abbey-kind of beer, big, spicy, should age well. I dug the Imperial Stout, like heavyweight motor oil and jam-packed with roasty, bitter flavor. But the Old Guardian remains one of my favorite Stone beers, because it goes against the grain: it is richly malty and fruity, a relatively pale amber, and puts me in mind of Fuller's Vintage Ale. Great stuff.

About halfway through that round we were joined by Jack Curtin, who couldn't make it up on the earlier train due to important previous commitments (something about dogs and comic books). We also met the Alström brothers of BeerAdvocate fame, who turned out (as Jack said) to be nowhere near as strange as they seem in their website pictures. I was somewhat disappointed by this, but also somewhat relieved. 

We'd tried almost everything by this time, and although Jack was valiantly trying to catch up by pouring beer down his throat at a great rate, we talked him into going on Greenwich Village walkabout with us in search of fabled bars. A-walking we did go.

We got to Chumley's -- but it wasn't open. The taps were kind of depressing anyway: all were either A-B distributed or "house" beers that we assumed were Chelsea contract brews. Nothing wrong with that, but I can drink Chelsea at Chelsea. Anyway, I absorbed a certain amount of crap and we went on. Rich spotted the famous John's Pizza on Bleecker Street and we crowded into a table for a half-plain half-fungus pizza. Justly famous: the crust is excellent, and the sauce is alive, NOT mass-produced.

Onward: we stuck our heads in the Slaughtered Lamb, and just as quickly pulled them out: yeesh, what a crappy tap selection. The troops were getting restless at this point, so I took a chance on a jackpot and aimed at Vol de Nuit. No, sorry, they didn't open for another 25 minutes... We all visibly slumped. But okay, if you just want beer and frites, I can open for you. So we walked back into the little courtyard and up the steps into a quiet, dim comfortable bar, where we were greeted with taps of De Koninck, Leffe Brune, Lucifer, Het Kapital, and the like. 

We relaxed right into this, got frites (delicious, and so many we couldn't finish them) and beers (I had a De Koninck), and talked about what a great day it was. It was, too, finally warming up after a long cold winter; guys were playing handball out the back window, a cool breeze through the open door. Wonderful time, very nice place, good beer, funky music.

Restored, we returned to the Blind Tiger for a bit more Stone. We were joined by my friend Andy Ager of Bierkraft, Bill "Salty Dog" Coleman and his dachshund, Ludwig, and beer-food writer Peter LaFrance, and we all had some Stone. Eventually, Andy and Bill talked us into joining them at Mugs Alehouse for the meeting of the Malted Barley Appreciation Society, the Brooklyn homebrew club. 

It was a harrowing trip. They took us to Gray's Papaya: I was hankering for a hot dog but these, pardon me, sucked, though the papaya drink was good. After a lot of walking, a subway ride, and a lot more walking (which was rough on Rich, and I publicly apologize for dragging him all the way to Mugs),  we made it, and I got stuck into a delish cask Blue Point ESB

Andy and Bill talked Matt and me into going to the meeting in the backroom, where they were tapping a cask of...water. It was a demo, I guess, but good Lord, what a disappointment. I finished my ESB and we split; had to catch the train home. 

And we did, without much trouble. We narrowly averted a horrible political argument on the way home, and instead got into a snarly argument over whether Philly was a great beer town or not, my contention being that we didn't have many breweries in the city (noting simultaneously that I was not talking about the quality of the ones we had), nor did we have any truly great multitaps (20 or more with a strong American-micro bent). I freely admitted that we had things other cities did not -- Monk's, for instance -- but I maintained that most of what we had and rightly praised was equaled, if not duplicated, in other cities. As for Matt, Rich, and Jack, well, let's just say we disagreed and leave it at that. 

We left Matt and Jack to catch SEPTA at Trenton, and I gave Rich a ride home. I got home about 11:00. An excellent day. 


February 15, 2003

Today I got my birthday present from my wife. For the past five years, Cathy has taken me out on the town for my birthday. We started at McMenamin's Tavern in Mt. Airy for dinner, as we usually do. PJ McMenamin greeted me with "Is it your birthday again already?" Guess I should stop in more often. 

I got a mug of Yards IPA off the handpump: good stuff, good condition, suffered somewhat in comparison to the Dogfish Head 60 Minute I'd had the day before (see to the right). It was great with the fresh cream of mushroom soup and wild mushroom risotto (there is just no excuse for Philly area restaurants not to have great mushrooms on their menu). The risotto was robust, nutty, and full of three or four different kinds of fungus. Cathy had a Brooklyn Tripel (excellent: creamy, sweet, orangey, and tidied up on the swallow with a slyly bitter finish), shrimp and crab fritters with a chipotle aioli: wonderful, and it would have been perfect except the fritters were just a bit too gooey inside. The aioli was quite zingy enough to spike the doughy fritters, which were kept light by the seafood. 

I got a La Chouffe Bok to have with my eggplant parmesan on linguini (four thick and discreet slices of baked eggplant with cheese and marinara) Cathy had an Anchor Porter with fontina and pancetta saccetti (when did they start calling beggar's purses saccetti?) in a fantastic fresh marinara sauce. Quite a bit different from our first birthday dinner at McMenamin's five years ago: deli sandwiches PJ made at a board behind the bar!

I overheard a guy at the next table order a Brooklyn Pilsner. He wasn't happy with it. It looked okay: just this side of transparent with a slight haze, yellow, white head, but he said it tasted citrusy, "more like a hefeweizen." He sent it back and got a Beamish: a great safe bet at McMenamin's. I know PJ serves his hefes in a proper glass, so I was certain this was someone meeting a pilsner of a type he was not familiar with. Sure enough, as I was leaving I asked for a taster of the Brooklyn and it looked just like what he'd had, and it was perfect, a dynamic balance of hop and malt. Whew.

On to the next stop, an impulsive duck into Rock Bottom in the King of Prussia mall. I hadn't been to Rock Bottom since it had changed over from brew moon over a year ago, which was truly inexcusable. I made up for lost time. Cathy and I made our way to the far end of the bar, where I ordered a Double Barrel IPA (pretty decent stuff: solidly hoppy and with enough body to support it) and a taster of Imperial Stout (nice: rich, but could have had more bitter/burnt notes). She got water, she was now officially saving herself for driving. I got recognized by a couple of people at the bar, which is still a bit unnerving for me. I also ran into a couple we'd seen at the Sly Fox at the Burns night, swapped some lies with them about Brian O'Reilly and Jack Curtin.

Back out into the windy and cold night!  We hopped in the Jetta and aimed it westward: tonight was the 7th anniversary out at Victory. It was a trip down memory lane for me: I remembered the first time I visited Victory, on the day of the Big Thaw after the Big Storm of 1996 (which is looking like a do-over this weekend, glad I'll be in Fredonia), dodging roadblocks and pushing the Jetta through 18"-deep water in the parking lot. 

Thank God the beer was good, because as a "happening," this was pretty lame: a few balloons up, and a sign on the door. But the beer was good: I had a half-liter of Workhorse Porter, and it was mighty mighty fine, not like a stout, but drinkable...and I didable. 

Back into the cold (it was about 12F by this time) and onto the road, Cathy driving and me bellowing my love for her, the night, and anything else that caught my fancy. Not drunk, mind you, just a bit more blissful than usual.  We drove back east and headed down Germantown Pike one last time to the General Lafayette Inn. 

What a pleasant surprise to find my friend Tom and his buddy Ira, right there in the back bar! Tom's the guy who drew the caricature you see on all these pages, and a companion on the annual winter beer hunt. But he was hating it tonight, as we caught him drinking Stoli Vanilla and ginger ale. What?! He ducked responsibility for drinking such a foul concoction by saying Chris Leonard's beer was crap. I threatened to take him outside, but he's nothing if not stubborn: he bought a round for all three of us (Ira was drinking beer, I'm happy to say). I had the Union Jack ESB on handpump, and found no flaw in it. For a change, I found no flaw in the service, either.

We hunkered down at the bar and blathered with Tom for a bit, but...Cathy was getting tired, and we had to get home to relieve the babysitters. So we said our goodbyes, and reluctantly trudged out across the snow-packed parking lot, our feet crunching on the cold frosty surface. A great night, but I'm already planning next year... 


February 7, 2003

I have the best wife in the beer-drinking world. Last night I said, I think we really should go up to the Sly Fox brewpub for dinner tomorrow. Cathy immediately asked, "Okay, but...can we go to Victory on the way?" 

Is it any wonder I love her?

We did go to Victory, but I have to explain: she was picking up my birthday present (which I hope is the Victory glassware I've been hinting about for the part four birthdays (she's a sweetheart, but she is a bit dense about these things sometimes, always getting me books and cookware and lingerie for her to wear) Feb. 18: it was! Four 0.5 liter willibecker glasses, exceptional!). That was the theory, anyway. But when we got into the bar I saw Ron Barchet sitting there, and just after that I saw that they had the Milltown Mild on the handpump, and I told her: we're having a beer. "Okay!" she said. 

Is it any wonder I love her?

Ron bought us both a Mild. Let me explain: Milltown Mild was one of the first beers they brewed, but it didn't catch on, and they never made it again until now. This was the second runnings from a batch of V-12. It was delicious, fresh, pure maltiness with a bit of hop and a snatch of yeast character. My pint disappeared pretty quickly, and at 3.6%, I didn't mind. Then Ron introduced me to the guy sitting beside him: Brian Hollinger, the brewer at Kutztown Tavern (he's now at Founder's, in Arlington, VA). I'd actually met Brian briefly before, back in 1998 just before he quit at Erie Brewing. I'd spoken to him on the phone a few times since. Good guy, and he was grooving on Victory's beers. Well, we all were.

Then Bill Covaleski came out (to get Cathy my birthday present (that she was BUYING, O cynics)), and mentioned something about tank samples of V-12. I told him to put up or shut up, and back he came with a delicious beer, all fruity and yeasty and rich and powerful. I got a grin on my face that was so tight it was painful, a real beer leer. 

So Ron says, "is the the 11% one or the 14%?" Well, it's the 11%, and Bill goes back for more.  Good Lord, this one was a head-knocker, more powerful in its assault. Two different yeasts, and the plan is to blend them and kräusen them with a third yeast. It seemed a really good idea to blend what we had: and it was synergistic, better than either of the two parts. They've got something here.

We bolted before we wound up spending the night, and got up Rt. 113 to Phoenixville and Sly Fox. The place was rocking, though not horribly jammed, and we got seats for dinner right away. I joined brewer Brian O'Reilly and beer writer Jack Curtin and his "posse" (hi, posse! Is Joe Meloney part of the posse now?) at the bar for a quick Renard d'Or, a beautiful Belgian-style golden ale. Tonight was a "first Friday," when Sly Fox taps a keg of Brian's Incubus triple, but it was also the launch of Sly Fox's first bottled beer, a whopping monster Brian calls Ichor, after the blood of the Greek gods, so they were celebrating by pouring a bunch of Belgian styles. Whew, what a selection.

I joined Cath and the kids at table, where she had ordered an Incubus. We shared sips, and ordered dinner. The Incubus and Renard were delish (see at right). Then it was time, and I ordered up a big bottle of Ichor. Whew! That's a lotta beer! Dark, heavy, sweet, tasty, this one rang all the bells. Like to side-by-side it with something like a Chimay Grand Reserve or Westvleteren 12...and since I took two bottles home (thanks, Brian!), I can. But not tonight. I'm whipped! 

February 2

I went to the second annual Groundhog Day festivities at the Grey Lodge Pub in northeast Philly today. Scoats (Mike Scotese), who owns the place, has a knack for generating excitement around minor days of note on the calendar (he also does a cask ale event every Friday the thirteenth: Friday the Firkinteenth). On Groundhog Day he serves a free breakfast (frittatas this year), we have a Hawaiian shirt contest, and and there is a beer prognostication from The Inner Circle, four people who communicate with the bar's mascot, a porcelain "lucky cat" named Wissinoming Winnie. 

Really: I am one of The Inner Circle, along with Scoats, Yards partner Nancy Barton, and Peggy Zwerver, wife of Heavyweight brewer Tom Baker. We mumble a lot, then announce that spring beers will be coming soon, or that there will be six more weeks of winter beers. 

So I went down, dressed in my Full Force Productions Hawaiian hops shirt (way cool!), shorts, handsewns w/no socks, and a straw hat I got in Rosarita, Baja California. Ah, at 11:00 on a Sunday morning. And I was about the 16th guy there! I got right into some Victory Dark Lager, a beer I'm always happy to see make its seasonal arrival in February. Then I had to try some of the newly-arrived-in-Philadelphia Brewer's Art Cerberus Triple (get it? Cerberus, three-headed dog, triple, nudge-nudge), and some cask heavyweight Baltus, and it was all good. You bet. But I didn't have the hair on my ass to try the Yards Saison mimosas.  

Then Jack Curtin showed up, and Eddie Friedland (of Friedland Distributing, Philly's foremost GoodBeer wholesaler), Friedland warehouse guy and former Manayunk brewer Jim Brennan (with his pretty little daughter), local beer enthusiast Dan Berger (the Dan & John Beer Site), Yards brewer Tom Kehoe and Yards partner Nancy Barton, Jon Zangwill of Flying Fish, and a whole bunch of people just having a great time drinking beer on a Sunday morning. Of course, when Jon showed up, I had to try the special dry-hopped Flying Fish XPA, and it was great. 

We kept waiting for Tom and Peggy of Heavyweight to show up so we could get down to the prognosticating, but they didn't, so we drafted Jack into the Inner Circle (for which he will be eternally grateful), and went into a quick huddle around the porcelain Winnie. 

"Unless there's some Spring beers coming out soon," I said, "screw 'em, I like winter beers." 

Scoats piped up with "Victory's got the two bocks coming on." 

"On time?" asked Jack skeptically.

"That's what they told me," Scoats confirmed. 

"Sounds good to me," Nancy said.

We turned to face the waiting, mock-serious crowd, and Scoats announced that "Spring beers are just around the corner!" There was loud cheering and a chant of "Bock! Bock! Bock! Bock!"

Another fun event at the Grey Lodge! 




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3/15/03: Gary Renna & I, enjoying Bare Knuckle Stout. Maybe enjoying it too much.













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3/15/03: Rich and PJ McMenamin flank PJ's bar manager, Lori. 







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3/15/03: Just doing a little recon, all part of the job.










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3/15/03: Dean serves my ESA: check that cascade!

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3/15/03: Tickle that zwickel, Bill!























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3/18/03: Don Russell looking strangely French, Jack looking dubious.



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3/18/03: The divine BLT















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3/18/03: Peters and Beaumont weigh their chances of scamming more Rochefort 8°













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3/12/03: Matt Guyer and Rich Pawlak at Blind Tiger (note Knob Creek neon!).


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3/12/03: Rich hams it up with Greg "Too Skinny to Be a Brewer" Koch.


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3/12/03: Everybody Must Get Stoned! Count 'em baby: 12 taps o' Stone. Okay, 11: the other was on cask to the right.



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3/12/03: Old Jack, Young Andy, Hi-hat Matt, and Gimpy Rich.









March 15: Hey, guess what I had: Bare Knuckle Stout. Had it at McGillin's Olde Ale House in Philly while on the Golden Age of Philly Beer tour. BK is an Irish-style dry stout, pumped on nitro. It's black, has a creamy tan head, and a decent bite to it. I shared mine with a number of people: good, huh? Yeah, good! Guess who makes it. Anheuser-Busch. No foolin', BK is being tested in Philly (a smart place to do it, with a tenacious Guinness boycott hanging on in a number of Irish bars in town). Was it good? I'd buy it again.

March 14: Chilled and tasted the new bottled Troegenator Doppelbock from Tröegs. Quite a bit drier than most d-bocks, aggressive on the ferment with less residual sugar. Makes for a rocket of a ride, a little licorice-stick spiciness, and a much more assertive flavor than I'm used to in d-bocks. More to the new Salvator manner than the Optimator style. We like.

March 12: Had a cask Blue Point ESB at Mugs in Brooklyn. Very mellow, not overly bitter, decent hop flavor, and excellent condition. Extremely easy to drink. This is a beer I'd been wanting to have, and I was excited to see it on cask at Mugs.

 March 1: Picked up a bro-in-law (they'll figure heavily in this page, by the way) at the airport and stopped at the Grey Lodge on the way home, one of the few bars round here that fills growlers. I parked the minivan full of kids, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law in the middle of the street, Philly-style, and ran in with two growlers. I greeted Billy and asked him to fill me a Sly Fox Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale and a Grant's Deep Powder. Three minutes and $20 later I was out the door and headed north. We had the Grant's right away (Cathy and another bro were waiting at home); ehh. It was an okay dark ale, but not significantly malty, hoppy, or estery. Good, but not great. Then it was the Sly Fox: much better, with hefty body, a rainbow of malt, and some obvious power: a lot of red cheeks! 

February 23: I'm baffled. I went to Otto's, the new brewpub in State College. The brewer/partner here is Charlie Schnabel, former brewer at Bullfrog, in Williamsport. I know Charlie, I like him, and I like his beers: they were clean, tasty, and innovative. The man knows what he's doing. So why were three of the beers at Otto's so iffy? I got a sampler: Helles (good color, good body, okay malt flavor), Marzen Lager (more like a Sam Adams Ofest than a Spaten), Double D IPA (unpleasant: sweet, with a very harsh bitterness), Red Mo Ale (same blunt bitterness as the IPA, just not as much), and Black Mo Stout (thin and sweet for an Irish dry, the malt and the bitterness didn't blend well). I don't get it. I've had Charlie's stout and a crisply hopped APA at Bullfrog, and he was working on a Bohemian system both places. I need to find out what's going down. The food was good, the service more than adequate, the place was comfortable. Just can't figure out why the beer was so off.

February 14: A good day, my birthday. I stopped at the Grey Lodge Pub to get some LoveFish, Flying Fish's once-a-year specialty beer they make by adding cherries to their Abbey Dubbel. Only two kegs were made this year: Andy's Corner Bar in Bogota, NJ got the other. It was luscious, the dark cherry flavor bringing out the chocolatey side of the Dubbel. Then I had a Cerberus Triple from Brewer's Art: much drier than most other triples, and deceptively light and smooth at 10% (I would like to see more orangey esters in this, but that's just me). I finished up with a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, a "cask-conditioned" keg. Look, I don't know what they did to this beer, but it was fantastic. Immense hop flavor without a burning bitterness, beautifully estery,  perhaps the best beer I've had since Christmas. Then I came home and finished up the Stoudt's Pilsner I had left over, and poured myself a measure of Hirsch Reserve 16 Year Old bourbon to warm me for the outside grilling work. What an excellent bourbon: broad, rich, spicy, and mature without being woody. Too bad it won't pass this way again. Finished up the night with a Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot and Imperial Stout, then a Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer. The Idiot was maturing nicely (this was a 2000), winey and fruit-laden; the Imperial was majestic and black, with not a single wrong note. The Perkuno's, however, was just starting to turn, not good in a 14 month-old bottling. Still quite good, but just a tang in the back of the mouth. Guess I better drink the rest.

February 7: I got a sample of Victory's upcoming V-12 (see narrative to left), then sampled Sly Fox's Renard d'Or (big and ballsy, but not overpowering), Incubus triple (excellent, medium-bodied and a bit sweet), and Ichor (heavy and potent, serious stuff). It was a good night: Cathy drove home.

February 6: I got some samples of the new beers in the Bottleworks "Imagination Series," brewed at the Andelot Proef brewery in Lochristi, Belgium. I had the Van Den Vern Grand Cru Flemish ale today. From my notes: "a regular tight head of tiny, almost creamy bubbles. Color is a dark amber w/a reddish tinge. There are hints of sugar and candied date in the nose, with a tart shimmer behind it. There is that fruity spiciness of the more aggressive dubbel style (or of a weizenbock); it says "Belgian." As it warms, more tartness comes out, and I am reminded of orange chocolate, and of Chimay Red. The body is good, the beer is good, if not quite as complex as promised by the nose. There is more bitterness than I find in most dubbels. This begs for food, like rabbit, something still on the bone. It is still pretty satisfying with this lentil casserole."

February 2: We had family in this weekend, two of Cathy's brothers and their families, and we were drinking some pretty great stuff: a fresh mixed case of Stoudt's Pils (one of my favorite pilsners, hands-down) and Honey Double Maibock, a case of Tabernash Weiss (and this was tasting great), a growler of Middle Ages Triple Crown (a 10% "British triple" that is just too smooth to be believed), a mixed case of North Coast beers (the Old No. 38 Stout is gone, and there's only one Red Seal left, but the Scrimshaw was pretty good too), a couple bottles of Saison and Abbey 11 from Scott "The Dude" Morrison at McKenzie Brewhouse, and some 1996 Sierra Nevada Celebration that was just blow-away stuff. I also had some Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year Old when I had to do some outdoor grilling: what a powerfully good bourbon.













































































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2/7/03: Bill Covalski and Ron Barchet flank a grinning Brian Hollinger.
























2/2/03: Jack and Scoats in full regalia.



2/2/03: Scoats, Nancy Barton, meself, and Jack worshipping Winnie.



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Revised: November 04, 2003