What If They Had a Beer Festival...
...And nobody came? Hard to believe, no? You have
to remember, sometimes people don't go to beer festivals because they
don't know about them, or, in the infamous case of the Baltimore "GABF
On The Road," because they don't know about them AND they're the
same weekend as other events (in that case, same weekend as the
Preakness, a major air show, and another well-established beer fest,
which led to rumors that the show was planned to fail).
That's what happened May 17 at Ortlieb's Pub and
Grill at Sunnybrook, in Pottstown, PA. I won't go into the whole story
of how Henry Otrlieb and Bill Moore wound up in Pottstown (because I
don't know it), but when Bill called me and asked if I would come up on
the 17th to set up a table and sell Pennsylvania Breweries, well,
I had to. Bill's just that nice a guy. Even though this meant blowing
off Iron Hill's third annual fest in Media which I really wanted to get
to this year...and the possibility that there would be next to no one at
Sunnybrook because of the Iron Hill Fest.
When I got to Sunnybrook, I started to realize
just how strong that possibility was. There were about thirty cars in
the lot. Hoo boy, I thought, grabbed my backpack full of books, and
headed inside. Bill was rushing around at the entrance, he shook my hand
and pointed me over to the huckster table in the middle of the big dance
floor of the Sunnybrook ballroom. I made a quick deal with Ale Street
News magnate Jack Babin: he'd let me use part of his table, and
I'd sell "Beer Goddess" thongs while he went to the men's
room. I love my work.
I got set up and cased the place. Wow. There was
no one there. Okay, there were about 70 people there, maybe. Long day, I
thought, then I realized that this meant no lines and no waiting. I felt
better immediately, and started sampling.
It's my duty and honor to try new beers, so I
headed over to Dogfish Head for some 60 Minute IPA. Hey! It's
great stuff, and I felt a need to fortify myself. For I was about to
meet a ghost: Steamhorse Lager.
Do any of you remember Pretzel City? Great little
brewery in Reading, PA, had an absolutely outstanding IPA called The
Duke of Ale. They went under 4 or 5 years ago. But here were the
principals, Scott Baver and Dave Gemmell, grinning ear to ear,
doing business as Legacy Brewing, and pouring their old flagship,
Steamhorse Lager. They're brewing at Sunnybrook for now, and
selling only on draft. They've got a good beer here: a brawny
steam-style beer, a big toffee aroma and flavor, enough hops to balance
it, a beer that begs for food. What's next? "Something
Belgian," said Scott, which probably means their Wit, though I have
to say I hope not: I never liked that one. Then later, the return of the
Duke. I am on the edge of my barstool on that one.
Back to the floor for sampling. Rock Bottom (King
of Prussia) was serving Tremere, a chunky, slightly hazy tripel
with some real heft to it. I kinda liked the rough-hewn aspect of it.
Sandwiched in between them was Chadds Ford Winery: the rep was
looking dazed and confused as everyone ignored her and her goods. Oh
Bethlehem Brew Works didn't bring their Belgians,
dammit, so I sampled a Scotch Ale instead that was a bit nondescript.
Working my way on down, Victory was next and HopDevil was as
solid and superb as ever. The Whirlwind Wit, though...tasted a
hell of a lot like a hefeweizen, very pale, and none of the robust
orange/spice character that made this a macho wit. Odd.
A shocker: John Frantz talked me into the mixed Milk
Stout and Strawberry Wheat at Lancaster Brewing, and the damn stuff
tasted great. I mean, great. He called it a Chocolate-covered
Strawberry, and bedamned if that's not what it tasted like. It was so
good I shamed Henry Ortlieb into trying one when he walked up.
"Think of the the Cherry Chocolate Doublebock you used to
make," I said, sinking the barb, and Henry, game guy that he is,
nodded, sipped, and said, "Yeah. That is good." Good sport.
Chris Rafferty has been part of a recent game of
musical brewery chairs, and wound up at Kutztown Tavern/Golden
Avalanche. He had Young Allen's Lager and Blonde: "It's
graduation week at the University, it's all we could spare," he
said, somewhat morosely (in his defense, it was that kind of day). The
YA's was clean and "in style." Nearby were the people from
Weeping Radish, which maintains a strangely consistent PA presence:
worth it for the delicious, lightly malty Black Radish, my
favorite Weeping Radish beer.
Stoudt's brought the season's new Weizen, and
it's every bit as good as Marc Worona had told me: chock-full of that
weizen character, and just fresh as a field of daisies after the rain.
Believe it or don't, the Saranac folks had an excellent Hefeweizen
as well, and my hat's off to them. I kept it off for the bright, sweet Jolly
Scot from Appalachian. I also picked up a Bell's Kalamazoo Stout:
full-bodied, rich, punishing.
Even though beer writer Jack Curtin wasn't there
(he was down at Media, doing pool coverage of the Iron Hill fest (check
out his redesigned website,
looks good), the reek of his influence was: Dan Bengel, the Big One of
Jack's so-called "posse," was manning the Sly Fox table. Dan
and I whiled away some pleasant time at this fest where no one came
(Dan's a good guy, his fascination with Jack notwithstanding), drinking
some of Brian O'Reilly's new Jake's ESB (I have no real opinion, because
it was served too cold and over-carbonated, doubtless Dan's fault; at
least, that's what Brian would have said) and Keller Pils (which was
excellent, bitingly bitter and yet smooth). Then I toodled down to the
Classic Malts table (Scotch whisky? At a beer festival? Genius!), had a
wee dram or two, and went back to my books.
I sold three books, and was reduced to taking pix
of the Jägermeister girls for entertainment. The dinner between the
breaks was excellent (I've never had any complaints about the Sunnybrook
kitchen), and I did about 1.5 hours of the second session before
breaking for home.
Overall? Hey, not bad for the low attendance. The second
session got about 350 to 400 people, and was much more lively. They've
got a good idea here: more to it than just beer: breweriana, jerky,
wine, Scotch, Jägermeister girls. That ought to get more people next
Some things you just have to do. High school
reunions (okay, once). The boss's Christmas party (which actually
works out fine for me: I take a day off, crank up the tunes, and polish
off the leftovers from our family party -- thanks, boss!).
Some things you do cuz you enjoy 'em. Like Brian
O'Reilly's annual goat races. Brian started this tradition when he was
brewing at New Road, then when those idiots fired him and sold their
brewhouse (before ignominiously sliding into abject failure, the losers)
he took it down the road -- literally -- to Sly Fox. My family
and I go and eat and drink and watch goats and laugh. It's a good day.
Even with Jack. A trip to the Sly Fox inevitably
means that Jack Curtin and I will end up trading good-natured barbs (at
least, on my side they're good-natured) and sniping at brewers and,
sometimes, drinking a load of beer. I had a plan this time, though, and
put it into action immediately. I brought along a bottle each of some
recently bottled Ubu Ale and 46'er IPA from Lake Placid
Craft Brewing and presented them to Jack as soon as we ran into each
other. "Here," I said, "I brought you some beer."
Jack was stunned by this largesse and it threw him off his game.
The family and I headed inside to get some lunch.
I had Weizen and wurst, weisswurst and bratwurst. Brian makes a real
nice hefe, one with some body to it and a real yeasty tang. It was great
with the wurst platter. We finished the meal and went outside to do a
little goat handicapping.
I'll admit it, I picked the wrong goat. I figured
Ernie, last year's winner, didn't have it that day, and I was right
about that, but I was favoring the local goat, Duncan (owned by Megan, a
waitress, believe it or not). He knew the course, and he was hungry.
Literally, he was eating the leaves right off the trees. Two late
entries didn't get much attention, which left... Nelly, a fat,
hairy little pygmy Angora with a fresh-faced All-American owner, Emily
O'Neill. They looked like a 4-H brochure together.
The first heat, a five-goat free-for-all, blew
the two late entries away, and set up the three-goat finale. Brian
called the race like a pro -- except I don't think pros laugh like that.
I knew this last race was important, and I positioned myself to catch
the action: right on the finish line. Dangerous, sure, but that's
my job. Good thing I did, because I caught a series of action shots
that are astonishing, vital, and a true reflection of this great sport.
Take a look to the right. Please, don't worry: Ernie's young
trainer was fine, although I'll bet he doesn't use as long a leash
next time. Duncan, that worthless thing, ran second, having apparently
eaten enough leaves to be complacent.
Nelly romped home, and that earned her the medal
and the honor of having this year's batch of Maibock named Nelly
Maibock. Evidently threats to bribe the owner to change Nelly's name
to "New Road," "Victory," or "Undrinkable"
never materialized. Emily and Nelly were called to the patio for the
ceremonial tapping, and Emily, God bless her, took the mallet and the
tap (and Brian's instructions) and broached that baby!
Delicious stuff, and no surprise there. Brian's
Maibock was lean and delicious, with a toffee-ish malt character that
was a direct contrast to the mish-mash of hoppy excuses American brewers
often offer as maibocks. Not around here, by golly: Stoudt's, Victory,
Sly Fox, we get good maibocks. I had a couple, and another glass
of weiss, and wisely let Cathy drive us home through Valley Forge park.
A great day for beer, a great day for the goats.