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What I Was Up To

Late Winter  2004

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

What I Was Drinking


Hail Fredonia!

2/20: I dragged my protesting body out of the sack at 5:20 AM. This is not something I make any kind of habit of. But I had a mission. Cathy and I quickly showered, dressed, and gulped some breakfast (I had roast beef and cheese on a poppy seed bagel; it's significant), kissed the kids (and my parents) good-bye, and vaulted into the Jetta. Away at high speed: we had to get to Buffalo by 1:00!

Once again, I'd been invited to Barker Brew in Fredonia, NY, for their Winter Brews and Blues Fest and homebrew contest judging. I enjoy the hell out of Joe Rogers' beer and his company, so I happily accepted. And since I do what I do...I started hanging other goals onto the trip. After all, if I'm going to drive a thousand miles, I'm getting something out of it!

We flew up through PA and NY, making great time. It was a fine day...till we got about 20 miles south of Syracuse, when it started -- "Cath, look, it's snowing!" I said. She turned to me with that 'I'm in the presence of an idiot' look and said, "Yes, it's Syracuse."

Fair enough. I know what to do with Syracuse. I pulled off at a gas station, filled up, and called Middle Ages Brewing. I got Mike, explained my situation, and after getting a certain amount of abuse and directions, got back in the car and headed into town. Cathy and I were soon under the happy care of Tim Butler, who immediately saw that we were thirsty.

First stop: Wailing Wench, their new IIPA. Well, yow. It was full-bodied in its bitterness, and packing a solid punch of malt behind it. Tim and I chatted about Syracuse's long winter a bit, then he poured us a sample of Kilt-Tilter, their big Scotch ale. Mmmmalty, with some big Ringwoody esters. I'll take 'em! We got a growler of each to take along to Fredonia. After all too short a visit, we had to bolt; I had a schedule to keep!

And keep it I did, pulling into Schwabl's at 1:00. Those of you who've got New York Breweries know Schwabl's as the best place I found for beef on 'weck (and if you don't have New York Breweries, what the heck are you waiting for?), and I was determined to sink my teeth into the juicy stuff. Particularly at this time of year, because from Thanksgiving to St. Patrick's Day, Schwabl's serves Tom and Jerry's, a hot toddy with a sweet, heavy meringue topping dusted with nutmeg. I rather stupidly noted the drink as whisky-based in the book; it is a rum and brandy concoction. Mea culpa, I'm quite embarrassed...but happy to have had the chance to go back and correct my impression!

The beef was divine, and even Cathy tore into it, she of the grilled veggie wraps. When beef's this good, you just gotta. The crunch of the salt, the tear of the soft meat, the zip of the horseradish, the loft of the roll, it all comes together so wonderfully. God, I love 'em! Even though it was my second roast beef sandwich of the day!

Back on the road, last leg. We sailed down the Thruway in bright sunlight, Syracuse's small snowstorm left behind. We checked in at the Ramada in Dunkirk, freshened up, and headed over to Fredonia. We were right on time...and things were running quite late. Just after we arrived and greeted Pepper Pike, the general manager and owner Bobbi Pike's very pleasant daughter, Pepper got a call from Tim Herzog of Flying Bison. Tim was running about two hours late, and he had about half the homebrews we were supposed to judge. 

So we waited. And had a couple beers: the pale ale was pouring nicely. And Joe arrived and we talked. Then Ted (of the Great Box of Whiskey last year) arrived, and I hauled out my bottle of Australian market bourbon, Sam Cougar Black and we all tried some. We talked more: Ted was really a regular now, having bought a house up the hill that enabled him to walk home. Nice.

Finally Tim showed up with his wonderful wife, Betsy. And the homebrews. We got right down to judging. We had 19 beers to judge, and Tim and I got the short half. We did get one really good porter, which came in second overall (behind a Scotch Ale that was pretty damned good), but most of the beers we had were full of the cidery taste of too much corn sugar, or suffered from a heavy hand with spices.  What made it rough was overhearing Joe, Paul Koehler of Pearl Street and Paul's friend Victor exclaiming over some of the beers they were tasting at the next table. Lucky boogers.

When that was over, we had dinner. First, a pint of Scotch Ale! Mmmm, fruity esters, big malt, fresh. We got a huge dish of the best spinach and artichoke dip I've ever had, which I followed up with...oh, damn, my food memory has failed me for once. I can't remember what I had, because I spent the whole dinner staring at Tim's order of ribs and thinking "why didn't I get those?" I can't believe that's put my dinner completely out of my head! I do recall that Tim bought dinner: thanks, Tim.

We had a long day the next day, so Cathy and I retired to the motel fairly early. We read a bit, I logged into my regular Friday night beer chat (we're on in the No Bull Inn, sometime after 11 PM Eastern, if you ever want to join us), and then hit the sack.

Winter Returns

We got up the next morning feeling fairly perky. We got right on the road, figuring to get breakfast on the way south to Jamestown; I had an appointment at Southern Tier Brewing. We caught a great meal at Grandma's Kitchen in Cassadaga, where it started snowing out of a windy gray sky. 

By the time we got to Jamestown, the snow was blowing across the roads and Cathy was getting nervous. We rolled on down to Lakewood, took a left off Rt. 394 and carefully climbed the hill, made the two turns and eased into the parking lot. Southern Tier is in half of a spec building, put up by the county to lure businesses. They were first, and now there's a brass fittings manufacturer in the other half; the idea's working well, I'd say. 

Matt Robbins was running a few minutes late, so we listened to music, read, and watched the snow come down. He did show up, we went in, and had a look around.

First stop: tasting room! Hey, if Matt didn't care that it was 9:45 AM, neither did I. We got some Pilsner in right quick, and it was good stuff; not sizzlingly hoppy, just firmly bitter in a solid body, actually a pretty good breakfast beer. We had some of the Mild that STBC was touting as their flagship -- and Matt told us that the Mild was probably going away: not selling.

That's when I made the mistake of saying: too bad, I'd have liked to try that on cask. Turns out that Matt is not a fan of cask ale. Actually, that's putting it mildly, he's pretty much anti-cask! Hey, okay, some brewers hate lagers, what the hell. At least I can follow his reasoning: Matt likes his beer to be exactly what he means it to be, not what it becomes after it leaves the brewery and maybe gets messed with by someone else. 

That's why STBC's beers are all exceptionally clean. He takes great care (and great pride) in that. They're almost the ale equivalent of lagers. The IPA, which we had next, was a great example: brisk, breezy hops over a bed of malt...and that's it, nothing else in the way. This is clean beer, made with clean yeast. Even the Porter (my favorite STBC beer) is clean, just some hints of roastiness, a mildly rich beer that just tastes great going down. 

Matt showed us around the brewery, an exceptionally clean facility (no surprise there, surely!), and we tank-sampled the upcoming wheat beer, a wheaten ale (no phenols here, folks!) with a big bite of hops, kind of reminded me of the last years of Wild Goose Spring Wheat. 

How's STBC doing? Great, Matt told me, they're poised to really break out in New York, on schedule with their business plan and moving ahead. We headed for the door, and Matt stopped us just before we went out. "Look," he said, "I'm sorry if I sounded, I don't know, cocky in there..." 

"Don't be," I told him. "Why would I like your beer if you don't? Be as cocky as you like." We shook hands and Cathy and I got in the Jetta and took off. We went out to Rt. 20 and headed north through snow-covered vineyards (mostly growing grapes for Welch's) back to Fredonia and the fest.

The Fest of Beer

Things were starting to pop by the time we got to Barker. Rohrbach was set up next to us, and Paul and Victor were on the other side, pouring Paul's pretty damned delicious Oatmeal Stout (more on that in a second). Who else? Well, Matt showed up with the Southern Tier stuff, Ron Carlson brought the estimable IPA and Sled Dog Doublebock from Wagner Valley, bless his soul; Tim brought his Aviator Red in a cask, properly primed and conditioned (and more and more tasty with every sip); Lake Placid showed up, with the sizzlingly hoppy Frostbite and a somewhat muddy version of Ubu. I have this horrible feeling I'm forgetting someone; if I am, correct me!

More about Paul's Oatmeal Stout: Paul was very proud of his keg setup. Look at the crap brewers have to schlep around: a keg (minimum 60 lbs.), gas tank and regulator (minimum 25 lbs., plus hoses flopping around), a cold box or bolt-on tap tower (minimum 30 lbs.). Paul had a 5 gallon soda canister of stout (60 lbs.) that had a little adaptor on it that fit a shorty CO2 cartridge about the size of a Whippet (about two packs of gum, for those of you who never abused Whippets), a simple hose tap he kept in his hand (<1 lb.) and two backup cartridges he kept in his shirt pocket. 

He was really proud of himself, and pointed out other advantages. "You can get these in 3 gallon sizes, too," he said. "Put it in a five-gallon bucket with ice and take it down on the breakwater fishing; everyone thinks it's a bait bucket!" Crafty guys, these craft brewers.

I had more stuff than that! Cathy and I set up the banner, the TV (for playing the Pennsylvania Breweries tape), the books, and the bait: a 1.5 liter bottle of Hanssen's Kriek. I figured I could get more people to my table if I was pouring beer too. It worked, and people really liked the Kriek, but they didn't buy many books. Kinda backfired in that respect. But I sure turned a lot of people on to lambic!

The fest rolled on, as did the snow and wind. My brother-in-law Chris and wife Katie showed up, shortly afterwards my wife's cousin Jason and his wife Lonnie showed up with two friends. We all hung around, pouring lambic, drinking a lot of Frostbite and Oatmeal Stout (and probably too much Sled Dog), and talking. When the lambic ran out, I started pouring the growlers of Wailing Wench and Kilt-tilter I'd gotten from Tim the day before, and they were almost as popular as the lambic. 

The Fest wound down. It was a pleasant one, as it was last year. Not a lot of people, but enough, and it was a real nice crowd. As things closed down, I started carrying stuff out to the Jetta (getting whipped by the wind-driven ice) and listening to Much More Chill, the male a capella singing group from the college in town. By the time everything was out to the car and I had a pint in my hand, I was enjoying the hell out of myself listening to these guys singing drinking songs. 

All good things must come to an end, though; if they didn't, how would we know when to do the next good thing? We gathered at the bar, talking trash and drinking Joe's Pale Ale, mostly. There was a beer dinner on for that night, but I just couldn't resist those terribly distracting ribs from the night before, so I bagged the beer dinner and joined the big family table Cathy had started. I got into Joe's Scotch Ale and those ribs, and by gawd, they were tender and delicious indeed. I must have been a bit spliffed, as I walked next door (in the blowing snow) to try to climb up on top of the Spaghetti Kitchen's roof to untangle the American flag...luckily, there was no easy way up.

Now it was close to time for our basement bourbon session. Cathy deserted me (too busy talking to Jason and Lonnie), Bobbi deserted Joe (too busy working), and we deserted everyone else: Joe, me, Paul, Victor, Ron, and Ted headed for the brewery basement with two boxes of bourbon and Joe's bag of cigars. Joe told me later that he thought more people wanted to know about this session than about the Fest. Sorry, folks, no room!

I can't tell all the stories. Some of them were disgusting, some of them were only funny if you were intoxicated, and some I just don't remember. Some bits: I went out to the Jetta and retrieved Boxed Set, by Jug Fusion (the cigar box guitar boys I talked briefly about here) and that was our soundtrack as the blues band played upstairs. Cigars and pipes created a fug of smoke: Ron had a cigar that had dried out terribly, but he insisted on smoking it even as the wrapper disintegrated. "Looks like it was rolled by a leper," Joe muttered. Joe and Ted practically rolled on the floor with delight as they sampled my bottle of George T. Stagg. I was pretty pleased with Joe's bottle of Weller Antique. "Smoke like a man," I urged Victor, tossing him a pouch of unflavored tobacco to stuff in his pipe instead of the vanilla-tainted blend he'd purchased. "What now, beetle! What now!" Victor taunted a dead tobacco beetle... 

Oh, well, like I said. Some of it was only funny to us. We laughed ourselves sore, and finally called it a night fairly early, around 1:00. Cathy showed me the way to the car, I somehow directed her back to Dunkirk, and we hit the hay.


We got up fairly early, showered and dressed, I did a little work on the laptop, we packed and checked out and joined the brewers and homebrewers for brunch at the Ramada. Good food, I was shocked, to be honest, but Chef Ken, man knew what he was doing. We ate, Paul showed up with a severely hungover Victor ("I would like two very large glasses of milk, please."), and we got down to our "panel discussion." We talked about styles, we talked about porter, and we handed out awards to the homebrewers who'd come. It was all real nice, and then we had to leave. I've really gotten to like these guys, and don't see them nearly often enough.

We spun south on the Thruway. Just after crossing the PA border, we headed south, and made our way to Titusville. I was looking for Four Sons Brewery Restaurant, PA's newest brewpub; so new it wasn't even open yet. They were having a kind of practice dinner for the owner's family, the contractors, and the like later in the day; we got there about 1:30. The brewpub's pretty much right in the middle of town on Franklin St. We parked, girded for journalistic battle (I put my camera and notebook in my shirt pocket), and walked in.

Matt Allyn was cleaning the brewhouse, and was therefore happy to stop cleaning and talk beer for a while. (The brewhouse is the 7 bbl.s system that used to be at Poor Henry's.) Matt's a very energetic and knowledgeable fellow, had a big hand in the planning of the brewpub. It's in an old brick building that used to be a bank (you can still see the reinforced floor where the vault was) during the oil boom days; John D. Rockefeller had an office on the second floor. It's one high-ceilinged room, with attractive concrete-topped tables, something I've seen a fair amount of lately. The bar is also concrete-topped, smooth and sealed.

Turns out Matt is a local boy, went to high school over in Quarry (with Sean McIntyre, formerly at Valhalla, who's now doing consulting on the upcoming Slipper Rock brewpub, North Country). He's happy to be home, and happy to be in a brewpub after brewing at Erie. "Pubbing's more fun," he told me. "All the breweries I've done, except Copper Canyon in Detroit, were in small towns. I brew, and I talk to people." Four Sons looks like a good place to practice that philosophy. "There are a lot of people excited about this," Matt said. "A lot of beer geeks around here, even if they are rednecks." 

The "Four Sons" are owner Thom Sauber's four boys, and four of the beers are (loosely) named for them. Let's talk about the beers, because they're going to be a major draw. Titusville Lager is a helles, and is, if anything, maybe even a bit too malty...not that I'm complaining. Plissken Pale Ale is a clean, hoppy pale ale, a standard. Big K is a light wee heavy, good malt flavor without the thumping size. Rebecca's Revenge was the only disappointing beer, a schwarz that was a bit thin, and strangely smokey. E's SB is a 7% ABV "Extra Strong Bitter," big and estery, a pleasing pint. Dead Tony's Triple (named for a worker who died during construction of the pub; hope he had a sense of humor!) was very creamy, 9.2%, spicy, and rich. Monkey Run Oatmeal Stout was full of Belgian biscuit and Special B malts and just unearthly smooth. Impressive line-up.

Matt's got little "Fresh Kegs," a self-contained, self-tapping beer and gas setup. They hold 1.3 gallons, and he plans to sell them in-house, to set on tables. "I'm against pitchers," he said, then smiled. "But I like kegs."

I hope they make it. All the ingredients are in place, all they need is customers. Sauber and Allyn and chef Jeremy Potocki have put together a menu and beer experience unlike any other outside of Erie. I hope that's enough. It should be, but who knows? Stop off I-80 and see.

We headed south from there to I-80, crossed under it and headed south to Foxburg. I was looking at DeLorme's PA Gazetteer (an excellent set of maps, I highly recommend the series), and while it has everything...sometimes everything is too much. Which is how we wound up driving five miles down a dirt road that was covered in melting ice and mud. It got hairy at moments, especially on this one sharp curve at the bottom of a ravine. But the Jetta's light and power-packed, even at its advanced age, and we soon clawed our way to the two-lane into Foxburg.

I'd come across the Inn at Foxburg by accident on the Web, just doing a search and catching the trail of a brewpub. After 6 months, here I was. The place was, as I'd been told, set in an absolutely stunning location. Foxburg is a tiny town (with what they claim is America's oldest public golf course) perched on the east bank of the Allegheny River. The Inn, a big, rambling, ski-lodge-looking place, sits right down by the river and has a tremendous view downstream. I loved it.

My ardor cooled a bit when I saw the brewhouse. It's an extract system, which rarely means great beer, and often means pretty mediocre stuff. That was to be the story here, unfortunately. We got a table in the barroom and were very attentively waited on. We ordered appetizers (which turned out to be delicious) and I ordered a bock. It was pretty non-descript, and just a tiny bit sour. Okay, how about a red ale? It looked almost identical, tasted pretty much identical, too. Bad sign. Dinner was good and bad: the grilled lamb and rice were quite good, the white...stuff served with the lamb (which I thought should have been minted yogurt, given the rest of the dish) tasted like ineptly made mayonnaise. Service continued to be good, though, and the view was tremendous....and they had Yuengling on tap. A pity they chose to add a so-so lineup of cheaply made beers, that's all.

Not much more to tell. We took some pictures, got back in the Jetta, and headed home. A really nice weekend, plenty of good beer, and a great time with people we like hanging out with. We actually got to do a little more of that two weeks later, when Bobbi and Joe were in New Jersey on business and we met them for beers...but that was personal, not business, so I'll leave that (though I will tell you to get to the Ship Inn in Milford and get the cask ales, and maybe a dram of Redbreast!). 



Friday the Firkinteenth XI

2/13: Friday the Firkinteenth,™ for those of you who somehow managed to miss me howling about its wonder, is one of the most excellent little beer events I know of. First, it happens every Friday the Thirteenth, an amusing novelty. Second, it's not a ticketed event, it's just open doors at Mike "Scoats" Scotese's place, the Grey Lodge Pub in northeast Philly. And third, it's all about real ale. 

Real Ale is something you need to know more about. Real ale, or cask ale, is a very special variety of beers from the British tradition. These beers are served the way almost all beer used to be served: alive. All beer, even Michelob Ultra, are alive at some point, alive with yeast. Live beer is constantly, subtly changing, which is why beers are matured, to achieve the right balance of flavors. Then, usually, the beers are pasteurized and/or filtered to stop the fermentation and maturation processes. 

Not real ale. Real ale lives! The idea of real ale is two-fold. First, it leaves the brewery unfiltered and unfinished. The whole idea is that the beer reaches its peak of flavor at the bar when it's about to be served, not in the brewery, at which point it starts going downhill. The beauty is that this means the beer is unbelievably fresh; how else, it's just finished!

The second part can be a little hard to get. Real ale is all about change, and it's about natural carbonation. These two come together in how the beer is served. A cask is placed in the cellar of a bar, and it works, it ferments. CO2 gasses off to some extent through a semi-porous wooden plug in the top of the cask, leaving the beer with a very pleasant low fizz. When the cellarman decides it's reached peak condition, he taps it. But once the cask is tapped, the plug is taken out and air is let into the cask; you have to, otherwise, the tapping would create a vacuum that would keep beer from flowing. 

Air in the cask means the beer has a very short shelf-life. Once a cask is tapped, it will last 5 days at the very most before becoming undrinkably oxidized and sour. (There are some tech doodads that you can use to keep a low-pressure "blanket" of CO2 on the ale -- cask breathers -- but the Brits eschew their use, calling them non-traditional. I think they're nuts, but...) That's why you don't see a lot of cask ale in America.  

Except in places like the Grey Lodge. There's a cask on all the time, now, and on these insane triskaidekalian evenings there are 10 and more. That was the case on February 13, when I arrived at 5:35 PM to find no parking spaces on or in the street (this stretch of Frankford Ave. is one of the Philly streets where you "can" park in the middle of the street) already! Around the block I went, and parked in our usual spot, then walked down to the G-Lodge.

Wall-to-wall! Scoats had said he wasn't going to tap until 6:00, but there were so many people there, he went ahead and tapped a little after 5. He had fifteen casks to pour, so he tapped off eight of them, to be followed by the balance at 9:00. I ran into Brian O'Reilly of Sly Fox right inside the door, and the boy says, "Can I get you a beer?" Sure! He got us pints of Nodding Head Imperial IPA right away: one of the best beers of the night. 

Why do I say that? I mean, me, the guy who said he's "fighting imperialism"? Because this was a beauty: a big beer, a wickedly hoppy beer, but the beautiful condition of it, the low carbonation and the right-there-in-your-face esters of it, smoothed all that out and you got a brilliant glass of beer that you never would have guessed was as strong and hoppy as it really was. Great work, Brandon Greenwood, and I was able to tell he and his boss Curt Decker, because they were standing right there.

So was Good Old Jack Curtin, who would be luring me off to other debauchery that night, but not yet. First I had work to do. I met a WHYY crony and fellow author, Lari Robling and her husband Bill...and her DAT machine. We were going to tape a segment for "Jim Coleman's A Chef's Table," the syndicated NPR radio show I've been appearing on. So we dragged Scoats out back (where it was kinda quiet, except for all the sirens due to the huge gas fire in Olney) and interviewed him, then dragged O'Reilly out and interviewed him. (Later note: for a variety of reasons, one of which was those sirens, the story never got on the air. A shame.)

Free to drink at last! Except now the place was so crowded it took me ten minutes to get halfway to the front. Luckily I met friends along the way who were sitting at the bar and let me buy them beers in order to get some of my own. Had the treacle-conditioned Perkuno's Hammer, and it was the very balls, full, rich, plummy, roasted, and shakingly lively ("treacle-conditioned" means Tom Baker dosed it with a shot of treacle to get the yeast roused up and working; most brewers use brewing sugar or fresh wort). 

Next I got an Iron Hill Old Ale, full-bodied and just a bit musty, with a definite wood note to it. Wood? I got a chance to ask Iron Hill brewer Chris Lapierre about that. Was it barrel-aged? No, but he put 60 grams of oak chips in the firkin! Ah ha! I was glad to hear it, no one else thought it was wood-aged and I thought I was losing my mind. ("Just because there was oak in it," Chris reminded me, "doesn't mean you're not losing your mind." Thanks, old buddy, old pal.)

Next was a rather yeasty Manayunk Buster Brown. Not necessarily the brewery's fault; Scoats acknowledges that his sometimes rough-and-ready handling of the casks causes the yeast to be stirred up. At first I thought the Buster Brown was sour, gone bad, and adamantly told Brian O'Reilly that. "No, it's not," he said even more firmly. Damn it, Brian, you're always so sure of yourself, this stuff is sour! "No, it's not. Taste it. Think yeast. You're tasting yeast bite." And by golly, he was right. Smart guy, that O'Reilly.

More beer! Dogfish Head Aprihop, first time on cask for me. Very smooth, not much apricot, or at least if it was there, it was flying under the ester radar. I tried a sip of Bill's glass of the John Harvard's Heather Ale brewed by G-Lodge semi-regular Tony Wyatt; interesting, but with the cask's low carbonation it tasted more like a tea than a beer. Higher fizz-factor works better with this one. 

Flying Fish Big Fish, on the other hand, was better from cask than it was on push on Groundhog Day; smooth, fruity, and not as assertively hoppy. Then it was time for the last beer of the round, General Lafayette Scotch Ale, and by damn, I liked it. Great malt depth and sweetness, layers of flavor, a real deep one and a reason to do cask ales. 

About this time I found out that there were actually people waiting to get in the bar, standing in line in 30° cold! Understand, you who've never been: there was no live band, no entertainment, no giveaways, no Cask Ale Girls, there was only cask ale. FABULOUS!!! I had to go see these people. (I didn't take pictures, I thought that would be rude!) I held onto my beer glass (so I could get back in!), and saw, oh, Eddie Friedland of Friedland Distributing, Chris Trogner and Ed Yashinsky from Tröegs, John Frantz from Lancaster Brewing (Scott "St Obnoxious"  Balthaser was with him), and hey! My wife! Cathy had come down with her friend Rose Ann, and now she couldn't get in. This wouldn't do. 

I went back in, gathered up Jack and Rich Pawlak, and we all piled into the minivan and drove off to Johnny Brenda's for grilled octopus and Legacy Duke of Ale. Rockin'! We drank our way through three pitchers, then Cathy drove us back to the G-Lodge. The second round of tapping had taken place, and the crowd had loosened up a bit; we all got in. Perfect.

I got stuck into a pint of Brewer's Art Green Peppercorn Triple. Whew, that's some taste! Lots of peppery flavor, none of the heat I was dreading, and still some solid triple character. I'd ratchet back on the peppercorns a bit, but this is a keeper; first peppercorn beer I've had that I liked.  I chased it with some Lancaster Winter Warmer, that malty powerpack of a beer, and a smoooooth Duke of Ale. The Duke was born to be casked.

What else ya got?! How about some Yards George Jefferson, a blend of George Washington Porter and Thomas Jefferson Ale? Well, it's pretty good, although the big porter tended to dominate. Then it was Sly Fox Scotch Ale, a straight casked version of the Robby Burns Scottish export ale. Smooth, well-conditioned, but by this time, I must be honest, my palate was a bit blasted -- and so was I. 

But I do remember my last beer: Weyerbacher Scotch Ale. This is definitely one of my least favorite of the Weyerbacher line, I was just never impressed with it. This, however, was excellent. Even though I was about a third plowed by now, this beer drew me up short: malt to match the General Lafayette, layered and twisted, real good and real drinkable!

That's about when I got ambushed. It was midnight, and friends bought me shots of my two favorite whiskeys carried at the Grey Lodge: Elijah Craig 12 Year Old and Baker's. Whoosh! Delicious, but...that was it for me. Cathy led me to the van as I told her how wonderful everything was: the cold, her hair, the van, our children, the beer at the Grey Lodge, all the good friends I'd seen at the get the idea. It was a hard morning, but not lethal. I'll be ready for the next Firkinteenth in August! 












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2/20: Middle Ages brewer Tim Butler, with his arm round the Wench





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Cathy, in a carnivorous mood 
























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2/21: Southern Tier, and yes, that's snow falling







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Matt takes a reading on a wheat ale sample














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Paul and Victor, note how beer equipage can barely even be seen at Victor's hands.









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Cousin Jason, part of the crowd, drinking Basil Hayden.



















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2/22: Four Sons funky logo on a growler.



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The view from up on the mug club balcony over the bar (note cool light fixtures and concrete bar).





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Matt Allyn taps us some samples.









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The Inn at Foxburg...


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...and the view.
























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2/13: The crowd at peak fill, complete w/Jack's gray head in the foreground.





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Curt Decker, Brandon Greenwood, standing right there.











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Brian O'Reilly and meself, sometime after that first beer.










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Johnny Brenda's part-owner William Reed at the Firkinteenth: why the hell wasn't he down at Johnny's getting us more beer?!

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Me, Scott Baver (Legacy), Bill Moore, & Dave Gemmell (Legacy)

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My old beer pal Mike Gates, his nephew Dave, and the infamous Beer Pest, Woody Chandler!

3/9: Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale. 8%ABV, Yards Brewing Co., Philadelphia, PA (brewery sample). One of the very first beers I had as a pro; TJ demands respect because it is one of the easiest-drinking 8%ers you'll ever come across.  Pours a perfect amber color with a tenacious light cream head; looks like I stirred up a little bit of the bed on this bottle-conditioned beer. Mmm, Brit nose: malt, fruity notes, and just a hint of that alcohol heat. Big beer, but nothing here to hold you back. This sends shivers down my esophagus all the way to my meatsack. The Yards yeast comes through, a bit of nuttiness, and lots of that good British malt they use...but nothing cloying here. Good stuff.

3/2: Pardubice Porter. 8.0%ABV, Pivovar Pardubice, Pardubice, Czech Republic, imported by Doyna Ltd. (purchased at Half Time, Poughkeepsie, NY). Okay...same brewer as Boom Porter, same ABV as Boom Porter, what's the diff? I wish I could tell you I picked it out immediately, but I can't. And I didn't have any Boom handy, more's the pity. This stuff was real good, in any case: big, dark, fairly heavy, and bulging with the dark fruit and mild roastiness I love in Baltic porters. A particularly rich aroma, too; definitely one to savor. Now, to get a bottle of this and a bottle of Boom side-by-side (and five more of each in the fridge!).

2/16: MacTarnahan's Bourbon Cask Aged Blackwatch Cream Porter . 6%ABV, Portland Brewery (now owned by Pyramid), Portland, OR (brewery sample). By God, I teased Portland Brewing about this beer, and somehow they found out and got me a bottle! A big one, too, this puppy comes in a 22 oz. bomber. She pours a dark brown tinged with deep red, a dark tan cap of foam on the top that dissipated fairly quickly. The aroma is rich, roast coffee, chocolate, graham, and that bourbon-driven hint of vanilla. But the bourbon comes through in the flavor much more intensely, almost too intensely. This is a very sweet porter, and the bourbon gets behind that sweetness and pushes. There is even more bourbon as the beer warms, and I just don't think the beer has the balls to handle all of it. There's even a little of the mustiness that used to turn me off from bourbon...until better wood management made it a thing of the past. Overall, just too sweet for me. Old Dominion remains on top for 2003. 

2/16: Allgäuer Cambonator Doppelbock. 7.2%ABV, Allgäuer Brauerei, Kempten, Germany, imported by Exquisite Spirits (purchased at Half Time, Poughkeepsie, NY). Beautiful label of the classic old Allgäuer brewery (exceptional website, though it is in German) in the snow. Pop it open and it smells great: brimful of dark malt, with that distinctive coffee-prune smell of these big dark lagers, the mark of the übermalt. She's a real dark brown, with the most amazingly tenacious cappuccino head of foam; I poured this almost ten minutes ago to let it warm up, and there's still foam. Oh, my, and that nose ain't lying, this is good stuff. Rich yet light malt is right up front with a mix of ripe sweet cherries, that bit of prune, and a distinct cocoa note. Deceptively light in body, and all cleaned up by a gorgeous dry malt goodness on the end. My mouth is watering for the next sip. Good, good beer, with that most desirable of all doppelbock traits: stealth drinkability. Well-worth looking for.

2/11: Jameson 18 Year Old Master Selection. 40%ABV, Midleton Distillery, Midleton, Cork, Ireland (distillery sample). As bourbon is pure with corn, so is this Irish whiskey pure with malt. The aroma is clean as the breeze, blowing you the flowers from over the hill, the candy from the shops, maybe a freshly cut oak. The flavors are smooth and rich: hard candy, malt, mint, light honey, and an elusive whisk of cinnamon at the very peak of the mouth. A delight to drink, and as my man John Hansell said, no flaws at all. Not understrength, not overpowered, not overoaked. Just beautiful, and all Irish pot still lushness. 

2/11: Mother Lager. 5%ABV, Magic Hat BC, Burlington, VT (brewery sample). This is supposed to be Magic Hat for the guy who usually drinks Heineken. It sure looks like it: green bottle, light gold beer, white fluffy head. I kept it dark and cold, so there's not skunkiness; just some sweet malt and a bit of hop. Flavor? Yeah, it's not bad. Little over-fizzed for my tastes, but it's got some malt body, the flavor's clean and perfectly balanced. I have to admit, I like drinking it. No surprise, I like draft Heineken, too. There's just one problem, a little bit of a cloying hitch high in my mouth. Little more attenuation would maybe clean that up. I'd say the brewers have executed their part well. Now it's up to the marketing genius of Magic Hat.

1/28: Geary's Winter Ale. 6%ABV, Geary's BC, Portland, ME (purchased at Half Time, Poughkeepsie, NY). The seasonal replacement for Hampshire Ale, now that it's moved to year-round. Copper beer capped with a nice off-white head. Rich aroma, buttery and earthy. Not taken by the flavor, though. The Ringwood characteristics I love are there, the nutty, earthy notes, the clean finish. But the hopping is harsh and metallic up front, and the lingering burn finish screws up my Ringwood enjoyment. I'm not enjoying this. I'm gonna go get some Hampshire and pretend it never went year-round.

1/28: Yards George Washington Tavern Porter. 7%ABV, Yards BC, Philadelphia, PA (brewery sample). Purportedly formulated in accordance to one of Washington's own recipes (the First President was also a brewer and distiller). It is bottle-conditioned, fairly uncommon for an American beer in 12 oz. bottles. It's holding a great cream-colored head, very impressive over a brown body with deep red tinges. Light for a porter, but dark for a brown ale, if that makes sense. The smell is sweet, dark malt, maybe a hint of molasses cookies. Mmm, that puts a grin on my face. This stuff is good! Not a lot up front, so that first half-second into the sip is disappointing, but man, as the beer moves into your mouth it really turns it on: heavy cookie, creamy malt, and a twist of bitterness at the end. Nice thick feel to it, too. Not a lot of clue on the 7%, either. Good drinking beer, but watch yourself. 

1/24: New Belgium Biere de Mars. 6.2%ABV, New Belgium BC, Ft. Collins, CO (brewery sample). Interesting beer. Slightly cloudy, reddish-orange color, very little head. There's a sweet aroma to it with an edge of some fresh, sweet herbal note and hints of a fresh-bread yeast tang. Pleasant enough, how's it taste? Not like the aroma! The wheat comes through in a slightly citric note, a very dry finish, and there's a non-hop bitterness shot through this that's really interesting, almost gruit-like. I really like that dry, herbal finish. One thing's for sure, this is not mild and poundable. This is a beer that requires a certain amount of thought and adjustment. Refreshing as Campari and soda, once you get your mouth around it. Ah, there's the lemony note of the verbena. I'd really like to try this with grilled bluefish or salmon, I think it might be the fish beer I've been looking for. This is not out for long, go get some. 

1/24: Reinaert Wild Ale -- 9% ABV, Andelot Proefbrouwerij, Lochristi, Belgium. (Sample from Specialty Beer Services, the importer.) Clear as a summer morning, bright yellow body and fluffy white, extremely tenacious head, and a solidly funky aroma: acidic, brettanomyces-induced 'horse blanket,'  but with  a small part of juicy-orange-sweet character to it. Taste, and the brett really comes through hard, that peculiar 'old iron' taste it has (I've always thought brett-laced beers tasted like long-dried blood touched with peroxide), but there's much more than just brett; a not-quite-ripe orange note, that juiciness comes through, and there's even a discernable maltiness to it. The beer becomes a bit sweeter to the shocked palate as you drink, and really becomes drinkable after a few good swallows, thought the brett overtones that hang persistently in the back of the mouth are impossible to ignore. What's dangerous about this that at no point in tasting it did I get any hint that it was 9%. Keep your eye on this fox, or he'll be robbing your henhouse.

1/13: Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale. 5.6% ABV, Tröegs Brewing, Harrisburg, PA (purchased at Centre Beer, Newtown, PA). This beer's an absolute marvel on cask, where the esters entwine with the hop aromas and flavors in wonderful way. How is it in bottle? Filtered, for a start. It is a deep, orangey amber in color, with a struggling creamy head (could be my glass). Hop aroma flies off the top, spicy and clean. The flavor is just as clean, a Tröegs signature. This is a beer with no off-notes at all, just brisk hop flavor solidly backstopped by malt with wisps of alefruit playing around the edges. Great stuff for hop-lovers (true hop-lovers, not just bitter tongue-smacking freaks). Definitely recommended.

1/13: Victory Hop Wallop. 8.5% ABV, Victory Brewing, Downingtown, PA (draft, purchased at the brewery). I looked in my glass, expecting to find a twisted rope of whole flower hops. This big "very hoppy ale" (that's what the brewery insists you call it, not "Imperial IPA," and I think they may have a very good point) is that hoppy. The beer's light gold in color, with a frothy white head, and the power is slyly hidden (8.5% is the real wallop to this one!), but it is absolutely green with hop flavor, and that, my friends, is quite an accomplishment. Anyone can make a bitter beer, but this is a hoppy beer, and that's great. A one-pinter for me, though: big and mouth-shattering!

1/13: Jack Daniel's Single Barrel. Tennessee Whiskey, 47% ABV, no age statement. Lush, sweet, fresh aromas of corn and fruit and a sweet herbal note, with a background of caramel/burnt sugar. Alcohol is evident, but not overpowering. A solid presence in the mouth, this whiskey is heavier than Jack Daniel's black label, more tangible. The 47% is evident, and sends the burnt sugar and deep sweet corn all through the mouth. There's a background note of sweet roll, a weightier sweetness. Good whiskey, full of flavor, but I would wish for a bit more to think about in a sipping whiskey.


Copyright © 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
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Revised: January 19, 2005