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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Fingerlakes April 2018: Part 2

Sunday was reserved primarily for wineries, but we were able to sprinkle in a pair of breweries along the way. Thankfully, I was feeling better on Sunday, thanks in part to my trusty Tussin and Ibuprofen. Not to delve too much into Dionysian tales of grape fermented goodness, I will say that the wine scene in the Fingerlakes is actually quite mature and the wines are of very high quality. I was hoping to find one or two nice Cabernet Francs in our travels, and much to my delight, it seemed EVERY winery had one. Apparently, the soil and climate of the region is suitable for this particular grape varietal. It also seemed like the 2016 vintages were the way to go, as that particular growing season was extremely fruitful. So needless to say, I got my Cab Franc fix on this trip, and I even procured a few bottles to take home when nothing else but a nice wine buzz will do.

But now, back to beer!

Our first of two breweries today was Grist Iron, located on the strip where drinking establishments littered the sides of the road for miles upon miles. We'd already visited a craft distillery and a few wineries before we switched gears for beer, so everyone had a hankering for some snackage (myself included). I was pleasantly surprised to see poutine-style tater tots with mushroom gravy (instead of the usual beef gravy). Brewslut and I shared (and quickly devoured) these scrumptious morsels, washing them down with some pretty solid beer to boot.

Tap handle action at Grist Iron.

I opted for a half pour of Ol' Buddy Ol' Pale Ale, a straight-up American Pale Ale hopped with Centennial four different times in the brew process. This proved to be a pretty pleasant, easy-drinking ale with a good pit of piney hops and light floral notes. Brewslut settled on Lake Life IPA, a Citra-hopped American IPA with a pretty substantial amount of bitterness (96 IBU) and notes of mango and grapefruit. Not bad, although I was enjoying my Pale Ale a bit more, I must admit. These days, it's extremely difficult to brew a memorable IPA that stands out from the pack. It can still be done, but with so many breweries brewing IPAs (after all, it is the quintessential American beer style to the majority of craft beer drinkers), most just get lost in the shuffle. But I drink them anyway, and move on. I equate drinking IPAs these days to chasing the dragon; I'm always trying to find that one perfect IPA. Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of what I'd describe as "perfect IPAs" in my travels, but it still remains my favorite style and I will generally gravitate to an interesting-sounding IPA when presented with the opportunity. 

Interior of Grist Iron (with the Bodans back and to the left).

Adrienne offered a swig of her Ely Pilsner, and I must admit I thought it was a pretty solid interpretation of the classic German style beer that so many beer geeks find boring or passé. I personally appreciated a well-crafted pilsner for all its simplicity. You can't hid behind anything; it's four simple ingredients working in concert to create a very subtle, balanced beer. Anyone can triple dry-hop a lackluster IPA or throw a pedestrian porter in a bourbon barrel for 9 months and hope for the best. But to brew a fine pilsner is a true work of art, in my opinion. We're blessed to have so many great ones brewed right here in PA too (folks reading know the ones I'm talking about)! At any rate, I enjoyed this one and ordered my own pour to savor for the rest of our visit to Grist Iron.

Pleeps just hangin' out at Grist Iron.

Just a hop, skip and jump away from Grist Iron was our next stop, Lucky Hare. This place was arguably my favorite brewery of the weekend. Plus the tasting room was dog-friendly, and the folks here were quite jovial as well. Lucky Hare boasted one of those beer chalkboards that had me wanting to try virtually everything on tap. But the first one to jump out at me was Ned Ryerson. (Fans of Bill Murray's Groundhog Day will get the reference.) I assumed it was some kind of rye beer, and I was correct. Ned was indeed a Rye IPA with New York-grown Cascade and Chinook hops. This was an all-around nice semi-dry IPA with plenty of citrus notes and a spicy rye finish. Brewslut chose the Ballwebber, an orange session IPA. I'm not sure if this was brewed with orange or orange zest, or just referred to the flavor of the hops used, but this one was pretty poundable. Only one beer in each and we knew we'd found a winner.

What's on tap at Lucky Hare?

Up next, we went with the one-two punch of Falcon Punch and Millennial Falcon Punch, two very tasty IPA variations. Falcon Punch was a lovely golden-bodied East Coast IPA with a citrusy kick (or punch, right?) of grapefruit and lemon zest courtesy of Falconer's Flight hops (of course). Locally grown Cascade and Chinook hops rounded out the hop bill. The millennial version, on the other hand, was a hazy, imperial version of the standard Falcon Punch. This one features Maris Otter malt and flaked oats for a soft, round mouthfeel and the added "haze craze" effect. Then, of course, it's "dry-hopped to the max" with a constantly rotating assortment of hops. I had to chuckle a bit when I saw it was a hazy IPA. Millennial equates to "hipster" for most folks in their 40s (like this middle-aged man), so the slight dig on them wasn't lost on me. With that said, it was a damn fine beer!

But there was still more beer to be had! Right Pleeps?

Pleeps being Pleeps.

Meanwhile, the Bodans were working their way through a sampler flight, and Kit mentioned her affection for a beer named Uppers and Downers, a dark lager. I saw it on the board but kind of shrugged it off. But when I discovered it was brewed with local coffee, my ears perked up and I knew I had to have one. Plus it came with the endorsement of the Bodans, who are both bona fide coffee geeks in the same vein as I am with beer. I took a quick nip of their sampler, and quickly realized I needed my own pour. I don't come across dark lagers too often, and I will usually order one when I see one. But there were just too many other beers I wanted to try. Oh well, what's one more piled on top of a bunch of wine, other beers and a cocktail?

Them's some sweet rabbit ears!

Washkevich was also sucking down the Brotato #4, a hazy NE-style IPA, so of course I had to get some of that in my gullet. I couldn't find any additional information about this beer, other than it had been preceded by three other variations. Something tells me that it was brewed with Idaho 7 hops (Idaho = potatoes = brotato). Maybe that's stretching it a bit. You say Brotato, I say... you know what I mean. But it definitely had that complex, experimental hop flavor and somewhat strange finish that I couldn't put my finger on. While it was enjoyable, I preferred both Falcon beers over this one.

After we wrapped up our daytime drinking adventures, it was time to head back to the homestead for more fun. Brewslut was wiped out and retired for the evening after our make-your-own-taco-inspired dinner. Afterward, we opted for a rollicking round of the Exploding Kittens card game while we explored further imbibing. After the game, we decided it was time for some hot tub shenanigans before finally retiring for the evening at around 12:30 a.m. We needed to be out of the house by 10 a.m. so it was a good time to pack everything in.

Monday morning came quickly, and after a quick breakfast (which included a mead/cider hybrid from B. Nektar called The Dude's Rug), we cleaned up and packed our belongings to bid farewell to our home for the weekend. Brewslut and I took the day off from work (obviously), as we'd planned to continue our brewery expeditions for the remainder of the day. Sadly, the vast majority of the brewers in the immediate area were closed on Monday, or at very least, didn't open until late afternoon. Even Yorkholo, which was two hours away in Mansfield, PA, didn't open until 4 p.m. We were striking out everywhere we looked, so, defeated, we decided to just drive home and stop at Pizza Boy.

Not too far out of town, we drove past a place called Wagner Valley, and the sign out front said "Open" and also indicated wine and beer tastings inside. The place looked quite impressive from the outside, so we pulled a U-turn and popped in for a visit.

Save for employees, we were literally the only people occupying the building. The building itself was pretty awesome, with an interesting (albeit slightly confusing for a directionally-challenged person like myself) octagon-shaped floor plan. We passed through a spacious gift shop, restrooms, and several wine tanks before landing in the brewery tasting room. I could already sense that this was going to be worth our time for a quick stop.

My instincts were on-point, because all of the beers we tried were legit. I was also surprised to learn that its brewing operations got off the ground back in 1997. I was even more surprised that they weren't on my initial list of places to hit. Our bartender mentioned he'd been working there for about a year or so, and he did a little bit of everything. We was friendly and talkative, and I'm sure he appreciated some people stopping in who were knowledgeable and up for a bit of beer conversation. I'm sure it made his day (generally allocated as a cleaning day, from what we gathered) go a bit faster. Since we'd be driving for about four hours, I settled on a sampler flight of the following four beers:

  • Cross-Section IPA - crisp IPA with floral and citrus notes
  • Hop Tropic - bright and refreshing tropical fruit-forward with hints of mango and pineapple
  • No Innuendos IPA - hazy, tropical fruit bomb brewed with lactose sugar and oats for a fluffy, dense body.
  • Reserve Trippelbock - 10% ABV dark strong lager with a deep mahogany hue and bold flavors of caramel, toffee, and dark stone fruit. Thick and chewy but not too sweet.

I also tried a bit of Brewslut's Sugar House Maple Porter, which was quite delicious. From what we discovered, local maple syrup was almost as popular as the wine from this region. We came across several roadside stands and saw plenty of signs directing drivers to "local maple syrup ahead." This beer is brewed with pure New York "Sugar House" maple syrup and added a slightly sweet counterpart to the roasty porter. Think molasses and vanilla akin to Shoo Fly pie!

Back on our home turf, we swung by Al's of Hampden for a few new Pizza Boy offerings. It was nice to get there on a weekday to catch up with Al and Terry, both of whom I hadn't seen in a few months. We chatted about the upcoming beer for Ffej of July, but more on that later. Rickety Cricket, an espresso brown ale with toasted almonds and cocoa nibs, was quite delicious and full-bodied. I enjoyed this one more than I had anticipated. I also tried the newish Hop for Teacher, a Pale Ale dry-hopped exclusively with Eukanot for a floral nose with a punch of papaya. Brewslut had this during our last visit but somehow I missed. At just 5.5% ABV, it was quite crushable.

And with that, folks, the adventure concludes. Join us next time when we traverse the Earth for more frothy fermented goodness. Until next time...

Photo credit: Disco Tits.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Fingerlakes April 2018: Part 1

Situated only about four hours north of Central PA, the Fingerlakes region of upstate New York had eluded me for many years. Brewslut visited several years ago with a group of friends, but I was unavailable (likely due to pesky band obligations). However, the craft beer scene was still in its infancy in this region, dominated by an abundance of wineries.

Rather than the usual Team D(r)INK suspects, the cast of characters this time included four-fifths of my old 80's party rock cover band, Brazilian Wax. Awesome name, right? The brains (and disco tits... more on that later) behind the operation was Adrienne, girlfriend of my long-time musician buddy and studio wizard Mike. (I'd worked with Mike outside of Wax several times, as he's recorded my band herbie for various studio projects.) It was also right around his birthday, so we'd be surprising him with a little drunken soiree at some point during the trip. Also joining us were Mike and Kit (collectively known as the Bodans from here on out) and Kelly (whom you may remember from her role as Designated Driver during our Drinksgiving Trip to VA Beach back in November). the seven of us would be sharing a house right on Cayuga Lake, one of the larger lakes in the Fingerlakes region.

Our mission? To drink, of course! In addition to a host of great wineries, the beer scene was now also quite mature. There were even a few craft distilleries peppered throughout the area. Being the most obvious "beer guy" of the group, I was asked to put together a list of breweries for our itinerary. Sounds like a task in which I have ample experience. Based on the location from our house and the beers listed on each candidate's respective web site, I put together a list of about a dozen places I'd deemed worthy of a potential visit. The only place we absolutely HAD to visit was Two Goats, because... well... GOATS!

Our plan was to leave immediately after the last bell rang at Brewslut's school. We'd planned to meet at a Park & Ride in nearby Dauphin because our home was in the opposite direction. I ducked out of work a bit early so we could ensure getting to our destination at a reasonable hour. We landed at our home for the long weekend at around 7:45 p.m., just in time to down a beer before heading out to dinner, for which we had reservations at 8:15 p.m. Bodan (as he will be called from here on out... I never call a Mike by his first name, only his surname) picked up a few local six-packs on his way from Vermont, so I indulged in a bottle of Caged Alpha Monkey IPA from the unfamiliar CB Craft Brewers out of Honeoye Falls, NY (where the fuck is that?). It hit the spot after the lengthy 4-hour drive and with that, we were off to dinner.

While I don't recall the name of the restaurant, I did consume a yummy grilled chicken sandwich with mushrooms and Swiss, along with a side of sweet potato fries. Brewslut got the same thing minus the fries, and she was less than thrilled with her Caesar salad. C'mon, a salad? We're on vacation. Bring on the fries, I say! I washed everything down with a tasty Mocha Stout from nearby Bottomless Brewing (more on this brewery in a bit).

Friday night concluded with several hands of Cards Against Humanity (arguably the greatest game of all time) and my slow decline into a drunken stupor, which included a solo trip to the hot tub. Kids, don't try this at home, especially after about four pounder cans of Perpetual IPA. Luckily Adrienne came out to check on me because I was starting to nod off. (Washkevich, she's a keeper). Brewslut, on the other hand, couldn't have given a shit about my potential for drowning. Your wife... RIGHT! At any rate, I slept well that night.

I awoke at around 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, as instructed by the group. After a sweet mimosa, breakfast courtesy of the Bodan's, and a much needed shower (yes, my hair frizzes out sideways when introduced to the chlorine-saturated water of a pool or hot tub), we were off on our first afternoon of Fingerlakes fun.

First stop? Two Goats! I'd been excited to visit here for years based solely on its name alone. While we were on our way to Two Goats, I noticed that there was some kind of drinking establishment (brewery, winery or distillery) about every 500 to 1000 feet. I certainly appreciated the convenience of the lay of the land. Plus we had a DD in charge of the drunk bus, so that was an added bonus.

Two... two goats! Ah ah ah!!! (Photo by Kit Bodan)

I must admit, I was hoping to see some real, live goats at Two Goats... at least two of them. Sadly, there were no goats to be seen, other than the signage and merchandise strewn about the small garage-like tasting room. After perusing the list of about a dozen offerings, I landed on a pint of XIPA, which I assume stands for Extra India Pale Ale. Unfortunately, Two Goats doesn't subscribe to regaling its consumers with wordy descriptions of its beers or fancy, adjective-laden names. As a marketing guy, I found this somewhat disappointing, especially since the name of its brewery includes my favorite four-legged friends. The beer started off on the right foot but slowly devolved into a diacytl mess as it warmed up. The initial flavor was pretty solid and the body was nice and hefty, but I'm overly sensitive to the "buttered popcorn" flavor emitted by diacytl when it's present in beers. While the beer itself wasn't undrinkable, the diacytl presence definitely detracted from my full enjoyment of the beer.

Tap handles at Two Goats. (Photo by Kit Bodan)

Brewslut went with a pint of Danger Goat!, a blond Doppelbock that was OK in the grand scheme of things. But Two Goats gets bonus point for the name of the beer as well as the style. I seldom run into Doppelbocks on tap at small breweries, and I'm pretty sure I've never encountered a blond version. I guess there's a first time for everything, eh?

For a final beer, I bought a pint of Dirty Butt, a blend of Cream Ale and Dirty Shepherd Brown Ale, for the group. This one produced a nice layered effect a la Tequila Sunrise, but it definitely was prettier to look at than it was to imbibe. It wasn't very well-received. It wasn't bad, but let's just say the taste was closer to its namesake than not.

While I loved the vibe, goat imagery, and the overall atmosphere of the place, the beers fell a bit short of my expectations. Perhaps I was too excited to fulfill my goat quota for the day. Regardless, I was glad to have finally made it to this brewery after many years of longing to "get my goat on!"

Here's what you do with a dollar, a tack and some change. (Photo by Kit Bodan)

Rooster Fish was up next. Mike and Adrienne had stopped on their way to the house, and Mike gave the thumbs up. He mentioned a Coffee Blonde ale, and that was all it took to sell me on a stop. I mean, it was already on the itinerary, but we happened to be driving right through downtown Watkins Glen on our way to another brewery, so why not get two birds stoned at once? 

I really dug the vibe of the tasting room. It was open and cozy, with lots of warm, rustic wood decor and a sweet standing bar with some cool light fixtures. There was also an over-sized chess set near the board game area, complete with a coffee table and some comfy seating options. I love a good game of chess, but nobody was in the mood for a match with me. Well, except for Pleeps.

Pleeps... King of the Fingerlakes for a few days.

First on the agenda, a pour of the Coffee Blonde. I'd first encountered a string of light-colored coffee ales during our trip to Portland, OR two years ago, and I thought, "Damn! This trend needs to find its way to the East Coast." Well, I'm happy to report it has, and I jump at the chance to try a new one each time I come across one in our travels. This example was pretty solid, though not mind-blowing. As with Two Goats, I couldn't locate any information on any of Rooster Fish's beers aside from its handful of flagships. I'm assuming this one was brewed with local coffee, but who knows? Rooster Fish touts itself as NY's first farm brewery, so I suppose it's possible that they grow, harvest, and roast its own beans. Either way... NEED THE INFO!

Inside Rooster Fish Brewing.

Up next was a pretty nice Cocoa Porter. Again, no information to be found about this beer on the interwebs. However, the description I came across on Untappd made me chuckle.

Pours a clear dark brown body with a small ring of beige head. The nose is a nice mix of cocoa and chocolate malt, fairly dry smelling, some lighter notes of coffee and roast. The flavor is decent, a little heavy on the burnt caramel for a Porter, but some decent cocoa notes. A little roastiness on the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied with soft fizzy carbonation and a lingering chocolaty finish. Pretty decent stuff.

Sounds like someone needs to claim its brewery. This write-up hearkens back to my Beer Advocate reviewing days when I used to encumber myself with a notebook and pencil, and sit in the corner scrawling away and blathering on about mouthfeel, frothy off-white crowns of foam, cascading effervescence, and elaborate doily-like lacing decorating the walls of my shaker pint. These days, I just check in my beer and move along.

Anyone know what this is? Rooster Fish has one.
We also shared a pour of an NE-style IPA brewed with New Zealand hops, aptly named New Zealand Party-gyle. OK, at least the New Zealand part is apt. Not sure to what the Party-gyle refers. Either way, this was the best of the bunch, in my opinion. Overall, a nice soft mouthfeel with ample haze and a hop aroma boasting tropical fruit, melon and some citrus. This was a pretty solid interpretation of the style. Plus I love me some Kiwi hops! And with that, it was time to shuffle off across the street for a late lunch at a local Asian place. Brewslut and I split a sushi roll and both had Pad Thai (shrimp for me and chicken for her). Everyone concurred that the sushi was quite excellent, despite taking a very long time to get served, especially since the restaurant was virtually empty.

After filling our bellies, it was off to the next drinking destination, which happened to be Seneca Lake Brewing. This place is an anomaly in that they feature all cask conditioned beers exclusively. One of the first things I noticed aside from the long line-up of beer engines was signage plastered on the walls about a "No Cell Phone" policy. According to this rule, anyone using a cell phone for any reason other than to take pictures is subject to a $10 fine, which is donated to charity. While I'm not sure how enforceable this rule is, I appreciated it (even though I was going to check in my beers on Untappd no matter what the law of the land dictated inside this pub's doors). With that said, I would have loved to have witnessed some oblivious Millennial get bounced from the building for checking out his latest hipster app or logging into his Tinder account. (I still don't know what the fuck Tinder is; I merely know it exists and that young people use it.)

Beer engines as far as the eye can see!

Archie's Mild, a 3.8% English Mild, often referred to as the quintessential English session ale, seemed like an appropriate place to start. This offering was pretty middle-of-the-road with some pleasant toffee and cocoa notes. Brewslut opted for the Steamship Stout, a Foreign Export Stout brewed with Cascade and Fuggle hops. I haven't come across Fuggles in quite a while, so I was anxious to try this one. It turned out to be my favorite of the lot, and boasted complex notes of leather, tobacco, cocoa, and licorice with a faint smokey finish. This sucker was solid!

I rounded out the ensemble with Beerocracy Bitter, a classic English-style bitter weighing in at 3.6% ABV. Typically one of my favorite English beer styles (along with the more robust ESB, or Extra Special Bitter), this one missed the mark a bit for me. It was a bit thin and watery, and lacking flavor.

We had fun playing "Would You Rather," which is now apparently a card game you can purchase. We played this game for free in the herbie van (named Mangina, by the way) for many years, courtesy of our own warped minds. We don't need no stinkin' cards!

One thing I found to be peculiar was that Seneca Lake sold growlers of its beers. In all my years of beer traveling, I have NEVER come across a brewery willing to sell cask-conditioned beer in take-home containers. Given the high tourist traffic the brewery must receive, I suppose it makes sense to have some sort of take-out beer available, especially if the customers enjoy the beer and won't be back for the foreseeable future.

Outside Climbing Bines.

While our next stop, Climbing Bines Hop Farm, didn't make my final itinerary, I'm glad we stopped in for a while. Weather and gray skies aside, the land here was quite picturesque, especially for beer fans. Long rows of hop bine poles lined the landscape, and rock formations (reminiscent of the "inukshuk" on the cover of Rush's Test for Echo album) accented the courtyard area. This would be a perfect spot to take a stroll with beer in hand and enjoy the grounds of the brewery, but, of course, rain, mud, and cold weather stifled my plans, so Brewslut and I made our way inside while the rest of the group took a smoke break.

I just like this photo. (Photo by Kit Bodan)

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later on this trip. Yes, that's right, folks. WOO GIRLS! Anytime you see a young twenty-something woman wearing a sash, a "bride-to-be" T-shirt, or - worse of all - a tiara... well, you need to get as far away from them as possible. I thought Brewslut was going to blow a gasket. These women were drunkenly humping the foosball table, which happened to be a few short feet away from our table.

With Woo Girls flanking us in every direction, I knew I needed something substantial to dull the pain. Enter Barley's Wine, a 10.5% ABV American barleywine with equal parts boozy warmth and fruity hops. Part of Climbing Bines' "Pandemonium Line" of beers featuring hops grown on premises and  organic barley harvested just a few miles down the road at Peter Martens Farms, this sucker was smooth and hoppy. It went down way too easily for a double-digit ABV beer, and I'm glad I got a half pour. The bartender was trying to interest me in a $9 "keep the pint glass" of this beer, which would have been a ridiculous amount of such a big beer to drink while on a long brewery crawl (even for this seasoned pro). The other option was a plastic logo cup for $7.50. I opted for the kid's portion for $3.50, which was by far the best deal (both for my pocket and my liver).

Tap handles at Climbing Bines.

Brewslut opted for the Imperial IPA, also from its Pandemonium Line. Teetering just under 8% ABV, this guy was brewed with Cascade, Chinook and Nugget, then dry-hopped with Cascade for a big citrusy character. She also went for the kid's portion. Not bad overall, although I'm definitely I went with the barleywine, which I enjoyed immensely.

Speaking of Pandemonium, Brewslut was getting quite agitated with all of the oblivious cell phone zombies populating the area. Since we were huddled in a partly covered seasonal sitting area, the exit door was closed due to the chilly temperature. Thus, brewery management affixed a pretty large sign on the door - right at eye level, no less - indicating the following simple instructions: "Please keep the door shut. Thank you." After three customers in a row failed to oblige, I could sense Brewslut's temper beginning to percolate. Two more people passed through and also were unsuccessful in following these basic written instructions. Then all hell broke loose. Yes, the wrath of Brewslut was unleashed on the twenty-something patrons like the apocalypse. OK, so I may be over-exaggerating a bit. Let's just say everyone in the room heard her when she, quite loudly and audaciously, exclaimed in her booming schoolteacher voice, "Will you people please shut the fucking door?!" Coincidentally, the next person to pass through the door was a clearly mentally challenged young man, and even he had the wherewithal to comprehend the simple directions on the sign, and kindly obliged by shutting the door behind him as he exited. Chalk one up for the short bus. It was definitely an ordeal that made me refrain from using my cell phone for a while.
Hop bines. (Photo by Kit Bodan)

After the Woo Girl incident, it was time to head to our final destination of the day, Bottomless Brewing. the building was quite large and reminiscent of a cross between a huge barn and airplane hangar. Once we got out of the van, we could hear the strains of that horrendous Proclaimers song (you know, "I would walk 500 miles") being played at a very slow tempo. Sounds like we had some live music in store for us! As me made our way inside, there were two very young girls (one extremely drunk) hugging each other. The less drunk one was kind enough to open the door for us as we filed in. Unfortunately, I was the one who heard the drunk one say, "Don't open the door for them... fuck those people!" Wrong answer. I proceeded with the following zinger: "Have fun getting her home tonight. Looks like someone's gonna get raped." Fuck who?

Once we were inside, we noticed there were two separate floors. Downstairs was small and pretty cramped, with a small tasting bar along the right wall that accommodated maybe 10 or so people. After checking out our options, we ordered a pair of IPAs - Momo IPA and the aptly (and generically-named) IPA - and decided to explore the building. The Momo was definitely the better of the two IPAs we sampled. Of course, it was the hazy NE-style that prevailed. The other paled in comparison. Neither were memorable in the grand scheme of things, though.

Outside Bottomless Brewing.

Heading upstairs, we deduced that the band was housed on the second floor. The sound was pretty bad albeit not too loud, all things considered. I mean, we were in a large, wooden air hangar-like building with no soundproofing. Perfect for live music, right? Washkevich and I noticed a ping pong table at the far end of the room, and we rocked out a quick, semi-drunken game while the band tried its best to work its way through songs like "Piano Man" and "Sweet Caroline." One of the side effects of being a somewhat proficient musician is my unfortunate overly critical opinion of live bands when I come across them in my travels. I've stumbled upon some really awesome bands, and will typically let them know i appreciate their talents, either by tipping them, buying a CD, or just telling them so. Then there are bands like the one rocking out on this particular evening. "Sweet Caroline," eh? That's the hipster version of playing "Free Bird" or - God forbid - "Brown Eyed Girl." It could have been worse, though. It could have been "Wagon Wheel." That's right. Fuck that song. Fuck it up its stupid ass. Perhaps they saved it for the encore. Either way, it was our cue to move along.

However, a quick visit to the men's room revealed perhaps the greatest sink I've ever encountered... anywhere! Yes, it was a cow's backside, and the water came out of the teet. It was a happy coincidence that wasn't lost on me as we made our way back to the house. (You'll soon be privy to the coincidence in the following paragraphs.)

This sink is udderly awesome!

Back at the house on Saturday, it was time to party... disco style! But first, we had to distract Washkevich (the birthday boy) so the ladies could decorate. I was put on distraction duty, and the two of us grabbed a beer and retired to the game room for some billiards. Yes, that's right. Our house was fully equipped with not only a pool table, but also a ping pong table, cornhole boards and bags, an electronic dart board, flat screen TV, and a pair of kayaks, you know, in case we decided to embark on a drunken water sport adventure in the lake across the street. By this time, I was hammering pounder cans of Perpetual IPA and was ready to eat. After about half an hour or so, it was time to head back upstairs for our grill feast - complete with burgers, sausages, chicken, and all the fixins.

Bring on the Disco Tits!

We had a blast drinking and celebrating, which included a cake decorated to resemble quite a set of mammalian protruberences. Actually, all of the decorations were either breast or disco related, from the balloons to the disco balls to the boob-shaped squirt gun. (See? I told you the cow sink would tie in!) We even each got our own Disco Tits koozie. (If you're unfamiliar with Disco Tits, watch this video. I promise you will laugh... a lot.) I'm pretty sure more inappropriate games were played, and more drinking ensued, so much so that we never made it to the hot tub that night. It didn't matter. Fun was had by all. 

Stay tuned for Part 2, which includes... guess what?... more drinking! Until next time...

Photo courtesy of Disco Tits.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ship Arriving Too Early to Avert a Drowning Liver

A quick perusal through the vast discography of Frank Zappa will reveal the inspiration for the title of this blog. Yes indeed, Brewslut and I were off to yet another concert by Frank's son, Dweezil. I'd been going to see him ever since he started the Zappa Plays Zappa show back in 2006. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I haven't missed a tour yet. I'm good for at least one airing of Frank's mind-blowing catalog once a year (more if it was feasible, though). At any rate, a concert of course yields pre-gaming at a few breweries prior to showtime. Who wants to pay premium pricing for subpar beer at a venue? Not this guy!

The day began with a brewery I'd just discovered while poking around Taking its namesake from the neighborhood of suburban Philadelphia in which it is situated, Chestnut Hill Brewing Company was in the midst of celebrating its first anniversary during our visit. I was familiar with the area only because there had been an Iron Hill location established there for quite some time, although we'd never been there before. Like many suburban Philly neighborhoods, Chestnut Hill boasts an abundance of tiny shops and boutiques along the main drag, where portions of the streets shift from asphalt to cobblestone (not comfortable to traverse but certainly pretty to look at). As we pulled into town, I made an off-the-cuff comment about a record store being close by, and - lo and behold! - there appeared one about half a block away on the right side of the street. Since it was national Record Store Day, Brewslut obliged with a quick visit. More on that later. Now, onto beer!

Chestnut Hill's brewery is situated in a delightful little market tucked away from the main street called Market at the Fairway. The narrow, stone alley leading back to the marketplace reminded me of our honeymoon trip to Paris, where we enjoyed a memorable 3-course luncheon at a quaint cafe on a similar alley in Chateaux country. Inside, the space was brimming with all types of city folk shopping for produce, chocolates, and baked goods, or enjoying lunch from one of the many vendors, including an on-site sushi kiosk! Then of course, there was the brewery, which happened to be just inside the main entrance to the right. 

We perused the chalkboard, which featured six beers on tap, so we decided we each have two pints and share them. I decided to begin with the aptly named One Year Anniversary Ale, a NE-style IPA with brewed with Simcoe, Citra and Centennial hops, flaked oats and wheat. This was an exemplary take on an overly trendy beer. As I've said countless times before, I hate seeing these IPAs everywhere but I can't help but order one whenever I see one available. Think of me as a one-man independent research firm conducting a nationwide taste test. Well, this one was a winner! As it should, this anniversary marked the occasion with a pleasant, citrus and tropical fruit-forward nose, soft, velvety body and minimal bitterness. Think soft and delicate with a full aroma... they way it should be. Brewslut was equally enjoying her pour of Hazed & Confused, an American Pale Ale dry-hopped with Mosaic and Citra. Can't go wrong with those two hop varieties. this one had a similar look and feel as my anniversary ale, but it was slightly more bitter and floral in the finish.

Happy anniversary from Pleeps!

We took a quick stroll around the marketplace while we enjoyed our first beers. I was eyeing up the nearby Barry's Buns, which was situated catty-corner from the seating area at the brewery. While I found the name of the establishment to be humorous, i must say that the food looked amazing. However, Brewslut guilt-tripped (fat-shamed?) me out of procuring one of Barry's insanely delicious-looking sticky buns. I guess I'll never be privy to the flavor of Barry's Buns. Sad panda.

Barry's Buns... I'm pretty sure they're finger lickin' good!

As we made our way back to the tiny bar, I noticed that the brewery was actually situated next door to the "tasting room" where we were sitting. See?

Next on the agenda was a pint of Poppy's Porter, a tasty dark beer cold brewed with 2 lbs. of Poppy’s Café House Blend coffee. (The Poppy's kiosk was conveniently situated a few paces away from the brewery.) This was another fine beer with just the right amount of coffee in the nose. The roastiness was a bit restrained due to the smooth nature of cold brew coffee. The body was firm and not overly viscous, which made this one an easy drinker. Brewslut went with a pour of Motra, a fantastic West Coast-style IPA hopped with Mosaic and Citra. While this had a similar hop character to the Hazed & Confused, the body, texture and appearance of this beer was textbook West Coast IPA. I made a comment that it was reminiscent of a Pizza Port IPA; not a particular IPA, but rather a dead ringer for something that might have been brewed by Pizza Port. I've since gone on record and professed that Pizza Port makes the best West Coast-style IPAs in the country, and lord knows I've had quite a lot of them over the years (thanks to many trips to San Diego). Motra, in my opinion, is one of the finest Wet Coast IPA clones I've had not only on the East Coast, but outside of San Diego! Perhaps it caught me in the right mood, but I just enjoyed the shit out of this beer and would have easily put down a pint of my own had we not had two other stops to make before the show.

All in all, I was more than impressed with our first visit to Chestnut Hill. They also scored bonus points for the ambiance of the market setting and "scenery" (i.e. people watching). NERD ALERT: We also enjoyed a conversation with a pair of locals about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Rush. 

Next, a quick detour to do a bit of wax hunting. Since it was indeed Record Store Day, Brewslut allowed me to make an impromptu pop-in to a shop just up the street from the brewery. Hideaway Music was pretty small, so it only took about 20 minutes or so to plow through all of the vinyl bins. Brewslut helped by digging through the bargain bin, and was quick to call out bands she thought I'd be interested in. I found a lot of great stuff, but unfortunately this somewhat jaded collector already has most of it in his collection. Still, I was able to find a sweet NM copy of XTC's Beeswax: Some B-Sides 1977-1982, which was a nice addition to my collection. Even better, it was two bucks off for Record Store Day. I even got a free cloth tote with my purchase. I win!

Anyway, back to beer. It had been many years since we last set foot in the next stop on our agenda. As a matter of fact, it took many years to wash away the stigma of what we'd nicknamed "Earth Bread and Daycare" after our last visit with D&C. However, I was game to give them another try, especially since I recently learned that Earth Bread + Brewery was affiliated with the newish (and amazing) Brewery Techne and Bar Hygge situated over in the Spring Garden neighborhood of Philadelphia. 

Our view from the bar at Earth Bread + Brewery.

Perusing the chalkboard, I spotted a beer called Chainsmoker, and I immediately thought, "This HAS to be a smoked beer!" Indeed, my tingling Spidey-sense was spot-on: a German style Rauchbier. Twenty Eighteen is turning out to be the year of the Rauch for me. I've been bumping into them all over the place... and as a result driving them into my beer locker (that's my gut, for those who don't watch Trailer Park Boys). This one was a guest tap from Brewery Techne, but it's technically the same guy brewing the beer, as far as I know anyway. This one had a nice dark chestnut-colored hue and moderate smokey aroma. However, it was a bit thin overall. Still, I enjoyed the flavor but was hoping for something a bit more chewy on the palate. 

Brewslut, on the other hand, shot for the Lemon Maroon, hopped up steam beer/IPA hybrid with lemon zest. For those not familiar with a "steam" beer (sometimes referred to as California Common), it is a highly effervescent beer brewed by fermenting lager yeasts at warmer ale yeast fermentation temperatures. If you've had Anchor Steam (the benchmark of the style), then you know what I'm talking about. Grainy, moderately hoppy with a dry finish, this particular version boasted a zesty lemon tang as well. 

The Amazing Pleeps and his balancing act.

We concluded with a shared pour of Chimera, a Belgian style Dark Ale. This was preceded by an argument (the good kind) over the pronunciation of the name of the beer. Brewslut won, even with my long and storied Dungeons & Dragons background. I suppose teaching Mythology as an elective trumps the knowledge of a fantasy role playing nerd. This beer, while enjoyable, didn't really have too much character outside the candied stone fruit flavor of the Belgian yeast. And with that, we settled up and headed to our final destination before the concert.

Although I was familiar with the brewery and had a few of its beers in passing at numerous beer festivals over the years, Neshaminy Creek had pretty much eluded us. A quick visit to my trusty revealed its new Borough Brewhouse site and tasting room was conveniently located about two miles from the Keswick Theater. Given this fortunate geographical discovery, it was a no-brainer for our final stop before the concert. 

Inside Neshaminy Creek's new Borough Brewhouse.

Inside, the room was vast and inviting, with an open floor plan and a wrap-around bar as well as an upstairs loft area. Plenty of exposed brick walls, painted beer decor and high, beamed ceilings completed the ambiance, lending plenty of modern flair. We were meeting a friend shortly, but learned he was running a bit late, so we decided to park at the bar for a while.

The beer list was pretty impressive, with everything from lighter lagers and a variety of IPAs to an Imperial Stout and barrel-aged Belgian Quad. Given the vast selection, I was glad to see 7oz. pours on the menu. I feel that a half pint - give or take - is really the perfect amount of beer to sample, especially if it's a new beer for me. If you buy into a full pint, or even an Imperial Pint, and don't like the beer, then your stuck with it. Sample size glasses only allow you to scratch the surface and see if you like it enough to go big. But 7 to 8 ounces can give a complete snapshot of the beer. Plus you can try twice as many in one sitting! 

Oh, and guess what? Yup. Another smoked beer! Make that two smoked beers! Of the two listed on the menu, I was leaning toward Bacon Industry, a Helles Rauchbier brewed with bacon, and beechwood and cherrywood smoked malts. Now, folks who know me know that I refrain from eating swine. After all, pigs are smarter than dogs, and dogs are smarter than people. It's a long story that goes back to visiting one of the livestock pavilions at the Bloomsburg Fair. Let's just say I looked into a pig's eyes and connected with his soul. So, no bacon for me. However, my one self-imposed loophole is this: if there's a beer brewed with bacon, I shall drink it. Honestly, I've only ever encountered a minuscule amount of beers brewed with bacon in our travels; perhaps enough to count on one hand. This one was definitely on the smokier and "meatier" side of the spectrum. Had this been a big, thick porter or stout, I would have enjoyed it even more. But the crispness of the lager characteristics played nicely with its smokey attributes, which made for an enjoyable beer.

Who likes to Rauch the party? Pleeps likes to Rauch the party!

In the midst of all this, our friend Mike (bassist and keyboardist for my Rush tribute band, Solar Federation) joined us. Turns out the guy sitting next to us at the bar (also going to the show), had seen our band numerous times and knew who we were. I was pretty flabbergasted, to say the least. Getting recognized in Harrisburg is one thing, but in Philly? We chatted about music while we enjoyed our beers and the surroundings. 

Speaking of beer, up next was a big DIPA called The Shape of Hops to Come. Hopped with Apollo, Newport, Simcoe, Topaz, and Citra, this sucker had lots going on with it. On the surface, it was thick, sticky and rife with floral and citrus fruit in the nose. A bit deeper, and the pine resin and floral notes emerged. At 8.5% ABV (timid for a DIPA), the boozy warmth was minimal but present. This one definitely has more of a West Coast vibe, and the I appreciated the viscosity of the beer. All in all, not a bad DIPA. 

My view from the barstool at Borough Brewhouse.
For my last beer, I went all in. I wanted to make sure I was good and primed up for some Zappa (although Frank would certainly disapprove of any sort of inebriated state into which I may or may not have descended). Enter Barrel Aged Four Corners Quad. OK, I admit it. I'm a sucker for barrel-aged beers. This bad boy, a 12% ABV barrel-aged Belgian-style Quad brewed in collaboration with Against the Grain, was aged in Jack Daniels Rye Whiskey barrels for an undetermined amount of time. Man, this was like drinking vanilla-infused liquid caramel with dried figs and dates floating around in it. A tinge of dry spice and boozy heat tickled the tongue, but overall this was as smooth as a pair of recently shorn testicles. Nicely done, fellas! We also felt it necessary to eat before the show, and we each scarfed down a tasty black bean burger with goat cheese, roasted red pepper hummus, and avocado. Yummy!

And with that, it was time to head over to the Keswick Theater for three hours of some of the craziest, most technically complex, and eclectic music you'd ever want to hear under one roof. Dweezil and his band were on fire, slamming through more than two dozen of "choice cuts" from his dad's unmatched catalog of more than 100 albums. Frank was right. Music IS the best... but beer is definitely a close second for me. Thanks for reading! 

Until next time...

Friday, April 6, 2018

On the verge of 44: Part 2

Back at the cabin on Saturday night, we broke open the remainder of the bottles I brought along to share. Up first was an unlabeled 750mL bottle that was given to me by Mike Hiller, head brewer at Strangeways in Richmond, VA. Mike was the owner and brewer of the now defunct Bavarian Barbarian Brewing Co. in Williamsport. I should say it was "left" for me because unfortunately we weren't able to connect when we swung by for a visit on the way home from our Drinksgiving trip to VA Beach back in November of last year. I'd forgotten what was inside the bottle, so I figured why not crack it open and see what it might be? After a few sips, we unanimously determined the mystery beer was in fact a Belgian-style Tripel based on its flavor profile. Upon perusing Untappd for Tripels brewed by Strangeways, we deduced that it was likely a beer called The Burton Threshold. I enjoy me a well-made Tripel, and this one did not disappoint.

Up next was another beer from Allagash called Émile. Aged in red wine foeders with Lactobacillus and Pediococcus (types of bacteria introduced to coax "funky" flavors), this delicate beer boasted a vinous, grape skin-like flavor with mild tartness and traces of oak and vanilla. Keeping things going with "big beers," Bourbon Barrel-Aged Painless from Ocelot was on cue. Another gift from a brewer during my previous birthday trip with D&C and fellow Team D(r)INKers James and Lisa (aka the Yoobergs), this pitch black Russian Imperial Stout aged in Heaven Hills bourbon barrels for eight months was definitely no slouch. Ripples of vanilla and toasted coconut mingled with dark roasted malt, coffee and chocolate notes with a hint of earthy leather and tobacco. It's everything you could want in a barrel-aged RIS!

After the enjoyable BA Painless, we were starting to feel no pain. Deuane swung by Tröegs and picked up some bottles of the recently released Splinter Series beer, Blackberry Tizzy, which I'd been anticipating since first tasting it right from the cellar before it was finished. Similar to Freaky Peach but with blackberries instead of peaches (plus brown sugar and vanilla beans), this complex, fruity, earthy, boozy treat is reminiscent of blackberry bourbon sauce drizzled over French vanilla ice cream.

We ended the evening with an ancient bottle of Victory Old Horizontal from 2005. This uber-aged version was much more enjoyable than the 2015 vintage we'd shared the previous evening. I would have thought it would be the other way around! With only slight oxidation, thirteen years in the cellar was kind to this one. It still mustered up plenty of pleasant boozy caramel-candy goodness with a tinge of dark candied stone fruit and toffee. And with that, folks, I was laid out. They don't call it Old Horizontal for nuthin'! Stick a fork in me. It's time for bed!

The next morning after breakfast (turkey bacon, eggs, English muffins and fried potatoes courtesy of Deuane), we decided to drive separately into Frederick, MD, to hit a few breweries before heading back home. On the agenda were a pair of familiar places and one new-to-us brewery. First up was Rockwell, one of the familiar ones. We'd first visited back in June of last year on the way home from the Iron Maiden concert in Virginia. While I seemed to remember Rockwell more by its beer names (many featuring puns or references to rock music songs) than the actual beers themselves, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the brews this time around.

Rockwell's figurative "beer jukebox."

First on the agenda was Wicked Gangnam, a hazy NE-style IPA described as Rockwell's "Olympic Brew" due to its use of a variety of international hops, in this case Southern Cross, Galaxy, and Mandarina Bavaria. Truth be told, I had no idea what "wicked gangnam" meant, and I soon discovered why. Gangnam Style is the name of pop song by South Korean musical artist Psy. The phrase can also refer to his massively viral music video and the famous, much-imitated dance performed in it. So there's your answer: modern pop music. You know what I say to that? FUCK THAT NOISE! Obscure (to me, anyway) reference aside, this beer went down way to smoothly. I could have had a second, but I was eyeing up another IPA on the menu (actually a DIPA) called Crucial Velocity. This big, unfiltered, unrefined beer is dry-hopped with Enigma, Mosaic and Cascade for a juicy blast of tropical and citrus fruit. It's also named after a Clutch song (another one I had to look up). (My buddy Sayten would have gotten the reference. R.I.P. buddy.)

Alas, our visit to Rockwell got me thinking music, which ultimately led to vinyl (my other addiction). I finished up my second beer beer ahead of the rest of the group and decided to go off on a little tangent. My trusty Vinyl District app informed me I was in the vicinity of a cool-sounding record store called Rock & Roll Graveyard. I always have to check out at least one local record shop when we travel to get my fix. Plus it offers a slight break in my daily drinking schedule, which is more than welcome... especially when I'm driving! So, I made a little detour and picked up some gems including an original pressing of the debut Nazz record (Todd Rundgren's original "garage" band, for lack of a better term) and a Devo album I didn't have, among a few others.

After a bit of digging, I reconvened with the group over at nearby Attaboy, the other familiar brewery on the agenda for the day. Since I spent a bit more time at the record store than I had anticipated, this was a one-and-done stop for me. I also had to refuel, and luckily there was a great food truck - Boxcar Burgers - offering a few vegetarian burger options. Brewslut and I ordered both of the veggie burgers plus a box of fries and shared, and both were bangin', especially the black bean burger!

Outside Attaboy Beer (courtesy of Google images).

After perusing the beer menu, I settled on Galaxy Maid, Attaboy's flagship hazy NE-style IPA. By now I'll bet you're thinking, "Man, for someone who bitches about the inordinate amount of hazy IPAs, he sure as fuck orders enough of them!" Well, in this instance, I've had the luxury of having already tried this beer during our first visit... and it was a damn fine beer! Soft and only moderately bitter, this beer features a nice smack of grapefruit. It's no wonder why this beer is its flagship.

Meanwhile, it was hard to drag Deuane away from his sporting event, so the rest of us shipped off to our next stop while he caught up on the second half of the game. I would have liked another beer, but we still had to drive home to PA, which was about an hour-and-forty-five minute drive from Frederick.

Outside Frederick's Monocacy Brewing Company.

I decided to make up for lost time at Attaboy by going with a sampler flight at our final stop of the trip, Monocacy Brewing Company. Several of the beers were part of its "Blank Slate" series, or experimental beer series a la Scratch. It was great to see lots of unusual offerings as well as about five flagships. 

Here's the run-down:
  • Blank Slate #60: OATomatic Pale Ale - brewed with flaked oats and hopped with Meridian (U.S.) and Summer (Australia) for a smooth, fruity flavor.
  • Blank Slate #59: Violent Delights - Triple IPA brewed with oats and spelt and hopped with Huell Melon, Mosaic, Calypso and Denali. Brewslut was quick to recognize the name of the beer as a reference to Romeo and Juliet
  • Mic'd Up Mango - mango puree-infused hoppy IPA. This looked identical to a glass of orange juice. It had a nice bitter, pithy almost peppery finish amidst tons of mango juiciness. 
  • Brewtus - This imperial coffee stout was probably my favorite of the bunch. Carolyn concurred. 
  • Blank Slate #57: Ashen Cold - smoked lager brewed with applewood smoked malt and a variety of specialty malts. I was ready to sing some campfire chants after this one!
  • Radiance - shared this juicy, citrus-forward DIPA with Brewslut. This, I was informed, was Monocacy's most popular beer, so I had to try it. 
Pleeps posing at Monocacy.

All in all, we enjoyed each of the three breweries quite a bit. Rockwell seemed to have upped its ante since our last visit, Attaboy was solid as ever, and we were pretty impressed overall with Monocacy and its variety of solid beers across the board. The staff there were pretty entertaining as well... right Deuane? Frederick is only a stone's throw away from Central PA, and offers a convenient beer day trip for those interested in checking out some cool new places without having to drive too far or spend the night.

Pleeps gettin' tipsy with the tips.

So there you have it! Another birthday weekend soaked in beer. Next year, we'll see if I can get spun like a record as I turn 45 and start the downhill tumble toward the half century mark. Until next time...

Friday, March 30, 2018

On the verge of 44: Part 1

When you get to be my age, beer and birthdays go hand in hand. You may remember that last year, we spent a weekend with friends in Virginia (start with Day 1 and continue on if you wish). This time around, we decided to spend the few days leading up to my 44th birthday with some friends at a quaint cabin situated on 160 wooded acres* in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere happened to be a stone's throw away from Mercersburg, PA. Like last year, all of the planning was left to my good buddy Deuane. [*Editor's Note: Thanks Deuane!]

By now, readers of the Pour Travelers should be privy to our friends and fellow Team D(r)INK compadres, Deuane and Carolyn (later referred to collectively as D&C). Deuane took care of booking the accommodations, procuring food, and laying out the brewery agenda for the weekend. He even cooked breakfast on Saturday and Sunday morning, and prepared a fantastic Thai curry chicken meal for dinner on Saturday evening. Now that's my kind of getaway!

On Friday after work, Brewslut met me at the brewery for a quick beer before we shuffled off to meet D&C at GearHouse in Chambersburg (although we were only meeting D as C was en route from a conference in Philadelphia and would be joining us at our next stop closer to our destination).

I was excited to get back to GearHouse, and couldn't believe a year had passed since our last (and initial) visit. Unfortunately, brewer/owner David was out of town at a festival, so we didn't get to connect like last time. When we arrived, Deuane was waiting and promptly informed us about the firkin sitting on the bar. Score! I'm always down for "Firkin Friday." We all opted for a pour of Single Speed IPA #6, and this particular one-off, cask-conditioned brew featured blood oranges and whole leaf Chinook hops. It was a suitable way to kick things off into gear (pun slightly intended).

We decided to get some grub this time since we left immediately after work. Brewslut and I split a tasty turkey panini and we each enjoyed a bowl of smoked mac and cheese with ancho chili seasoning. With full bellies, we moved on to our next beers.

For my next selection, I had to get it based on its name - The Barkness. Described as somewhat of an IPA/stout hybrid, this dark, roasty ale is brewed with midnight wheat, caramel malt, barley and flaked oats, then finished with Amarillo and Centennial hops. For lack of a better term, let's just call it a Black IPA. It certainly was hoppy enough, with a dry, piney profile and lots of roasted malt character.

Pleeps shows off his high school yearbook photo pose.

We decided to swing by Flannery's Tavern on the Square in nearby Mercersburg, which was on the way to the cabin. Carolyn would be joining us shortly, and Deuane needed a place with a TV so he could spectate some Final 4 March Madness collegiate sporting event with lots of BRACKETS. You know, the one where the guys throw a brown, round ball through hoops with nets. The beer list was respectable though not impressive. It was, as they say, "do-able." I went with a Troegenator - of all things - which is completely out of character for me. And you know what? I enjoyed the hell out of it! I really have to be in the mood for this rich, sweet, chewy double bock brewed by my employers, but this just hit the spot. Perhaps because it was a cold and windy night and I was wearing nothing but a hoody (well, and pants... duh!)

I checked out the jukebox on the way back from the bathroom and felt we needed some musical entertainment. Deuane was nice enough to provide me with five dollar bills, which afforded me 14 credits in the jukebox. So like a kid in a candy store, I went on my merry way and dove headfirst into my go-to songs. I always need to get my money's worth, so nothing under 6 minutes made the cut. We're talkin' Rush's side-long epic, "2112" as well as the 12+ minute opus and superior live version of "Xanadu" from Exit... Stage Left, "Master of Puppets" by Metallica, the live version of "Victim of Changes" from Priest's Unleashed in the East, Pink Floyd's epic 17-minute track "Dogs," King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man," and a pair of Sabbath ditties - "War Pigs" and "Fairies Wear Boots." This translates to about 78 minutes of pure hard rock bliss!

But I digress. I finished off our visit with a grilled Gouda sandwich and fries and - what?! - a glass of Merlot. "I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!" said Paul Giamatti's character in the hilarious movie Sideways. But I'm not that much of a wine snob. I like me a good red wine every once in a while, and nothing else on the beer menu was jumping out at me.

OK, I better get back to beer. After all, this is a beer blog, right?

Back at the cabin Fri. night, we enjoyed a selection of bottles I drug out from my cellar, including a few vintage treats for this vintage guy!

I wear many different (stupid) hats.

We kicked off with Hummelstown Bock Party by the local Howling Henry, which is situated in Hummelstown. Someone picked up a mixed six-pack for me during the holidays, and we've been working through them. This was easily my favorite of the few I've had thus far. I'm curious to see how this tiny nano brewery develops over the next few years.

Up next was Uncommon Crow from Allagash. This was the unanimous favorite of the four beers we consumed that particular evening. Named so due to a crow's love of blackberries, Allagash ferments this beer exclusively with its house strain of local Brettanomyces yeast. Boasting hints of dark chocolate and an earthy sweet-tart blackberry flavor,  the Brett character is mild to moderate but provided a bit of pucker amid the juicy berry notes.

We followed this up with a 2015 vintage of Victory's Old Horizontal, one of my favorite PA barleywines. I dug this one out the cellar as well. Turns out I had three bottles from what appeared to be the same batch based on the date code. Given it was only aged for about three years, I would have thought this would have held up better. It was definitely past its prime. Some of the hops were still lingering, giving it a somewhat fuzzy (for lack of a better term) flavor. Deuane hated it. With that said, I didn't have high hopes for the 2005 vintage I unearthed in my cellar, which I was saving for the following night. (More on that later.)

We finished the night off with the infamous Russian Imperial Stout, Black Albert from De Struise. By this time, Deuane was fast asleep on the couch, so I had the lion's share of this small 11oz. bottle. He didn't care for it, anyway. Brewslut and I picked this bottle up during our 10th anniversary brewery tour of Northern California back in 2009, and it'd been collecting dust in my beer cellar ever since. After cracking open decade-old DFH 120min. and Sam Adams Triple Bock during my birthday weekend trip last time, I found it only fitting to continue the tradition and bring something equally as old. And with the last drip in my gullet, it was time to retire for the evening.

After breakfast (blueberry pancakes, turkey bacon, OJ and coffee) on Saturday, we were off to the impetus of the trip - Abolitionist Ale Works in Charles Town, WV. This marks only the second brewery we've ever visited in the state of West Virginia. Deuane had raved about this place a few months earlier after a similar trip to the very same cabin. Turns out Brewslut and I shared in his enthusiasm after our visit.

I decided I was going with full pours in lieu of sampler flights, which we usually stick to when traveling. Plus Deuane was doing the driving, so I could delve a bit deeper into the beer selection at each visit. Upon our perusal of the beer menu, I quickly realized that there was much to try. You won't find very many worn-out, pedestrian beer styles here. Instead, we were greeted to a handful of varied farmhouse-style Saisons and wild ales, Belgian styles, and barrel-aged treats. For my first venture, I opted for Pale the Funky (Black & Blue), a wine barrel-aged farmhouse ale with Brett and finished with blackberries and blueberries. One beer in and already off to a great start! This beer boasted a lovely rose-tinted hue and packed a juicy sweet-tart berry flavor with just the right amount of funk. Brewslut went with Let's Gose, a fantastic straight-up German-style tart wheat beer (aka Gose). This sucker was on point!

Pleeps and Zeke enjoy each other's company at Abolitioist.
I decided to go with the lone IPA on the list for my next beer. Alpha Mayle IPA was a solid effort, but a bit too spicy/peppery/earthy for me. Still, I was glad to see something a bit off-kilter versus the same tired "hazy NE-style IPA" that so many breweries have been latching onto recently. My next beer, however, was quite enjoyable. West by Quad turned in an awesome performance! This Belgian-style Quadruple was aged in French oak bourbon barrels and was strong and alluring. The bourbon character was not overly boozy, but rather offered a nice, round vanilla-chocolate flavor. I really enjoyed this one!

I'm usually not attracted to odd-sounding wild ales, but something about my next beer - Beverly Farmhouse Ale - caught my attention. Described as a "wild ale brewed with local cascade hops from Beverley Farms, just a few miles away, and fermented with wild WV yeast then keg conditioned with pear juice," this beer intrigued me... on paper, anyway. Well folks, it delivered! The wild yeast was unique and I swear I could taste a bit of West Virginia in there somewhere. that sounds vague, I know, but sometimes you can just pick out the subtle nuances of a region by the stuff that floats through the air and into a wild fermented beer. This was one of those rare beers.

I also tried a bit of Brewslut's Shenandoah Saison, Abolitionist's house Saison. This variation was aged for eight months in a wine barrel with local plums. You could really taste the plum skins in this one, which was a bit overbearing perhaps but still pretty tasty.

I'm fairly certain this place will be in contention for my Top 10 of new breweries visited in 2018. All of the Saisons were outstanding, and head brewer/co-owner Mike was kind enough to spend some time with us at the bar answering our questions. This place hasn't even been open for a year, so Mike & co. are definitely off to an impressive start. I already can't wait to visit again!

After an extremely pleasant visit to Abolitionist, we were off to nearby Brunswick, MD, for a quick stop at Smoketown Brewing Station, another new-to-us brewery. It was shaping up to be a pretty decent spring day, so the garage doors were open, exposing a beer garden/patio-type space when we arrived. We wandered in and bellied up to the bar, and I was surprised by the diverse list of beers on tap. Everything from pedestrian styles like a Blonde and Hefe to more adventurous-sounding beers such as a Candy Cane Stout. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Deuane did inform me ahead of time not to get my hopes up because it wasn't as good as Abolitionist.

Smoketown Brewing Station in Brunswick, MD

After perusing the beer menu for a minute, I settled on the whimsically-named Backyard BBQ, a German-style Rauchbier. Most folks would have found this overly smoky, and I understand it's an acquired taste for most beer drinkers. I happen to enjoy a good smoked beer every now and again, and this provided a welcome change from all of the farmhouse and wild ales we'd just consumed at Abolitionist. This one was pretty mediocre, unfortunately. While still drinkable, it was heavy on the liquid smoke character versus a really good smoked malt flavor. Perhaps they really were going for the "backyard BBQ" vibe with this one. I mean, it was drinkable but I probably wouldn't have ordered another one. The body could have been a bit chewier too. This one fell into that sparse gray area of "underwhelming" and "drinkable." Our "big ass pretzel" with three varieties of mustard dips was quite enjoyable and "big ass" as described!

Waiting for our "big ass pretzel."

My next selection was much more enjoyable. I inquired about a beer called Walter's Spirits, as there was no other description available save for an 11+% ABV. Turns out this was a bourbon barrel-aged porter. Named after the fabled ghost of Walter Rice, a former firefighter at the firehouse-turned-brewery, Smoketown aged this porter in bourbon barrels from A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, VA. Although a bit on the boozy side, this was pretty enjoyable.

Speaking of enjoyable, this place also provided much entertainment in the form of "people watching." For example, there was a guy lollygagging around the brewery and outside on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets, kind of sliding around like a retarded James Brown on depressants. Brewslut bestowed upon him the comical nickname of "Feets on Fire." After basking in his presence for a while, we were all convinced there was a meth lab right around the corner. Moral of this story? Lay off those drugs, kiddies.

There were also four ladies at the bar playing Justin Timberlake and other assorted horrible pop and hip hop songs on the jukebox. I enjoyed a bit of lighthearted flirt-talking with them, which helped pass the time in a fun way. They were dancing, having a good time, and drinking the lightest beer offering available.

Cushwa was another place that came with a high recommendation from Deuane, so we decided to visit last June when we headed down to Bristow, VA, to see Iron Maiden. We were glad we did and were excited to return this time with D&C. Cushwa has been busy churning out some tasty NE-influenced IPAs. We'd enjoyed a beer called Jello last time around. Sadly, it wasn't available during this particular visit, but there were still plenty of hoppy offerings to satisfy any lupulin lover.

Inside Williamsport, MD's Cushwa Brewing Co.

I started with Fog at Daybreak, a pale ale described as a "hop cocktail of Simcoe, Mosaic, and Amarillo." Weighing in at 5.6% ABV, this one drank like a session ale but packed the hop aroma of a DIPA. Think sticky and resinous with notes of tropical fruit. This one was very well executed. Brewslut kicked off with After School Snack, a PB&J-inspired ale. This dark golden chestnut-hued beer boasted a pretty authentic sweet, peanuty flavor with fruit jam in the finish. You know, just like mom used to make. I was more of a toasted (aka "grilled") cheese sandwich kid myself. My grandma made me one every day after school. PB&J beers have become much more popular over the last year or two. We definitely come across them more often in our travels these days. This was one of the better ones we've encountered.

Up next, I went with Natural Progression, a NE-style DIPA hopped exclusively with Mosaic. With a namesake derived from its aroma and flavor profile, the term “mosaic” implies multi-faceted, exquisite, and complex. The same can be attributed to this particular hop variety. The result is a tasty DIPA rife with bright citrus, a mélange of tropical fruit, pine resin, and some faint earthy, herbaceous notes. Sticking with the hoppy beers, my next choice was Synonomous, a softer NE-style IPA hopped with Citra and El Dorado. This hop combo delivers an almost Juicy Fruit gum flavor. Obviously, the aroma is heavy on the citrus due to the use of Citra hops, but El Dorado sneaks in hints of hard candy akin to watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Despite the gum and candy references, this wasn't overly sweet and proved to be another nicely done IPA.

I ended our visit with a taster size portion of False Dichotomy, yet another NE-style IPA. Might as well try it, right? Brewed with a hefty dose of Spelt malt, this sucker is hopped with an assortment of varieties including Simcoe, Amarillo, Motueka, Kohatu, and Vic Secret. This varied hop combination elicits tree fruit and grapes, and provides a dry finish on the palate. And by this time, I was pretty much spent. The well was dry... right Pleeps?

Sorry Pleeps... all gone!

Stay tuned for more more hijinx back at the cabin and Sunday in Frederick, MD. Until then, this is Gandalf signing off...

Is that Gandalf?