PA Breweries updates       NY Breweries updates            VMDDC Breweries updates

Seen Through a Glass blog                PLCB blog                 Contact Lew

What I Was Up To

May 2003

Return to The Latest.


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

What I Was Drinking


May 17

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 well.

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 time!



May 4

Go, Nelly!

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. Success!

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 Sly Fox 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. 






















sunlegacy.JPG (77597 bytes)

5/17/03: Dave and Scott toast their launch.









sunlanco.JPG (100874 bytes)
5/17/03: Lancaster's John Frantz and T-shirt magnate Scott Balthaser raise a pint.









sundan&bill.JPG (87573 bytes)

5/17/03: Dan Bengel faces off with Bill Moore (note t-shirt genius Scotty McClung in background).

sunjager.JPG (111375 bytes)

5/17/03: Almost enough to make you try some, eh?


















goatwurst.JPG (53863 bytes)

5/4/03: Damned good wursts!



goatrace1.JPG (266938 bytes)
Emily and Nelly lead at the turn.

goatrace2.JPG (340568 bytes)
Ernie's trainer loses it on the goatshite.

goatrace3.JPG (295191 bytes)
Ernie in retreat!

goatrace4.JPG (342837 bytes)
Thrill of victory, agony of defeat.

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