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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Forget Dilly Dilly... we're off to Philly!

This past weekend, we were once again off to a concert. This time, however, it was a comedy show instead of a rock concert. The comedian? David Cross, one of our favorites. He is most widely recognized from his role as Tobias Fünke on the excellent TV series Arrested Development. You may also know him as one half of the creative duo behind the short-lived series Mr. Show, which aired on HBO between 1995 and 1998. If neither of those shows rings a bell, let's just leave it at this: he's a funny little bald Jewish guy with glasses. His comedy is also quite offensive, which is what drew me to him before I even started watching Arrested Development. Sadly, Brewslut and I were late to the game with that show, but with the advent of Netflix, we were able to enjoy the entire series in a matter of mere weeks vs. years. So, it was off to the Fillmore for an evening of laughs with plenty of beer in the periphery.

It's pronounced hue' guh

After a big breakfast at home, we hit the rocky road at around noon and were off to our first of a handful of beer destinations for the day. We started things off at the now thrice-visited Bar Hygge, a recent favorite of ours. Last time we swung by was back in January when I was a bit under the weather. (You can read all about that excursion here.) Hygge (pronounced hue' guh, not hoo gah) is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary, as "cozy, charming or special."

This place is all three.

Since we've been here a few times and already provided the lay of the land in previous blogs, I'll spare you the specifics and just get right down to the nitty gritty: the beer. Sadly, we weren't up for any food just yet, as our hearty breakfast was still coagulating in our guts. Bar Hygge boasts a fantastic brunch menu; one that we wouldn't be partaking in this time around. In typical fashion, I'm usually thirsty for a hoppy beer out of the gate, which is what I found with my first selection: Princess Peach, a pale ale brewed with white peaches. While peach season is at its peak in July and August, it's always in season with me. The juicy peach is easily my favorite stone fruit of all. White peaches are softer and sweeter than traditional yellow peaches, and also less acidic. This beer delivered a citrus-forward hop profile with just a kiss of sweet peach around the edges. Overall, it was quite pleasant and a good way to kick off the day.

Helpful tip: There's also bathrooms downstairs!

Brewslut recalled having an enjoyable past experience at Bar Hygge with a blood orange sour beer called Low Hanging Fruit, so this time she reached for another blood orange beer, this time a Gose named Aything Gose. This one didn't wow her as much as Low Hanging Fruit, but it was still tasty. Blood oranges are less "orangey"(for lack of a better term) than traditional oranges and also impart a distinct raspberry-like note.

Meanwhile, I was scoping out our next beer, which I figured we'd share because we were just getting started and had a long day ahead of us. Enter Let's Go Bowling, an 8.5% ABV Belgian style Super Saison. The prefix "super" in reference to a saison is synonymous with "imperial" placed before "stout," or "double" before "IPA." Basically, it all boils down to a higher-than-usual ABV percentage. This beer was pretty chewy and grainy with a toasty pumpernickel rye malt character and a dry, peppery finish. I'll admit I was expecting something a little more Tired Hands-esque (i.e. citrusy with some funk) but it was still pretty solid. I'll also admit that I probably ordered it based on the name, which I assumed was a reference to The Big Lebowski. "Fuck it, Dude..."

Pleeps says: "Let's go bowling!"

Things were pretty poppin' at Yards when we arrived. After snagging two seats at the bar, I quickly realized that this was likely due to a televised sporting event (in this case, the World Cup). Yes, that's right. Soccer. I guess Eagles fans are still riled up from the recent Super Bowl win that they'll stoop so low as to watch soccer to try and re-live the glory of their beloved team's victory. Unfortunately, Germany was pitted against Sweden. Didn't matter. Although 75% of the people enjoying the game probably couldn't locate either country on a world map, it didn't stop them from simultaneously bellowing out in suspense when something "exciting" happened on the field. With all that said, I will admit that soccer (or as every other country correctly calls it - football) is a pretty legit sport based solely on the stamina it takes to play the same. But technically soccer isn't even a real sport, at least according to George Carlin. "Anything where you can't use your arms can't be a sport," he exclaimed. "Tap dancing isn't a sport. I rest my case." Why do I believe this to be true? Because comedy trumps sports (especially this particular weekend). However, I do believe that Gymnastics is a sport despite the fact that Romanians are good at it. In recent years, though, they haven't fared very well at the Olympics. I happen to know this because Gymnastics is the best sport ever... or maybe second behind Goat Racing. But I digress.

Anyway, back to beer.

Yards now boasts an impressive new facility over on Spring Garden (just a few blocks down from where my friend Matt used to live and where we used to stay when visiting Philly). They also seem to be putting out a lot more seasonally rotating beers these days. I was surprised to see about a dozen or so beers in addition to the usual suspects of year-rounds and Ales of the Revolution that are always available.

I call this one "Beerhouse Row."

I was most excited about the Coffee Love Stout, a variation of arguably my favorite Yards beer aged on coffee beans. It's amazing what a simple name change can do to a beer. Over a decade ago, this same beer used to be called "Oyster Stout," but beer drinkers largely balked at ordering it because most couldn't fathom why a brewery would put oysters in a beer. What did Yards do? Change the name to Love Stout and - WALLA! - it's one of their best-selling beers. This coffee version was quite enjoyable. Love Stout is a fairly thick beer despite its 5.5% ABV tag. For some reason, I always think of it as a heavier beer, but it's smooth and goes down easy. It's a Yards staple and rightly so. I'm glad it didn't fall by the wayside due to its original name, as matter-of-fact as it may have been. In lieu of sharing a pour of this, Brewslut and I each enjoyed a full 20-ounce tumbler to ourselves.

My view from the bar at Yards.

For round two, I kept things light and opted for a new-to-me offering called Loral Lager, a pilsner. Since PA is blessed with such a fine stable of pilsner-style lagers (you all know which ones I'm talking about), I figured Yards would also be capable of brewing a winner. Turns out my instincts were correct, because this was a crisp, refreshing beer with a good bit of floral and citrusy hop character that hit the spot and paired nicely with our mid-afternoon snack of steamed mussels bathed in leek and parsley broth with grilled bread.

Pleeps getting to know my Loral Lager a bit.

Brewslut decided on another new beer called Haunted Forever, a Black IPA with big pine notes and rounded out with some citrus rind. She surprised me by ordering this, as she rarely goes for something dark and hoppy. Dark and bourbon-y, yes. But Black IPAs just aren't high on her list. I found this to be a delicious take on the style. This guy was creamy and not too roasty with lots of hop flavor and aroma but only moderate bitterness. Plus Yards gets extra bonus points for the 6.66% ABV tag. Why? Because Satan, of course!

On a quick aside, if you have yet to visit the new Yards facility, please note that they do have a big off-street parking lot behind the building that is free for patrons. There is also free parking on Spring Garden right outside the brewery, but just a block away are rows of old-school meters that only take quarters, and they cost $2.50 per hour. Of course, we discovered this after we'd already fed the meter. The more you know...

After Yards, we decided to skip Urban Village and head straight to the Philadelphia Record Exchange to get my vinyl fix. Brewslut has pretty much accepted that she's in for at least one record store visit per beer trip. (I actually got two in this weekend, but more on that later.) The shop is situated in Fishtown, probably our favorite area of the city for its eclectic beer, food, and nightlife scene. The Fillmore (where we'd be attending the concert in a few hours) was also within walking distance, so we thought we'd save $15 and park for free. I still can't believe that parking is free in Fishtown after all of the gentrification. Good for you, Fishtown! Let's keep it that way, eh? For those of you who are also music fans, I picked up a nice copy of the original Queensryche 4-song EP as well as the hard-to-find indie pressing of Sink Your Teeth into That by a band called Talas (Billy Sheehan, anyone?) and Lita Ford's Lita record (one of the women who helped me navigate the wonders of puberty).

Again, let's get back on track.

A few blocks down from the record store on Frankford Avenue is Fishtown Brewpub, a new player in Philly's burgeoning craft beer scene. I did a bit of recon and checked out the website in advance, and the place definite looked legit. Once we arrived and settled in, we quickly found this to be a fantastic addition to our favorite part of town.

I love mosaics and stained glass, so...

Brewslut and I both wanted to try the same beer: Cool Beans, a sweet golden ale brewed with wheat, oats, lactose, vanilla, and cold brew coffee. We settled on full pours of our first two beers so we could share them and still enjoy more than a few mere sips. The other beer we chose was Down Under IPA, a variation on one of the brewpub's house beers, Subterranean IPA. This version keeps the same malt bill but swaps out its usual American hops in favor of varietals from the Southern Hemisphere. This one drank more like a West Coast IPA than any other IPA style with its fruity, citrusy flavor, strong hop aroma, slick mouthfeel and moderate, dry bitterness. To quote my buddy Jim, "The west is the best."

Might be the highest taps I've ever seen!

Getting back to Cool Beans, though, we both absolutely loved this beer. Readers of The Pour Travelers may recall our trip to Portland, OR two summers ago (there are multiple parts, so I won't link to them each here), where we encountered a variety of golden coffee ales and coffee cream ales; basically other coffee-forward beers not in the "dark beer" category. I'd hoped this trend would make it back east, and it appears that more and more East Coast breweries have latched onto this newly emerging style. Fine by me, because I love 'em! Keep 'em coming, breweries!

Cool Beans!

By this time, we were really enjoying our visit. The bartenders were extremely talkative, attentive, and friendly. They also loved Pleeps! We were also getting hungry. The menu looked amazing, so we decided to have dinner. Sometimes I forget to plan ahead for meals because I tend to focus on the beer. Luckily, Fishtown boasts a bangin' menu with lots of veggie options. While a few dishes jumped out at us, it was the Roasted Beet Burger that reeled us in. The tasty patty, formed with red quinoa, roasted beets and chia seeds, was accompanied by house pickles, sunflower feta and vegan turmeric ailoi. All this was served betwixt an "everything" Philly muffin (think ciabatta meets an everything bagel minus the hole). Brewslut got the side salad and I, of course, opted for the fries. Money!

First time here, so it's a coaster shot, buddy!

Since we enjoyed the Haunted Forever back at Yards, we opted for a pour of Fishtown's Black IPA, Beatrice-Marie, for our final beer. This dark, hoppy treat is brewed with a variety of specialty malt, oats and lactose, and hopped with Motueka and Citra. The description also mentioned it was "dry hopped with a heaping helping of cryogenically frozen Citra hops." That's the first time I ever came across the term "cryogenically frozen" in a beer description before! Maybe referenced in Megadeth lyrics, but definitely not a beer write-up. Nevertheless, this beer was met with equal enthusiasm as the others we tried, and by now we were sold on this place.

Pleeps had an all access pass at Fishtown!
Pleeps was really photogenic on this particular day, and we captured so many good pictures that we decided to include a few more than usual. Always monkeying around, he is! 

Pleeps needed a booster seat to get some Down Under.

We spent a little extra time at Fishtown, so we decided to skip Urban Village because we didn't want to arrive late to the show. Walking from the car, we came across a place called Bottle Bar East. I was familiar with this establishment, as Tröegs has done some beer events there in the past. I originally just wanted to swing by and take a peek at the bottle selection. Turns out they have an amazingly diverse curated draft line-up of some hard-to-find beers. So we decided to grab one last quick one before heading to the Fillmore, which we figured would have craft beer, albeit a more pedestrian selection. We were correct in that assumption, so we'd made the right decision.

After perusing the impressive tap list, we settled on the following two beers: Venus Rising from Foreign Objects, a NE-style IPA brewed with Citra and Calypso hops, and Overdrive by SingleCut Beersmiths, a tropical DIPA blended with massive amounts of organic peach and mango. We were familiar with both breweries and based on past experience, I knew I'd made a sound decision. Meanwhile, Brewslut made the journey to the restrooms, which actually took her through the kitchen! Both beers were pretty remarkable, although I'd have to give the nod to Overdrive with its abundance of fleshy fruit juiciness. I'm glad I started with the Venus Rising, though, because its more delicate hints of tangerine, mango, and creamsicle weren't as overwhelming as the overripe, pulpy character of Overdrive. These were two winners in my book, though. I will say that, while the selection was superior, the prices were a bit dicey. I saw some 16-ounce cans for as much as $10 each. Yikes! Still, where else are you going to find a bunch of rare or sought-after beers in one spot? You'd likely pay just as much after shipping and packaging supplies to arrange an Internet trade. So I suppose you're paying for the convenience. Makes cents... I mean sense, right?

Bottle Bar East is serving up some legit liquids!

Over at the Fillmore, we balked on getting a beer. I mean, we were already a few hours in and the selection was - as anticipated - pretty hackneyed (man, I haven't used that word since high school creative writing class). So a two-hour break was nice. As expected, the show was hilarious and we left the venue in a jovial mood. I commented about how I could get used to comedy shows because they start early, don't last too long, and I'm not deaf afterward! Plus you have seats. Of course, when I'm at a concert, I absolutely loathe sitting down (unless it's folk, jazz, or classical music, which I rarely experience in a live setting anyway).

So it was only 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in Philly. What are we going to do?

Get tacos, of course!

We were beginning to feel the early onset of hunger pangs, and Brewslut recalled passing a food truck called Heffe Tacos. Its slogan of "tacos that don't suck" jumped out at us, so we were sold. They were also open until 3 a.m. Yup. We're definitely not in Annville anymore, Toto. We happened to get there just before a rush of annoying Millennials, so we didn't have to wait too long for our food: crispy chicken thigh tacos with cabbage, ancho mayo and queso, and a side of rice and beans. Bangin'! This really hit the spot and gave us a bit more fuel to forge on.

We checked in at Barcade, but it was really busy and the tap list was kind of bunk, so we decided to just head back across the street to Fishtown Brewpub for round two. Brewslut liked the Cool Beans so much that she wanted to revisit it with a full pour of her own. Can't blame her for that; it's an awesome beer!

Although I was thinking about a return visit to the Down Under IPA, I played an audible and settled instead for a pint of Lupulin Lager, a pilsner-style lager aggressively hopped with Meridian and Hallertau Mittelfruh. This was not quite enjoyable as the aforementioned IPA, but it had a nice citrusy hop profile with hints of exotic perfumes and wildflowers while still maintaining some semblance of crispness that you'd expect from a pilsner.

Where my lupulin at?!

In an unpredictable turn of events, I decided to forego a second beer, instead opting for a glass of spirits. Say what?! While enjoying my beer, my eyes began to wander around the room. I eventually landed on a few spirits bottles nestled high on a shelf above the bar when one in particular captured my attention. It turned out to be Hudson maple cask rye whiskey from Tuthilltown Spirits of NY, and it was perhaps the best $17.50 I ever spent on 2 ounces of liquor! It is indeed a rare occasion when I splurge on a drink, but in this case I'm glad I did. While Brewslut worked on her beer, I enjoyed the nuanced layers of vanilla-kissed, whiskey-soaked oak, caramel soft candy chews and, of course, lush maple syrup. One word: wow! I need to procure a bottle of this exquisite liquid immediately!

And with that, folks, it was time to retire to our hotel. Brewslut made sure we phoned ahead to make sure we actually had a room this time. (Check out our last blog post for that reference.) Thankfully, we did. Zzzzzzzz...


As luck would have it, our hotel was in close proximity to 2SP Brewing, a brewery we'd only been visited on one other occasion. It must have been during my blogging hiatus, because I couldn't find a past account of our visit. A quick check on Untappd revealed that we, in fact, visited in May 2016, which was one month before I got back in the saddle and resumed The Pour Travelers blog. I did, however, remember liking the beers quite a bit and having a great time chatting with the fun bartenders and some patrons.

First thing's first, though: breakfast and, more importantly, coffee! We found a local breakfast place called the Towne & Country Cafe, which was minutes away from the brewery, and we timed breakfast to end shortly after the 2SP opened for the day at noon. I enjoyed a honkin' 4-egg turkey sausage omelette with rye toast and a side of grits.

Once we arrived and settled in at 2SP, I noticed that the tap selection was quite expansive. I had the feeling that we might be there a while. Turns out I was right. There were too many beers we wanted to try, and Brewslut wanted to try all different beers than I. Quandary aside, it was time to put on on drinking hats for the day and dig in to 2SP's eclectic bag o' beers.

2SP from our view at the bar.

The first one to jump out at me was Inner Peach, a saison brewed with wheat, rye, and oats, and hopped with Japanese Sorachi Ace. The notes for this beer indicate it was fermented at extremely warm temperatures with 2SP's house saison yeast. Sounds good so far, right? To put the icing on the cake, the beer then underwent a second fermentation atop of 500 pounds of peach puree. Yowza! As I mentioned earlier in this blog, I'm a sucker for peaches and peach beers in general, so this one was a no-brainer for me. I enjoyed this more than the Princess Peach at Bar Hygge (although I realize they are different beer styles), but this one just had way more peach in the aroma. The saison yeast really coaxed out some nice flavors including toasted coconut and a hint of black pepper, giving the beer an underlying complexity that went beyond just juicy, slightly tart peach.

Meanwhile, Brewslut worked on a pour of No Show, an interesting collaboration with Hardywood Park Brewing; "interesting" in that the collaboration occurred via email. So now the name No Show makes sense, doesn't it? Brewed with an experimental hop variety known simply as "YCH003" and a unique blend of yeasts, this beer boasted subtle citrus and pomegranate notes with a touch of lemongrass. It was definitely a subtle beer, and I found most of the flavors to be rather muted. Perhaps this beer will give way to similar collaborations via text message or fax. You never know.

One beer that we both really wanted to try was something called Pink Lemonade, a cask conditioned IPA on the beer engine. This limited beer is a variation of Up & Out IPA infused with lemon and hibiscus. The hibiscus gave the beer a lovely pinkish hue, and the pour off the handpull produced a creamy, supple crown of froth that looked delicious. A little tart, a little hoppy, this beer was really pleasant overall, and I must admit that this was the first time we'd come across an IPA moonlighting as pink lemonade. Great for summer, right? We thought so!

Another coaster shot with Pleeps!

Speaking of a refreshing summer beer, enter Cucumber Wit. Originally brewed for the Extreme Beer Festival in Boston, this blast of mouth-puckering joy features over 1,000 cucumbers added to the base beer, Weiss Wit. The cucumber flavor and aroma of this beer was quite authentic and prominent, with a pinch of lemon and coriander adding a hint of tartness. Overall, this was a really well-executed beer. Don't fear the cucumber!

By now I was in full-on DIPA mode, so I was scoping out Bellcracker, one of 2SP's year-round beers. Until now, we'd completely ignored the flagship beers on the front side of the beer menu. It was time to change that. This actually might have been my favorite beer of the bunch (which is saying a lot, because everything was solid). Bellcracker is a juicy West Coast style DIPA with loads of citrus and tropical fruit notes, a hint of pine, and a dry finish. I liked this so much that I grabbed a 4-pack of cans on the way out to take home.

We could have ended right there, but there were a few more on our "to-do" list, so we carried on. Brewslut opted for the Weiss Wit, which is a blend of two different styles: Berliner Weiss and Belgian Wit. Brewslut loves her some Berliner Weiss, so I knew she'd pick this one sooner or later. Similar to the Cucumber Wit minus the cucumber, this was tart, lemony, and refreshing with a hint of coriander.

I must have had a death wish, because I decided to end with a beer called Bronson. This sucker is a blend of two burly 2SP favorites: The Russian (an award-winning Russian Imperial Stout) and English Barleywine. Two of my favorite styles merged into a single beer. I couldn't help but think, "Hey, you got your stout in my barleywine." I'd had The Russian before, and it's definitely worthy of all its praise and accolades. Sweet and smooth with liquid caramel and chocolate bliss, this one went down all too easy despite its 10% ABV. And with that, it was time to move on.

Pleeps was definitely feeling it after that lot!
On a quick side note, it was nice that the bartender remembered us from two years ago. Oddly enough, it was the two of us and not Pleepleus that jogged her memory. She remembered us talking about Team D(r)INK, which stuck in her memory because she too doesn't have any children... and likes beer, of course. We talked about the impetus of the name and shared some fun stories, not just with her but with some nearby patrons as well. All in all, it was a pleasant visit and we hope to be back soon.

Up next was the nearby Aston Abbey, also situated in the suburban town of Aston. This place was new to us, and by the look of the logo and styles of beers listed on the web site, this place has a Belgian flair. The brewery and tasting room are located in a large industrial complex similar to a multitude of breweries we'd encountered many times in San Diego. The place has a typical garage feel, and sadly there was no stained glass as depicted on its brewery logo.

Enter the Abbey.

We snagged two seats at the bar among some older "regulars" (they were all drinking out of fancy stoneware mugs) and did our best to fit in. After perusing the menu, I settled on a pour of Saison de l'Abbey, a 5.5% ABV farmhouse style ale. I found it to be a pretty decent interpretation of the style overall. The flavor profile was quite grainy with pumpernickel notes, spice, and moderate bitterness for the style. It finished quite dry. Overall, it reminded me of the Super Saison I'd encountered the day before at Bar Hygge.

Brewslut was faring much better with her Berliner Weisse, a straight-up, no-frills German style sour wheat. Well OK, potentially some frills; they serve the beer with a choice of ligonberry, blueberry, or elderflower syrup. Brewslut asked about woodruff syrup, but the bartender wasn't familiar with it. So she opted for the "no frills" version, because that's the way she rolls: woodruff or bust!

Before we left, the bartender was nice to give us a splash of a brand new beer called King George, an Imperial English IPA. My only comment on this beer is: keep working on this one. 'Nuff said.

While both beers we tried showed promise, neither inspired us to delve into a second round, so we bid adieu and headed to another new-to-us brewery in nearby West Chester.

Mural at Levante.
When we arrived at Levante, there was a healthy crowd for a Sunday afternoon enjoying the fair early summer weather. Another garage brewery situated amid a bunch of warehouses, Levante seems to have its finger on the pulse of the hazy New England IPA movement. And thus continues my love/hate relationship with this style. Fortunately for me, all three of these beers were very enjoyable and what I'd consider "upper echelon" beers in a style that is slowly becoming over-saturated in the craft beer marketplace.

View from the bar at Levante.

First up was a beer called Tickle Parts, which two nearby customers recommended immediately. That name sounds kind of dirty, or at least kinky. I just chuckled and thought of a Tickle-Me Elmo doll. This was one of about seven available New England IPAs on the board at Levante. Dry-hopped for enhanced aroma and minimal bitterness, this beer boasted a soft, billowy mouthfeel amid a tropical fruit-forward flavor hinting at pineapple and fruit juice. So far so good!

Meanwhile, we decided to grab some food at the on-site taco truck, and scarfed down a pair of chicken burritos filled with black beans, rice, queso and salsa. We definitely fulfilled our Mexican food quota on this weekend!

Since Tickle Parts hit the spot, I decided to forge on with a few others in the same wheelhouse. Next up was Cloudy and Cumbersome, Levante's flagship IPA. Hazy, soft and fruit-forward, this NE-style IPA is hopped with Mosaic and Idaho 7, boasting notes of passionfruit and orange pith. Flaked oats and wheat provide a silky smooth texture, allowing this to slide right down the ol' pipes. This is a fine IPA that would make an excellent fridge beer for anytime drinking. Nicely done!

Pleeps was feeling a little cloudy and cumbersome by now.

Moving on, I decided to end with Omega Juice, a bold NE-style IPA that was clearly hoppier (and pulpier) than its predecessors, with copious amounts of Citra and Centennial hops at the forefront for a big smack of grapefruit intertwined with mango and papaya notes. While bitterness was dialed back, the aroma was huge. According to the beer's description, one can expect "a honey-sweet malt body layered with fresh-pressed citrus, pulp included." That's pretty spot-on.

While Green Horizon was on tap, we opted to grab a 4-pack of pounder cans to go. While we didn't enjoy at the brewery, we cracked open a can once we got home, so I'll include it here. This beer is a limited DIPA released in celebration of Levante's anniversary. Loaded with hops from the the Northwest U.S. and South Pacific, tropical fruit and citrus notes take center stage while a sweet malt backbone supports the moderate hop bitterness. This one felt more West Coast in execution; curious, because I enjoyed the other three more than this.

We had plans to check out East Branch in Downingtown, but we decided to hit the trail and head home (although we made a quick detour to a record shop in West Chester about half an hour before they closed). We'll have plenty of opportunities in the near future to check this one off the list. For now, it will have to wait. Sorry Pleeps. Until then...

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Less is never more, especially in Baltimore

Since our wedding anniversary coincides with Philly Beer Week and both of us obviously enjoy beer more than the average person, Brewslut and I used to celebrate by spending a weekend in the City of Brotherly Love. However, for the last two consecutive years we've commemorated our ongoing marital bliss by attending a rock concert. Last year, it was Iron Maiden (one of my all-time favorite bands) in Bristow, VA on the opening night of the U.S. leg of their Book of Souls tour, which you can read about here. This year, we were off to Baltimore to witness Primus and Mastodon along the pier at Inner Harbor. The 20-year-old me would converge with the older, slightly wiser 44-year-old me, in that Primus was a favorite band of my more youthful days and Mastodon was a current favorite of the last several years. Brewslut had been to see Primus with me several times, and I'm happy to report that she "gets" them. I mean, not many women do. And while she's not nearly as versed in Mastodon's catalog as myself, she was quick to agree to another music-and-beer-soaked weekend in nearby Baltimore. Without hesitation, I purchased tickets for the show and got to work on our beer itinerary for our little overnight jaunt.

I awoke pretty early on Saturday morning (around 7:30 a.m.) to make breakfast. I always like being loaded with beer-absorbing carbohydrates before we set off on a 6-hour drinking marathon. Our plan for the day was to visit a few favorites prior to the show, spend the night, and kick off Sunday by meeting some friends at the nearby brand new Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House before hitting up a few other places on our way out of the city. Oddly enough, our hotel turned out being about 4 miles from the new Guinness digs. I'd met the marketing manager of the new Guinness facility a few months prior when he visited Tröegs to talk marketing with me and take a tour of the brewery.

But more on all of this later. Trust me.

Our first stop of the day was Peabody Heights. We first visited back in August when we were down for the Dweezil Zappa show at Rams Head Live (yet another example of music and beer converging). It reminded me of old-time Baltimore, and I overheard as part of the tour rolled by that the brewery is situated in the outfield of the old Oriole Park. I'd actually recommend taking a quick detour to read about the history of the brewery, its connection with baseball, and its brewing philosophy. It's pretty interesting stuff! While the vibe of this place hearkens back to the old days, its beers are forward-thinking, flavorful, and anything but outdated. They do offer a few "classics" by way of the Old Oriole Park series, such as a Pilsner and Blonde ale. Kind of like the sink in the bathroom. And here I thought Race Street was the only brewery to have one of these blasts from the past!

"I am a vintage industrial hand sink."

History lesson aside, we really enjoyed our initial visit last August and were looking forward to our return. I was happy to see more collaborations with Goonda Beersmiths, a nano brewery started by local homebrewers that operates within the actual Peabody Heights facility. Turns out that our first two beers of the day were such collaborative efforts.

First up was Bash Bros, a double dry-hopped DIPA with loads of Citra and Mosaic. OK, they captured my attention pretty easily with that description. This is the third beer in a line inspired by the Mighty Ducks (I'm assuming this refers to the movie about a rag-tag youth hockey team starring Emilio Estevez, which I've both seen and enjoyed... you know me and underdog sports movies)! This sucker was intensely juicy with a soft mouthfeel and full-on citrusy hop nose. Given its high profile grapefruit note, it proved a great beer with which to start off the day, even though we were a few hours beyond breakfast time.

Pleeps getting in on the action at Peabody Heights.

Speaking of breakfast beers, Brewslut had been working on a pour of a concoction called  POST, a huge double-digit ABV Imperial Stout. Thick and super rich due to the five gallons of maple syrup used to brew this beast, this coffee-forward stout boasts a strong espresso bean aroma and a chocolate brownie lavishness. This was probably the closest thing I've ever had to Pizza Boy's excellent Sunny Side Up. It was a pure joy to drink, to say the least.

We ended our visit with two small 5-oz. beer pours. I decided on Stiddle Ficks, a Baltic porter with cinnamon and molasses. I could have done without the cinnamon, as the spiciness kind of detracted from the molasses and thinned it out a bit. Brewslut opted for a Kettle Sour, which was kind of a non-descript Berliner Weisse-esque ale. Unfortunately, neither were met with our enthusiasm for our first two beers.

After some fine beers at Peabody Heights, it was time to ship off to our second stop of the day. We'd been to Monument City last August, which was also our virgin visit. Last time, they were having an event called "Cask Your Vote," whereby they asked customers to vote for their favorite variation of the same beer using different adjunct ingredients and served from firkins. Since that seemed like a fun thing to do at the time, we kind of blew off the brewery's core beers. This time, we stuck with the beers on the board because, well, we had to.

What I want to be in my next life.

I noticed a rye whiskey barrel-aged version of Woodstove Imperial Stout, which sounded delicious. My inner monologue had a brief debate about whether or not to order this beer, given the fact that I'd just enjoyed two high gravity beers at Peabody Heights. It went something like this:
Sober Me: "God damn, that beer sounds awesome!"  
Future Drunk Me: "Yeah, but it's 10% and you still have two more places to go, then you have to stand for about four hours and air drum."
Sober Me: "Good point." Two seconds pass. "Fuck that noise. I'm getting it!"
And thus ended my self-imposed dilemma. As a matter of fact, I should hail Satan for deciding to order this beer, because it was FREAKING DELICIOUS! Everything I enjoyed about a BA stout was featured in this beer: a whiskey-soaked coffee/chocolate aroma; a complex malt character; a slick, viscous mouthfeel; and a smooth finish with a hint of vanilla and moderate oaky, boozy tang. This sucker had the added benefit of a hint of smoke and sweet tobacco in the finish, two characteristics I love to find in Imperial Stouts. There was also a slight spicy note courtesy of the rye, which added more depth to the complexity of this beer. Well done, Monument City!

What's on Tap at Monument City.

Meanwhile, Brewslut was working on something light and refreshing - a Gose with lime and lemon. She was digging it quite a bit, especially because it was a bit stuffy inside the tasting room. What I want to know, though, is this: Who puts lime before lemon when describing the flavor of something? To me, that's like saying, "I'm hungry for a jelly and peanut butter sandwich." Lime and Lemon just sounds so unnatural to me. Maybe they could call it Limon, although they might get a cease and desist letter from Sprite. In short, lemon lime is the preferred nomenclature.

Sorry for that little tirade. I don't want to detract from the beer, because it was, indeed, quite tasty. Gotta inject a bit of levity into the mix, right?

Two out of three Pleeps agree it's lemon lime!

We concluded our visit with a half pour of the year-round Battle IPA. This traditional American IPA features loads of late-addition Cascade, Centennial and Columbus hops for a huge floral and piney finish. This one was a bit too harsh for me, flavor-wise. I got more of a bitter, herbal character from the hops that frankly I'm not really used to anymore with all of the citrus and tropical fruit-forward hops out on the market today. I don't want to say it wasn't well-executed; it just wasn't exactly my cup of tea. Everyone has their own idea of what an IPA should taste like, and this one simply didn't overlap with what I'd consider my ideal IPA. So, no harm and no foul.

Inside Monument City

Although I enjoyed all of the breweries we visited in Baltimore, I was most excited to get back to Diamondback. When we arrived, I was stoked to see Green Machine, its house IPA on tap. Dry-hopped with Citra and Ella, this beautiful IPA is juicy and citrusy with notes of grapefruit, grass, and orange peel. It's got such a soft mouthfeel and smooth finish. Man, I love this beer and will easily go on record and say this is up there with anything from Tree House I've ever had. So, I had to order one. Full pint, of course! 

Green Machine: Holdin' on for dear life!

There were two other DIPAs on the menu. Needless to say, we had to try both, so we ordered short pours of each. The first was Less Than Supper, a soft, juicy West Coast DIPA. This struck me as a NE-style IPA due to its characteristic haze and hop character. The other was Hop Broth, an American DIPA hopped with Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado and Vic Secret. You know, all the heavy hitters for an intense hop profile. The aroma reeked of citrus and tropical fruit, melon Jolly Rancher candy, and peach. It had a nice silky smooth texture and slid down into my gullet effortlessly. I definitely preferred this over Less Than Supper, although both were enjoyable. I was glad to see they had cans of Hop Broth available, of which we happily purchased a 4-pack.

While sitting at the bar, Brewslut noticed a guy who frequents Al's of Hampden regularly. He and his female companion were chatting with another couple next to us, and I eventually heard the topic of music come up. When I chimed in, he made the connection with my wife. "I knew I knew you from somewhere!" he exclaimed. See? Brewslut's kind of famous too! Turns out he's from the Harrisburg area and, indeed, visits Al's frequently. So this all helped pass the time while we enjoyed our beers at Diamondback.

This could easily be Pleeps' family crest.

After a quick stop at a nearby record store (where I managed to pick up a rarely seen LP version of Kiss' Hot in the Shade album, among a few others), we made the short walk to Max's Taphouse. Anyone who follows craft beer knows this place. It's the Monk's of Baltimore. Their tap list is insane. Their bottle list is equally impressive. To call it a craft beer institution would not be an overstatement. I can't imagine ever visiting Baltimore without having at least one beer here. Speaking of one beer, this would be a one-and-done stop, too, as we needed to get to the show. 

Perusing the beer list, I noticed something called Tennessee Jeppe & the Thoroughbred Hillbilly, a beer credited to a brewery called Blackberry Farm. I was familiar with this brewery because someone (probably Awet or James) brought a bottle of its Classic Saison to a Team D(r)INK bottle share more than two years ago (thanks Untappd) and I remembered it being amazing. It takes a lot for me to remember any beer from memory unless it totally blows me away. So bonus points for me, who typically is unable to remember a person's name three seconds after meeting them. Based on this singular encounter with the brewery, I decided to throw caution to the wind and order a beer I knew would be pretty expensive. Turns out it's a collaboration with Evil Twin Brewing (Jeppe in the beer's name was my first hint). The beer itself is a dark, rich Imperial Stout brewed with Muddy Pond sorghum syrup and malt smoked by Allan Benton of Benton's Country Hams. As anticipated, it was quite enjoyable. Plus I was able to rack up another double digit ABV beer today (this one clocks in at 11.3%). I win.

The beer Brewslut wanted had recently kicked, so she settled on a beer named POG NOG from Decadent Ales based out of NY. Another collaboration beer (this one, with a bottle shop called Beer Noggin to commemorate its 2nd Anniversary), this DIPA is a "tropical jubilee" (their words, not mine) dry-hopped with Citra and Mosaic plus additions of pineapple, orange zest, and guava. "Inspired by the islands of Hawaii," read the description. This one definitely packed quite a tropical punch, with pineapple at the forefront. It was slick and perfectly carbonated, and also quite tasty as you might imagine.

Pleeps nippin' at Brewslut's POG NOG.

Since Fells Point only monitored parking meters until 8 p.m., we decided to leave our car parked near Max's and walk the .8 miles to the venue. Plus if we wanted a post-show beer, we'd be at the right place. Without getting into too many details, the show was enjoyable and I enjoyed Mastodon a bit more than Primus, although both bands were great. Although Mastodon went on before Primus, they seemed to have played considerably longer. After the show, I briefly met Brann Dailor, Mastodon's amazing drummer, near the tour bus parking area as we exited the venue. I got in a handshake and told him I really enjoyed the show. Other people were asking for pictures, but I didn't want to be that guy. After that quick meeting, we headed back to the car and decided to retire to our hotel for the evening. It was a long day, and concerts drain me just a little more each year as I get older.

We had another full day planned for Sunday. As I mentioned earlier, we had planned to meet friends at the new Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House, then make our way to Union and Waverly (literally right across the street from each other), and maybe Brewer's Art, then finish up with a stop at EverGrain on the way home.

Well, it seems the cosmos had other plans for us on this particular evening.

When we arrived at our hotel (Extended Stay America), we attempted to check in but the attendant on duty didn't have a reservation for us. He was extremely polite and helpful, and explained that there was another Extended Stay American about three blocks away in the same hotel complex. (We were, after all, staying near BWI airport amidst a veritable maze of lodging options.) Thanking him, we left in search of our actual hotel. After a quick two-minute drive, we arrived and parked the car. The office was closed as of 11 p.m. so we had to ring the bell so the attendant could let us in.

Here's the conversation I shared with this attendant at around 12:15 a.m. as we attempted to check in to our room (after waiting for him to terminate what sounded like a personal call on his cell phone):
Me: "Hi, I'm checking in this evening. My name is Jeff Herb, spelled H-E-R-B." 
Him: "No more rooms. We're all booked up." 
Me: "I have a reservation through Priceline and paid in advance." 
Him: "You have to call Priceline."
He then proceeded to ignore us and attend to another customer who's microwave was malfunctioning. Flabbergasted (I'm kind of glad this unfortunate episode occurred, because I rarely get to utilize the word "flabbergasted" in its truest context), we exited the hotel and went to our car to try to get in touch with customer service at Priceline.

To refresh your memory, we've had a similar experience two years ago when we visited Portland, Oregon. Care to guess which hotel chain was the culprit then? That's right. Extended Stay America. Unfortunately for us, we typically book using Priceline's "Express Deal" feature, whereby you select a star rating and general area or neighborhood where you'd like to stay, and they select the hotel based on the available options. So the customer doesn't know which hotel he or she is going to get. But given the deep discounts one can achieve using this method of travel booking, it makes sense to roll the dice.

When we finally got through to Priceline's customer service, we were told that since it was after midnight, they couldn't secure another room for us. In the end, they refunded our money (and included a 20% inconvenience credit) and also gave us a 10% coupon for our next hotel reservation. I think we were too tired to argue.

So, we were basically stranded in Baltimore at 12:30 a.m., about two hours away from our house. We called a few other hotels to see if we could find a vacancy, but to no avail. Apparently, "something was going on in Baltimore" this particular weekend as our friend at Extended Stay America later told us. In the end, we decided to drive home and cut our losses. So unfortunately this chapter of the Pour Travels comes to an early conclusion.

You know, some people say "less is more," but I disagree. How can less be more? MORE is more. Yngwie knows what I'm talkin' about. Until next time...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Memorial Day Weekend Trail

By now, most of our readers are well aware of our Memorial Day weekend drill. To refresh your memory, feel free to check out last year's account (Part I and Part II) as well as 2016's blog (the one that brought me out of retirement...or at least off of a lengthy hiatus), both of which delve into varying degrees of detail about this beer-soaked long holiday weekend.

Since Brewslut and I no longer train at the gym on Fridays (we switched to Thursday so as not to disrupt our weekend travel plans when they manifest), we hit the highway shortly after I got home from work. Aside from enjoying an extra night of beer activities, departing on Friday has the added benefit of being out of town for Annville's annual Memorial Day parade (I heard it's the largest in Pennsylvania), which storms right past our house on Main Street bright and early on Saturday morning. It's not that I have anything against celebrating the sacrifices of our fallen veterans; it's because we are literally land-locked until the parade ends in the late afternoon due to the location of our house.

So, we were off to NEPA, baby! Our first stop of the evening? Benny Brew Co. in Wilkes-Barre. We first visited last year on the very same weekend trip to DetFest and were pleasantly surprised by not only the quality of the beer, but the space itself. Since we enjoyed the outside beer garden last time around, we decided to set up shop in the main tasting room area. I spied two open stools in the corner of the front bar, so we snagged them quickly, as it was pretty packed inside. Looks like business is good for Benny & Co.!

Pleeps is ready!

Upon perusing the beer list, we decided to forego flights and get a pint each and share. It would be a one-and-done stop for us. I settled on the Buck Tree 80, an 8% NE-style IPA brewed with flaked wheat and oats, and hopped with Citra and Simcoe. Now, some hipster brahs might not find this particular "hazy" enough, but I had no complaints.

We really enjoyed out last visit to Breaker Brewing Company back in April, when we had a beer called Lime Life, a freaking delicious sour key lime IPA. Brewslut and I both agreed that it was far and away the best beer they've ever released. We've been following Breaker since the beginning (partly due to its coal region roots) and admittedly their beers have always been hit or miss. Well, it seems like they have things pretty dialed in right now. I heard they recently moved brewing operations away from the kitchen where they also prepare food for the pub customers. This was good thinking, as I'm sure the likelihood of contamination is pretty high under those circumstances.

The beer menu was brimming with interesting-sounding beers that looked amazing on paper. Let's see how some of them translated to the glass. My first selection was a 13-oz. pour of Strawberry Shortcake IPA. The grain bill for this cloudy, pinkish ale included wheat, spelt and flaked oats. Citra and Mosaic hops lent a tangy berry character with some juicy citrus fruit notes. But Breaker went all out with this one, as they conditioned this beer on copious amounts of fresh puréed strawberries, milk sugar, and Mexican vanilla beans. As if that wasn't enough, they double dry-hopped this concoction with Ekuanot. Their flavor notes for this beer had me salivating before I even took a sip: Notes of strawberry sherbet, vanilla custard, canned berry jam, papaya chunks, peach citrus, and candied pine sap. This beer was quite enjoyable, and both Brewslut and I deemed it the best of the bunch we had at Breaker during this particular visit.

Photo session with Pleeps!

Meanwhile, my partner in crime was working on a beer called Pinekiwi, a sharp yet sweet and refreshing sour IPA. First, they brewed with a mix of wheat and Pilsen malt and loads of flaked oats and left to sour for an undetermined amount of time. After souring, Citra and Mosaic hops joined the party. For dry-hopping, they added even more Citra and Mosaic, then dry-hopped one more time with Sorachi Ace to add lemon and soft herbal notes. To top it off, they conditioned the beer atop puréed pineapples, juiced kiwi, and Madagascar vanilla beans. Again, this beer was accompanied by some serious tasting notes: Notes of pineapple lifesavers, kiwi sorbet, lemon zest, dill weed, mango chunks, and vanilla icing. While this one didn't wow us like the Lime Life, it was quite tasty and shows Breaker finding its own niche with this type of beer. I look forward to more of these sour IPAs on return visits!

In case you were wondering what day it was...

For round two, I chose Mule Driver Mango, West Coast-style IPA brewed with mango. Breaker wasn't as verbose with their description or flavor notes for this beer. As a matter of fact, there wasn't really much information on this beer at all. This one was pretty hazy and boasted a strong, sweet tropical fruit aroma with mango at the forefront, making me think they used a ton of mango puree or even blended in mango juice to the beer, perhaps. Either way, it was tasty but a little too sweet and maybe even peppery for me.

Our final beer we got especially for Pleeps. He's always asking about banana beers, which are few and far between. So we got a sampler of the Banana Hazelnut Ale to appease him. Quite simply, this was a brown ale brewed with bananas and hazelnuts. Sounds like it would make a sweet dessert of some sort, but unfortunately bananas really don't lend much flavor or aroma to beer (if any), so what you're left with is a slightly nuttier beer than your typical brown ale. Oh well. It was a cool idea.

Beer aside, we also had an awesome conversation with a beer-loving couple next to us at the bar. We talked in detail about beer traveling specifically, which is always fun to recall past Pour Traveler treks to breweries far and wide. I had one last business card in my wallet, so if you're reading, I hope you enjoy the blog!

As usual, we ended the evening at Sabatini's, NEPA's craft beer mecca. One can always be assured a well-curated and diverse draft selection at this fine establishment. The pizza is legit too! This time, we were meeting two friends - Kristen and Erin - for additional conversation and good times.

Perusing the beer list, I'd forgotten about the recent Pizza Boy collaboration, a stone fruit IPA brewed with plums and apricots called Pizza Party. This is the second Pizza Party collaboration beer from Pizza Boy Brewing Co. and Sabatini's, and it was tasty! I find that plum flavor rarely translates well in beers, but here is was apparent. There was a nice dark fruit note paired with a juicier apricot presence that made for a sweet and tangy combination.

We're having a pizza party!!!

The day before the trip, I checked out the tap list for all of the breweries (as I typically do to get an idea of what I might want to drink), and noticed Adam from Hair of the Dog was on the list! Apparently, this Portland, OR, brewery is back to distributing into PA! Great news to me, because I freakin' love their beers! It had been a while since we enjoyed this beer (or any HotD beers, for that matter), so we decided to splurge on a full pint of this 10% ABV hearty old world ale and share it. For all intents and purposes, it's a barley wine. Or at least a strong ale. Either way, it's awesome! I'm glad to see HotD stuff in PA again after an extremely long hiatus. Finding their Blue Dot DIPA on tap while we're out in California is always a rare treat!

Kristen posing with Pleeps.

For our final beer, I'd been eyeing up an imperial stout (something barrel-aged, I'm sure, but the name of the beer escapes me, unfortunately) but it had recently kicked. Out of luck, I settled for a pour of Atmospheric Black Metal by Separatist Beer Project (aka the brewery formerly known as SOLE). I'd had tried this previously during our brewery field trip to the Martin Guitar Factory a few months ago. (Check out the full blog post.) I love their description for this one: "Atmospheric Black Metal is our really fucking metal’d out Imperial Cocoa Stout, conjured into being using the blackest of malts and conditioned on cocoa nibs harvested from the devils loins." Sounds like my kind of beer!

By the time we'd finished that beer, I knew it was time to hit the happy trail. It was fun to sit outside at Sabatini's for the first time, and with the added company of Kristen and Erin, it was an enjoyable visit. We scarfed down a delicious chicken and banana pepper pizza (my favorite combo), so my belly would be plenty full until the next day.

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For Saturday travels, I put together an itinerary taking us into upstate New York and looping back around to Montrose, PA, where the DetFest festival grounds are located. Our first stop of the day was in the quaint town of Owego, NY, about an hour and twenty-odd minutes from our hotel in Scranton.

We'd been to The Farmhouse Brewery enough even for me to know that its location was just outside of town. The key word in that last sentence, folks, is was. We had to double and triple-check the address of our destination, because our GPS (more fun with Garmin later in the weekend) took us right downtown. Turns out Farmhouse has new digs! Yup, the new tasting room is situated in the heart of downtown Owego, two doors down from the Owego Kitchen, where we'd enjoyed a nice lunch during last year's jaunt.

We parked in a free municipal lot back behind the new location that we hoped was on the other side of the building. We took a shortcut (a narrow alley connecting the lot to Owego's main drag) and - lo and behold! - there she was!

Always tons on tap at the Farmhouse!

It's always a challenge to pick what beer to drink at Farmhouse because they always offer a varied and extensive selection. Customers can opt for a "Taste of the Farmhouse" flight for $25, which includes a 2oz. pour of EVERYTHING on the board (in this case like 19 beers). This time around, we settled on a flight of four beers each, with the caveat that we'd enjoy a full pint of something else afterwards. I love it when a plan comes together. Here's the dilly-o, yo:
  • Peachy Keen - Sour peach roggenbier (aka rye beer) brewed exclusively with NY ingredients
  • Imperial Post Hole - DIPA with Centennial, Cascade and Chinook hops
  • The BarbBarrel Aged - sour rhubarb saison aged in wine barrels
  • Thousand Pound Sow - Belgian quad brewed with two pounds of local maple syrup per gallon
Pleeps has taken flight at the Farmhouse!

I'd have to say that the Imperial Post Hole was my favorite of the lot. It was pretty juicy and well-balanced with a smack of grapefruit and soft mouthfeel. The Peachy Keen, which I was most excited to try, fell a little short of my expectations, unfortunately. The peach was a bit muted, and the spicy character of the rye seemed to dominate. The Quad was solid but maybe just a tad a thin overall for the style. I dug The Barb quite a bit, and the rhubarb seemed to play nicely with the wine barrel notes of dark fruit, oak, and vanilla.

Bathroom break! Had to snap a pic of this clever sign.

Full pour of Blind Alpaca, a straight up classic Porter with plenty of roast and coffee notes. Brewslut wasn't feeling it for some reason, but I thought it was well done. Perhaps the body wasn't quite as robust as I prefer, but the flavor was nice and roasty with equal parts cocoa and coffee.

Pleeps and a Blind Alpaca.

Pleeps was extremely photogenic during this trip, so we were able to snap many extra photos of him in action. Here's another:

Pleeps and O-We-Gose.

Pleeps was already starting to get a little tipsy, and this was only our first stop of the day. Slow down, eh!

Two-fisted Pleeps and his monkey paws!
It was time to move along to our next stop, but first Pleeps needed a quick nap to regain his composure.

Time for a little nap.

The brewery I was most looking forward to re-visiting was The North. Situated in the somewhat run-down village of Endicott, NY, the brewery itself is kind of rough around the edges (as it should be); the beer, however, is anything but. We thoroughly enjoyed our initial visit during the previous year's trip, and we were eager to dig in to the small but constantly rotating tap list. Sadly, we missed a recent IPA and Coffee Stout, both of which sounded amazing.

Down North is where I should be!

This time, the tap list was stout-heavy, featuring three stouts: an American-style, a Milk Stout, and a Chocolate Oatmeal Milk Stout with lactose. So, three of the available five beers were dark... and we have no problem with that! With that said, we both kicked off our visit with the lone IPA on tap, named Floor Rachel. This easy-drinker was hopped with Citra and Simcoe to provide an abundance of orange and grapefruit notes. This one really hit the spot. The mouthfeel was nice and soft, and the finish was super-clean.

Backdrop behind the bar at The North.

In typical Brewslut fashion, she recognized the bartender immediately as the same woman who slung our beer last year. She also remembered that we had a mutual friend in common, but for the life of us, we couldn't figure it out again. I also noticed an inordinate amount of WWF wrestling action figures strewn about the brewery. Some were posed in the front window and some were dangling from tap handles, while others were piled in a large plastic tub off to the side of the bar area. Someone at The North is a huge wrestling fan. And you could tell he was a legit fan. Sure, he had Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, and many A-class wrestlers represented, but he also had some obscure guys like Cowboy Bob Orton and even Kamala... you know, the Ugandan giant! I'm surprised I remember him because I stopped following (i.e. outgrew) professional wrestling by the time of the original Wrestlemania in 1985 (which premiered just days after my 11th birthday).

It's a steel cage grudge match at The North!

OK, let's get back on track. Moving on to more about beer because that's why we're here, right? After our enjoyable IPA, I was in the mood for something different. I'll typically follow up a tasty IPA with a dark beer, preferably a stout. With that said, you'd think I'd go for one of the three stouts available. Nope. Let's do the Japanese lager. Enter Kampai Ichiban, a 3.2% ABV Japanese rice lager. Crisp, light and refreshing, this beer was very saki-esque with hints of white grape, melon and rice. Apparently this is the only "year-round" beer they brew regularly. It's cool to see something a bit unusual as a session beer at a brewery, and this one fits the bill nicely.

Meanwhile, Brewslut was digging into her pour of Orthos, the aforementioned chocolate oatmeal milk stout with lactose. Perhaps her inner mythology geek drew her to this particular beer. Why? In Greek mythology, Orthos is the name of a two headed dog, who is the brother of Cerberus. I was familiar with Cereberus but not Orthos. Hercules killed him, that son of a bitch! Oh well, we killed Orthos too... the pint, that is. That stuff went down so smoothly and wasn't overly sweet. This sucker was lush, rich, and cocoa-rific!

Pleeps chillin' with Orthos.

Based on our initial visit, it seems that the folks at North are prone to opening beers and sharing with customers. Today was no exception. One of our bartenders cracked open a bottle of what turned out to be my favorite beer of the weekend - Barrel Aged Big Bad Leather Daddy. This huge 12% Imperial Stout boasted complex notes of chocolate, tobacco, peat, roast, and a hint of smoke. Thick and chewy, the way it should be! I absolutely loved this beer!

Peek-a-boo! No gimp mask for Pleeps!

Speaking of cracking open beers, one of the guys also cracked open two Equilibrium cans - Mmm...Osa and Tachyon - as well as Trillium Scaled to share. Sweet! More Untappd fodder! That was mighty nice of him! I reciprocated by bringing in four different Troegs cans as a gift, to which I was additionally gifted a bottle of the excellent BA Big Bad Leather Daddy to take home. Schwing!

It was now time to ship off to our next stop, which takes us to Binghamton, NY. We decided to skip Galaxy this time, even though its literally right around the corner from Water Street Brewing Company, our next destination. We were already feeling a little fatigued due to the extra liquid at The North, so we settled on a pair of pints for this one-and-done stop. Beer aside, I also like the owner's taste in music. Looking around the tasting room, I noticed Judas Priest and Iron Maiden artwork, and even a Lemmy action figure! Now that's metal! 

I opted for the Surf and Slam, NE-style IPA. For someone who bitches about this style, I sure do order enough of them, eh? Brewslut ordered Head Smash, a single malt and single hop (S.M.A.S.H.) IPA brewed with Marris Otter malt and Ekuanot hops. Both were enjoyable and helped wash down our killer nachos with queso, black beans and guacamole.  

Now, it was back to Montrose for our final stop before heading over to DetFest. Endless Brewing is a perfect example of the kind of brewery every small town needs. We always encounter friendly patrons each time we visit, and the owners are super-nice! We even got to meet the new brewery dog (although her name escapes me at the moment). It's true, I suck with names. 

Up first was a pour of Hop Session, a 5.5% sessionable beer somewhere between a Pale Ale and an IPA. This one featured caramel malt notes with citrusy hops and a hint of pine. We also shared a short pour of the NEPA IPA, their take on a NE-style IPA. This one wasn't terribly hazy, and it was a bit more malt-forward than I typically like, but it was pretty tasty. Plus... NEPA, baby!

Sticking with the hoppy offerings, up next was a new IPA called Workin' Fool IPA, another variation of an IPA with a similar profile to the Hop Session but with more gusto. We finished up with a shared pour of E.B. Loves Jayne, a crisp hard cider brewed in house. 

There's usually a good flow of people in and out the doors of Endless during our visit, and this time was no different. We chatted with the owners for a while, especially after the crowd thinned out, and it was nice of her to say, "I was wondering when you guys would be stopping by!" Usually, people remember us by Pleeps (as evidenced by the folks at both Farmhouse and The North earlier in the day). So it was nice for the two of us to be remembered for a change (although Pleeps definitely relishes in his fame). I shared some Crimson Pistil cans with them, and they gave us two cans of their recently packaged Hop Session to take home and enjoy. Don't mind if we do! 

The colorful new chalkboard at Endless.

Soon enough, it was time to take off my beer hat and change into my drum hat. Yes indeed, it was off to DetFest for my fifth year in a row to melt some faces with my band herbie. I think I played pretty well considering I was drinking all day. I finished out the night with a few Sunshine Pils cans and, later, Perpetual IPA. Oh yeah, and a shot of Jameson for good measure... because, why not?

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We woke up on Sunday morning somewhere in the vicinity of 9 a.m. The weather was cold and dreary. It rained all morning, making clean-up rather wet and, therefore, messy. We decided to skip Nimble Hill since we would have arrived more than an hour before they opened for the day. So, it was off to North Slope.

But first, sustenance!

We decided to use the address for Endless Brewing since we had no service with our phones, thinking our GPS would take us right past the civilized part of Montrose (you know, where there is actually stores and such). There was a pretty sweet convenience store called Pump N Pantry that had made-to-order food akin to your typical Sheetz or Wawa. However, our GPS went into full-on spaz mode and took us on an ass-backward route with unpaved dirt roads and lots of unnecessary turns. You know, the "scenic route." At one point, I experienced a slightly unnerving Deliverance vibe as we turned onto a narrow dirt road (strike that, a path) and drove by a few - let's call them dwellings - before I decided to turn the car around, opting instead for an actual paved road. The GPS would need to recalculate. Or, more appropriately, re-fuck-ulate, as Ricky would say. I think it took us half an hour to drive five-and-a-half miles when all was said and done. 

So, we finally made it to Pump N Pantry, where we enjoyed breakfast sandwiches, hash browns and coffee. We also enjoyed a quick wash up in the restroom, as we hadn't had the luxury of bathing this morning. 

After some much needed nourishment, it was off to North Slope in the town of Dallas, PA. We'd only been there once, (during our DetFest trek two years prior) so I was curious to see if they made any improvements, as I remember not being wowed by anything save for a dry-hopped Witbier (of all things). When we arrived, I noticed the sign on the door read "Closed." I thought perhaps someone forgot to flip the sign over to read "Open." As we parked, we saw a few women dressed somewhat fancifully (at least compared to my unbathed body donning soiled shorts, a sweaty wife-beater and unkempt hair) walking in with gifts and bottles of wine. I knew something was amiss. As I approached the entrance, I saw a white piece of paper taped to the door. Yes, indeed, they were closed for a private event until 1 p.m. I looked at my watch. It was barely 11:40 a.m. "Fuck this," I thought. "Let's get some tacos." 

Which is exactly what we did.  

Steve from Selin's Grove recommended an awesome taco truck called J Zapata situated in - of all places - Drums! I'd always wanted to visit the town (or as Wikipedia calls it, an "unincorporated community") for obvious reasons. We were familiar with the area, as we'd been to Conyngham Brewing a few times, which was about three miles south just down Rt. 93. Steve promised we'd enjoy "the most authentic Mexican food in PA." But do they have tamales? Answer. You bet yer sweet as they do! 

J Zapata taco truck in Drums, PA. Where else?

As we pulled up, I had to chuckle at the dichotomy of very loud rap music being blasted from a food truck serving authentic Mexican cuisine. There was also a sign that read, "So good, Trump wants to build a wall around it." Zing! We ordered three chicken tamales and three tacos Mexicanos with hot sauce and camped out in the dining area (two lopsided picnic table about 30 paces away from the truck). This shit was legit! I can't imagine ever visiting Conyngham Brewing without stopping here for tacos. Thanks Steve! 

Since we skipped Nimble Hill and were denied access to North Slope (hope you enjoyed your shower, bitches!), we decided on an impromptu visit to Conyngham Brewing, even though we were just there in April when Solar Federation played in nearby Wilkes-Barre at River Street Jazz Cafe. I was glad to see a few new beers peppering the menu. First up? Enigma IPA, a (yes, another) NE-style IPA brewed with hops from Australia and New Zealand. As the name implies, this one predominantly features the Enigma hop. I enjoyed this overall, but there was a faint nutty note in the finish that may have been the result of changing over the beer line to a new beer. This could have been the result of a previous dark beer that didn't get flushed out enough when the IPA went on tap. It was minimal, but perhaps my palate has become extra sensitive since I've been doing this for a while.

Brewslut went with the Peanut Butter Porter, a creamy, nitro-dispensed porter brewed with peanut butter. This was nice and creamy, but I already had my eye on my next beer, which would be a small 5-oz. pour while Brewslut finished up her PBP.

Did someone say peanut butter?

What beer, you ask? How about a Jalapeño Gose aged in Tequila barrels? This light bodied, mildly tart beer features sea salt, limes, and jalapeño peppers, which is then aged in tequila barrels. It seems like Conyngham has the pepper thing dialed in because I've enjoyed all of the jalapeño beers I've had there. Its Jalapeño Lager is a mainstay there, and I recommend it to anyone who stops by, even if you're hesitant about trying a beer with a bit of spicy heat. It's quite balanced and tasty with a pleasant flavor.

Meanwhile, Brewslut had moved on to her final selection, Somewhere on a Beach, a refreshing light bodied summer lager brewed with lemons and limes. Brewslut was digging this one much more than her previous choice. I had a few sips, and it was kind of like alcoholic Sprite, though not as spritzy as its soft drink doppelganger. This beer was appropriately named, though, as you could imagine sipping this refreshing, citrus-forward beer whilst relaxing beachside with your significant other. And with that, it was time to move on.

Since Berwick Brewing was in close proximity, we decided to swing by for a visit. I'll admit that our visits have been infrequent since Guy Hagner parted ways with Berwick many years ago. (Those of you who remember One Guy Brewing will remember Guy. Aaah, those were the days!)

The tasting room was pretty poppin' with peeps when we arrived, but we were able to snag the remaining two seats at the bar. Berwick always boats a full tap list of 20+ house beers, including 4 or 5 lagers at any given time, plus a variety of ales, wheat beers, darks and Belgian-inspired ales. I've always enjoyed the Hondo Keller Pils, an unfiltered Pilsner, but this time I noticed a Zwickel Pils on tap for the first time that I could remember. I was surprised to see this, as I always used the terms Keller and Zwickel interchangeably. Turns out they are slightly different. Zwickelbiers are weaker and not as full-flavored as a Kellerbier. The term "zwickel" refers to a small amount of beer taken from a barrel with the aid of a special siphon called a "Zwickelhahn." Another major difference is that a Zwickelbier is typically bottom-fermented, but a Keller is often top-fermented.

Brewslut opted for a full pint of the Dry Hopped IPA, which she wasn't too thrilled about. After my Zwickel Pils, I tried a half pour of a new beer called Fruhling Ale, a dry-hopped pale ale.

Unfortunately, both of us were less than thrilled with all three, as each featured a noticeable diacetyl finish. If you're not familiar, diacetyl is an off-flavor found in beers that elicits an unwanted buttered popcorn or butterscotch flavor. To delve a bit into brewing geekery, diacetyl is a natural occurring process of fermentation produced by yeast. The good news is, just as yeast produces diacetyl, it will also get rid of it. However, the beer needs to rest on the yeast for a few days after the fermentation process ends. This is a typical (for lack of a better term) "mistake" found in many beers, especially at small nano or microbreweries. I've encountered it many times, and my sensory panel training at my place of employment has only heightened my sensitivity of diacetyl. This is a blessing and a curse. I can deal with a hint of diacetyl. Unfortunately, I've encountered many, what I call "diacetyl bombs", where the diacetyl character completely dominates the beer's flavor. This is no bueno. While these three beers did have some promise, I just couldn't get past the diacetyl, which led to a less than enjoyable experience, unfortunately.

After our visit to Berwick, we headed over to our hometown of Shamokin to visit my mom before heading back to the ol' homestead. Sorry to end on a downer, folks. To remedy that, here's a sweet pic of Pleeps enjoying the day with us...

Stay tuned for our next installment of The Pour Travelers, a quick jaunt to Baltimore to attend a Primus and Mastodon concert with some beer worked in, of course. Until next time...