Short Snorts 2005
Even quicker and shorter than The Latest, this is where I'll be doing quick write-ups of one-stops, new beers I've had, and other good stuff like that.
10/6: Boston Beer Tyranny, Revisited: The Beer Informant Law I was so steamed about a month ago (see 9/7, below) has me all pissed off again. The law's about to pass -- which doesn't surprise me, these pollyanna "THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!" laws almost always do, usually without much thought -- and the reasoning behind it came out over the Bloomberg wire. Remember the Red Sox winning the Series? Of course you do. Remember how Boston erupted, and assholes rioted in the streets? Of course you do. But do you remember the woman who was killed in the rioting? Just in case you don't: her name was Victoria Snelgrove. She was a journalism major at Emerson College, a junior. She just happened to be in the crowd, she was not singled out for her behavior. She was 21. And a police officer, firing a "pepper pellet" gun in a manner not approved by the manufacturer of the gun, hit Snelgrove in the eye with a plastic pellet about the size of a golf ball, filled with chemical tearing agent, and killed her. Most of the people in the riot had bought drinks in nearby bars where they were watching the game, the student killed was of legal drinking age, she was killed by a police officer who misused a weapon, and Boston police only arrest 150 to 200 college students a year for underage drinking...yet the Boston Licensing Board felt it was necessary to enact this seriously troubling piece of regulation because of the events leading to the death of Victoria Snelgrove.
I do not blame the police officer who fired the weapon. I haven't walked a mile in his shoes, and I know he lives with this, will live with it all his days. But I absolutely damn the anti-alcohol lunatics who have taken advantage of this woman's death, this family's misfortune, to enact this repressive, intrusive, repulsive regulation.
But the Board Chairman, Daniel Polaski, did put my mind at rest about the invasion of privacy issue that this law creates. No, really, he explained it all. (Quoting from the Bloomberg story here) "Invasion-of-privacy arguments don't hold up, Polaski said. `There's no privacy when alcohol is concerned because it is a highly regulated commodity,' he said." Let me repeat that: There is no privacy when alcohol is concerned. And the ACLU and the Libertarian Party do nothing. Thanks, guys. Hey, it's only beer, right? [Oh, and after e-mailing them, I heard from the LP: they're really busy, and it is just beer. Why not write a letter to the Boston paper? Gee, fellas, that sounds swell. I heard from the ACLU: they're really busy, why don't I join my local chapter of the ACLU, here's a link to donate. I just feel better all over. After all, it's only beer.]
9/11: Man, did I ever have a brainstorm over Labor Day. I got the word Thursday evening that all three of Cathy's brothers were joining us at their mom's house in upstate NY for the weekend; which means beer supply. All right; Friday the kids and I went out and bought a mess of groceries (our family was making Sunday dinner, a pork and onions dish that's fantastic and simple), then stopped at Bound Beverage in Bensalem. I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Bound. They're really nice people, but they just don't seem to be pushing the good beers they have. But this time, when I called and asked "What have you got good and local in sixtels?", the guy was right on the spot. I mean, we talked beer, and it was great. When I got there, I decided to go with Stoudt's Oktoberfest: $51 plus tax and deposit. Rent a tap? No, I want to own one, so I bought one. Now I've got this keg rolling around in the van. Up Rt. 13 I go to the Wal-Mart on the corner of 13 and 413 (Yeah, I know: Wal-Mart. Tough luck, it was close by and my keg was getting hot.), get out the tape measure, and measure the sixtel. Right, in the store, go to the coolers, and start measuring. The Coleman Xtreme 70 Quart was a perfect fit for a sixtel and 30 lbs. of ice! It boasted that it could hold ice for five days at 90F; it sure did a great job on my keg. Bought, bought ice, laid in a bed of cold, dropped the sixtel in neat as you please, and iced the top, with room for the tap. Let me tell you: that was one mighty fine keg of beer, too: hail Stoudt's for taking the festbier seasonal and treating it right. This stuff is solid. And I've got the cooler to prove it.
9/7: Stand by: I got some beer laws to rant about. Massachusetts has a keg registration law; this is the state where it all started, back in the early 1990s. The law says that any container of beer over two gallons (two gallons? Whoa, they're really scared of draft beer in Mass!) has to be tagged, with two separate deposits ("container fee and registration fee"), and the retailer must record the date of sale, the size of keg, keg identification number, amount of container fee and registration fee, and name and address of the purchaser, who must sign a statement that the information is correct and they are not perjuring themselves...to get a beer ball. They already have this law.
But that's not enough! (Because it's not working worth a damn, just like every other keg registration law.) I see in the Boston Herald today that now Boston is getting a new...keg tracking law. "Keg tracking?" What's that do? Glad you asked. The new law will require stores to "immediately tell police who has bought a keg and where it's going." You buy a keg, and the store owner "immediately" has to drop a dime on you: "Calling all cars, calling all cars, Caucasian male on the loose, heavily armed with a sixtel of Hampshire Special Ale." And what are the hoped-for outcomes of this law? "If it's from a known problem area, chances are they're going to get multiple looks from the police department,'' said at-large City Councilor Stephen J. Murphy, who helped push for the regulations. "This should go a long way toward providing peace and tranquility for neighborhood residents,'' he said. Where the hell is the ACLU on issues like this?? When will this police state measure be extended to gallon jugs of wine (which have more alcohol than a two gallon keg of beer and don't need a tap, by the way)?
Hear that giant sucking sound? That ain't NAFTA, buddy, that's your right to privacy going down the drain because the fancy-dan lawyers and liberals and libertarians who are so damned canary in a coal mine careful about privacy rights when it comes to abortion and consensual sex and gun purchases don't want to be associated with you, you beer-swilling pig. Thanks a lot, elitists. (Hey, someone got their knickers in a twist over this rant, thinking I was liberal-bashing. Get a clue: I'm bashing liberals and conservatives.)
8/17: It's not even bad when the kids are here! We took our kids and our niece and nephew down to Center City yesterday to have lunch at the Reading Terminal Market (the nephew and I slurped down the great Hong Kong-style noodle soup at Sang Kee Peking Duck, followed by cones at Philly's own (and America's oldest) Bassetts Ice Cream), walked down to see the Liberty Bell and Christ Church, listened to a couple storytellers with the Once Upon A Nation program...and walked out of the historic area around the 2nd Bank of the United States right in front of the Society Hill Hotel. (Like this place a lot, by the way: definitely recommended.) With its outdoor tables. In the shade. "Refreshing libation?" asked Cathy with a grin. So the kids got sodas and Cathy enjoyed a Tröegs Sunshine Pils, while I had a Franziskaner Weiss, because the afternoon just seemed to call for a wheat beer. Made for a nice cap on the day before we headed back to Market East and got on the train to head home.
8/15: The kids were away last week... And Cathy and I got out a little more than usual. I had the highly successful McGillin's Olde Ale House -- Yuengling "Landmark to Landmark" bus tour on Saturday the 6th, and when I got home, I called Cathy (on her way home from dropping off the kids with her brother Carl in Frederick -- lunch at Brewer's Alley) and said Let's go out. We made a first visit to the Hulmeville Inn, which turned out to be real nice. I had a Prima Pils and a Guinness; Cathy had a Paulaner hefe and a Flying Fish Farmhouse, all in good condition and served well. Good chow: a hefty quesadilla, a cheesesteak, and a chicken parm sandwich. Real friendly, great bartender: we'll be back. Wednesday night we hit the London Grill with another couple and plowed headlong into their $3 "mini-meal menu." That is some powerfully cheap goodness: mini burgers with boursin and grilled onions, mini fish and chips, some kind of mini-quesadilla with meat in it, and the mini-mussels. Washed it down with plenty of Willie Sutton's Lager (brewed by Stoudt's), then strolled down to the Bishop's Collar for some Stella and Guinness. Fun evening!
Friday we really lived it up. I picked up Cathy from a business meeting at the Rittenhouse at 3 (after picking up three growlers at Victory (Prima, Festbier, and Sunrise Weiss)) and we went to McGillin's for something to eat -- and found meter parking on Chestnut Street on a Friday afternoon. Hand to God, we did. We ate well at McGillin's -- I got snapper soup and the Roast Beef McGillin, both quite nice, and Cathy got some black bean hummus eggplant avocado veggie sammich thing that she enjoyed; she was drinking hefe again, I had Sly Fox Stout (cuz McGillin's don't serve Guinness).
Fired up with that Sly Fox Stout, I aimed the Passat towards the Grey Lodge, where Brian O'Reilly was serving up two Sly Fox ice bocks, the Helles bock and the big mean double bock. We stopped downstairs first to talk to Billy the bartender and have a quick Heavyweight Mild. Then we went upstairs, hung with a crew of BAs and my very good friend Les Gibbs, and I got into a big...er...discussion with Brian, Scoats, and William Reed about wholesaling, PA beer laws, and the Philadelphia beer scene. Hey, shop talk, y'know? Anyway, we had some of the new Grey Lodge fresh-cut fries (good, but not the meaty kind I like), and then a glass of Tröegs Sunshine Pils (summer just ain't long enough to get all I want, eh?), and then it was 9:00 and time to go. Except that when we got out to the car, I just didn't quite want it to end...Hey, I said, why don't we go down to Chink's and get some ice cream? So we did, and I loved my chocolate milkshake and the sassy waitress who served it. Great way to end a fun week. (Except it didn't quite end there: we took the three growlers (and two more O'Reilly gave me, a lushly drinkable Rauchbier and St. Charles Bohemian Pils (click the link, you gotta)) down to brother-in-law Carl's in Richmond and celebrated his 40th birthday with the beers and way too much VA-style minced pork barbeque (from Sibley's, an neat little spot with great sweet tea) and Corky's ribs from Memphis...tell me that Rauchbier wasn't perfect!)
6/29: Big Jim returns! The dust has hardly settled at O'Flaherty's, and Big Jim Young has landed, and in a perfect spot. Jim Young, the guy who built the amazing beer program at O'Flaherty's, has been signed by the Newportville Inn (4120 Lower Road, Newportville, 215/785-6090). The Newportville has always had a good German beer selection; Jim's the perfect guy to turn it up to 11. According to Richard Ruch (one of Curtin's Creatures), Jim plans to add American-brewed craft lagers to the tap lineup, and craft brews to the large bottle selection. He starts July 10. Plan a stop soon; I know I will.
6/19: A big surprise in a little town. We went up to my home in Lancaster County for Father's Day. I asked my mother to go ahead and make reservations for dinner. Where, she asked; wherever you want, I answered. She made them at The Iron Horse Inn in Strasburg (135 E. Main St., 717/687-6362). Okay, I remember this place as Joe Devine's, a nice enough little bar and grill back 30 years ago. It's being restored, and turns out to be an attractive old brick building just down the road from the Strasburg Railroad. We were seated, and the menu surprised me: duck a l'orange, big steaks, tilapia, Coho salmon...high-end stuff (and the menu noted they accepted credit cards, but "no scrip, foreign currency or goats accepted for payment." Sense of humor, too?). The waitress asked if we wanted drinks, and I asked what beers they had, and she surprised me again by telling me they had a beer sampler for $3.50. What the hey, I figure, and asked what the samples were. Hoegaarden, Lancaster Amish 4-Grain Ale, Stoudt's Fat Dog (Imperial) Stout, and Warsteiner. Not bad! Considering the only other draft they had was Coors Light ("We have to have that," the waitress said apologetically)... wow. The kicker? They were in good shape and tasted great. I got a pint of the Amish 4-Grain to go with my meal: a down-home plate of chicken gravy on waffles. Gotta get it when I can!
6/1: I'll eat my words: an actual arrest on a keg registration law! It's true: The Goshen Township, Ohio Community Journal reports an arrest on the Ohio keg law. "Stephanie Brown, 18, of 1209 Red Roan Lane, was charged with a keg law violation and underage consumption of alcoholic beverages." The party, at which police also seized whiskey and marijuana, was located at...1209 Red Roan Lane! Wowzers. Good thing they had that keg registration to tell 'em where to find the keg purchaser!
5/31: O'Flaherty's is closed. Big Jim's fired. One more neighborhood bar goes down the tubes. I need a drink.
5/3: Meet Dr. David Hanson. I needed one more interview for that keg registration piece: Dr. David Hanson, a Ph.D. sociologist at SUNY Potsdam who's spent his career on alcohol issues. Today I got him on the phone and just enjoyed it immensely. I've got his website bookmarked on the Drinks Links page because it's full of facts that the anti-alcohol types choke on. Well, I got to talking to him and we had a great time. He told me about the time he'd testified opposite one of MADD's board members, and as it turned out, wound up sharing a cab back from the hearings. It was awkward at first, then the MADD-type turns to him and says, "I like you, you seem like a nice person. But you're just wrong!"
And that, Dr. Hanson said, was pretty much how MADD treated most issues: plow through with passion, damn the facts, full speed ahead. He's very suspicious of the 'facts' that MADD does come up with, too. Take the latest studies they're brandishing that 'show' the 21 drinking age prevents brain damage because the 18 year old brain is more vulnerable to alcohol damage. "We know that there are lots of societies where young people have consumed alcohol for hundreds of years. Are we to believe that these populations have somehow been harmed, their brains fried? What’s the evidence that these groups have suffered mass brain damage? I don’t see it. And how convenient that the researchers now say that the brain’s fully developed at 21."
I asked him if there was another agenda behind all the laws MADD is pushing as part of their campaign against underage drinking. "It’s part of the general thrust," he said. "Their people in the field call it control of consumption, I call it reduction of consumption. (I've heard it called "control of access" and "regulated environment," too.) Increase taxes, reduce availability, it’s a whole panoply of policies to reduce consumption. That doesn’t mean everyone who favors this is in favor of the whole thing. But there’s no question that the control of consumption people are pushing this very hard."
Go to Dr. Hanson's website, and learn a few things.
4/29: Conshohocken. Conshie. I love it. I was working on a piece about keg registration for New Brewer and just got so damned mad at the ignorance and duplicity and downright lying of the anti-alcohol people I was dealing with that I had to stop working. Really. Just had to, or the piece was going to suffer. So I got in that beautiful new Passat and dieseled my way west to The Boathouse in Conshohocken. Matt Guyer, the Beer Yard man, had told me that Legacy's Reading Pils was on tap there, and I figured a good tall glass of pilsner was just what I needed to break my foul mood. I parked, walked down Fayette, and slipped into a seat right at the front of the Boathouse's bar. I had my big 20 oz. pint of Reading Pils in under two minutes, and it was good. Plenty of malt in this one, a solid beer, but real drinkable. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with caramelized onions, rare. My mood was starting to break up. The burger came, and I am happy to say it was easily the best burger I've had in months. It was excellent. I had finished my Reading Pils, and saw that they had the Victory Pre-Prohibition Lager on, so I ordered one of those; hadn't tried that yet, and wanted to. Well, I should've had another Reading Pils. The VP-PL was okay, but nothing really interesting. I guess I was expecting something along the lines of a Brooklyn Lager, but this was more like an all-malt Yuengling Traditional Lager; more body, missing the sharp corn notes, and a bit more hoppy, but...nothing really exciting. Hats off to them for doing the experiment, though.
I finished up lunch (licking my chops: GREAT burger), and decided that I should go over and thank Matt for the tip. Mark Sauerbrey was out front cooking dogs on the grill, and Matt had some samples of Reaper Ale cued up. So I hung for a while, and we sampled beers. The Deathly Pale Ale was good, but not spectacular, the Mortality Stout was quite good, big and black, and the bottle of Christian Moerlein Dunkels (brewed at The Lion) was pretty darned good, very drinkable indeed. I got all wound up again, explaining to Matt why I was not at home working. Then I calmed down, Matt kindly gave me some samples to take home, and I did that. Took them home. In a much better mood.
4/22: Okay, a short recent one. Cathy and I took the Passat down to O'Flaherty's for a Tröegs firkin event via I-95 and the Bristol exit: Bonus! The trip took only 15 minutes! I can do O'Flaherty's more often. Only it won't be O'Flaherty's any more; Big Jim tells me that the new owners will be making it over into a sports bar, not an Irish bar. But they're keeping the employees, keeping the menu, and yes, keeping the beers! All right. So we celebrated with a round of Tröegs Dead Reckoning Porter poured from the firkin on the bar. It was luscious, hoppy, smoothly dark, not overly roasty, and very drinkable. Met up with Dan & John of The Dan & John Beer Site, and they bought us a pint; thanks, guys, see you at Friday the Firkinteenth. O'Flaherty's was perfect: busy, utterly unpretentious, friendly, and stuffed with great beer. Love that place.
4/6: I've been busy. Book and the Cook (more on that in The Latest when I get back from Europe) happened in the interim, followed by a flying trip to Pittsburgh to do presentations (got in the paper on that one, not online, though), a Victory beer dinner at Moriarty's with Austrian beer writer Conrad Seidl, then Holy Week with my church choir (and drinking barleywine before Easter Vigil, as I always do), and then two days of rain, cold, and mud in upstate New York at my mother-in-law's, during which I didn't go out of the house, just worked on stories. I actually had a LOT to write before going on a trip to Prague that is followed by Chicago WhiskyFest (as in get home from Europe and be in Chicago the next day), followed by the Craft Brewers Conference here in Philly (as in land from Chicago and take the train right into Philly and start conferencing). And in the middle of all that, we bought a car, a 2005 Volkswagen Passat TDI, portrait of which you see to the left. It's a turbo-diesel, which gives a very nice combination of mileage (between 40 and 50 mpg) and acceleration, along with a lot more room than the Jetta. And with the new particulate filter and the pumpe düse extreme high-pressure fuel injection technology, it is both the most thermally efficient engine on the road in America and one of the cleanest diesels ever made. Surprisingly, it's also very quiet. I owned a Volvo diesel back in the 80s, and the rattle and clatter could be deafening. This baby just purrs.
3/31: He said he had some extra seats at the Cajun beer dinner at Sly Fox Royersford, would Cathy and I like to be his guests? Well, sure! We took the new car (see above) up to Royersford, and joined Jack Curtin and his posse at the bar for a welcoming glass of Pikeland Pils, brisk, hoppy, and clean. Then it was into the banquet room, where we sat with Jack and Brian his own self. We got some grilled shrimp and dirty rice that came with two delicious slices of pepper-dotted cornbread, accompanied by Phoenix Pale Ale. The Phoenix is not one of my favorites of Brian's beers, and I would have rather had a glass of O'Reilly's Stout with this course. Next came a truly excellent spinach salad with diced yellow tomato, accompanied by a glass of Helles Bock, the hit of the evening for me. It was solidly malty, but not rich, a broad-shouldered beer that walked proud, and NOT overtly hopped, thank you. Next was the big meat course, and it was: two great hunks of pork tenderloin stuffed with andouille and peppers and onions -- pork-stuffed pork! -- and a big glass of Kulmbacher Dark Lager, great quaffable stuff, though I'd love it if it were just a touch more assertive, maybe a hint of anise (yeah, yeah, I know, not to style, sue me). Dessert was Way Too Much Coconut Rum Bread Pudding (not the real name, but it shoulda been) with a deliciously rich glass of Instigator Doublebock. A great time, and honestly, a great value at $40. We spent much of the evening listening to Jack talk about how crazy the people on BeerAdvocate are and how crazy I am for talking to them. An amusing discussion, and it was good hanging out with O'Reilly and actually having a chance to talk.
3/5: A lot happened beer-wise today: I stopped at Tavern on Green for my first time (nice place), ditto Kelliann's Tavern (wall-to-wall young drunks, waiting on the Erin Express, I skipped it), attended Linda Carpenter's fund-raiser at the Ukrainian-American Club (successful event, lots of beer), and made my first visit to Aspen in the company of Iron Hill's Chris LaPierre and Larry Horowitz (very nice place, Aspen, want to take Cathy back there). But what I want to tell you about is Chris's Baltic Porter. It was smooth and cake-sweet, dark cocoa-rich, a milk-chocolate beer with subtle power behind it, one of the best American Baltic porter interpretations I've had. If it's still on at Iron Hill West Chester, you should go get some.
3/4: "You're like a rock star." Scoats threw another party at the Grey Lodge this evening, a Yards Pin Night. We were supposed to see four pins of cask-conditioned Yards (a "pin" is a cask-plumbed keg that holds 5.4 U.S. gallons; you may see it listed as holding 4.5 gallons; those are Imperial gallons), but as it turned out, the Love Stout wasn't ready, so we got Philly Pale, ESA, and IPA. Hey, no problem! We'll take what we get when it's this good. And it was, too. I got a Philly Pale onboard real quick, talked to some friends, talked to Tom Kehoe and Bill Barton of Yards and Eddie Friedland a bit about beer stuff, then got an ESA. About then, my buddy Les Gibbs showed up, so I got him a Philly Pale and myself an IPA. Man, it was all good. We went upstairs, and there were BeerAdvocate folks sitting at the far end, so I went down and joined them.
Next thing I knew, Duzer's handing me a marker for a beer with a business card on top: Jillian Kolonick, the reporter from the Princeton Packet who had just interviewed me the day before (I pulled over in a parking lot off New York Ave. in DC to do the interview). It's not every day a woman buys me a drink, so I went over and said hi to her and her friend...Karen, I think. I hope. Sorry if I got it wrong. We talked a bit, and Jillian said "You're like a rock star here, everyone knows you." No, that's ridiculous, I go to the G-Lodge to relax -- and didn't it happen that vivacious little Tracy (don't ask) walks up just then and plants one on me, two BeerAdvocates come by and shake my hand, and Les buys me a beer. Okay, but it just looks like that! Silliness. Anyway, I enjoyed the beer Les bought me, an H-P Alt Dark, and sat and talked to Scoats and his girlfriend for a while, then hit the road for home. Another great night at the Grey Lodge.
3/3: A little relaxation in a long day. I went to Arlington today for a friend's father's funeral. I'm not writing about that, except to say that it was extremely moving, and if you haven't been to Arlington National Cemetery, you should go and see the price some brave men and women paid for you. I felt small, and humble, and grateful. Then I went to Cafe St.-Ex to wind down a bit, and do some interviews for a piece on the place for DC Style. Had a cool, spicy glass of Allagash White with a fried oyster sandwich (ciabatta, chipotle mayo, is this standard dress anymore, or what?) that was just the stuff. I was going to get a cocktail then, but the bartender was making drinks like he was a work in progress, so I just asked for an Elijah Craig 12 Year Old with water back. Sure enough, the kid pours about 3 and a half ounces in the glass, then stands there and looks at it. Off-duty bartender: "Dude, that's a double." Well, what are they going to do? They give me a double, and I co-operatively drank it, and just enjoyed the blazes out of myself doing it. They're expanding their whisk(e)y selection, looking good already. "Okay," I said, "your beer selection's a big deal, your spirits are a big deal, what about the wine." Bar manager: "A big deal. Pretty much if it's got enough alcohol in it to clean CDs, it's a big deal for us." They taste everything, and make their bar purchases on that basis, not what the wholesaler's pushing. Add that to the existentially hip French 1930s aviation theme, and you've got a killer cool bar.
I finally left, flew up I-95, and hit traffic from the Ben Franklin Bridge as I got into Philly. So I got off at Broad Street, cruised north, and wound up at Ten Stone on South Street. Just starting to hop, and I grabbed a back bar seat. I got a Yards Philly Pale (and why not? Lew Bryson recommends it) and relaxed; I was a little twitchy from the amount of caffeine I'd stoked in order to make the 9:45 funeral. Then the owner showed up, one thing led to another, and I got a New Holland Dragon's Milk. I've seen a lot of New Holland's beers around here lately, and I have to be honest: I have not been impressed. The IPA was thin and brackish, the PHI was only okay, and this bottle was turning sour. I've had a lot of bourbon barrel-aged beer since that thing started (had my first one back in 1996), and I never had one that tasted this sour. Not the barrel. Disappointing. Too bad, but Ten Stone kept my attitude up, place is too cool to do otherwise.
2/27: I've checked another bar off the "places I gotta get to" list: Ortino's Northside, in Zieglerville. Where's Zieglerville, you might ask? Simple. Go to Collegeville, and head north on Rt. 29. When you pass through Schwenksville (sound German enough for you?) you'll see Ortino's on your right...but keep going. That's the original Ortino's. Ortino's Northside is about two miles on up the road on your right, just as you crest a hill, so keep an eye open. I went there tonight for a Belgian beer dinner. Take a look at that sign: that is a water-pumping windmill you see in the lower left. Ortino's is that far out in the country, but they put on a sold-out Belgian beer dinner that featured eight Belgian beers and Three Philosophers. Not bad for Zieglerville, which led my dinner companion, the aged but still thoughtful Jack Curtin, to proclaim "We've won the war, we just don't realize it yet." Almost true, Jack, almost true, and something I'll be expanding on in the March Buzz. The dinner was quite impressive, suffering only slightly from the first-timer's fault of too much beer (I got to try out my new CA-2000 breathalyzer, and gave it a work-out; still safe at 0.04 BAC) and some overdone mussels. Overall, the food was quite nice, including a bountiful fruit and cheese plate, lamb stew, roast pork in a chocolate stout mole with whipped sweet potatoes, and a white chocolate fudge torte with a framboise glaze that was really toothsome, a dessert that could have been overly sweet but was deftly handled by the man you see to the left, Dave Romero. (Dave's going to be opening his own place in Perkasie in April or May, and Jack and I were vying to see who could give him the best advice on what good beer to put in. He only has four taps, so the best advice we gave him was don't waste any of them on mainstream beer, serve that in bottles. Save the taps for out of the ordinary stuff. Right? Damn straight.) Hats off to John Ortino for putting on a very nice dinner, and to a nice commentary by Pete Cherpack.
2/22: I finally stopped in to visit the Grey Lodge's new second floor: Outstanding. A beautiful little snuggery over the dive we've learned to love, the second floor is prettier, with snazzy wood paneling and a real back bar, mirrors, and a solid wooden bar Pat McGinley salvaged from (I think) the Chestnut Hill Hotel. The taps are neatly and compactly (two words that describe a lot of the second floor) arrayed at the left end of the bar, the high-end whiskies are clearly displayed (finally!) on the back bar. I had a Lake Placid Frostbite IPA, and it was all that: fresh, brisk, hoppy, and very tempting to have another. The bar is a short J-shape, with one of the stools unfortunately jammed under the jukebox, an arrangement that can't last. There are benches, tables, some very nice light fixtures, and a bay window overlooking Frankford Avenue. Pat said they were thinking about putting curtains over that, I strongly disagree. Some decorative bar stuff on the sill, perhaps, but the window gives the room some much-needed open feeling, and curtains would cut down on that. It's like a flat-screen TV permanently set to the The Urban Street Channel.
And of course, there's a menu. I got the rib-eye cheesesteak with fried onions. The roll was good, but started to break up way too early. The meat was excellent, thick-cut stuff, the cheese was American (no choice, where's da Whiz?!) and plentiful. My only real complaint, though, was the niggardly portion of fried onions I got with the steak. One word to the bartender fixed that, though; I quickly had a plastic cup full of deliciously caramelized onions to dump on. "Ketchup?" he offered. No! I said. "Good," he said. "Something wrong with someone who wants to put ketchup on a cheesesteak." Yup. Then Pat forced samples of the Thai curry mussels on me and two couples who were also at the bar. Frankly, I wouldn't have ordered something called "Thai curry mussels," give me clean mussels steamed in beer or smothered in garlic sauce and leave me alone. What a moron. These mussels were obscenely delicious, embarrassingly good, and I wielded the small club of garlic bread as a sponge, sopping up every bit of the spicy, tangy sauce. The second-best mussels I've had in my life, and when you figure the best I've ever had were in Ireland on the second day of my honeymoon, well...nice work from chef Jeff Mongoleuzi. I was on my way home, so it was just beer, chow, and go, but I'll be back, if only for the other great thing about Upstairs: smoke-free, baby.
2/17: Goat Stew and old video games, and two great bars in Brooklyn. I was invited to take part in a New York Times tasting panel on pilsners by staff wine writer Eric Asimov. I did, and it was fun and enlightening (and I'm not going to say anything more because it's his piece, not mine). Afterwards fellow panel participant Phil Markowski (brewer at Southampton Publick House) and I decided to check out what Neill Acer was brewing up at West End. After a brief subway ride and a cold but pleasant walk in bright sunshine, we reached the place. College bar look and feel, good bartender, but the beers weren't inspiring. The Holiday Ale was an okay spiced ale (but I'm not a big spiced ale fan), and the Kero-Wack Triple was way too fruity/estery, and tasted old. Damn. So we went our separates and I took the L train to Brooklyn; I wanted to visit Barcade and Spuyten Duyvil, two new bars I had been meaning to check out. Neither was open when I got there, so I grabbed a dinner of goat stew with rice and beans at a local Spanish restaurant, read the paper, and then hiked down to Barcade.
Barcade is in an old metal shop, and not much has been done to spruce it up. It's an urban space, for sure, with brick walls, concrete floor, some rough furniture, and about 25 vintage ("old") video and pinball machines around the walls: "Barcade," get it? They've got classics like 1943, Moon Patrol, Galaga, Berzerker...no Spy Hunter or Boskonians, though. That concrete floor is sloped, so the seats vary in their height relative to the bar; check it out before picking where to sit! The real attraction is the beer, it has been since it opened last fall. 25 quite impressive taps, all-American except for Guinness. Not all big, not all hoppy, and a different selection from most other places. One of the owners was tending bar, he said they don't advertise much, they like to keep it local, and that's working fine for them. The Fisherman's Brew (Cape Ann Brewing, Gloucester, Mass.) I had was well-kept and malty-tasty; I also got a sample of Sixpoint's Amber: nice, flavorful, a bit rough-cut, good beer. Enjoyed the place a lot, but I had to keep moving to catch my train home.
Next stop, Spuyten Duyvil. I ran into owner Joe Carroll down at Monk's the week before, and he easily talked me into a visit. Take a look at that chalkboard of Belgian bottles, and you'll know why. Spuyten is not easy to find -- it has no sign -- but if you just look for the red store front, you'll be right. I got a Hanssens Kriek and started enjoying the blazes out of it. SD has a little menu of cheeses, bread, and pates and such, and the whole place is very clean and orderly. The Belgian bottle list is deep, the six taps are about the best six taps you'll find, and the decor is quirky and attractive. Well-worth a trip out of the way. Me, I split one more beer with beer enthusiast and cartoonist Bill Coleman, then made every single connection by seconds to catch my train home. Beer is lucky.
2/12: Stopped in Bridgewater's Pub on my way home from the World Cafe Live beer fest (more about that shortly). Bridgewater's, if you haven't heard of it, is a pub tucked right into 30th Street Station. I'd just heard of it for the first time about a month ago, and had put it on My List of Bars To Get To. So when I was hustling through 30th Street on the way to my train home and saw their sign, well... Screw the train, screw the schedule, I had to stop. I slid into the British train-culture-looking bar, with its wooden window-wall, and grabbed a seat at the bar. Hey, a Victory tap: I ordered that. Turned out to be Golden Monkey, just what I needed to make the train ride slide by. They also had Flying Fish Dubbel, Young's Special (a pleasant surprise), and Stoudt's Pils, along with a high-end selection of spirits. I didn't have time for food (nor the inclination after chowing at World Cafe), but the menu had a surprising selection of innovative vegetarian dishes and seafood and game selections. Very impressive; I'll be back.
2/10: I met Victory Brewing sales mahoff Steve German at the Spinnerstown Hotel today. You should go. This place is so easy to get to, it's embarrassing that it's taken me so long to do it. From the Quakertown exit off the Northeast Extension of the PA TP, go west about half a mile on Rt. 663, take a right at the blinker, and go to the next light: The hotel sits on the corner. It has been a tavern since at least 1819, because that's when its license was taken away by the state because the owner, Mr. Spinner, had become a justice of the peace. The state didn't think he should be both JP and tavern-owner, but Spinner kept right on running his tavern, and finally, in 1822, sent a petition to the state bearing the signature of every adult male in the township requesting the license be re-instated. It was, and a tavern it has remained. The Dale family bought it in 1959, and John Dale, a quite personable fellow Steve introduced me to, took the place into Beerland about two years ago. When we visited, the taps included wake-ups like Gulden Draak and Blithering Idiot. "We're a little on the high end right now," admitted Hal, the bartender. Indeed. Food is excellent (the mushroom soup is great), atmosphere is a pleasant blend of old and new, and the beer is well-kept and only getting better. This is going to be a more regular stop for me, I think; too easy to pass up!
12/28: This is one of the main reasons I started this section: Kostritzer Maibock. I didn't even know Kostritzer made a maibock, let alone one that rocked this hard. I was at Ray's Marlin Beach in Pittsburgh when I had this, and was simply blown away. One of the best beers I've had in at least three months. The classic maibock combo of solid malt, funky alcohol afterburner effect, and noble hop flavor, wham-bam-slam. Matt Guyer got a couple kegs in at the Beer Yard, and they went to the Boathouse in Conshohocken and the Wooden Iron in Wayne. Keep an eye out for this stuff, it is fantastic.
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Revised: January 08, 2006