Original Gravity Brewing Co. (Milan, MI)

It’s the beginning of a “beer-cation”, and we travelled straight to Michigan for the start. There’s a little brewpub in Milan, Michigan that we have missed out on so many times coming through this area. We made it a point to get here today, and Original Gravity does not disappoint!

One block off what appears to be a “town square” (or maybe it was my sleepy-eyed perspective), at 440 County Street, is a little brick building with a packed parking lot. Arrive between 3 and 11 on Monday, and it will be Happy Hour all day. On Tuesday through Friday, it goes from 3 PM – 6 PM (and they remain open until 11.) Happy hour means a tall (20 oz) for the price of a small (10 oz.) We missed that, but it’s okay because neither of us needed talls…there are so many good beers to choose from!  BTW – Original Gravity also keeps Saturday hours from 11:30 AM to 11 PM, and the owner/brewer told us he will often “open” when he’s here other hours.

Original Gravity (Milan, MI)

Brad Sancho is the owner/brewer, and he was fairly quick to come and greet us. He seems to be friendly with all of the customers, and willing to make recommendations up and down the bar.  The bar seats about 15 people, and wraps around the taps with the brewing area behind. A larger L-shaped dining room wraps around the bar, and some of the tables stick out as being unique – doors refurbished as tables. A shelf of games gives the impression that you are welcome to come and stay awhile, and outdoor seating to the back of the place looks welcoming on a warm, dry day.

Original Gravity (inside!)Currently on tap are seven beers, and so far, not a bad one among them! We’re finding the following (I’m stealing some of the descriptive language from the web site):

  • Southpaw IPA (O.G = 1.064; ABV 6.6%) has a pronounced hop flavor and aroma. It’s deliciously citrusy from tons of Cascade and Amarillo hops.
  • Belgian Training Wheels (O.G. = 1.054; ABV 5.7%) is a Belgian Golden Ale brewed with Belgian candi sugar, wheat, and pilsner malt. The unique Belgian yeast strain gives this beer a citrusy and slight tart finish.
  • Mason Brewer (O.G = 1.050; AVB 5.2%) is an English style Special Bitter named after Brad’s son. It is brewed with a variety of English malts, including wheat and rye.
  • County Street Amber (O.G. = 1.054; ABV 5.5%) is a roasty Red Ale with caramel notes, balanced with loads of Cascade and Amarillo hops. With OG’s opening during the hops shortage, this was his substitute for an IPA for some time, and it holds up the hops!
  • Primordial Porter (O.G = 1.058; ABV 5.3%) was the very first beer brewed here, and it is a robust porter! Almost black in color with a complex malt profile, it balances chocolate and coffee roastiness.
  • Orange Peel Wheels(O.G. = 1.054; ABV 5.7%) is the Belgian Training Wheels infused with dried orange peel. It has a delicate citrus flavor and aroma, lending to a delicious starter beer for the evening.
  • Vanilla Java Porter(O.G = 1.05O8; ABV 5.3%) has a description of “beer, coffee, vanilla… Mmm” on the board, menu and web site. It is a slightly aromatic and sweet porter, so dark that not a speck of light comes through. The roasty quality of the porter is strong enough to keep this from being a sugar-coated girly beer.

There is a nice menu of sandwiches, and fortunately we were attracted to the same thing. Not only did they let us share, but served the halves in separate baskets with a pickle for each of us (no fighting!) Our mesquite-smoked turkey with guacamole and Vermont cheddar was served on panini bread with a bag of Brickman’s Original Kettle Crunch chips (made in Grand Rapids.) On the side, we shared a Landjaeger* Sausage (yummm!)

Original Gravity beers range from $3 to $3.50 for a 10-oz pour and a $4.50 – $5 for a 20-oz.  In addition to the sandwich menu (which includes deli and veggie combos, grilled cheese and PB&J), there are peanuts, pretzels and chips with salsa. Additionally there are Sprecher sodas available (root beer, cream soda, cherry cola (Dain, I think you owe me one of these!) and orange cream.

We had a really nice time at OG – the bartender, Stephanos (sp?), took great care of us and the locals were all chatty. It’s down on our list of places that “if I lived here, I would come here all the time!” I hope if you are reading this and you live there, you go often. It’s worth it!

* pork and beef, garlic, coarse ground, semi-dried German Hunter sausage from Usunger’s summer sausage collection, served in bite-sized slices for $2.50.


Russian River Brunch

Teresa’s Next Door in Wayne, PA did a really wonderful job of  hosting a Russian River Brunch today! There was a large crowd at the door for opening, and the welcoming host made an announcement assuring everyone that they would be let in and would get a table. People were quickly seated and served so efficiently. The staff did an amazing job handling this well-attended event.

We were extremely pleased with the 3-oz pours of Temptation (Batches 1, 2 and 3; 7.25 % ABV) – a blonde ale aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels with Brettanomyces – and found that batch 2 was most favorable at our table.

Next, we shared Vinnie’s Flight, which included taster pours of Blind Pig, Pliny the Elder, Damnation, and Salvation. At this point, the staff brought out a round of pastries, and started taking food orders.

With our lovely cheese plates, we had glasses of Pliny the Younger (10.5% ABV, a triple IPA that is hopped three times more than Pliny the Elder, then dry hopped four different times)and Consecration (10.5% ABV; a strong dark ale aged with currants for six months inside Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.) Also, the Holland’s ordered and shared a bottle of Supplication (Batch 3; 7.0% ABV; brown ale aged in French oak Pinot Noir barrels with sour cherries andthree strains of yeast.) PtY is always my favorite, and I milked it throughout the morning, but the sixtels of Younger and Consecration didn’t last very long!

Collaboration not Litigation was also flowing from the taps at Teresa’s. This blended Belgian-style strong ale weighs in at 8.72% ABV, and is a joint effort of Avery Brewing and Russian River Brewing. I won’t repeat the story behind it, but it’s easily found other places.

After that, I honestly have to say that I lost track of where my tastes were coming from… I mean, two friends and my husband were bringing me taster glasses, but I’m not sure which were from private collections and which were available for all, But a fine man named Kevin shared so many things that I’ll give him the credit. The beers were Depuration (Batch 1; 7% ABV; blond ale aged 15 months in oak barrels, with Chardonnay grapes and four strains of yeast added), Perdition (Batch 2; 6.1% ABV; Belgian-style pale ale with aromas of spicy hop, cinnamon, and pear), Beatification (which the website describes as a 100% spontaneously fermented beer using the oldest barrels that no longer have any wine flavor or oak flavor left in them), and Sanctification (Batch 3; 6.25% ABV; blonde ale fermented with 100% Brettanomyces.)

Again, I must compliment the staff of Teresa’s on such a well run tasting event. It wasn’t a cheap morning, but it was a fun time with friends we’ve known, and new friends made. Looking forward to another one soon!

Sweet Stouts – Priming up for EBF

I’ve neglected to follow up on the rest of our NC trip, and already we’ve already finished up another…Extreme Beer Fest!

I started this post on Friday, and it just goes to show that drinking and blogging don’t mix, as I never finished writing about the sweet stouts that stood out on that day as terrific primers for the festival ahead.

We stopped in Willimantic, CT at the old post office, which is now Willimantic Brewing Company, for lunch. I totally enjoyed my first S.W.A.K. Stout (5.4% ABV) so much that instead of trying something new, I had another! This is described by the brewery as an unfiltered Black Ale mashed with seven malts, hopped with Saaz and “Sealed With A Kiss” of vanilla. It was outstanding!

When we arrived in Boston, we started out by sharing a growler of Captain Lawrence Espresso Stout before taking the T to Redbones for barbeque and their 24 taps, including a large selection of Sixpoint beers (I must admit I ate vegetarian and drank water from a mason jar, so I don’t have many comments on the ‘que or the beers based on the tiny sips I had…)

Our final stop for the night was Cambridge Brewing Company where I had the CaCow! Chocolate Milk Stout (6.4% ABV). Brewed with barley, oats and an addition of lactose, the description says CaCow! was additionally aged with cacao nibs from Taza Chocolate in Somerville, and house-made vanilla extract to balance the roast with a little extra sweetness. We had terrible service at CBC – pretty much ignored by the wait staff – but every beer at the table was delightful.

It was a great first night in Boston, with many, many great beers to follow!

Local 44 (Philadelphia, PA)

I just got back from Disney World. What do I want to do next? Make my first visit to Local 44, of course! It just opened on New Year’s day, and I’ve been itching to get there after reading all of the coverage.

D picked me up at the airport, and we were early to leave the city for the Seventh Annual Robbie Burns Birthday Bash at Sly Fox, so we decided to check out Local 44, which is one of West Philly’s newest pubs. It is located at the corner of 44th and Spruce, and there was plenty of street parking on our visit.

Local 44 is owned by Leigh and Brendan. Brendan is a proprietor of Memphis Taproom in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, and this space has a similar corner bar charm. The neighborhood is a safe and friendly residential area, and the plain storefront look hides the classy charm inside. The colors are sleek and rich, and the place just feels very comfortable.

When we first arrived, we were two of just a few other customers, so we had some nice conversation with Leigh. And when it got more crowded, she still did a fantastic job of making everyone in the growing house feel welcome and appreciated as a customer. It was obvious that most of the people were from the neighborhood, already embracing Local 44 as their “local” in the few short weeks it’s been open.

Local 44 specializes in session beers, serving mostly brews under 5.5% ABV and higher gravity beers in smaller quantities. Leigh was also happy to serve me half-pints, which was a welcome treat. There were 17 taps of goodness, and two PA beers on the handpulls, plus bottles of Orval – plenty of selection for beer drinkers across the spectrum – and the list is kept up to date on the website. Leigh was making fine recommendations to any neighborhood macro-drinkers who walked in the door, and could talk about breweries and fermentables with the geeks. This girl knows her beer, and she was a wealth of information.

The taps we enjoyed were:

In addition to the beers, I snacked on the tacos, which come in fish or tofu (both sounded delicious, but I opted for plantain-encrusted mahi mahi with guacamole – check out a photo on the Beerlass blog.) The whole menu was mouthwatering, and there was a smooth way about placing salt, pepper and Sriracha on the bar for use while food was present, then slipping it away at the end of the meal.

Getting to the Local 44 from our home won’t be easy, but when I’m in the neighborhood, it may be difficult to keep me away from that place. If you have SEPTA transportation available, use the 42 bus or the 34 trolley and have one of everything. They are all worth it!

Still Not an Upstate PA Beer Tour

We woke up to a world blanketed in snow – D went to Wegman’s and took coffee to Scott and Vickie (“wake up call!”) then back to our room, and we were out with enough time to eat at the Five & Dime Diner (loved my vegetarian omelet, and the bread for the toast was outstanding!) before heading west to Otto’s Pub & Brewery in State College.

Five & Dime Diner

Our local friends, Heather and Jake, came out to meet us at Otto’s and it was a nice visit. Vickie got a sample tray which included five beers, two of which she chose to be the cask ales. Scott and I had a Slab Cabin IPA and D had the Jolly Rodger. We certainly didn’t get to spend enough time there to thoroughly enjoy it, but we wanted to get to Zeno’s for the Black Lager – a rye beer brewed for Zeno’s by Otto’s. It was a great opportunity for me to sit at a quiet table and write “part 1”, while the rest of the crew socialized at the bar. D did make a run to Chumley’s for bottles of Shiner Holiday Cheer, and then we were off.

By late afternoon, we made it to Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks. We were greeted immediately by staff who were expecting us, letting us know that the Anniversary Ale was still on, and that Tim (the owner) sent his regards but couldn’t be there to meet up with us. Our waitress, Marcy, was extremely attentive and personable – she made it a terrific visit. I drank the Duckwalk Dunkelbock which was really tasty with my meal, and around the table, we were able to enjoy a some of the others:

  • Double Rainbow IPA
  • Poe Paddy Porter
  • Brookie Brown Ale
  • Old Millheim Strong Ale on cask (aged for a year)

We basically closed the place, which we are thrilled to report is now open until 5:00 PM on Sundays.

It was a great visit, but eventually we had to get moving. One more stop before home, because Selin’s Grove was not only on the way, but also Vickie’s favorite! So here we sit…enjoying the last moments of our tour before they need to go home.

It’s been a great time, and we hope they will come back to do at least part of this with us again sometime.  It’s a sure thing that we’ll be back to make the rounds again!

It’s Not an Upstate PA Beer Tour, Stupid*!

We had been planning a weekend to take our friends Scott and Vickie on a tour of some of our favorite brewpubs in the central PA region for several weeks. Snow couldn’t stop us from taking the trip, and snow probably contributed to a better time – no crowds and time to visit with owners, brewers and staff. What a fun time!

We started the day at Selin’s Grove Brewing Company, just shortly after opening. The Framboise came out this week, and they are serving it in 12-oz glasses for $6.50. It was such a beautiful color and the aroma of raspberry was so fresh and lovely! We talked briefly with Steve – the owner/brewer – and learned that the recipe is exactly the same as Razz Merry with a tweak here or there and an obvious improvement in the quality of raspberries. The expense comes from the fact that the raspberry crop yielded low amounts this year, but the raspberries available were higher quality and, as far as he’s aware, all US-grown.

You may have heard about the issues with the brew kettle which has caused a suspension in the sale of growler fills on all Selin’s Grove beers. I am happy to report that it has (so far) had no effect on the number of beers on tap – it was a complete list – and enough repair has been done to the brew kettle to brew two batches so far. It’s hard to tell how long it can hold up, but in the meantime, they are working on having a new one manufactured. The IPA is back to a more typical dry and spicy hopped beer after going citrusy for a few weeks, and the Organic Pils was terrific with a clean, thick head and bursting with hops. From the menu, we enjoyed the local cheese plate and the West Indian Pumpkin Soup – yum, yum!

From Selin’s Grove, we headed out into the snow to Danville to see what was happening at Old Forge Brewing Company. Things were steady, despite the snow, and the four beers have changed out. They are also much improved! We started with a sampler to share, just to get a taste for the new brews. Name That Beer is a mild that weighs in at 3.7% ABV, and as the name implies, guests are asked to make name suggestions (mine was a boring “Mill Street Mild” since I couldn’t come up with any tie-in names with the State Hospital, St. Cyril Academy or Geisinger.) The mild is similar to Inauguration Ale, but I think it is much better.

Brickscraper E.S.P. (as in “Pale”) was also on at 6%, and it was pretty right on. I really enjoyed the Ol’ Smitty Spiced Winter Ale – a 9.6% beer that was extremely fragrant with floral perfume and a typical winter spice flavor. The favorite by far at our table, however, was the Slack Tub Stout. It’s a great session beer, weighing in at 4.5% ABV, and is served on nitro.. It was a very dark brown with a medium dark head. It had a light, roasty malt aroma and was richly flavorful and creamy. The stout perfectly complimented our thick, creamy potato soup and Irish soda bread (?). We were equally pleased to finally meet Damian – the owner/brewer – and have a short conversation with him about the successful beginning of his business. He seems like a great guy, transplanted from the Philly area with a dream to make fresh, local beer. He’s really filling a need in that area of the state, and I hope the positive experiences we’ve seen are a reflection of the future.

The snow brought out some of the stupids – the travel on Route 11 between Danville and Berwick was unnecessarily slow – but when we got to One Guy Brewing Company, the parking lot and bar-seating was packed! It was great to see Guy doing such good business, despite the weather. And drinking his beers is a reminder of why he’s doing so well. Our friends Jason and Bob came over to Berwick to meet us (with snacks!), and at the table, we enjoyed the Atomic Punk IPA, the Berwick Lager and the Hefeweisen (some of us enjoying it with the apple cider added; others not so much.) It’s a great little space, with a friendly atmosphere from the staff (yes, Guy hired someone on to help!) and other customers. On our visit, Guy took the time to sit down and chat with us for a bit, but he was busy testing out a pizza oven in the back. Sounds like a cool new addition!

We finally pulled out of One Guy just after dark, and braved the snow-covered Interstate highway. I had forgotten how roads get pre-treated, but not plowed, in the north and soon got use to the fact that snow-covered highways are normal. But I wasn’t disappointed in any way to reach the crest of the mountain outside Williamsport and peer out the scenic view, knowing we’d soon be off the road. Luckily, people in the northern part of the state understand snow and know how to drive in this stuff, or to just stay off the road.

Bavarian Barbarian looked pretty dead – along with the rest of the city – when we first pulled in, but we were pleased to learn that we were not the only customers of the day. People had come in for the tour, and people came in after our arrival as well. And both Mike and Kira were there to greet all of the customers. It’s always fun to catch up with them, and I enjoyed a small taster glass of First Snow Ale (I LOVE this beer) while our friends did a whole taster tray. Kira designed some really cool “handouts” for the beer-note-takers which she was proud to give to Scott. On one side, all of the beers are listed with descriptions, and on the opposite side is an identical layout with the tap art and space for note taking. What a great touch! We grabbed a growler to go, and headed out at closing.

It was easy to find parking at Bullfrog Brewery because the place was not very busy, and the band had canceled. Still, some brave souls came out for the night, and business was steady. Bob, one of the owners, took the time to sit and talk with us for awhile, telling us a great story of his childhood that really tied together all of the things we already knew about his love of the baseball card industry. It was nice to have our out-of-town guests get such a personal look into the heart of the business this way. Vickie and Scott got the sample platter of beers before narrowing it down to a few favorites. I went straight for the Edgar IPA – a family favorite – and D enjoyed a glass of his new favorite – the Bruggetown Blonde, which is a lovely Belgian Pale Ale.

We really had hours of fun at Bullfrog. It was a quiet, relaxing night where we also got a chance to visit with Harriet and Steve (the other owners), and talk to some locals. We watched the snow fall and chatted until we finally got too tired to hang out anymore. Luckily, Priceline came through for us again with an inexpensive stay at the Holiday Inn, which is just a few blocks away, and we were able to get some needed rest.

The first part of our Central PA beer tour – with tongue-in-cheek, dubbed the “Upstate PA Beer tour” – was certainly a success!

* “Stupid” – a tribute to Conky

Today in Philadelphia

For our last vacation day, D and I decided to hook up with friends and travel to the Philadelphia area for – well, if it’s on this blog, you already know – beer! What a nice day and some fine beers to be had.

Brandi celebrates a birthday tomorrow, and as a member of the Mug Club, Rock Bottom Brewery gave her a $10 credit. This chain brewery, located in the King of Prussia Mall, was our first stop of the day, and D and I made a point to join (FREE) the Mug Club as well. It was also their 5th visit, so Ffej and Brandi were allowed to choose logo pint glasses from the merch case.

Today at Rock Bottom, we tried two beers (in 22-oz mugs, since we’re members!) – the “rotating dark beer,” which was Chocolate Milk Stout, and the cask ale, which was Prussia’s Pride IPA. The stout was not bad, but it had extremely light body for a stout and very little chocolate flavor came through. The Prussia’s Pride was a favorite from November 15 Brewers’ Reserve Black and Tan Cask Event at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Newark, DE and it held up to my memory. It has a great combination of citrus and pine flavors and aroma from the hops, and caramelmalt. On cask, it is a smooth and flavorful beverage. We also really enjoyed our appetizer – Chips & Guacamole, which consisted of homemade malt kettle chips andtortilla chips served with a wonderful quac, andsalsa made with Roma tomatoes, jalapenos, onions and spices.

Next we headed into downtown Philadelphia to Triumph Brewing Company, located in Old City near the intersection of Chestnut and 2nd. It was a quick visit, but enough to know that it’s a beautiful location to sit and have a beer, and the beers we had were very nice. Triumph does 10-oz glasses as well as pints, and offers a sample tray. I had a 10-oz Jewish Rye Beer (5.5% ABV), and shared a 10-oz Winter Wonder (8.25% ABV) with D. The Jewish Rye had a strange sweetness to the start, and a lovely pumpernickel flavor to the finish. The Winter Wonder was really interesting. It had a pleasant aroma of orange spice, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, and the flavor was full of citrus hops and sweet, toasty malt.

The only thing that turned me off at Triumph was the “uni” restroom. It’s not that I object to sharing with men, rather that the men that used each stall I approached were apparently pigs. Okay – I’m blaming the men, and perhaps should not. But all week I’ve been using ladies rooms that have been clean. I finally located a clean uni-stall after three tries, and while each stall has an individual sink, that one had no operational water faucet. Yuck.

We left Triumph and crossed town to meet up with our friend Laura, who is in from Colorado for a few days, at Dock Street Brewery in West Philly. It was great to see her, and to enjoy a glass of Rye IPA (6.8% ABV). It is a terrific American Pale Ale brewed with Simcoe and Amarillo hops, and contains 20% rye. D andI shared a hardwood-fired pizza withmade with mozzarella, herbs, crème fraiche, tomatoes and caramelized leeks which was super! Also at our table, we enjoyed Hop Garden Double IPA (9% ABV and 76 IBU’s) – a double IPA which contains 12 different hop varieties – and Prince Myshkin’s Russian Imperial Stout (9.5% ABV). And eventually we needed to move on…

We really wanted to head on over to the northeast corner of 44th & Spruce Streets in West Philly to check out Local 44, but it appears we were a day early. This creation of the genious group that started up Memphis Tap Room, which we enjoyed so much this summer, should be a real asset to the city beer scene.

We crossed town quickly, due to D’s navigational skills, and arrived in Mt. Airy to check out Earth Bread + Brewery for a second time.  Last time it was so crowded, so we thought a weeknight might be a better opportunity to visit the bar. The downstairs bar was filled, and they seated us at a table upstairs where there was an empty bar at first (but not for long!) As on our previous visit, the table was very nice, and the place is so attractive – a contemporary cottage feel and walls laced with local art for sale. I won’t write about it, since you can read about it on their website, but it is outstanding to see what Earth Bread is doing to promote sustainability and environmental friendliness.

Earth Bread + Brewery has a similarity to American Flatbreadin Burlington, VT, which our friends affectionately call “American Flatbread & Daycare.” There was only one other table in the place that had no children – most tables had two or three children – and most of the children were under the age of 5. Perhaps it’s a indicator that we are of a generation that enjoys brewpubs, and part of me thinks it’s great that parents venture out to brewpubs withtheir children in tow, but when the whining / crying / running around starts up, I do start to wonder where can I go to eat in peace with other adults. It’s a classy brewery; not Friendly’s.

The food at Earth Bread was outstanding. Last time we shared flatbreads (pizza) and the olive appetizer, all of which was lovely and tasty. This time we had salads and soup. The food lived up to our expectations! The appearance was attractive, and the flavors were fresh and wholesome. It is clear that a lot of thought was put into the simple, flavorful menu.

The beers were alright. I had a 13-oz glass of Berkun’s Finger, a Baltic Porter that weighs in at 7% ABV, and D had a 13-oz glass of Santos L. Halper, a dark mild at 3.7% ABV. Both were somewhat bitter and thin. After two visits, it seems there are only ever four house beers on at a time, and a list of great guest taps. And the wine list is lovely!

Our last stop for the night was out Germantown Pike at General Lafayette Inn & Brewery, where I was contemplating a Sampler Round, until I learned they were out of two selections. Instead, I had a small glass of Holiday Cheer – a spiced holiday beer with tart cranberry, a hint of cinnamon and clove, and faint floral hops. This beer is cited at 6.1% ABV and 24 IBU’s, and had an enjoyable flavor profile.

So while I probably should have been hiking or housecleaning today, I’d say this was a much more fun way to spend the last day of vacation. I’m so unfamiliar with the Philly beer scene, and it has me itching to check out Philly Beer Week.

Catching up with December

Between a real breakdown in our home technology (i.e. we needed a new computer) and technology overload at work (i.e. I’ve been working overtime on a project at work), I’ve had time to do some beer traveling, but no time to write about it. The work project lives on, but I’m now the proud owner of an Acer Aspire One in pink, so I have reliable and speedy Internet access at home again. Maybe I’ll be a better blogger…or at least write more frequently.

So there is a lot to catch up on, and I hardly know where to start.

  • I have more Pennsylvania Brewery Roadtrips up my sleeve, which are a special tribute to my sister.
  • There was a fast-paced and fabulous “Dark Side of Michigan” trip over the Black Friday weekend which I didn’t even mention on here (but I will in another post!), where we visited many great Michigan breweries.
  • We got to try out Old Forge Brewing in Danville, not just once, but twice, and we finally made it to Spring House Brewery in Connestoga.
  • There are a few Iron Hill and Sly Fox stories to be told. Among them, a gathering of 31 librarians at Sly Fox in Royersford, a cask ale festival at Iron Hill in Newark and the Sly Fox IPA Project in Phoenixville.
  • We combined the Iron Hill trip with a visit to a great beer bar called Quotations (where I had Pumking on nitro!) and the new Earth Bread + Brewery (where I didn’t mean to downplay the beer, but loved the McManis Viognier 2007.)
  • Brass Rail Beverage finally opened the deli, where great beers are constantly rotating on the five taps, and the bottle selection is outstanding for this area (the website does not reflect the awesomeness of the store.)
  • For the first time in 11 years, Appalachian Brewing Company brewed a beer that I could recommend to a friend.
  • Our friend Julie stopped in unexpectedly turning a growler sharing evening into a full-blown tasting night, and that same weekend we attended “Firkin Winter Solstice Sunday” at Selin’s Grove Brewing to help them celebrate their 12th Anniversary.
  • And then there has been the past week which has afforded many opportunities for sharing and tasting good beer.

I think I’ll start with the Appalachian Brewing Company beer, since it appears to be an anomaly that isn’t even acknowledged by the website. I was visiting the Abbey Bar at ABC on December 13 for the Herbie Christmas show, and my friend Brandi offered me a sip of her beer, saying, “Have you tried THIS? It’s called Batch 666 and it’s really good!” This was not a beer available on their board – it was only advertised on a single poster behind the bar – and to this day, has not appeared on the website nor have they responded to email inquiries about it. It was delicious! Labeled by the bartender as a Winter Warmer, my five acquaintances who had it all agreed it was more like a dark lager, Munich dunkle lager or dopplebock. It was medium dark in color and had a light body, but carried strong coffee, caramel and chocolate aromas. There was a hint of citrus hops and strong roasted malt flavors. It was a seriously well done beverage. I hope they will tell the world more about it, and continue to produce it, because it is seriously the first really great thing they’ve produced since I first started going there in 1997.

The weekend of December 19 was a fun one for us. It was the Harrisburg Christmas Bird Count weekend, so we were in the area, and decided to spend a quiet Friday night at home, joined by Brandi and Ffej, to share some recently acquired growlers. D made dinner, which we had just sat down to when the phone rang. It was a most unexpected call from our friend Julie of Bruisin’ Ales fame, whose flight was diverted to Harrisburg because of ice. How fortuitous, since we didn’t think we’d get to see her at all during the holidays. We opened growlers of Cape Cod Berry Merry Holiday Ale – an amber infused with cranberry, orange and cloves – and Spring House Two Front Teeth Holiday Ale– a Saison withsubtle cherry; but this was just the start. It was a fun night with the opening of multiple bottles:

  • Bullfrog Beekeeper
  • Green Flash Le Freak
  • Midnight Sun Sockeye Red IPA
  • Russian River Pliny the Elder
  • Three Floyds Moloko Milk Stout
  • Pisgah Valdez
  • Great Lakes Barrel-aged Blackout Stout, and
  • a 2005 bottle of Stouts Old Abominable Barleywine.

And the most fun was hanging out with good friends, sharing stories and listening to music. It was a late night, especially with an early-morning bird count ahead of us, but worth losing a little sleep!

This week of Christmas has also been delightful for many reasons, but since this is a beer blog, I’ll focus on that. First, our Christmas surprise – Spoetzl Shiner Holiday Cheer– which we shared on Christmas Eve. This is a Dunkelweizen made with Texas peaches and roasted pecans, and it was quite delightful! Unfortunately, it ended up being spilled during an exhuberant gesture, and we lost most of it, but it was great while it lasted.

The night before Christmas Eve, we enjoyed a growler of Roy Pitz Truly Honest Ale with D’s family, which was part of the growler-fill half-price sale on December 22. For Christmas day, we cracked two of our homebrewed beers – the NyQuAle, which became drainpour (the other bottles will sit for a few years before we try it again), and our COW Stout (Chocolate Oatmeal stout on toasted Walnuts during secondary fermentation.) We also opened the traditional Harvey’s Christmas Ale.

The day after Christmas we started our “Golden Triangle of Beer” tour (encompassing Selinsgrove, State College and Williamsport).  On Friday, we drove up to Bavarian Barbarian Brewing to taste, and buy growlers of, First Snow Ale. This is my favorite brew from this place so far. It is described as a smooth, dark winter warmer with caramel and chocolate notes, and weighs in at 7.5% ABV. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and ginger flavor this beer, which has the same flavors I savor in my homemade molassasginger cookies. Mike hit the nail on the head with this one! After getting a second growler for my cousin, we headed off to Danvilleto have dinner with Ffej and Brandi at Old Forge Brewing Company. This was our second visit since they opened, and things were hopping! The place was pretty full, but we found a table upstairs. The same four beers were on – nothing new yet – so I had the T-Rail Pale Alealong the spicy carrot ginger soup and veggie quesedilla. Old Forge beer still has room to grow, but the food, atmosphere and service are right on. I’ve got faith things are going to get even better, and this place will stay on our agenda.

Later that night, at a party with our friends Jason and Megan, we cracked our second Roy Pitz growler – the Daddy Fat Sacs Imperial IPA. Several other good beers were brought out, including my first beer from Copper Kettle Brewing – the Celebration Wheat – and Brouwerij de Molen 1914 Porter.

On Saturday, D had another Christmas Bird Count and I had a lie-in, but we met up for lunch with my parents at Selin’s Grove Brewing Company. My parents had not had the IPAsince it was reformulated to be a bit more citrusy, and D got himself the 2008 Saint Fillian’s Wee Heavy. From there, D and I headed north, back to Bavarian Barbarianto get more growlers filled with First Snow Ale for family members, and later met up with Heath and Kim for dinner at Bullfrog Brewery. It was during that visit that we learned of the Sunday night Pub Club potluck dinner. Since it was already our plan to be in Williamsport for a Christmas Bird Count the next day, and the wrap-up was at the Bullfrog, we were perfectly placed to attend, and so we did. We’ve always been out of state during this time, so we were unaware of this annual event where members supply the food and Bullfrog supplies the beer.

This year, Terry broke out preview bottles of a few coming attractions:

  • Beesting Saison
  • Houblonium P38
  • Barrel-aged Old Toad Barleywine
  • Barrel-aged Wolfsblood Scotch Ale
  • Saison Noire

Also, we were able to get 2005 Old Toad Barleywine on tap, Bruggetown Blonde, and my favorite – Edgar IPA.

It’s worth mentioning that during the bird count, we did stop in at the Valley Inn for a taste of Abbey Wright Brewing Company’s Vanilla Latte Stout. This is a 5.8% ABVale brewed with five pounds of Grigg’s dark roast coffee and vanilla beans. It was served on nitrogen, and overall, a very good beer. Not too sweet, and very creamy. Unfortunately we observed the same as previous visits – there are no other Valley Inn patrons drinking Abbey Wright beers, and the staff don’t know anything about it (one staff member said to another, “I thought the stout would taste more like the IPA!”) Ugh.

To finish out the triangle, today we decided to drive over to Otto’s Pub & Brewery. I enjoyed a glass of Appel Trippel, and D had the Winter Warmer, both of which were served in 12-oz goblets.  The trippel weighs in at 9.5% ABV and is a tasty drink. There is virtually no hop profile, and the apple is subtle beneath the malty, honey flavors. The winter warmer is 11.5% ABV, and it is spicy and tart with sour cherries.

So that’s what we’ve been up to… I hope to get details and photos of the Michigan trip up this week, and will make a New Year’s Resolution to be better with the blog. It will probably last as long as my diet, but I’ll try!

Trip One – Pubs 4 & 5

[Disclaimer: If you haven’t read the Introduction posting, this may not make sense. You may want to start there before reading on.]

To get to the next two pubs, leave Downingtown and go back to the Turnpike headed west to Exit 286. These two brewpubs can be enjoyed in no particular order – one is south of the Turnpike, and the other is north (Stoudt’s, to the north, doesn’t open until 4:30 most days.) They are both fine places, and your visit might depend upon your beer or food choices.

Union Barrel Works

6 N. Reamstown Road
Reamstown, PA 17567
717-335-SUDS (7837)

UBW is one of the newer breweries in our state, and specializes in German-style beers. The brewer, Tom Rupp (former Stoudt’s brewer) is often described as a brewer who doesn’t care so much for the hops. There are usually 5-7 house beers on tap, and generally one can find Pale Ale, Kolsch, Wobbly Bob Dopplebock, Hefeweizen, Lager, Mai-Bock, and Round Boy Stout. Beer is sold by the pint, but I quite enjoy that they offer a sampler of six 2 oz. tasters for $3.50. They will fill any growler, as well.

This pub is open Tuesday through Sunday at 11:00 AM (closed Monday.) As far as I know, this is not a place to have a tour of the brewery, although you can see where the beer is brewed if you visit the bar. The cozy bar area features an old bar back that dates from the late 1800’s from the old Showboat Bar in Reading. Ornate woodwork, the tin ceiling and PA Dutch influenced arts and crafts decorate the dining space.

While you will not find a large number of vegetarian dishes on the menu, there are some lovely fish and shellfish items for those who choose to enjoy these non-meat offerings. Every review I’ve read of this place raves about the food, and in my limited experience, I agree.

My favorite its the Smoked Trout Chowder – created by the same chef who made it for the 2007 PA Farm Show. There is also Olive Tapenade, Crab Cheesecake (like a crab dip served in a skillet with pita points), Portobello Mushrooms with gorgonzola cheese, Eggplant Gratin, crab cakes, Sesame Salmon, and two very interesting mollusk dishes – Shrimp Magnolias and (this has bacon!) Coquille St. Jacques (sautéed scallops with bacon and mushrooms, deglazed with vermouth and finished with cream and parmesan cheese; served over puff pastry.)

The pub is located in a large brick building with ample parking in the back, and some street parking in front. It used to be a hardware store, so you’ll notice the large windows and enjoy the open space.

For more information, try finding other reviews.

Black Angus Restaurant & Pub (Stoudt’s)

stoudtsRoute 272
2800 North Reading Road
Adamstown PA 19501
Free tours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons

Just up the road in the opposite direction is Stoudt’s in Adamstown – a brewery that has been around for over 20 years, and a restaurant that’s been around for nearly 50 years. This is a family-owned business with a lot of clutter, and a lot of character. Ed and Carol, and now many of their children and in-laws, are involved at all levels (and Carol is America’s first recognized female brewer.). Besides beer and the restaurant, this place is also known for antiques and the bread (at least three signature bread recipes use beer, and the bread is made with 100-year-old Levin from France.)

Stoudt’s is open Monday through Thursday at 4:30 PM, Friday and Saturday at noon, and Sunday at 11:30 AM. The food menus are available online, and, again, you won’t find it to be exactly vegetarian-friendly. Afterall, it’s called the Black Angus and the tagline on the menu says, “The House that Beef Built”. The menu leans heavily on the German side, and it’s pretty authentic! There is a line under “entrees” that says, “Vegetarian – $17.00; Our chef will be happy to create something for you to suite your needs.”

I’ve enjoyed the raw bar and the smoked salmon (no, not vegetarian), and also the cheese plates (choose three artisanal cheese from list; served with minted lemon rind compote and lavender sugar almonds.) I’ve also ordered some of the veggie sides, like spaetzle and red cabbage, with a salad for my meal. The Portabella Rueben is a unique offering, and the salmon dishes are wonderful. For those who eat steak, it is aged steak in a variety of cuts, and Stoudt’s has an annual Wurst festival if you’re into that sort of thing.

There are free brewery tours available Saturdays at 3:00 PM and Sundays at 1:00 PM. Meet in the restaurant lobby for the tour, and if you can’t make it, you can see some highlights online and watch Ed and Carol talk about Stoudt’s beers!

Brett Kintzer is the head brewer. He got his start at Stoudt’s in 1995, and has been there ever since. In addition to supplying the pub, Stoudt’s distributes in 12 states and the District of Columbia. The beers keep getting better and better, and the climax came at their 20th anniversary with Smooth Hoperator. Check out the interactive beer menu online for the Flagship beers, as well as beers they label as Big, Seasonal and Specialty. As far as I know, you can’t see what’s on tap now, but there is always something great available.

Stoudt’s is one of the older brewpubs in the country, and it is recognized both nationally and internationally by the beer community for high quality, consistently created beers.

I don’t recall the serving sizes, or the policy on growler fills, but I’m pretty sure things are liberal at Stoudt’s. The eclectic decor, great beers and interesting menu, paired with the rich history, make this place a destination.

If your designated driver is tired of taking you around, this is a good time to head home. If not, there are some great stops you can make on the way home!

Trip One – Pub 3

[Disclaimer: If you haven’t read the Introduction posting, this may not make sense. You may want to start there before reading on.]

Victory Brewing Company

Victory Brewing Company
420 Acorn Lane
Downingtown, PA 19335
610 873-0881
Tours on Friday and Saturday at 4:00 PM – wear close-toed shoes

Known for creating world class beers since 1996 (well, they will tell you at the end of every press release that they started out of the back of a school bus in 1973!), you will not be disappointed by a visit to Victory Brewing Company. Not only does the international beer community give accolades to Victory, but the mainstream media (such as Men’s Journal and New York Times) have praised the beer here.

Since this beer tour originated with a drive from Harrisburg to Phoenixville, you can either take PA 23 to PA 113 to US 30, or return to the Turnpike and take PA 100 S to W Uwchlan Ave. to US 30. into Downingtown. Either way, you won’t believe you’re really going in the right direction when you turn left off of Rt. 30 onto Chestnut Street, drive .3 miles, then turn left onto Acorn St. only to turn immediately right into the anti-climactic industrial complex.

If you’ve been to Victory before, but not since May of 2008, you are in for a real treat when you step inside! They experienced a multi-million dollar expansion, and in total, the restaurant grew to more than 7,100 square feet with seating capability of 290 or more. It’s been outfitted with authentic brewery décor, which includes three copper brewhouse tops from old German breweries, an all- Pennsylvania collection of brewery trays, and rich wood paneling throughout the space completes the cozy, old world pub feel. Of special note is the “Brewmaster’s Table” which is a cozy round table that seats 12-15 people within a copper brew kettle top.

Simply said, this former Pepperidge Farm warehouse is now an outstanding brewpub. The bar has been outfitted with 60 taps able to handle 20 different beer styles at any given time. Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet are the owners/brewmaster, and work with a large team of brewers and staff to supply the pub, retail store, and distribution in 23 states with a wide-range of styles – both German varieties and classic American. Victory will allow you to purchase a half-pint. I’m not sure how they handle tasters.

Growler fills are done using a specially crafted Austrian built filler which is pressurized for a more efficient and longer lasting fill in every growler. For this reason, only German-style growlers are permitted, but they do not have to be labeled as “Victory” growlers.

Victory is open every day of the week, starting at 11:30 AM Monday through Friday, and 10 AM on weekends, and the brunch menu is the only menu available on Saturday and Sunday until 1 PM (all food and beer menus are available as PDFs on the website.) The portions are big (in my opinion) so don’t be afraid to share food. The vegetarian options aren’t marked, but there seem to be enough of them. I especially enjoy their hummus plate.

Brewery tours are available on Friday and Saturday at 4:00 PM. For safety reasons, you must be wearing close-toed shoes to participate. If you can’t make the live tour, there is a photo-tour online and supposedly a podcast (but the link doesn’t work).
[Onward – to Pubs 4 & 5 – Union Barrel Works and Stoudt’s]