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What I Was Up To

Winter  2003/04

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

What I Was Drinking



Beer Season

12/1: Mountain men we were. I had joined my father and Uncle Don at Don's hunting camp -- Tippler's Lodge -- west of Carlisle, PA. Here it was, the first day of deer season, and we were still eating breakfast at 9:30. We weren't deer hunting today. We were laying in a base of belly mortar to go beer hunting. 

Fortified with scrapple and eggs and hash browns, we hit the road, headed west. After a stop at the Sideling Hill pullover for a java jolt ("Hey, Starbuckie! Gimme a medium hi-test, and leave me some room for milk!"), it was on to Bedford and the exit for I-99. 

The day was great for beer hunting: sunny, cold, and windy, with the threat of snow showers in the air, just the kind of weather that makes you want to stay indoors and have a beer. The deer hunting was lousy. Hunters couldn't hear a thing over the wind, and the deer all laid up to stay out of it. We were feeling pretty smart. 

We got off I-99 at the exit for Duncansville, and in pretty short order we'd found Marzoni's Brick Oven and Brewery (165 Patchway Rd., Duncansville, 814/695-1300). My dad stayed outside and napped (as usual...), Don and I went in. 

Marzoni's is an experiment by the Hoss's restaurant chain. Hoss's has been successful building over 40 mid-level steak and seafood restaurants, concentrated mainly in Pennsylvania, with a couple in West Virginia and Virginia. They like the geographic concentration, keeps the units under control, but they've reached the point where new stores will start to cannibalize existing ones. Rather than step outside their area, they decided to take a step sideways and develop a new concept: brick oven pizza/pasta/Italian menu combined with house-made beer.

It looked great. Marzoni's was clean, sharp, and welcoming. We took a seat at the bar and ordered samplers, and were rewarded with seven 6 oz. glasses of beer -- for only $4.95, a steal for almost three pints of beer! The bartenders were actually competing to get our beers to us. 

The beers were nothing short of surprising. Marzoni's brewers are (I was told) the father and son team of Bill and Jason Kroft...not sure which is which, they weren't in. They're homebrewers, no commercial experience. With the history I have of homebrewers at brewpubs, I was a little nervous when the beers arrived, but the Krofts kicked butt.

From the Locke Mountain Light, a light, but not watery lager that maintained a definite, if tenuous, malt/hop balance, through Marzoni's Amber Lager, a malty sweety I'm sure will the best-seller within a year, to a pale ale and IPA that were surprisingly hoppy (and strong; the IPA clocked in around 6.9% ABV), and a stout that was oddly light in color but blessed with a solid bite of roast and burnt coffee smoke...these were good beers. My only complaint came with the 22 Hefe Weizen, purportedly a Bavarian-style weizen, but lacking in any hefe character, a bit harsh, and a nasty-looking lemon yellow color. But this one clinker was more than made up for by the rest of the lineup. It was all even more impressive when I realized they'd only opened on November 21!

I had to hit the head at this point, and pardon me, but there was another pleasant surprise; one of the cleanest, best-looking restrooms I've ever seen in a brewpub, with stone-tiled walls, a beer-theme border, and a full-length mirror. Impressive!

I returned to the bar, we were making arrangements to pay the tab, when this tall fellow slides into the seat beside me and says "You're Lew Bryson, right?" I admitted the truth and he smiled. "I've been waiting for you to show up. I'm Dave Elliott, the general manager." Dave's obviously got a lot more faith in me than I do! We chatted, and he told me that the place was doing very well, ahead of expectations. Pleasant guy, 20 years in the business. With Hoss's company HQ right beside the place, I'm not surprised they found someone good to run the place. 

We had to run. I thanked Dave, paid the tab, and we bolted. Hop in the car and into Altoona, looking for the Knickerbocker Tavern. We found it, and it looked like a right old palace of good times...but it didn't open till 4:00. Dang! Back on the road, Rt. 22 west to Johnstown.

After some ridge-running, we caught the Johnstown Expressway down into town, shuffled through some stoplights, and turned left on Menoher Blvd. (pronounced "muh-NOCK-er"). Two winding miles up the hills, and there was Johnstown Brewing. I'd been here before, of course, but they were brewing now. And we were hungry!

We parked and rolled into the bar. Two guys were sitting down at the end, having a beer, and otherwise the place was almost deserted at 3:00 on a Monday shame in that. The bartender was a bit slow (and unconcerned about it), but got us beers: my dad had the Flood Light, Don and I had pints of Steel Worker Stout. The Steel Worker was good, properly black with plenty of roasty bitterness. The Flood Light, though was grainy, sweet, and watery. Grainy and sweet is one thing, watery's another. 

When Don and I got samplers, we noted that the whole Johnstown line was a bit under expectations. All the beers were clean, without real flaws, but it was clear that JBC was aiming low in their estimation of what Johnstown was ready for. When we got a chance to talk to partner Ralph Lovette, he confirmed that theory, but said that the Light and its equally light brother, the 1889 Amber, were selling like mad: 7800 pints overall last month, an impressive figure. I sure did like the Stone Bridge Brown, a "stout light" kind of Irish porter, and I would love to try the White Hat Pale Ale on cask, it had the beautifully balanced style that does so well as real ale. 

We'd had lunch, it was getting dark, and it was time to leave. We tooled down the hill into town, caught the expressway out to Rt. 56, and wound our way to the Turnpike, and then homeward. 

Both brewpubs are worth a stop, in my opinion. Marzoni's beers are more adventurous right now, but it remains to be seen how well they'll hold up. Brian Neville at Johnstown has the experience to let him be ready. Best of luck to both of them!



Good God, It's Cold!

1/22: I didn't drink any beer this morning. I had one cup of coffee, strictly for medicinal purposes -- I was freezing. I had received an e-mail the day before that Iron Hill would be rigging in the brewhouse and fermenters for their new North Wales, PA brewpub (which is, I'm sorry, in Montgomeryville, but that's the magic of an address). I was running behind deadline on about four different stories, but I needed pictures for my Ale Street News column, so I loaded my camera and Barley (my companion, a 10-year-old but still excitable springer spaniel) into the Jetta and headed for the intersection of Rt. 309 and Welsh Rd. 

What a sight: every Iron Hill brewer but one was there! (Justin Sproul was actually brewing at West Chester; someone's gotta make the beer.) The newest, Larry Horwitz, was wearing a white hardhat and running a big forklift, getting ready to pull the first serving tank off the truck. "He's got a CDL," said boss brewer Mark Edelson. "Who knew?"

Head brewer Brian Finn and Bob Barrar were manhandling the tanks to the back of the trailer for Larry to pick up; Bob was in shorts -- as always. Bob, come on, it's 21į out here! He just smiles, nods, and goes on being Bob. Jeez. 

I got a little more dope on Larry's arrival at Iron Hill from Mark. "I actually called him," Mark said, in a solid tribute to Horwitz's obvious skills. "I don't ever do that with a new brewer. But I called him and asked him if he was interested in the North Wales position." Obviously, Larry was. 

Meanwhile, Larry just kept lifting off tanks and placing them at the entrance to the unfinished brewhouse. The brewers would be pallet-jacking them into position. Mark took me around the new place: three or four separated dining rooms, for that more intimate feel, the standard Iron Hill rectangular bar. The external is already recognizable: the brick facade with the black Iron Hill ironwork sign. 

Mark's hoping for a February 25 opening. They're interviewing staff now; he said that the first day they were accepting applications, 17 people were lined up, waiting to get in. Guess the word is out about working at Iron Hill. Anyway, I'm looking forward to this, the closest Iron Hill to me: I can make Montgom -- er, North Wales in 30 minutes if the traffic's light. 


A Morning Well Spent

1/17: I needed a hat. I take Groundhog Day at the Grey Lodge pretty seriously (in a silly kind of serious way), and I was not going to be able to borrow a top hat this year. Only one thing to do: buy one. Only one place to do that: Bollman Hats, in Adamstown, PA. Why at Bollman's? Uncle Don (who's featured in my books) is a member of the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge in Octorara, PA, and that's where they buy their top hats. Tradition like that is passed down from man to boy in my part of Pennsylvania, and it would just be impossible to ignore it. They actually make the hats there in Adamstown, it's supporting a local industry. Oh, and...Bollman's is just down the road from Stoudt's Brewery. Might have something to do with it. 

So I e-mailed my beerhunting buddy Les Gibbs and the two of us drove up on a cold Saturday morning. We got breakfast at the Adamstown Diner, a great feed with some of the best scrapple I've ever laid fork to. Best thing about eating there, though, is that Bollman's factory outlet store is right across Old Rt. 222. We walked over and looked at hats. I quickly snagged the only remaining XL black top hat: 20 bucks! Yeah, buddy, that's my hat!

Pack the hat in the box, exchange a few scrapple pleasantries with the woman running the store (she was from Fivepointsville, a scrapple epicenter), and drive up the hill to Stoudt's. No one around? Put on the air of authority and walk right in! I was supposed to meet John, Carol Stoudt's son-in-law (and yes, I've misplaced my notes and John's last name) and assistant brewer. John just arrived from the west coast about a week ago. He'd brewed at Stoudt's some years ago, moved out west, and then when he and Carol's daughter had a baby, they decided to move closer to home. Real close. 

John was cleaning the lager cellar. As I've reported elsewhere, Stoudt's is in the midst of a major expansion, bringing 12 oz. packaging in-house. The lager cellar is a key part of that plan, having been under-utilized for years. Now it's going to be the keystone of ramping up production to handle the additional volume of the 12 oz. bottles, which were being produced at Frederick, and previously at The Lion. John was scrubbing down mold with a strong bleach solution, which was clashing mightily with the fresh epoxy that had just been laid down on the brewery's expansion into the dancehall. Les and I stood it for about three minutes before retreating, bleary-eyed, into the dancehall. John had a respirator, lucky devil.

John showed us around, pointed out where the bottling line was going to go and the new refrigerated warehouse out back. Then he looked at his watch and said the magic words: "Is it too early for a beer?" Hell, no! We went to the bar in the restaurant and John promptly set off an alarm. A REALLY LOUD AND ANNOYING ALARM!!!!! After five minutes of it, he finally got it shut off, and poured Les and I cool glasses of Pils. Man, do I ever love that beer. Stoudt's Pils is so good, and yet so smooth, with just the right hopping level; it is lagered perfection.

We decided to have another. I had Fest, which I hadn't had for over a year. I'm still not nuts about it. I think this is one of the weakest in the Stoudt's lineup: not malty enough for what it is. Like to see some more chewiness in this. We got some beers to go (two Pils, two IPA) and walked out to the car. But it was such a beautiful sunny day, and things were going so well, I didn't want to stop. So I fired up my new celluloid phone (my Luddite days of no cell phone are finally over) and called Scott Baver at Legacy. Hey! Are you there? Yeah? We're coming over.

Legacy is where Fancy Pants used to be, and Neversink before that, in the basement of the big 5 story building at 545 Canal Street. Legacy is Scott Baver and Dave Gemmell, who used to be Pretzel City Brewing, across town in Reading. Now here they are, brewing again, a draft-only brewery. They're making Duke of Ale, their beautiful British-hopped IPA (an old favorite of mine that I'm glad to see return) and Nor'Easter strong ale. 

We pulled in and parked, but all the doors were locked. What the hell? I decided to embrace the modern age: I called Scott and asked him how the hell to get in. "Those red cellar doors," he said, "that's us." No flash for these boys!

Scott got us a tank sample of Nor'Easter right off. I was glad he did, too; it was much better than the last one I'd had, more alive (that's unfiltered beer for you) and more complex. Like to have that one on cask. They were cleaning and repairing (and bitching about how no preventive maintenance had been done on the place). We sat down with Dave and had a chat about Pretzel City and Fancy Pants history. 

Then Bill Moore showed up! Big bearded Bill is the local godfather of craft brewing, a genial figure who had a hand in any number of start-ups, who works around the edges these days, just a damned nice fellow. We talked more, had more Nor'Easter, was time to go. And we did, telling Scott and Dave we'd see them at Friday the Firkinteenth.


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12/1: The silo at Marzoni's (not yet augured-in) against a wintry sky.












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12/1: The big Marzoni's sampler





















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12/1: The view across the valley from Johnstown.




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12/1: The bar at Johnstown, post-lunch.







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Larry Horwitz, running the forklift.




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1/22: Left to right  Tim Stumpf  Justin Frieberg
Emily Zink
Larry Horwitz
Mark Edelson
Bob Barrar
Chris LaPierre
Mike Girardi
Brian Finn






































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1/17: Les by the grand entrance of Legacy Brewing


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1/17: Bill Moore (far left), Dave Gemmell (far right), and Scott Baver (in the middle). Not sure who the 2 women were, they had taphandles. The other guy is doing electrical work, a friend of the brewery. 


1/9: Sagamore Ale. Golden ale. ABV unknown, around 4.5%? Contracted by the Sagamore Resort (Lake George, NY) from Davidson Bros. (Glens Falls, NY) and brewed at Shipyard, Portland ME. (Brewery sample.) Is this the first double-contracted beer? Pours beautifully, clear, dark gold, nice white head, constant effervescence. Nose is mostly sweet grain, with a hint of estery fruit. Drinks fresh (even after being in my fridge for four months, a good sign), mostly follows through on the nose: sweet grain, malt, and just a hint of fruit. Thereís a tiny bit of bitterness in the finish. Very clean, no "overwhelming diacetyl" that certain geeks tag every Shipyard beer with. Good summertime lakeside beer, just what the Sagamore probably wanted.

1/9: Au Courant. Strong golden ale brewed with currants. 7% ABV. Dogfish Head Brewing, Milton, DE (purchased at Half Time, Poughkeepsie, NY) Whoa! I kind of absent-mindedly poured this one while I was feverishly searching for something online, and took a sip Ė WHAM! Rewind! Okay. Red-tinged gold in color, with a tenuous wisp of white head. Definite sweet aroma of red currants and malt. Then boom! you take a sip and everything comes right into focus. Itís big in the mouth, almost buoyant, and the currant note is just that, a note; youíve mostly got a big golden ale here, sweet-tinged but not mawkish, and seriously massive. Bet this would be a great dessert beer, on its own or with a fruit dessert. An interesting beer, like no other that comes to mind.

1/9: World Wide Stout 2003. ‹ber-stout. 18.8% ABV. Dogfish Head Brewing (Brewery sample). Okay, this stuff is black. Not deep garnet, or really dark brown. Itís black. Very little head, just a ring of light brown bubbles around the edge and a skiff of fine bubbles across the surface. The aroma is shot through with alcohol Ė no surprise there, eh? Thereís some dark fruit (raisins, sticky prune), a whiff of chocolate, but mostly itís the alcohol. Taste: yow! Thereís a whole cart-full of fruit in here. This beer is amazingly lively with it. Youíd expect a huge stout to be rich, chocolatey, like a big cake with a moist center: full-bodied and dense, relaxing. This stuff is busy. Last thing I expected from a big beer. This reminds me of something, but I canít remember it. No, Iíve got it! This beer is like a Rochefort 10 someone kept in a cage and force-fed with red meat and lots of fruit, poking at it with a sharp stick every so often so it would grow up mean. Lots of bright flavors, like a light-bodied cherry brandy and pear spirit, a mix of eaux de vie. Now the heatís kicking in, I can feel it. I may have to go to whiskey from this point. I split this 12 oz. bottle with my wife, and itís putting the heat in my cheeks. I like this, and Iíd surely drink more, but I disagree with the majority of people Iíve talked to (including the Dogfish brewers) about this one: I liked last yearís better, the 23% whopper. Why? Rich, dense, chocolatey...a chocolate-layered sledgehammer.

1/7:  Reinaert Flemish Amber Ale -- 7% ABV, Andelot Proefbrouwerij, Lochristi, Belgium. (Sample from Specialty Beer Services, the importer.) I was expecting something much more outlandish from this brewery, because thatís what Iíve had in the past. But the aroma is quite nice: sweet, fruity, spicy, Ďcircus peanutsí and cinnamon, that yeasty smell that just says "Belgian ale" to me. It pours clear as a bell, and itís a beautiful light amber, like honey, with a pouffy white head. Mmmm...good. The sweetness of the aroma is restrained here, partly by a hint of anise-like flavor in the back of my mouth. The body is fairly light for a 7%er, and the beer goes down rather quickly. The sweetness is much more complex in the mouth than in the nose, with elements of almond cookies, sweet orange, light honey, and sweet roll. But it isnít sticky, which is most satisfying. Nice beer!

1/7: Dogfish Head Pangaea -- 7% ABV, Milford, DE (Brewery sample). Pangaea is a throwback to Dogfish Head's old days of dumping anything in the kettle -- in concept. In execution, this is far superior. Pangaea was the supercontinent that all the current continents drifted out of, and so the gimmick is that the beer has one ingredient from each continent (yes, it's glacial water from Antarctica). The front and center ingredient is Australian crystallized ginger, which makes this delightfully spicy, sweet, medium-bodied beer much more drinkable than it would be otherwise. The ginger somehow contrives to clean up the finish, quite refreshing. The wife and I both thought this one was drinkable, tasty, refreshing, and quite repeatable.

1/7: Magic Hat Ravell --  5% ABV, South Burlington, VT. (brewery sample) Wow. Ravell pours a deep, dark garnet, with a tight little caramel head and an aroma that drifts across to my nose from its place on my desk. Rich, sweet, a hint of coffee and dark chocolate, and something else, something fuller. I know what that something else is, of course: the beer's brewed with vanilla, but like #9's dose of apricot, this is subtle stuff, and I'm teasing myself to see if I can detect it. As the beer warms up, the vanilla comes through, but it's like cocoa dusted on a light vanilla ice cream. This is the first vanilla beer I've ever had...that I have liked. The vanilla actually makes it cleaner, somehow, and binds beautifully with the chocolate and coffee. Pretty good stuff, and I'll bet it's grand in a snowstorm.

Copyright © 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: August 07, 2004