Iron Hill and TAP New York!
I signed on to give my style seminar at TAP New
York again this year. Not that it was particularly well-received, but
they asked, so I said yes. TAP New York is in the Catskills, at the
Hunter Mountain ski resort, so I was planning to go up Friday night for
the Saturday and Sunday sessions.
Events conspired against me. I started fencing
lessons on Friday evenings, Amy Westlake called and asked when I could
drop off the box of glasses I'd brought home from WhiskyFest, and Iron
Hill scheduled one of their wonderful Brewer's Reserve evenings
that Friday, inviting Fancy Pants brewer Joe Beddia to their West
Chester brewpub. Time to reschedule.
I wound up fencing, changing into fresh clothes,
and dashing across Bucks and Montgomery Counties to Brewer's Reserve.
As I drove into West Chester I thought I must be nuts: parking sucked,
as always, and it had started raining. I jammed my Ugly Dog Brewing hat
(a late and largely unlamented West Chester micro) on my head and
stalked down the sidewalk to the brewpub.
Things got better almost immediately. As I walked
towards the brewery entrance I saw Mark Edelson with a glass in his
hand. He saw me, his eyebrows went up, I smiled and pointed at the glass
with a question , he smiled and nodded and lifted the glass towards me.
Yeah! I had asked Mark to save some of their 'pseudo-lambic' Framboise
for me, and that's what was in the glass.
"Pseudo-lambic." That's what the
geekerie insists we call it. Sheesh. Okay. It was a sour,
raspberry-flavored beer, and it was pretty decent, a good drink, if not
downright funky, but it had a definite...creaminess to it. I said so to
Mark: "What the hell is that creaminess?" is what I actually
He grinned. "It is creamy, isn't
it!" he said, and proceeded to explain that came from the oak wine
barrel they'd used to age the beer. The winery had assured them that all
the oak character was out of the barrel; well, we begged to differ. It
was a truly interesting beer.
I also sampled the Belgian Brown Ale, (nice,
sweet-tart effect, good body) the Fancy Pants Extra Fancy Pale Ale (on
nitro, and brimful with hop aroma, very nice) even though Joe had left,
to go to a damned concert! (actually, Joe's left altogether: he's
now working for Yards Brewing, and Fancy Pants is looking for a new
brewer.). Jeez, these younger brewers, just no beer
stamina. Mark and I talked for a good 90 minutes, trading gossip,
bitching about the beer tax
hike, wondering about the possibility of the Craft Brewers
Conference coming to Philly in a few years.
I had to run, and said my good-byes to all the
Iron Hill brewers (a great bunch of men and women). Out into the rain
and to home for a few short hours of sleep before getting up and driving
to the Catskills for the TAP New York fest.
On the road at 7:45, Lord. It was raining and raw
as I headed north. The Jetta damn near died on me on I-78, it's getting
iffy in heavy rain any more, but I managed to convince it to keep
running. Up the NY Throughway, and I realized I was running early. No
sense in wasting a trip: I got off at the Kingston exit and took a
scenic spin up Rt. 28 to Phoenicia, then took a rustic drive up two-lane
through the notch to come out in Hunter. Fun drive.
I parked, checked in, and found Nat Collins. I
dunno if Nat's Brotherhood Winery brewery project is going well or not (evidently
not too well; see here),
and I just didn't feel like bugging him today. So I let him settle me
down at a table near two very important things: the pizza counter and Chelsea
Brewing, where Chris Sheehan's delicious Oatmeal Stout was
pouring. I talked Chris into an eye-opener: damn, is that man
ever talented with black beers! This one was dark, full, and rich, but
still trenchantly bitter (and would go on to win 3rd prize in the state
The hordes hadn't arrived yet (yes, that's you,
dear readers!), so I ran over to Rick Suarez at Unibroue and got
a sample of the new-to-America Ephemere apple ale. Nice beer, if a bit
of a novelty: tart, light, delicious apple aroma. Hey, lookie here, it's
Chris Ericson, of Lake Placid pouring Frostbite Pale Ale! I got a
fair amount of this seasonal taste-bud tickler: big, hoppy, and (to my
mind) ballsier than the 46'er IPA, but as Chris says, "there's only
one IPA at this brewery." Chris gave me a sixer each of the bottled
Ubu and 46'er from their new Plattsburgh facility, and they tasted fine.
More on that later.
Okay. I actually sold a few books, and got some
more contacts for the New York book release, but I also gave a seminar
on beer styles and wandered about, drinking. That's what I do, you
see... I had a bit of Greg Zaccardi's Oktoberfest Lager at Ramstein,
and it was pretty good, quite respectable. The Blonde hefe was delish,
poured by Ale Street colleague, ace homebrewer, and newly hired
part-time brewer at High Point, Phil Clarke (congratulations, Phil, and
damned good to finally meet you...).
I dropped in on Joe Schineller next at Black
Forest's booth. We had a brief talk about his entry in the New York
Breweries book that greatly calmed his mind (hey, I am a friend
to the industry...but I'm on your side, too). Then he gave me a
sample of his smoked porter, which greatly expanded mine. Wow, if anyone
ever gave a German brewer crap about tedious, bland lagers...this would
shut 'em up.
You never know where you'll find
"secret" beers, and I found one behind the taps at Wagner
Valley, where Andy Cummings poured me some Sled Dog Reserve,
a 'true triplebock,' huge and smooth as Seneca on a windless day. Woof!
I reeled across the way to Blue Point and savored a solid sample of
then dropped anchor at Middle Ages to hang for a while with my friend
Tim Butler and his wonderful wife Lisa.
Tim was pouring Triple Crown. Wow. It is hard to
describe this "tripel" brewed with Middle Ages' Ringwood
yeast. Try to imagine Old Thumper in dancing shoes. The Porter was also
excellent, and the ImPaled Ale...We stood and talked for quite a while.
I had to keep moving, though, and headed
into the main room. I didn't get far: Peter Martin was pouring Troy
Brewing's Rauchbier right inside the door. I got some, and it was
real smoky. I savored it. Right next to Troy was a non-beer stand I
The gang at Cooper's Cave got me hooked on this
stuff. The Bells, who now own Whalen's, put out a tremendous line of
flaming horseradish products that are endowed with great flavor as well
as heat. The Hot Dog Stuff (horseradish mustard with hot dog relish
mixed in, a picalilli kind of thing), the Horseradish Pickles (makes
your mouth do one of those cartoon steam whistle effects), the
horseradish cheese spreads, and the Horseradish itself... I'm a
weenie when it comes to peppers, can't handle habaneros, but
horseradish? Bring it on! I got a jar of pickles to go.
I strolled on. Saranac was pouring their Pale Ale
and a surprisingly authentic and delicious Hefeweizen. John Calen was
pouring his swan song beers -- Gentleman Jim's has taken out
their brewery. A shame, John had some good beers here, including a wild
pseudo-lambic that really puckered. Good luck to you, John!
Right next to Gentleman Jim's was the snazzy
Trailer O' Beer from Hyde Park, complete with big John Eccles. John was,
as usual, saying what was on his mind. "We need a better brewers'
party next year," he said. "More beer, louder music,
strippers." Dead serious look, glint in the eyes. Go, big guy. I
grabbed a Maibock (beautifully clean and chewy) and headed back to my
Near the end of the day, the winners were
announced, the brewers who took the F.X. Matt Memorial Cup for best
brewer in New York State and the Vassar Cup for best brewer in the
Hudson Valley. Last year's Vassar Cup winner was Great Adirondack; the
cup moved all the way across Mirror Lake to Lake Placid Pub &
Brewery. Then the big one, the all-state award, went to Brewery
Ommegang, a nice salute to this brewery as it changes hands and
becomes a true Belgian (-owned) brewery. Congratulations to both
breweries for these well-deserved honors.
When the session was over, I went to the motel
and checked in, freshened up, and went back to Hunter for the brewers
dinner. Drinks choice was simple: pay for liquor or drink free Saranac
Pale Ale. Mama Bryson didn't raise no fool, so I was well into my second
Saranac (the first one didn't even hit the sides of my mouth, it went
down so fast) when Tim and Lisa Butler showed up at the bar. Next thing
you know we're at table, tearing into a pretty damned good dinner (roast
pork, snap peas, spuds -- simple and delicious) followed by a
ludicrously good selection of desserts. Yum.
Back to the motel, where things were starting to
get rolling. Tim and Lisa and I hit the bar, where the Irish barman
(Tim, if you see this, help me out: what was the guy's name?!) got a
little beer education as Tim and I started pulling out bottles from our
stashes. Perkuno's Hammer, Triple Crown, Weyerbacher Blithering
Idiot, Druid Fluid...The boys from Ommegang showed up, a couple
really drunk, really happy judges from the afternoon's competition, it
was a good time. Eventually Tim, the guys from Gilded Otter, and
I retired to my room, where we polished off a fairly decent stash of
high-gravity beers Tim and I put together. I know I had a good time: my
ribs hurt from laughing the next morning.
Up around 8:30 AM, got ready, went to breakfast.
Felt fine, by the way. A much better day was in store, weather-wise, and
I enjoyed the sunshine. I wandered around a bit, then relaxed in the
sunlight and read for an hour. When time came, I returned to the hall
for Day Two.
Things were about the same level of intensity on
the second day, if a bit more loose. The brewers always are quieter on
the second day, but the fans are usually just as hyped. I grabbed a
couple slices of pizza, talked to some radio guys from Oneonta, and
started wandering again. I wound up at Great Adirondack, where
Rob Davis fed me some excellent applewood-smoked organic cheddar a
friend of his makes down the road from Lake Placid. It went tremendously
well with his Smoked Porter.
I ambled over to Albany Pump Station's table for
a little ass-kicking. George DePiro's Kickass Brown Ale has won its
second GABF medal, and it is one of the very best examples of the hoppy
stuff known as American Brown Ale that I'm aware of. I figured it would
be good to stay Albanian for the moment, so I pushed on to Big House,
where I swapped a few lies with Drew Schmidt and sampled his smooth,
You know, folks, it just went on like that for
another hour or so, just hanging around and talking, till I went in for
the judging. Fest organizer and longtime Hudson Valley beer enthusiast
Bill Woodring had asked me if I'd help with best of show judging, and I
agreed. I've already gone over how that went in the Buzz
for May, so I won't bore you with it again.
Then it really was time to hit the road, and I
did, after saying my good-byes. The New York brewers and beer
enthusiasts are great people, and I thoroughly look forward to traveling
there in support of New York Breweries when it comes out.
Crease Thy Cranium
All right, you all know by now about Jim
"I Used To Be Big In Philly" Anderson decamping for
Scotland to run an inn in Inverness (say that without sounding like
you're stuttering) for Tom Peters. And you may know that JA left
his "Split Thy Skull" draft strong beer event in the lurch:
Well, Chris "Damn Good Beer Guy" Morris
came to the rescue. Chris, a longtime and largely unsung beer
enthusiast, bartender, beer salesman, etc., in the Philly better beer
arena, stepped in and caught STS as it was falling. What he managed to
salvage may not have been as big or as impressive as JA's events were in
the past, but I'm here to tell you, the vibe was just as groovy.
I sacrificed much to get to this. I put a lot of
time in away from home the previous two weeks, but I managed to convince
my family that I just had to be at Split Thy Skull. Noon came round to
find me stuffing my bicycle awkwardly into the trunk of the Jetta: I refuse
to pay parking in Old Town. They screw you hard on the price, and
then act like it's a big favor. Screw that, I say.
So down I-95 I rolled, windows open and still
sucking exhaust fumes as they roiled in through the open-but-bungeed
trunk. I got off at Callowhill and parked (for free) across N.
2nd St. from the Standard Tap, pulled the bike out, looked longingly at
the Tap...and pedaled down 2nd, enjoying the beautiful sunny day and
moderate temperatures. I praised my own genius as I rolled past thick,
stalled traffic, swung into the cobbled coolness of Church Street, and
coasted into the courtyard home of Sugar Mom's Church Street Lounge.
Just as I was chaining up my bike, up walks Bill "Salty
Dog" Coleman, without his dachshund, Ludwig, but with his
friend (and Dave Witzel lookalike) Warren Becker. They were down from
NYC for STS, curious to see how it would go sans JA. I was too,
to be honest, so we hustled down the stairs into the cool darkness of
Sugar Mom's subterranean booze parlor.
Not hustling and bustling at 1:10, but the bar
stools were all occupied. The beers were going for $3 for 6 oz.
samplers, $11 for a four sample flight. Available: Sly Fox Ichor,
Weyerbacher Quad, Rogue Imperial Stout, St. Bernardus 12, Dogfish Head
90 Minute, Yards Old Bart, Nodding Head Wee Heavy, Heavyweight Old Salty
2002 (Bill was the assist on that one), Unibroue Maudite, and
Victory St. Boisterous. It actually speaks well for the quality of
previous STS events that this was a slight disappointment, I guess.
I got a St. Bernardus 12 and headed for the back,
where I'd spotted Dan Berger of the DanandJohnbeersite.
We hung, eating off the buffet which Dan had wisely parked his arse next
to: cold cuts, a big chocolate chip cake, pasta and potato salad, and of
all things, pickled red beet eggs, which I tore into. That's Pennsylvania
Dutch soul food, brother!
The St. Bernardus was good, but on the sweet side
for me: I like 'em a bit drier. Dan clued me in on the day's
disappointment: the Old Bart was starting to turn sour. Dammit.
After all the great work Yards has been doing at the new brewery --
consistently excellent batches of ESA, the snappy new batches of Saison,
whup-ass quality on the IPA -- to have this happen at a well-publicized
event was painful. I grieved for them, but I know the next batch will be
great: the new brewery's made a big difference.
Jus about then I saw the grizzled head of Jack
Curtin up at the bar, and called to him to join us. He grabbed his
beer and did so, deep into his curmudgeon routine. I punished him
by sampling his Wee Heavy: Damnation. Dan was headed for
the bar and I gave him my order: get me a full glass of this Wee Heavy
stuff! Brandon Greenwood had brewed up a masterful batch of this
stuff: malty but not cloying, rich but not syrupy, a wonderful beer, the
high point of the day for me. Hats off to Nodding Head: all you
unbelievers get over there ASAP and worship.
About that time we were joined by the
ever-cheerful Corey Reid, ace bartender at Sly Fox. Corey had
been at Standard Tap (damn, I knew I should have stopped in for a
quick one) for brunch, then come to STS to get ready for the Flyers'
playoff game (I've no idea how he scored tickets).
He was telling Jack about how he'd been reminded
of STS being today by, of all people, "these guys from New York,
they went to Selin's Grove, they went to Victory, and they came up to
Sly Fox..." Jack turned to me and pointed out how these people knew
to go to Sly Fox, and it was my turn to smile and say "Who the hell
do you think sent 'em there?" I had received an e-mail from David
Lown (Hey, David!) asking me about can't-miss places in eastern PA,
and had suggested this trip, given his parameters. I did indeed send
them to Sly Fox, and just about that time, David showed up, resplendent
in a Selin's Grove sweatshirt, asking "Are you Lew?" I love it
when things come together.
Time was a-wasting, so I had sips of Dan's Old
Salty (outstandingly dense and delicious) and Jack's Quad
(smooth and even more powerful than I remembered, though perhaps a bit
less complex), and got myself an Ichor (rich, sweet, sipping
stuff). Another red beet egg, and it was time to go. I said goodbye to
Jack, Corey, and Dan, and then managed to corral Chris on the way out
and thanked him for rescuing the event. "Had to be done," he
Yeah. Had to be done. And on that note, I ran
into Tom Kehoe on the way out the upstairs door and braced him for the
Old Bart. I promise I'm going to try to do that more often when I have
an off beer: tell the brewer. If I do it, you should too, but
remember: do it where you have some privacy. Do not shoot
your mouth off in front of other people: it's just rude.
Okay, end of lesson. I hopped on the bike, rolled
up 3rd to the car, looked longingly at Standard Tap...and got in the car
and drove home. After all, I had promised to paint Easter eggs with the