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What I Was Up To

April 2003

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

What I Was Drinking


April 25-27

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 said.

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.

April 26

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 competition).

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 ESB, 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 loved: Whalen's Horseradish

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 post.

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.

April 26

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, rich porter. 

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.


April 19

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: promoted, promised...problematic.

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 admitted.  

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 kids.
































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4/26/03: Chris Sheehan and his wife Mariann working feverishly to pour as much oatmeal stout as I needed. 

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4/26/03: Chris Ericson hands out Ubu Ale, Rick Suarez cut in half by my lens. Ouch!

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4/26/03: Greg Z tapping the hefe.



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4/26/03: Big Andy Cummings poured me a damned big beer.

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4/26/03: Tim talks up the beer, Lisa look distracted.

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4/26/03: Peter Martin talks Troy, redhead pours.

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4/26/03: The Bells and their wonderful products.



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4/26/03: John Eccles: beware of truth.


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4/26/03: Chris Ericson gets Vassar Cup from Bill Woodring.





















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4/26/03: "No, really, hoppy does not necessarily equal good."



















































April 24:  I got to thinking after I wrote that last tasting note...if I'm going to do Jim Beam Black, I ought to do Jim Beam White. But not the one you're thinking of: no, I mean the Jim Beam White Label 7 Year Old. This is only available in Kentucky, mostly right around Bardstown, and it's pretty much a secret. Outsiders find out about it through the grapevine. 
I heard about it from a journalist from DC who was at the Bourbon Festival four years ago. We were drinking at the Old Talbott Tavern, late on a Friday night, and he told me "Jim Beam White Label! Best bargain on the market!" White Label, I asked, are you nuts? It's a good mixer, but I wouldn't call it a bargain. No, he said with a grin, the White Label Seven Year Old! I thought he was full of shite, but the next morning I toddled over to Toddy's (the liquor store off the square, owned by Toddy Beam), and there it was. So I got some. And I've gotten more every time I've been back. 
Fired up side by side with the Black, the 7 is a bit lighter in color, a bit more floral in aroma to the Black's richer nose. Taste it, and you can see what you have here: the Black may be the 4 Year Old enriched, but this is the 4 Year Old civilized. The 4 Year Old is a bit rough, homespun, "hell yeah!" bourbon. This is mellower (though still kicky), smoother by a country mile, and an easy sipper. The Black isn't just civilized, it's sophisticated. Three expressions of The Basic Beam: all perfect for their intended purpose. And brother, you can bet that when I'm back in Bardstown, I'll be at Toddy's with a shopping bag.

April 19: As I mentioned elsewhere, I'm a cantor at my church, and Holy Week, for an RC cantor, is both exhilarating and exhausting. By the time I came home from Easter Vigil, I was whupped. But, as I said to my wife, "There's nothing wrong with me that a double bourbon won't fix!" I grabbed the bottle of Jim Beam Black 8 Year Old, and poured a healthy snort, probably about 4 oz., over one ice cube. Well, if you "I don't drink Jim Beam" snobs out there haven't had the Black, better get down to the liquor store and make a purchase. Twice as old as the regular White Label, and a bit stronger at 43% ABV, it's got that spicy, almost cinnamon note of the regular White label, but it's tamed and smooth, though just as pungent. Four more years in the wood has bought this whiskey rich vanilla and honey character,  and a sweetness that's tinged with just a touch of mint. It blows up in the mouth almost like cognac. Definitely worth your money...and your time.

April 7: I wanted to break out something good to celebrate "New Beers Day," the 70th anniversary of the return of legal beer after Prohibition, so I went down to the Dedicated Beer Fridge and poked around. I found an aged masterpiece: Stoudt's 10th Anniversary Beer, a black-bottled, wax-sealed beauty, a bottle -conditioned doublebock.. Six years old, and I was a little nervous as I carved away the thick, black wax and levered off the cap. 
No need for concern! This beer was gorgeous, and boldly aromatic, almost more in the Baltic Porter range than a typical d-bock, with a big dark-fruit component and heavy body, damned near opaque, an overwhelming mouthful. I'm real sorry this was my last bottle, but I'm real happy I opened it up!

Copyright 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: November 04, 2003