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
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
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 afternoon...no 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
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
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? Well...my 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
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
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, and...it was
time to go. And we did, telling Scott and Dave we'd see them at Friday