Brewgrass Festival – 2008

The thing about this festival is that it is so much MORE than a festival.

Yes, a huge part of being here is attending the Great Smokies Craft Brewers Brewgrass Festivalon the grounds of the Martin Luther King, Jr. ballfield, with (as parsed out by Anne Fitten Glenn at Mountain XPress) 40 craft breweries, more than 200 beers and 5 musical acts all spread over a 7 hour period. There are 3,500 people in attendance, with plenty of security and port-a-potties. And the breweries of western North Carolina are certainly the big draw.

But also on this weekend, there is a release event for Highland Brewing Company. Since 2006, Highland has been releasing an imperial version of one of their regular brews at Asheville’s Brewgrass Festival, and then selling it on Sunday at the brewery. In 2006, it was Imperial Gaelic Ale, followed by Imperial Kashmir IPA in 2007. This year Imperial Black Mocha Stout is the beer, which we tasted (and tasted, and tasted, yesterday) and it is worth standing in line for today!

The brewery describes it as a “hearty stout, rich with coffee and chocolate notes, blending the velvety sweetness of specialty grains with the creaminess of a strong stout.” It will be sold in 22 oz. bottles, at $8 per bottle, and this year there are no limits on the number of purchases. They produced 476 cases, and we’re hoping to score two.

In addition to these two events, there are people and things all over town. Most of it very casusal, and some of it extremely well planned. For instance, Bruisin’ Ales held a special Friday night tasting from 5-8 PM, where Devin, the Dogfish Head rep, served up five brews by DFH including 60-Minute IPA which was run through Randall (with basil, mint and coffee), Festina Peche, Aprihop and Black & Blue. The $4 entry fee went to Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. That 60-minute through the Randall was just outstanding – full of fresh, herbal goodness and topped off with a mild coffee tang – and perfect with the berries Julie prepared on the side.

With less planning, we had fun times running around town. We found ourselves all over (but certainly not everywhere) – gatherings at The Thirsty Monk, Barleys Taproom and the new Wedge Brewing Company, a private Westy 12 tasting at John & Melissa’s house, and an evening with the brewers at the soon-to-be-open Craggie Brewing Company. We even found time on Friday to run down to Greenville for lunch at Blue Ridge Brewing Company and a “hike” to Caesar’s Head State Park for birds and a benchmark.

And then there was the festival… Beer of the day? Well, one of the leading favorites was Rye Knot Brown Ale from Coast Brewing Company. Valdez at Pisgah was certainly a leader (and we finally got our tie-dye t-shirts!), and so was Sexual Chocolate at Foothills. Crazy Train from Depot Street was a favorite among the lighter brews, and of course, Devin was there with the 60-minute through the Randall again. If there were bad beers there, I was smart enough to miss them. We did miss Heintzelmanchen – if they were there, we never saw them.

There is no time for proofreading or posting photos right now because we need to get checked out and off to Highland, but hopefully I’ll have time to do that soon – check back, okay?

I’ve got Scurvy!

Ahoy, tis’ post mid-night, which means tis’ September 19 and tis’ International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I’m celebratin’ by drinkin’ Tyranena Scurvy, brought t’ Ashe’ille compliments o’ Jim ‘n’ Joan!

We had a great afternoon / evenin’ in town, startin’ with a shoppin’ trip at Bruisin’ Ales (the best place to crawl for a salty bottle ‘o grog), followed by a few hours in the new tastin’ room at Pisgah with Dave – the man with the bloody birthday, dinner at Ed Boudreaux’s with John and Melissa, and some sour Belgians at Thirsty Monk (including Cantillon Lamnivus.)

Aye, I’m expectin’ another great day tomorrow – the actual TLPD-2008! Maybe I’ll scrawl some news ’bout that Vortex III…

Neil Strine for President

The only relation this has to the enjoyment of craft beers is that I spent a good bit of my formative drinking years enjoying them with this man – Neil Strine – whose Presidential aspirations have taken him further than I ever imagined. I don’t mean to stray into the political, but this video is too amazing not to share.

Congratulations, Neil! I’m sure you’ll win the popular vote.  Especially with members of the Society for the Promotion of Camels in America.  

I wish I could have embedded the video, but the clicking on the link will take you to it, and the website will tell you all you need to know about this outstanding candidate.

Charity Beer Drinking

Over the period of a week in late June, we were on the road drinking beer to support charitable causes – a beer festival, a pub crawl and a special beer on the menu were the impetus for our travels.

On June 21, Tröegs Brewery teamed up with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Central Pennsylvania to put on the annual Harrisburg Brewers Fest® – an outdoor beer and music festival downtown. There were two sessions to reduce the crowds of people filling Locust and Third streets and a special VIP session, complete with gift bags.

The festival was advertised with 35 breweries. We know that some didn’t show up, but there was no lack of beverage to be tried. D had to work, and I had a child’s birthday party to attend, so we worked very hard to stick to just the things that were new to us and/or special beers. And with the small plastic sample mugs, it was easy to remain sober.

We had a few favorites from the day, including Lovitz Lager – a watermelon lager from Roy Pitz Brewing Company, Coconut Stout from Church Brew Works, Lichtenhainer – a sour, smoked Berliner Weissbier brewed as a collaboration between Marzoni’s and East End Brewing Company and is based on an obscure German style, Barrel-aged Beekeeper (part of the bottle-conditioned collection at Bullfrog Brewery, and previous to aging, known as the Beesting Saison) and a firkin of Scratch #12-2008, an English-style IPA from Tröegs.

It was good, clean fun in downtown Harrisburg. Live bands played, including one that we really like at the early session (Herbie), and people were generally polite. I picked up an Otto’s tattoo, which finally wore off last weekend, and my favorite tshotshke was the heavy-duty bottle opener from Straub.

At the Harrisburg Brewers Fest®, we learned about the Bavarian Ramble – a fundraiser organized by Mike Hiller, Chief Barbarian at Bavarian Barbarian Brewing Company, to support the Uptown Music Collective. Since we planned to be in the area for the weekend of June 28 anyway, we decided to join in on the ramble around downtown Williamsport.

For a $10 donation, we received 5-10% discounts off food and beverages at The Pub, Rumrunners, Franco’s and the 4th Street Grille and Ale House. The evening ended with a private party at the Bavarian Barbarian Brewing Company where we were treated to a terrific performance by students from the Collective.

We met up with Mike at The Pub – one of my college hang-outs. This complete dive bar for college kids has transformed into a pretty nice little place. In addition to Bavarian Barbarian beers, there were several other very decent brews on tap, and a sizable bottle selection (for Williamsport) behind a large, beautiful honey-toned bar. I couldn’t get over the cleanliness of this place in comparison to my days of hanging there. Even the bathroom was clean and bright, and while I didn’t check it out, I understand there is outdoor courtyard seating.

Rumrunners is a Caribbean-themed restaurant with a huge selection of shelf drinks. I had only been in this building once, and it was so dark I couldn’t see my own hand. Now it is bright and cheery, and the menu looks serviceable. We ate at Franco’s out of nostalgia, but were thrilled to find Tröegs Nugget Nectar on cask there. I enjoyed a wonderful fresh gazpacho and an artichoke and olive salad with balsamic vinegar. We shared the chicken liver and toast appetizer, and D had a pesto with garlic pasta dish. With our discount, it was amazingly inexpensive, and as always, the staff at Franco’s made us feel welcome.

We managed to get a hotel downtown on Priceline, so it wasn’t expensive to stay downtown, walking to all of the Ramble locations, and we got a ride home from the party at Bavarian Barbarian. Kira and Mike were such wonderful hosts, and the guys in the band were so professional. It was a really nice night out for a really good cause, and also a good opportunity to let me stroll down memory lane a bit (I love Bullfrog Brewing dearly, but I miss exploring all of the other wonderful food opportunities in Williamsport.)

We ended our weekend with scenic drives through the mountains, taking Rt. 445 from Lamar to Millheim, and then driving a back road north of Winkleblech and Sharpback Mountains as a long way to Selinsgrove. In addition to a nice little hike, we stopped at the breweries (Elk Creek Cafe and Selin’s Grove, respectively.) At Elk Creek, we were drinking Old Bertha’s Red 99 – a beer created to support the Millheim Fire Company which has been assisting in the community for 99 years. 50-cents from each pint sold goes to the fire company, so we were happy to help (AND it was a good beer to go with my brunch!)

What a great week of drinking beer for the benefit of others!

11 Years Later – He finally got the Hat!

On our weekend away, I anticipated sufficient Internet access to catch up on the blog. I have so many things to talk about (beers we’ve had, beers we’ve made, people we’ve met, places we’ve been), but have so little time to write. I should have known in this wilderness location, a hotel with Internet access really means it has very spotty, very slow satellite internet. 

Oh well…more time to hike…

Anyway, I had to highlight this little bit.  First, Nana & Pop, if you are reading this, get in your car and drive to Selin’s Grove NOW.  They have Grizzly Coffee Stout on for a limited time, and it is roastier than ever. Yum! Yum!

Second (and my inspiration to wait 20 minutes for the editor to load),  D has wanted a hat from Selin’s Grove for eleven years.  For eleven years he’s been asking them to please make and sell a ballcap.  Or any cap, for that matter.  Today Lynn came out of the merch storage room and said, “Look what we’ve got!”  Hooray!  Finally the Selin’s Grove dog on a ballcap!  They cost $15, and they are made of a heavy denim material (tan on top, gray on the brim) with the running dog from their logo embroidered on the front, and the name of the brewery embroidered on the back. There is also a great new shirt in brown with their logo on the front and the names of all the beers they brew on the back.  It’s very nice, but not in women’s sizes.

So that’s the great news from D’s head.  Now back to our wilderness vacation!

Out of Control

Traveling to Dark Lord Day last weekend, I had the opportunity to shop at several terrific wine/beer/liquor stores. It was so much fun shopping in places that had a variety of products to offer, and allowed me to purchase small quantities at competitive prices. We visited the following:

  • Rozi’s Wine House in Lakewood, OH opened at 8 AM and sold a great selection of wine, foodie gifts, homebrew supplies and deli items (oh, did the cheese look fabulous!) And, of course, craft beers.  A sandwich board announced they are ranked 47th in the world for beer selection.
  • Champane’s Wine Cellar & International Marketplace in Warren, MI had a large selection of Michigan beers available, and many other great microbrews at wonderful prices (Derek pointed out Blackout Stout 4-packs at $9.) I chatted with the beer manager, who really wanted our opinion on his fairly recently acquired selection (rumor has it there are between 90 and 150 different beers!) We all agreed it was a great stop!
  • Liquor Stop in Highland, IN was attractive due to its proximity to Three Floyds. And for the beer traveler, knowing that Flossmoor Station isn’t far away probably makes it even more desirable.
  • Siciliano’s Market in Grand Rapids, MI has become a regular stop on our way to Founders. The store is small, but they pack it in! The front of the store features homebrewing supplies, coffee, tea and tobacco. In the back, there is a wide selection of beers, priced singularly with a 10% discount on cases, mixed or not.  It was a huge selection for such a compact space.

This is on my mind because I recently discovered Lew Bryson’s new blog, which I have really been enjoying. Entitled Why The PLCB Should Be Abolished, he explains, “I started this blog to get people in Pennsylvania angry about the PLCB,” with the hope of generating advocacy. That’s a great idea, and bless Lew’s soul if he actually gets enough people so informed as to the many facets of stupidity in our system that they actually begin to advocate for change.

Unfortunately, at least in my area of the world, I find that most people are complacent rule followers. People are either content with the way things are because they can’t imagine life being any different, or they are very aware and unhappy, but unwilling to channel those feelings into political action. This isn’t just true in the world of beer – it’s true with every issue. And as someone who has completely unresponsive legislators, I can understand why it seems easier to do nothing…but that doesn’t make it okay to do nothing.

The thing we need to remember is that the operative word from the acronym PLCB is CONTROL. The Commonwealth has all of the power; the producers and consumers have none. I would love to see a shift where the “C” word is something more like Choice, Competition or Customer-service. Better yet, I’d love to see that acronym disappear from my vocabulary!

Meanwhile, like a stereotypical girl, I’ll look forward to those big out-of-state shopping trips! (Shawan’s, anyone?)

Weldspatter IPA Now Available

D and I were just talking about Mike Hiller and how things are hopefully going in Williamsport. How timely that this news just came across my radar…

Bavarian Barbarian Brewing Company is pleased to announce that Weldspatter IPA is now on tap! Samples and growlers are available at the Horde Room in the brewery, located at 429 W. 3rd St. The beer is also on tap at Kimball’s and B21 in Williamsport.

Weldspatter I.P.A. is a hoppy, though well-balanced beer with a sweet hop flavor and Elysian aroma. This unfiltered beer has a richer, more golden color than most other pale ales. The hops in Weldspatter I.P.A. include Phoenix and Pilgrim varieties imported from England and an American variety called Nugget. India Pale Ale beers typically go very well with pungent cheeses, grilled meats and spicy foods.

Great news, and congratulations!

Weldspatter I.P.A. was the winner in the Barbarian’s Selection ’08 Campaign, which allowed voters to choose the next beer style. It was announced April 1st and immediately brewed with an expected release date of Friday, April 11. Unexpected problems arose during filtration, which ultimately ruined the characteristic hop flavors inherent to the India Pale Ale style and the release was postponed.

In celebration of the release, the brewery will offer growler fills of this new brew for $8 now through the 3rd of May.  I doubt I’ll make it up for that, but perhaps a friend or family member will get a chance to check it out.

Okay…the best thing about sharing this news is that I got to use the word “Elysian” in back-to-back blog postings – when does that ever happen?

Officer Sassy and the Dark Lord

I’m not going to waste my time and energy posting negative thoughts on Dark Lord Day 2008 – I certainly had some, but plenty of people have posted the whiny thoughts and I’ll be happy to point you there (see this post, which will link you to griping on the forums.) I can’t disagree with most of it, but I also can’t see dwelling on it. Besides – don’t I look happy?

Waiting for Dark Lord  That’s not a photo of drunk – that’s exhilaration (many thanks to Ev for the costume inspiration…after the hat exchange, my companions started calling me Officer Sassy. With a Troeg’s work shirt, a little bedazzling and a Marshall’s badge from Dark Horse, I was set!)

Overall, I had a FABULOUS time! I traveled with fun people, we stopped at some great breweries along the way out and back, and it was my pleasure to catch up with fellow beer enthusiasts in the parking lot of Three Floyd’s. It started out as a chilly day (or, as I pointed out, cellar temperature), and I was thrilled that I purchased a cozy long sleeve t-shirt from Bell’s – I needed it with that wind!

Derek, Kim and Heath

I owe a heap of thanks to Kim for being our able (read sober) driver and trip coordinator – she did a super job at both! Heath and Derek were great traveling companions, making sure we didn’t miss a single thing (well, Cereal City was a miss for now-obvious reasons, but all of the beer stops were right on!) There are a lot of terrific beer people in the world, but this was a crew I was more than happy to spend four days in the car with! 
Jim and Joan sharing Pisgah Baptista!

Uncle Jedi and Joan (aka Mrs. Jedi) get the hospitality prize for making a place for us in the line. They are always a treat to hang out with, as are the entire Free the Hops clan (not all of them are in the photo below…just the ones wearing kilts!)

Free the Hops!

Speaking of the line, a couple of bloggers mapped the beer line, and this was one of my favorite renditions. I just couldn’t get an accurate photo of it, which I estimated to be 4500 people stretched over no less than 1/2 a mile. I was so glad to get my six bottles of Dark Lord Imperial Stout, and also my allotted two bottles of Hvedegoop Wheat Wine (a surprise for D.) When we packed it all in the car, it was obvious we weren’t even going to attempt getting more.

It\'s full  Me with Officer Hall  PA Girls love beer!

Meeting Officer Hall and collecting his trading card made my day (next time, I’ll need an “Officer Sassy” card.) And I thank Aaron for introducing me to April (and April for the photo with an inebriated stranger!)

Everyone at the event in a brew-sharing mood gets a big thank you, too! I shared my Troeg’s Nugget Nectar, but kept looking for an opportunity to pop my bottle of Otto’s Double D and just never saw an opening (no offense to Otto’s, but the bottles being passed around we far superior!)

There are some additional summaries blogged here and here, and a little video coverage.

One of my favorite summaries of the event was on the Vagoscribe blog– it is both poetic and completely descriptive of the experience. There are no expressions of detestation, anger or even elation, which is kind of how I left this year’s experience (last year, I departed full of elation and urine – thanks, FFF, for the improved toilet situation this year.)

By 2:30 on Saturday, I did say, “where is the get-the-hell-out-of-here line?,” simply because the lines were so disorganized. I felt like a character in Hope for the Flowers (read pages 12-17 and you’ll understand what I mean!) – it was impossible to tell which line led to which final destination or how long it would take to get there. We decided to find food, clean bathrooms and great beer, which I will talk about in my next post…when I get to it.

Until then, I hope you, too, have found some good beer with good friends!