Robert Burns Dinner at Sly Fox

On Friday, January 23, D and I were pleased to participate in our first Robbie Burns Birthday Bash. From the Sly Fox website:

Sly Fox’s seventh annual celebration of the birthday of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, has its roots in the Burns Suppers which are held in his native country around the same time. These began in the late 18th century to mark the anniversary of his death but were eventually changed to January 25, the date of his birth. The Sly Fox party is held each January on the Friday nearest that date.

The Burns Birthday Bash attracts many fans of Burns’ poetry and Americans of Scottish descent from all around the region as well as beer fans who’ve waited anxiously for the release of our Gang Aft Agley Scotch Ale on that night.

We were so glad David and Sarah were able to score a table, as the beer and Burn’s fans, many of them garbed in kilts, crowded into Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery in Phoenixville to hear the band and partake of the haggis. Poetry readings and piping pulled the whole night together.

There was a long line-up of beer, but most notable were the 2009 Gang Aft Agley and Burns Scottish Ale on the handpumps and on draft. Also, a keg of 2007 Gang Aft Agley was on draft. The Piping of the Haggis was quite a sight to see, and I even broke my personal rules and tasted it (just between me and the entire blogosphere, I kinda’ liked it! – sort of a pate quality to this haggis!)

My favorite part of the night was when the band played Whiskey in the Jar (a favorite of mine from Off Kilter – an Epcot house band) and Charley on the MTA (a favorite of mine from camp!)

I’ll post photos later if I get a chance, but right now I need to get to bed…


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.

Queen City Brewing (Staunton, VA)

Just off Interstate I-81 is the historic little town of Staunton, VA.  Brick sidewalks line the rolling hills of the downtown area, and old buildings appear to be restored into useful locations for the locals.  And tucked off on the north-west side of town is a great little spot called Queen City Brewing, which is Staunton’s first brewery since Prohibition.  We found it on Wednesday afternoon, and it’s taken me this long to post about it.

This place has a fabulous set-up for both brew-your-own and vint-your-own.  One wall was lined with the large glass bottles of wine in the making…it was so pretty to see all of the different colors with gentle back-lighting, and reminded me of the days when my father used to create his own homemade wines.

The brewing area was most fascinating – set-up like one of those supper kitchens (where busy working people can pay to create meals for the family that are easy to heat and eat). Just like finding all of the ingredients chopped and ready, this place has multiple barrels of malt, multiple brew kettles ready with mash paddles all lined up, water lines…pretty much anything a person would need at each workstation.  On our visit, there were two parties bottling, and the process appeared to be going very smoothly.  One couple was working together – this was her Christmas present to him.

Wade, the head brewer (and one would assume owner and creator, although we never confirmed that information) offered us each three samples in little plastic cups.  There were twelve styles, and we tried the following:
+ Bavarian Bock
+ Scotch Ale
+ King Rabbit
(an IPA/Tripple hybrid at 9% ABV)
+ Brass Rabbit IPA (very Brittish in style – made with Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, and dry-hopped with Cascade)
+ Queen’s Milk Stout (this was a thin…)
+ Imperial Stout (increased malt and hop flavor)

We made a mixed six-pack of 12 oz bottles containing Brass Rabbit IPA, Imperial Stout, King Rabbit, Scotch Ale and White Rabbit Apricot Wheat, then headed out of town.

Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, Farmville NC

How very lucky for us that Duck-Rabbit was brewing on Friday, and accepted us as visitors!  This crude-on-the-outside building on the edge of town is a sparkling vision on the inside.  The smell of brewing came wafting out the doors, and it was fabulous to meet the friendly guys inside.

Paul (the owner and head brewer) and Ken (the self-described crazy homebrewer and right-hand man) are masters of the craft and extremely personable guys.  They run a great operation, and focus on dark beers.  Paul is a philosopher (formerly a professor, if I understood correctly), and Siebel graduate.  He’s been brewing for 20 years, and worked in Cincinnati and Louisville (Pipkin – now defunct) before opening this facility with a 20-barrel brew kettle.

They can’t sell on the premisis, but pointed us in the direction to where we could purchase Duck-Rabbit products.  But we were offered tastings of the four standard brews.  Here are a few (brief) impressions:

  • * Amber – good tasting American amber; high in carbonation
  • * Porter – really enjoyable; dark, roasty and a smooth oiliness in the mouthfeel
  • * Brown Ale – my favorite of all the ales; full hoppy flavor – made with Amarillo (YUM!) and Saaz hops, it had a fabulous aroma and equally pleasing flavor; not an English Brown, but a hopped-up good ol’ American brown
  • * Milk Stout – the subtle sweetness of this stout gave it a bright, lively flavor

We learned that the Brown Ale is made with a process called First Wort Hopping (FWH), which was a new concept to both of us.  It raises the IBU’s without creating an overpowering hop aroma or bitterness, resulting in a more balanced beer.  Perhaps that is the other reason I liked it so much.

We also learned about the seasonals: Barleywine (made with 95% Amarillo hops) in the winter, Rabid Duck Imperial Stout in the spring, Wee Heavy Scotch Style Ale in the summer and Baltic Porter in the fall.

I hope to get photos up as soon as we get home…we’ll see if that happens!

Three Floyd’s Brewing Company (Munster, IN)

We decided to forgo the entire Chicago scene (Taste of Chicago looked like a really great time, but going into the city on the fly would have been such a pain.  We felt the same way about going into Goose Island Brewing Company – just too close to the city for this trip.)  Instead, we headed south to Munster, IN for Three Floyd’s Brewing Company.

The minute we walked into Three Floyd’s (which features a fairly new brewpub…they use to serve through a concessions window directly from the brew room), it was important to keep in mind a common tagline on their beers: “It’s Not Normal.” Continue reading

Arcadia Brewing Company (Battle Creek, MI)

As a special treat for our fourth wedding anniversary, we stayed at the Rose Hill Inn in Marshall, MI, which is an elegant Victorian home built in 1860.  The grounds were spacious and well-groomed. The pool looked inviting (heated using a solar system!) and they thought of everything for the guests – cold drinks, fresh-baked cookies, chocolate and salty snacks, antiques to view and purchase, common rooms with TV and DVD, wireless (which we couldn’t access) and a house cat.

After a hearty breakfast of coffee, fresh fruit, yogurt, freshly baked cinnamon-chocolate rolls, toast, and scrambled eggs with cream cheese, chives and ham, I was ready to do the Marshall Riverwalk!  We found an elaborate trail that mixed concrete and composite plastic, and it gave plenty of shaded walking areas with multiple river overlooks.  Our out-and-back trek was 2.1 miles with a nice mix of flora and fauna to observe along the waterway.

We returned to checkout at the Rose Hill and Jerry, the innkeeper, asked if we were headed to Battle Creek for Arcadia Brewing.  It hadn’t been in our plans, but after looking at a map, it was directly on the way, so we took on the challenge. How nice that we did! Continue reading