Red Star Sunday Brunch

You wouldn’t know it from their website, but the most fabulous brunch in southwestern PA is held on Sundays from 10 AM – 4 PM at Red Star Brewery & Grille in Greensburg.  And naturally, we were visiting for the beer, which has been brewed on location since late 1998.  

We were doing some beer traveling this weekend, which I hope to write about soon, but Red Star was a clear highlight of the trip simply because we didn’t arrive with expectations of such wonderful fare! We were somewhat overwhelmed by what we found.

Red Star opens at 10 AM on Sunday, and today there was not a single customer in the place at that hour, so we “geek toured” the facility – taking photos of the beer menu, the bar, the trapeze artists swinging from the ceiling, the old train station benches, the brewing equipment…  We were seated, and then explored the brunch options without asking the price. In a beautiful facility, with so many freshly prepared options, we expected to pay a large price.

Instead, we were pleasantly surprised. For $14.99 we found a chef creating sushi rolls to our specifications (spicy tuna, smoked salmon with cream cheese, and crab), a Belgian waffle station with a variety of toppings, a made-to-order pasta and omelette station with a wide variety of “add ins”, a carving station with ham and savory cheese side dish, bacon, home fried potatoes, poached salmon and ratatouille, fresh fruit and a variety of desserts including beautiful cakes and cups of chocolate mousse. Additionally, eggs Benedict and banana nut bread were brought to our table.

Everything tasted terrific, and for a buffet situation, it was all beautifully presented. But of all the choices, I was most blown away by the eggs Benedict. The poached egg was so very fluffy that hidden under the hollandaise sauce (the most savory and delectable hollandaise sauce ever!), the egg looked like a dollop of sour cream! Oh my, was it rich. I was glad D and I shared one. The sushi was also impressive. Who would have thought we would find sushi for brunch in Greensburg?!? It was made exactly to order, and such a treat.

And with this lovely meal, we were able to order craft brewed beers after 11 AM. I was glad to see they had 10-oz glasses on the menu, and treated myself the Canvasback American Pale Ale, which is served on nitrogen (tiny bubbles go better with breakfast!) D had two fun and interesting beers – the Christmas Ale (Dark Wheat) and Santa’s Little Helper Barleywine (2007). The 2001 Barleywine was listed on the board, but it was bumped by Voodoo’s Child – a spiced Munich dunkel – which Heath tried (it was so smooth and creamy, I had to walk up to the bar just to make sure it wasn’t really on nitrogen.) Also at our table for tasting was Iron Horse Irish Dry Stout. All of the beers were good, but the Christmas Ale definitely won for “most interesting.” It had a rootbeer barrel aroma, and the flavors of fruit (cherry, cranberry and orange) and clove spice. This was Red Star’s first attempt at a Christmas Ale, and they stated it was modeled after no other. Fabulous job!

Our waiter, whose name I didn’t pick up, was terrific. He was attentive, but not overbearing. He was interested in knowing about our beer travels, but not nosey. Even when the place started to get busy, he kept an eye on our emptying plates and glasses. We really relaxed and enjoyed this meal (and it was all we needed to eat the remainder of the day!)

Advertisements

One Final VICTORY for Heavyweight

Both running on very little sleep these days, D and I arrived early at the “One Final VICTORY for Heavyweight” event at The Drafting Room in Exton with an expectation that there would be a line of people.  

At that hour (just after 11 AM), there were only a few people inside, and they weren’t serving beer or food, so we scored a good table. Thank goodness, because the room filled quickly, and the event became standing room only for many. We had an enjoyable time drinking some excellent brews with a table of friends, and talking to acquaintances who passed by, and got home in time for D to get a full nap before work.

This was the official release for Victory’s Baltic Thunder, and also a last(?) opportunity to get a selection of Heavyweight products in bottles (750 ml bottles for $14.95.)  Baltic Thunder was on tap, but also available in bottles for $7.95 (Ouch! It was only $34/case at Victory, so we were really thankful that Kim made the beer run to Downingtown!)

Event signage     Drafting Room Drafts     Bottles at Drafting Room   Peche?

[Perhaps it was the alcohol, but we were particularly amused by the Lindeman’s Pêche description, which went something like, “flavored with fresh raspberries to complement the tartness.” Ooops! Who’s the editor?]

We asked for our Heavyweight bottles just a little too late, missing out on Black Ocean (a schwartzbier.) Friends at our table bought and shared a bottle of Slice of Bread (a pungent and sour rye), which also ran out before we could get one to take home. Our table did obtain the last two bottles of Jakeldricka which we shared (a spiced herb ale, which I didn’t love, however, I went into this one with a bad attitude after reading descriptions like smokey, bacon bits, boiled cabbage and freshly chopped wood.) I believe this is the one that had a “lava lamp” quality to it, in that thick waves of sediment rolled through the glass during the entire time we were drinking it. D brought home a bottle each of Biere D’Art and Doug’s Colonial Ale.

Bottles of Heavyweight             “Lava Lamp”

On draft, also from Heavyweight, we had Perkuno’s Hammer (2006)– a Baltic porter brewed collaboratively with Lew Bryson (who defined it as, “a train wreck between a doublebock and an imperial stout,”) – and at our table (but not tasted by us), the Lunacy (2006) – a Belgian-Style golden ale.  As far as I know, no one at our table attempted the Baltus O.V.S. (2006), which was labeled “OXIDIZED – DRINK AT YOUR OWN RISK!”

I particularly enjoyed the Seven Threads Symposium Ale.  This dark brew was a blend of 8 locally-crafted ales, served only in 10-oz glasses for $2.95. D and I decided to share one glass, and I have to say I monopolized that glass!  Here is the description they provided:

Blended for 2005 Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia, this amalgamation consists of Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, Flying Fish Porter, Independence Oatmeal Stout (RIP), Iron Hill Pig Iron Porter, Nodding Head Grog, Stoudt’s Fat Dog Stout, Victory Storm King and Yard’s IPA…

I’ll have to see if D took any notes on it…I was too busy trying to maintain possession of it to write anything down!

Don’t worry about D not getting any beer, though! He started the day with Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, of which I got no more than a single sip.

Everything else we drank was from Victory, and my favorite of the list was the cask-conditioned Hop Wallop. The 8.5% ABV was masked by the smooth drinkability. I enjoyed it so much and was disappointed that I’d only ordered a 10-oz, but in terms of minimizing the alcohol and calorie consumption, it was a good idea. We also had the Harvest Ale (2007), and as mentioned earlier, the Baltic Thunder.

I know it sounds like a lot, but we did stick to the 10-oz glasses, and did lots of sharing, so with lunch and a couple cups of coffee, it really wasn’t overwhelming at all.

                        Crowd shot

This was my first trip to The Drafting Room, where there are 14 rotating taps, one cask-conditioned hand pump, and over 100 bottled beers. I especially like that the menu features “tapped on” dates (the website does, too, but it’s all out of date!) The food menu was also excellent. I really enjoyed my Moroccan salad, and the other plates looked yummy, too. And I like that they never add more than $10 to the PA sales price of a wine. This is a great place to meet with good friends for a good beer!

Liar’s Club – Alpine, CA

This morning we got up and did a little last-minute shopping before heading for the desert. Because we got out of town so late, we had an opportunity to stop for brunch in Alpine at the Alpine Inn.

It is a funky little place – dark inside, and made me think it’s where the old people go – but we really enjoyed our “Sunday Country Brunch”.  For $12.95, we had a choice of one of many menu items. D had the huevos rancheros, which came with rice, beans and hash browns. I had the seafood omelette with the tomatoes substituted for the potatoes. All brunch meals come with biscuits and gravy, and handmade Bloody Mary’s on the house.  Pretty good food, and very interesting place.

Heading toward the highway, we decided to check on the Liar’s Club (located at 2806 Alpine Blvd, Alpine, CA 91901) – did they open last night? Are they open now?

The answers were Yes, and Yes!  It was 11 AM, and they were just opening for the first full day of business.  What a great time we had there, too.  There were 32 active taps, and a few in reserve, as well as a large bottle selection.  They offered 10-oz glasses and pints, and the selection was terrific! We had a few things from the taps:

  • AleSmith Speedway Stout (awesome!!)
  • San Diego Brewing Co. Chocolate Porter (on nitrogen with a Hershey Bar tap handle)
  • Fox Barrel Cassis Cider (yummy!!)
  • New Belgium La Folie
  • Rubicon Wheat Wine

We really enjoyed the people, too.  Pete, our bartender who moved with the business, and Heidi, a bartender in training, were great with us and all of the incoming customers, and we met Louis Mello, the owner, and a guy who I suspect may be Al Guerra, the new business partner. Despite the first day hectic feeling, they were all very willing to share information about the place, the beers, and the beer scene.

                    Liar’s Club             C and D at Liar’s Club

I know I’m not “from here”, but I can say with conviction that this is a great beer bar and so very worth the beautiful drive from the city. The selection is amazing – anything you could want (except a macro) – and the food looked great. It will get louder once televisions are installed, but otherwise, it’s got everything going right for it. Oh – and best bathrooms of the trip! The ladies room was really pretty, with a feminine selection of hand soaps and lotions. Hooray for a beer bar with a beautiful head!

C at Anza-Borrego

I’ve got some photos of the new place, and perhaps I’ll get some links and/or descriptions up later, but after a day in the desert (Anza-Borrego), and a long drive back to La Quinta, I’ve got to get to bed.

Congratulations on your opening, [New] Liar’s Club – we hope you are still around on our next visit!  BTW – anyone have a phone number for this place?

Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks

The so-often-mentioned-by-me “golden triangle of beer” in Central PA has become a trapezoid. That is my official position after spending Saturday night at Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks in Millheim, PA.  Tim Bowser, an owner, joked with me that perhaps it is now more like the Bermuda Triangle, which may be true as people taking the time to visit Selin’s Grove, Bullfrog and Otto’s will be drawn into the center to take in Elk Creek.

The PLCB came through late last Friday, and Elk Creek had a quiet opening.  Sam Komlenic reported the details of his visit and tour to Lew Bryson, but because of a heavy work and vacation schedule last week and my focus on Christmas shopping and Firkin Friday at Selin’s Grove, I wasn’t keeping up on my reading.  I learned about it via text message this weekend, and just happen to be staying less than 30 miles away so I jumped on the opportunity and my parents came right along.

Knowing the area well, I was surprised by the metropolitan flair of this place (the last great restaurant in the area – The Hummingbird Room – closed in 2005.) It’s a few doors down from the quaint Millheim Hotel where, at least when I was growing up, the salad bar is in a claw-foot bathtub (another interesting fact – this circa 1794 hotel is haunted by the mistress of President Millard Fillmore.) It, too is a fun spot to dine, but it’s charming in a small-town kind of way.

From the large windows of the Elk Creek Cafe, I watched at least three Amish horse and buggies pass by the other two restaurants on the main street – Brownies Valley Tavern and The Pizza Shop. Their polished black boxes connected by strong wood and leather strappings to a single horse offered a glimpse of women and children wrapped in blankets and men in suspenders and black dress hats. I challenge you to name another brewpub where you can see that!

Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks is located in the former Equinox Cafe location – it can’t be missed in such a small town, but just in case you decide to visit, the intersection is routes PA-45 and PA-445 (the only stoplight in town) and the address is 100 W. Main Street.  The street view is full floor-to-ceiling windows and the brightness of the interior lights up the downtown. It has a beautiful yellow glow, which reflects off the honey wood floors, and colorful displays artwork throughout the restaurant add an interesting aspect to the otherwise simple decor. There is a real feeling of openness to the restaurant – we weren’t crowded, although the tables were nearly full.

Elk Creek - Exterior at Night     Elk Creek Selections

We did not sit at the bar, but it looked very nice with the handmade cherry and iron barstools.  The beer menu was on the table, and a chalkboard presentation of the beers and specials was on the wall. The food menu was printed just for the weekend, and I assume this will be a trend, as they feature fresh, local products (seen in italics where I’ve copied the menu at the end of this post.) In addition to “fresh and local”, this place features some of my other favorite buzzwords: organic, smoke-free and vegan. Chef Mark Johnson describes the his preparation style as Nouveau Dutchie Cuisine.

Brewer Tim Yarrington, who was dining two tables away with his family (but I was too shy/polite to interrupt them), has outdone the Penns Valley beer scene with his nice selection of ales. I didn’t ask if there are plans to put on a cask, but heard there are plans to expand the number and variety of offerings. I also am left wondering about the ABVs and IBUs…  Five beers were on tap yesterday, served in 5 oz glasses for $1 or pints for $3.95.  The selections were:

Winkleblink Ale– a light, perhaps kolsch-style, ale named for a nearby mountain. On the map, you will see it as Winklebleck Mountain in the Bald Eagle State Forest (the Mid-State Trail crosses this mountain when hiking from Hairy John’s picnic area to Raymond B. Winter State Park), but because of a lighted tower, the locals know it as “Winkleblink Mountain.”  The name is a bit esoteric, and should they ever look to rename it, let me offer up “Winklebleck Light.”
Great Blue Heron Pale Ale – an American Pale Ale that didn’t quite meet my expectations for flavor. It was lighter in color and lacking in the hop flavor and aroma that I expect in a Pale. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it – I did – I just didn’t like it enough to indulge in a pint.
Elk Creek Copper Ale – this is the kind of flavor I’m looking for in a session beer. It had a stronger hop profile than the Pale, and the darker color was visually more appealing.  Toffee sweetness complimented the floral aroma.  Elk Creek, by the way, is an important area waterway which once hosted mills and now provides recreation through kayaking and fly fishing.
Brookie Brown Ale– the big surprise of the night! Pop usually avoids browns (too sweet!), but based on the description, decided to try it. His first pint was a mis-pour of the Copper and he had to send it back, so when the Brown arrived looking much like the Porter, we suspected another mistake.  Not so! This did not have the hop aroma or full-bodied roastiness of the porter, but the chocolate and caramel malts kept the flavor strong and the color dark. It was an excellent and atypical brown ale.
Poe Paddy Porter– nostalgia abounded in the name alone, and then we tasted this beer based on Tim Yarrington’s GABF award winning porter recipe. It is a perfect porter – dark, smooth and roasty with an extra hint of hops in the aroma and the finish. It could only be better if only it were on cask…  I had my pint of porter with desert, and it really complimented the bread pudding (a small slice of bread pudding (which didn’t have the taste or texture of old bread!) topped with raisin sauce, citrus zest and vanilla ice cream.) Poe Paddy is a favorite local State Park on Penns Creek and near the Paddy Mountain Railroad Tunnel, which is a favorite Mid-State Trail day hike or bike ride for our family.

Our meals were just as good as the atmosphere and the beer. We started with the chicken liver toast – a lovely pate preparation best shared by the three of us. It was a wonderful treat that melted in my mouth. Pop had the Steak Frites (a pasture-raised grilled strip steak served with steak butter and  a generous portion of fries with aioli.) Nana had the pasture-raised burger, also served with the hand-cut fries. I had the potato-crusted wild Alaskan salmon, which was balanced over roast beet cubes and topped with horseradish sour cream and chives. It was perfect in flavor, but the presentation was lacking (dramatic, yet it looked lonely on such a big plate – a few greens or something scattered on the side would make all the difference!)

Our only real complaint was the waitress assigned to our table. The other wait staff seemed to be very friendly and efficient, but ours was inattentive, extremely soft-spoken, and generally not prepared to work with the public.

Two things I neglected to do is find out a phone number for this place, and whether or not they fill growlers. All of my searches for phone numbers come up with numbers for the Equinox (it rings busy at all times), and two personal phone numbers which I found on things like the State Inspection report. I’ll want to know those things eventually.

If I lived near Millheim, I would visit at every opportunity.  As a beer traveler, I hope to get back as often as possible.

TAVERN TAPAS

  • Cream of Broccoli + Parsley w/ Cheddar Soup
  • Elk Creek Flatbread + Hummus w/ Kalama Olives (vg)
  • Belgian Style Hand-Cut Fries + Elk CreekAioli or Tofu Mayo (vg)
  • Olive Salad Bruschetta (vg)
  • Mac + Frank + Fontina
  • House-Cured Gravlox + Poppy Crackers w/ Dijon Drizzle
  • Local Apple, Bacon, Cheddar + Baby Lettuce Salad
  • Roast Beet Salad w/ Toasted Caraway Vinaigrette (vg)
  • Mixed Baby Greens, choice of Vinaigrettes (vg) 

ELK CREEK ENTREES

  • Pasture-Raised Burger + Hand-Cut Fries w/ Elk Creek Aioli
  • Roasted Pepper + Marinated Portabella Sandwich w/ Hummus Mayo
  • Valley Ham + Swiss on Gemelli Ciabatta
  • Fillet of Beef Salad w/ Grilled Gemelli Ciabatta, Mixed Lettuces + Roasted Peppers
  • Bucatini w/ Elk Creek Puttanesca (vg)
  • Pasture-Raised Grilled Strip Steak + Fries w/ Elk Creek Aioli + Steak Butter
  • Butter-Basted Over the Moon Farm Chicken w/ Broccoli + House-cured Hog Jowl + Potato Gnochi 
  • Tender Callahan Pork Shoulder + Pork Belly w/ Butter Beans + Roasted Root Vegetable
  • Skillet Trout w/ Crispy Potatoes in a Brown Butter, Capers, + Lemon Pan Sauce  
  • Potato-Crusted Wild Alaskan Salmon, Horseradish Sour Cream + Chives w/ Roast Beets

Countdown to Christmas – Week 3

The third 7 days on the Advent Calendar of Beer

Dec. 15Old Fezziwig® Ale  (Samuel Adams) – Winter Warmer

Dec. 16 – Carolina Winter Porter (Carolina Brewing Company) – an American Porter created with Simcoe hops.

Dec. 17 – Christmas Ale (Corsendonk) – Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Dec. 18 – Winter Ale (Wyerbacher)

Dec. 19Cherry Vanilla Maple Porter (Brutal Deluxe Brewing) – our 2006 homebrew Christmas beer.

Dec. 20 – Anise Spruce Ale (Brutal Deluxe Brewing) This the second of two Christmas beers we brewed in 2007, and it’s possible there is a better name and I just don’t know it.  We were really looking forward to the spruce essence, but the star anise completely overpowers it – a bit reminiscent of NyQuil, unfortunately.  Hopefully it will mellow with time, but not in time for Christmas.

Dec. 21Gray’s Wassail (Gray’s Brewing Company); Olde Frosty IPA from the Firkin  and Solstice Dubbel (Selin’s Grove Brewing Company) – yes, it was a busy day of beer drinking on Friday. D had the Gray’s Wassail at home because he had to work, while I took the afternoon off and camped out at Selin’s Grove for six hours. 

I can’t speak for his Wassail, but I thoroughly enjoyed Olde Frosty IPA from the firkin! It was tapped at 3:30 PM, and kicked in 1.5 hours.  I had the honor of finishing off the last 1/2 pint! It had a piney hop character with hints of caramel sweetness, and the flavors of the wood really came through (apparently it was only in there for 4 days.) This is a beer I’ve looked forward to tasting all year, and I wasn’t disappointed. I brought home a growler of Olde Frosty on CO2 for D to try, and it will be interesting to compare.

Also, Selin’s Grove brought out the Solstice Dubbel on this special day, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The Pumpkin Ale was still on (but I bet it isn’t any longer), so I had a 1/2 pint of that, as well as a glass of Razz Merry.  My holiday favorites – all in one place!

Countdown to Christmas – Week 2

The second 7 days on the Advent Calendar of Beer

Dec. 8   – Christmas Ale (Great Lakes Brewing Company)

Dec. 9   – Old Man Winter (Southern Tier Brewing Company)

Dec. 10 – Mad Elf 2006 (Tröegs Brewing Company)

Dec. 11Santa’s Private Reserve (Rogue Ales)

Dec. 12 – Snow Goose Winter Ale (Wild Goose Brewery)

Dec. 13 – Snowcap (Pyramid Breweries) on draft at the Brewhouse Grille, Camp Hill (PA)

Dec. 14 – 2007 Christmas Ale (Sly Fox Brewing Company)

Countdown to Christmas – Week 1

The first 7 days on the Advent Calendar of Beer

Dec. 1  – St. Bernardus Christmas Ale in a bottle (Brouwerij St. Bernard)

Dec. 2  – 2007 St. Fillian’s Wee Heavy Scotch Ale (aka Barleywine) on Cask (Selin’s Grove Brewing Co.)

Dec. 3  – Bush de Noël – Scaldis Noel (Dubuisson)

Dec. 4  – Razz Merry (Selin’s Grove Brewing Co.) – a brown ale made with raspberries; had it straight up, and also in a 1:2 blend with Shade Mountain Oatmeal Stout

Dec. 5  – Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2006 (Anchor Brewing Co.)

Dec. 6  – Samichlaus Bier 2003 (Schloss Eggenberg)  This beer gets a special mention since it is brewed only once a year on December 6.  We drank it to honor this year’s batch.  According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the strongest lager beer in the world with 14 % alcohol and 32° original extract content.

Dec. 7  – New York Lights Christmas Ale (Brutal Deluxe Brewing)  This is our homebrew, and one of two Christmas beers we brewed in 2007.  This particular beer was brewed during a camping trip at Watkins Glen, and the flavor was enhanced with orange zest, cinnamon sticks and fresh ginger.  Right now, the ginger is a bit overpowering, but we’re hoping it will mellow a bit.  It did have a really nice head and a beautiful amber glow.

Countdown to Christmas – Introduction

Give it to D to find a creative way to clear out some of the inventory…  How about a new and/or different beer each day between December 1 and 25?  He calls it his Advent Calendar of Beer.

Instead of little candies, we get little beer surprises each day.  I’m not exactly sure what the rules are – perhaps he’s making them up as we go along – but it’s been fun trying.

We kicked it off with a weekend away on December 1 and 2, joining up with friends and traveling the “golden triangle of PA beer,” which includes Otto’s Pub & Brewery in State College, The Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, and Selin’s Grove Brewing Co. in Selinsgrove. 

In addition the the three brewpubs, we enjoyed several additional stops including Zeno’s Pub in State College (where I picked up my St. Nicholaus Brewer’s Reserve in the pretty velvet bag!), a private tasting with the Ferry’s, and an extra visit to Bullfrog for Sunday Brunch (yummmm – beer and eggs – the last time I did that was at Holy Cow in Las Vegas.)

Over the course of the trip, we consumed the brews below.  I know the list looks long, but remember that there were 4 of us traveling, 8 of us at the tasting, and the three brewpubs all offered half-pints. 

At Otto’s – they had 10 beers on tap plus 2 on the handpump

  • Arthur’s Amarillo Pale Ale on cask
  • Mom’s Elderberry Stout
  • Ottonator Doppelbock
  • Apricot Wheat
  • Jolly Roger Russian Imperial Stout on cask

At Zeno’s – so many taps and bottles, we can’t count that high…3 cask beers (there is a good reason this place was placed in the Top 50 Places to Have a Beer (#41))

  • Arthur’s Amarillo Pale Ale on cask (again!)
  • St. Nick Bock – Penn Brewing
  • Gouden Carolus Ambrio
  • Bell’s Two Hearted – featured on the TODAY show this week
  • St. Bernardus Christmas Ale – this is the first year available in US in bottles, and was the honorary first beer on the Advent Calendar.

At Bullfrog – they had 12 of their own (2 on cask) and two guest taps; unfortunately the Hop Harvest kicked the previous day.

  • Blue Collar Brown on cask
  • Wolfsblood Scotch Ale
  • Lights Out Imperial Stout
  • Edgar IPA
  • Inspiration Red

In bottles at the Ferry’s house (I think more were consumed – these were just for the tasting; many more were not consumed!)

  • Strawberry Creme Ale – Brutal Deluxe Brewery (our homebrew)
  • Mount Desert Island Ginger Beer – Atlantic Brewing Co.
  • Black Raspberry Reserve – Sly Fox
  • Christmas Ale – Great Lakes Brewing Co.
  • Old Man Winter – Southern Tier Brewing
  • Scratch Beer #4 – Troegs Brewing
  • Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2006 – Anchor Brewing Co.
  • 2007 Smoked Porter – Alaskan Brewing Co.
  • Hibernation Ale – Great Divide Brewing Co.
  • Old Abominable Barrel Aged/Bottle Conditioned Barleywine – Stout’s Brewing Co.

At Selin’s Grove – there were 8 beers on tap and 2 on the hand-pump

  • Pumpkin Ale on nitrogen
  • Mud Puppy Organic Brown Ale on cask
  • Mud Puppy Organic Brown Ale on nitrogen
  • India Pale Ale
  • St. Fillian’s Scotch Style Barleywine on cask; the second beer on the Advent Calendar

Thanks to Heath and Kim for keeping a great pictorial diary of the trip (most of the photos I’ll use in this post are his…they still need to be edited before they get added…)  It was great fun to travel with them. 

Dave and Pascha went out of their way to make our trip complete by hosting the tasting, providing a nice assortment of finger foods, and allowing us to sleep over (and Pascha sent me home with a great reading list!)  Thanks SO much to them, and their entertaining children. 

Mary and Steve were delightful company for the tasting, plus I got to see Mary’s Galapagos program, which was cool.  It was really fun to see them again.

What a nice way to kick off the month!

I Miss the Wind and À l’Abri de la Tempête

It’s disappointing to me that I was unable to keep pace with the blog this summer – we visited so many wonderful places, and had so many special beer experiences on our travels through New England, Atlantic Canada and the maritimes.  But an email from our dear acquaintance, Majorie, sparked my interest in making an update to a previous post.

I’m missing the wind today – the constant gusts of pure and perfect air blowing in from the large masses of of water that surround the Magdalene Islands (Îles de la Madeleine.)  This windswept archipelago of remote, beautiful, and amazingly unique islands is located 130 miles off the main coast of Quebec in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

Majo sent a photo of a new addition to À l’Abri de la Tempête (A Shelter from the Storm) on Île du Cap aux Meules – metal sculptures which she described as “planted in the wind” just outside the brewery – and it took my breath away.  You can’t imagine the wind on the Magdalene Islands, but I picked up on it in this photo.

Sculptures                 Flag

The Magdalene Islands are a combination of six islands connected by sandy beaches that stretch great lengths, and six additional islands (one of which is inhabited) and islets, many with high, red cliffs. 

I could go on and on about the colorful houses, welcoming inhabitants, charming artisan shops, and superb restaurants full of seafood and other fresh, local flavors.  We enjoyed birding with a local, walking the beaches, exploring the forests, meeting “Substitute Myna” (the benchmark hunting dog), boat trips to Entry Island and Isle Brion, picnics in the rain, watching kitesurfers, staying at sweet B&Bs, camping and exploring.

But this is a blog about beer travels, so I’ll stick to what I know and suggest everyone visit the tourism pages (or don’t…we really like that this is our secret place to visit!)  This was our second trip to the island (our first was in 2002; I believe the dates of this visit were July 18-24.)

                               Me outside “Shelter”

À l’Abri de la Tempête is located at the tip of Plage de l’Ouest (an 8-mile beach) on Île du Cap aux Meules (on Ch. Coulombe, L’Étang-du-Nord.)  It’s a converted fish processing plant, which, I know, sounds awful, but brewer Jean-Sébastien Bernier has done a fabulous job converting this plain building into a warm, welcoming and incredibly unique place to enjoy a pint.  It is the first, and currently the only, microbrewery on the Islands, and relies on fresh, local ingredients for production.

While much of the conversation and facts may have been lost in translation (the primary language is French with an Acadian flair, so there was a strong barrier for us), I believe that Jean-Sébastien not only created all of the lovely beer recipes, but also created the beautiful woodwork and unique tap system used to dispense his beers (there is another partner, Anne-Marie Lechance, mentioned in one article, but we didn’t meet her so I don’t know her contribution to the process.) 

Inside À l’Abri de la Tempête                     The View

There were four microbrews on tap during our visit, and they were all available not only at the pub in the brewery, but all four were also available at the restaurants for which they are named.  There was also a beer available in unmarked (therefor not available for take-out) bottles.  Here is what we tasted:

Écume Bière des Îles – Beer of the Islands – a light lager available in bottles as well as on tap.

La Pas Perdus– rousse/red – described as a Vienna lager; not very interesting but certainly not bad.

Le Vieux Couvent– a blonde made with spices and herbs; light and refreshing on those hot island days (one review, which I ran in the Google translator said, “A beer that will you rinse the slab after your next sunburn” – I don’t know what that means, but it makes me laugh!)

La Grave– described at the brewery as a “noire,” but I’ve seen it listed as a milk stout and would agree with that; a thin stout, but still held up to chocolate cake!

Corne de Brume – Scotch Ale (bottled only); this was absolutely our favorite – dark ruby red and malty – best served just below room temperature.  We particularly enjoyed it along with a small bowl of smoked herring fillets.  Oakes Weekly rated it Best New Beer of the Year in 2006!  Beer Advocate says it’s retired, but D posted an update today (a new run of 5000 bottles last week.)  Rate Beer puts it in the 99th percentile.

                      Corne de Brume

Now, when I say tasted, I really mean we had many pints at À l’Abri de la Tempête over the course of our week-long visit.  They sell a handled mason jar with their logo, which can be used for “take-out” (they don’t fill growlers, but these mason jars come with lids, so we were able to take a jar of beer each with us for our daily picnic on the beach.)  Also, each time we brought our jar in empty, we got $1 off our fills.

Le Vieux Couvent to Go           Taps     Shelter During the Storm

The people who worked there were all great, but we were particularly fond of Majorie as she gave us great advice about our visit, insight to life on the Islands and was an absolutely delightful and interesting person.  We were particularly amazed to learn about her “other life” as a glass artist.  The only website I found with examples of her work just doesn’t do it justice.  She makes some amazingly unique and beautiful glass sculpture, and I think of her daily when I admire my glass ball ornament now hanging in our kitchen window.

                     The Pour              Menu

In typical Magdalene Island fashion, the menu included all foods from the islands.  Locally produced cheese, smoked herring, seal and seasonal vegetables, fruits and flowers could be among the things found on a snack plate.  There were also handmade glass mugs and soaps available for purchase.

Well, obviously, I could go on, but À l’Abri de la Tempête really a place you need to discover for yourself.

A piece of advice: If you visit this brewpub, don’t go on as part of a tour bus, and if you can avoid it, don’t go when a tour bus is visiting.  We found the evenings to be particularly enjoyable.

Barley’s Taproom (Asheville, NC)

We had some time to kill before we could get into our hotel, so we headed downtown to Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria.  It was easy to find parking in the lot just down the hill, which has designated spaces for the public, and a ticket machine to pay for the space with coins, dollars or credit card.  Barley’s is in a 1920’s appliance store – a large open space on the first floor with beautiful old wood, and a terrific large bar.  There are 45 taps total (25 taps on the main level; an additional 20 in the smoky upstairs billiard area), and there are only a few repeats. Barley’s charges no cover for music, and is non-smoking until 10:00 PM. 

We had a very friendly staff member at the bar, who allowed us small tastes of a few things before making our choices, and when we ordered our glasses, we enjoyed the following:

Catawba Valley Whiskey Brown (7% ABV; from Glen Alpine, NC), which had the obvious flavor of whisky coming through, but I also tasted “tootsie roll” and cinnamon, and found it was a reminiscent of Old Chub.  This brown ale is barrel-aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels for six months and cask conditioned for secondary fermentation, then blended with younger beer.

Vortex 1 I3PA from Pisgah Brewing Company (10.8% ABV; 133 IBUs – served in a 10 oz glass), which had the nose of Tang (instant orange beverage), and a nice dry flavor.  There was not a hint of citrus/grapefruit to this beer, made with Chinook and Nugget hops (one pound of dry hops per barrel.)

Catawba Valley Firewater IPA (5.6% ABV), which I don’t recall having much to say about other than, “Hmmm…that’s good.”  It had a memorable copper color and flavor that would make it “almost” a session beer were it not for the alcohol content; it had five varieties of malt and six hop additions.

While finishing off our pints, we overheard a couple asking for “the new beer store”, which we quickly determined was Bruisin’ Ales.  We gave them directions (just down the street), and I shared my digital photos so they would know what to look for.  When they left, we noticed that Nate Merchant (of Hart Distributing) was sitting at the bar doing some work, and we invited him to come down.  It was great to chat with him for just a few minutes and learn about the import, premium and craft brewed beers that can be found in North Carolina, as well as the process of getting them there.  We really appreciated the time he took to explain it all – with the changing laws from state to state, and so many tricks to the industry, it’s sometimes difficult to make sense of it all.