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Friday, August 28, 2020

I say Burger King, you say Bellefonte

We had such a fun time during our last visit to Penn's Creek Campground that we made plans to head up again over the weekend of August 14. This time, we invited our friends Darin and Jeni to join us on Saturday for a day-long sweep of Bellefonte in Centre County. 

Now, you may be asking yourself, "What's with the name of this blog post? Why Burger King?" Well, this story goes back a ways; back to my high school years between 1989 and 1992. During band and jazz band bus trips, me and a few of my friends created something called "chanting," whereby we'd take off our purple sweaters (aka our uniforms), wrap them around our heads, clap our hands in unison to a specific rhythm, and basically freestyle stupid phrases in a call-and-response manner until we either got sick of doing it or yelled at by an adult. This tradition carried on - so I'm told - until at least 1995. Apparently, the freshmen class from my senior year carried the torch after I'd graduated. The "Burger King/Bellefonte" chant was the original, and we'd always start off a chanting session with "I say Burger King, you say Bellefonte." The impetus of said chant likely occurred when we were on our way to Burger King after a jazz band competition, and we were all talking about this rad bass player in Bellefonte High School's ensemble. We had a keyboard bass, which is pretty lame, and it was always inaudible. A group of us even called ourselves "The Bellefonte Bandits" and wreaked havoc on every school we visited. At any rate, that's the story. So every time I think of Bellefonte, I think of my time in high school band.  

OK, now that that's out of the way, let's talk beer!

I had only discovered Axemann Brewery about a week before we'd made plans to head up to the campground again. The original plan was to head up to State College and do the usual route as well as check back in with Robin Hood Brewing, since Roger from Shy Bear told us good things were coming via its new brewer who happened to be his friend. But more on Robin Hood in a bit.  

Outside Axemann's tasting room.

Axemann Brewery began under the name of Blue Stripe Brewing as a homebrew operation situated in a milk house, a small building on a dairy farm where milk is collected, cooled, and stored. After perfecting a few different styles and gaining a reputation at local and regional beer festivals, Blue Stripe entered the big leagues, adopting the name Axemann. So it was out of the milk house and into the former Cerro Metal Factory in Titan Energy Park just on the outskirts of Bellefonte. Having just opened its doors in July of this year, the site boasts a 20,000-sq. ft. production brewery and taproom including a walk-up "snack bar" and rotating local food trucks. So what about the name Axemann? Well, the Titan Energy Park is located on - you guessed it - Axemann Road. 

I must admit that I didn't really delve into the history of the brewery prior to our visit. I was kind of sold by the goat on the cans for Hazy Daisy, its NE-style IPA. I wasn't aware of its location in the industrial park, and it was looking like a potential GPS blunder. But we stayed the course and eventually came to an Axemann sign beckoning us into the tasting room. Upon entering, we were greeted by the tasting room manager (who recognized my Tröegs mask and even knew one of my co-workers) and were given the full spiel on the brewery, its beers and ordering process. We set up shop at a high-top table in the middle of the sprawling tasting room. Typically, we'd sit at the bar, but with the 'Rona still meddling about, it wasn't an option. I was adequately impressed with the space and the greeting we'd received. But would the beer stand up on its own? 

Inside Axemann's spacious tasting room.

Since Axemann was new to us, Brewslut and I each opted for a sampler flight including five of the available eight beers. Here's the run-down:
  • Auger - medium-bodied lager with a semi-sweet flavor that finishes with a slight roast. Germanic-style hops and malts come together for a smooth, drinkable beer.
  • Pilatus - A traditional German-style Pilsner brewed with German malts and Tettnanger hops. Soft but complex with a slightly nutty, toasty finish. 
  • Mean Duck - Amber-colored pale ale with a nice dose of piney hops balanced by caramel and buscuity malt notes.
  • Hazy Daisy - Juicy, hazy IPA with notes of citrus, ripe tropical fruit, and stone fruit.
  • Black Razz - Tart wheat ale brewed with blackberries and raspberries. Served on CO2 as well as nitro.
Pleeps is the Axemann... yeah he's the Axemann!

The heaviest beer was Hazy Daisy, weighing in at only 6.4% ABV. The others were in the 4.5% to 5% range. I was pleasantly surprised by all of the beers in my flight, especially the lagers. Both were light , well-balanced and easy-drinking, but with the signature flavors you'd expect to find in each style. Mean Duck had a mild piney hop presence backed malt notes of caramel and busciut. Hazy Daisy, its signature beer and the one I was really excited about - not because it's a hazy IPA but because the label features a goat named Daisy - was a well-executed NE-style IPA with hints of mango, orange and grapefruit as well as hints of raw bread dough and rolled oats. The Black Razz was decent in its own right, but ultimately a miss for me compared to the other four beers. 

The Blonde Bistro serve up pizzas, pastas and more.

All of us were enjoying our visit quite a bit, so I opted for a full pour of Titan Stout. Jeni gave me a sip of her pour, and it passed the test. I was pleased to discover a slight smokey malt character with this one. Dark and roasty with hints of coffee and chocolate, this medium-bodied stout displays a thick, creamy head thanks to dispensing via nitrogen. I was glad I ordered a full pour of this one.  

Pleeps was diggin' the Titan Stout.

All in all, this was a fantastic first impression. The beers were well-executed, enjoyable and diverse, the tasting room exceeded my expectations, and the service was very good. Each of us even received a free cheese slider so we didn't have to purchase food if we weren't really hungry. We did order a large portion of fresh-cut fries to share, which came with this really tasty and spicy-sweet aioli for dipping. Everyone really dug the sauce, which was unique in both flavor and texture. It's nice to know that we'll have a few more options when visiting Happy Valley. I look forward to returning to Axemann soon! 

Pleeps sporting his new cammo mask.

While I was researching the few breweries in Bellefonte, I came across Big Spring Spirits. With only three breweries in town, it seemed like a logical choice to add it to the itinerary. Turns out it was a sound decision. I thought I'd heard of this distillery but just couldn't pull it out from the nether regions of my memory. However, Brewslut came to the rescue and reminded me that Big Spring produces the same Cream Bourbon (named Tallyrand) that our friends Aunt Carol and Uncle Rick shared with us once when we spent the night at Club Mease. Then it clicked. "Yeah, this place is gonna be awesome," I thought. Turns out I was right!

Big Spring incorporated in 2011 shortly after former PA Governor Corbett gave micro distilleries the green light to produce up to 100,000 gallons of spirits sell directly to the public. The new distillery set up shop at the Pennsylvania Match Factory, which operated from 1900 to 1947 producing - you guessed it - wooden matches. The charming 31,000-square foot brick building provies the perfect atmosphere for Big Spring. But not only does the location offer aesthetics; turns out settling on Bellefonte as its home was a blessing, as Big Spring was awarded the "best tasting water in the state" by the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association; a good resource to have when producing spirits, as you can imagine. During the final phase of spirits production prior to bottling, the extremely potent distillate is “proofed down” with 60% water. To quote the folks at Big Spring, "That’s a lot of water and if your water’s no good, your product’s no good." Truth!

Enjoying my peach tea Collins.

All of us ended up absolutely loving this place; everything from the ambiance to the quality of the drinks to the staff was all top notch. We hung out here for a decent amount of time, which is a testament to caliber of Big Spring. We also had our first serving of premium mixed nuts here (more on premium nuts later in the program, kids). We ended up taking home a bottle of the aforementioned Tallyrand to enjoy at home. All in all, it was a fantastic visit for sure, but it was off to our next stop of the day.

Last time we visited Shy Bear, we chatted with head brewer Roger for a while, and he informed us that one of his friends had taken over at Robin Hood Brewing. He gave me a sample of a beer that was still undergoing fermentation - a delicious sour peach IPA - and immediately I thought, "I need this beer!" Even in its early stages, it was awesome. So when we made plans to hop around Bellefonte for the day, I included Robin Hood on our itinerary. We visited Robin Hood only once in the past; an illfated encounter many years ago at its remote location at Home D Pizzeria in Stage College. Long story short, the bartender dissed Otto's openly and the beers were all-around lackluster to just plain bad. So I was happy to hear that they recently employed a legitimate brewer, especially one that came with a glowing recommendation from someone we respected. So needless to say, not only was I anxious to see how Robin Hood had improved since that initial visit, but I also couldn't wait to try the aforementioned beer, Peacheys & Cream. 

"I protest... I am NOT a merry man!" - Worf

When we were seated, I perused the beer menu and was ecstatic to see the beer listed. Yes! When our server took our order, she informed me that the beer had kicked earlier that day. Suddenly, I experienced flashbacks of "Dain sucks at life" (that's an inside joke a few readers will appreciate). I was a sad panda for a few minutes, because I was reeeeeeeeealy excited to drink this beer. Oh well... such is life. 

So - much to the gratification of Pleeps - I went with my silver medal choice, Strawberry Banana Cream Machine. This milkshake IPA boasts lots of oats, lactose, and heavy dry-hooping with Citra and Mosaic. The beer is then conditioned on 100 pounds of strawberry and banana puree and Madagascar vanilla beans. This beer was leaps and bounds better than anything we experienced on that first visit. Banana is a difficult fruit to brew with, because the fermentation process is more involved and time-consuming. This is why you rarely see beers made with real banana. Banana flavor in beer is typically derived from the yeast, which produces fruity esters similar to a banana flavor (as in German-style hefeweizens). Oftentimes, beers utilizing "actual" banana taste artificial due to using extracts rather than real fruit. Whatever the case was with this beer, it was freakin' delicious! So it would appear that the new brewer knows what he's doing. Overall, everyone in our group enjoyed their beers, so we were in  uninanimous agreement. 

Pleeps posing with Jeni's spread at Robin Hood.

We also decided to eat here since the food was cheap and they had a full menu. Enter more carbalicious startch to my gut - this time in the form of grilled cheese and tomato soup. This hit the spot and was only like $7 to boot... plus the soup was actually chunky and flavorful, not like boring-ass Campbell's sugar-laden tomato "soup."

In researching the area, I stumbled across a brewery that was completely off my radar. By the looks of things, I wasn't holding my breath for an amazing experience, but you know the drill: swing by, have a beer, and if it sucks... move along. I went against my better judgement and added Old Farmhouse Eatery & Brewery to our itinerary since it was located just a hop, skip and jump away from the other breweries we'd planned on visiting. With a name like "Old Farmhouse," I was expecting a quaint, old dwelling on a few acres of picturesque farmland. Upon pulling into the parking lot, the brewery appeared to be... well, somebody's house. It definitely didn't strike me as a "farmhouse" in any way. Regardless, we suited up (aka put on our masks) and headed inside. The majority of the customers were enjoying food and drinks in the patio area. Since there were lots of children littered about, we asked to sit inside. We plunked down at a long table for six in the main bar area, which also included a pool table and (very loud) jukebox. I decided to play some tunes since I had a surplus of TouchTunes credits due to everything being closed as a result of the 'Rona. Unfortunately, it turns out my credits had expired, which is utter bullshit because I paid for them. So TouchTunes can eat a huge, overflowing bowl of dicks. Needless to say, I shan't be using its services anymore (unless I find myself in another quarrel with two bitches bumping my songs for over an hour). 

But I digress. Upon perusing the menu, we decided to order some pretzel logs to share for our "meal." This was turning into a carb-heavy day. I probably ate a week's worth of carbs just in this one day. Oh well... a man's gotta eat. Now onto the beer...

Darin and I decided to try our luck with a Pineapple IPA, which was a pleasant surprise. Brewslut, unfortunately, had a complete 180-degree experience than we. I noticed a beer called Creme Brulee on the menu. Was it a porter? A brown ale? Something else? At any rate, she decided to give it a shot. She wasn't having it. First off, it looked like a glass of brown, murky water produced by a backed-up toilet. It was probably one of the least attractive beers I'd ever seen in my life. Brewslut reluctantly took a whiff, and she described the aroma that wafted its way across her olfactory as "earthworms after it rains." To be frank, she was spot-on. Thankfully, it actually tasted pretty good. She couldn't get past the smell, unfortunately, and choked down half of it until I offered to switch beers. I actually wish we would have snapped a picture of it just to share with you all. 

Overall, this place just didn't strike me as a "brewery," which is perhaps why they include "eatery" in the name. Jeni ordered some coffee, which took like 30 minutes to brew, so she asked for a to-go cup because none of us wanted to stick around for a second beer. Finally, the brought it out in a take-out soup container. Despite all of this, I didn't "hate" this place. Darin and I enjoyed our Pineapple IPAs quite a bit. We agreed that it didn't have a fake flavor or too minimal a pineapple presence. You can actually taste ripe, juicy pineapple, although I'm not sure if it was a result of a hop combo or simply adding pineapple juice to the beer. Either way, it was enjoyable. With that said, I think I need to go back and start a "part II" of The Anomalous Olfactory Anecdotes of Brewslut, which is still one of my personal favorite Pour Travelers blog posts of all time.

We decided to swing by nearby State College for a quick stop at Otto's. When we arrived, there appeared to be a lengthy wait list to get in. Even when things were "normal" back in the day, Otto's always seemed to be packed. Whether school was in session or not, this place has a huge fan base. Across the parking lot, however, things looked pretty quiet at Barrel 21, a distillery owned by Otto's. Come to think of it, Brewslut and I had never gone in despite many visits to Happy Valley over the years. I'd already had my requisite cocktail of the day; when it gets down to the nitty gritty, I enjoy a refreshing cocktail like anyone, but at the core I'm a beer guy through and through. I mean, I am writting a beer blog, so I suppose that's assumed. 

Pleeps is down with the Green Weenie!

With that said, I was excited to see a selection of Otto's beers on tap, including one I hadn't had before. The name of the beer intrigued me: Green Weenie. I inquired about it, and our server gave me the low-down: it's an unfiltered, hop forward IPA with generous additions of Citra and Nugget hops. In layman's terms, it's a freakin' delicious IPA, perhaps the best hoppy beer I've ever had from Otto's. Straddling the line between east and west coast, this one was slightly hazy with a big citrusy aroma but with a fair amount of bitterness on the palate. This was a one-and-done stop for us all, although we did share a big ol' bowl of premium spiced nuts. Nothing but the best for us when we travel! Next time, I'm going to try and dig into the spirits... but it will have to wait for another visit. 

Pleeps is a premium nut!

Postscript: On Sunday, we enjoyed a new beer at Selin's Grove called Napoleon, a light, crisp session IPA that drank like American Pale Ale lite. Then we got in a few rounds of Minki Ball at Club Mease before heading home and running my weekly virtual music trivia later that evening. 

Well, that's all for now. Thanks for reading about our latest adventure. Join us again somewhere down the road as we continue to traverse craft beer's ever-expanding playing field. Until next time...

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Toolin' 'round our backyard

Toolin' 'round our backyard. Sounds like a song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, doesn't it? Try singing it to the tune of "Lookin' out my Back Door." It works, right? Regardless, that's probably the best way to describe this leisurely Saturday of brewery hopping. I'd wanted to swing by Hemauer and Mellow Mink on the way home from our recent Campground Brewbound weekend, but we called an audible and decided to play Minki Ball at Uncle Rick and Aunt Carol's pool. So, with a free Saturday on the calendar - they all seem free this summer, right? - we decided to keep things local and hit up a few breweries we hadn't had the chance to visit yet. 

I'd wanted to hit up a new brewery in Wrightsville, which is right across the river from Columbia, PA. With that in mind, I felt obligated to swing by one of my favorite area breweries, Columbia Kettle Works, to get things started on the right foot. I mean, we were driving right past it, so we had to stop in for at least one beer, right? Well, and some food too. Thanks again, 'Rona. Turns out it was one-and-a-half beers, but who's counting? Oh yeah... I am.

OK, enough jibber jabber. Let's get down to business. I'm going to spare you of the details of all the 'Rona rigamarole at each of these places. I will say, however, that CKW seemed to have its shit together. After being greeted upon our entrance, we checked out our phones for the current draft list. I was initially drawn to an IPA I hadn't had before but whose name escapes me. The server recommended two other hoppy beers, and she was happy to provide samples of each. The one I decided on was Tango Hopstrot, a deliciously fresh and moderately hoppy golden lager brewed exclusively with Mandarina Bavaria hops to elicit notes of citrus, especially tangerine. This beer was quite enjoyable and set a solid benchmark for the rest of the day. 

Meanwhile, Brewslut worked on a pour of a sour beer called Provisional Measures. On paper, this one sounded pretty ambitious. Boasting an intensely tart, complex sherry-like character and fruity notes of black cherries and red currants, this blended sour combines a 12-month-old barrel aged Oud bruin with a golden sour ale base. I managed to nab a few sips of this beer, and it was quite tasty with definite notes of sherry and dark fruit. 

Pleeps is starting the day off right!

We decided to share a pour of something else while we finished up our cheese plate, which featured three different selections - a washed Tomme, a sharp cheddar and a gouda - as well as pretzels, olives, gherkins and a delicious dark, coarse mustard for dipping. Since we're required to purchase food with beer during these weird times, we decided to keep things light since we'd be visiting several breweries and would have to eat something at each stop. 

The beer we shared was called Gember Perzik, a hazy orange Belgian-style saison brewed with ginger root and peach puree. Dry and earthy up front with a slight ginger sting, the peach character crept in to offer a hint of juicy nectar to this otherwise traditional saison. Overall, the ginger and peach notes worked nicely together, making for a delicious combination. 

I'm definitely glad we decided to stop in CKW for a bit. They do a grat job, they have wonderful staff who are friendly and educated, and the beers are always solid. They shouldn't be as under the radar as they are, in my opinion. If you haven't been there yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. Along with St. Boniface, CKW is my other favorite brewery in Lancaster County. 

Just across the river from Columbia is Wrightsville, which finally hosts its own small brewery in Hell in a Bucket. Situated on Front Street right along the Susquehanna River, the brewery takes its name from a Grateful Dead song. With jam band tunes in the air and tie-dyed shirts strewn across the bar, this place is definitely about crunchy vibes and hippy philosophies. While I'm not the biggest Dead fan, I did notice some Zappa references in the beer names and memorabilia decorating the walls, which made me smile. 

Upon perusing the beer menu, we noticed that the place has a penchant for high gravity Belgian-style beers. We noticed a Dubbel, a Tripel, and a Quad all on the menu. With this in mind, we opted for a flight of four different beers with which to test the waters. Here's the scoop:
  • Tom Banjo - imperial pilsner
  • Jack Straw - American pale ale hopped with Simcoe and Idaho 7 
  • Disco Boy - Belgian style Dubbel with strawberries and chocolate
  • Dark Star - American stout with Simcoe and Magnum hops and Safale yeast
Things got off to a shaky start with the Tom Banjo, which had a definite burnt rubber finish. We both immediately knew this was an undesirable off-flavor, so we took to Google to figure out what might have caused it. Turns out it's something called "yeast autolysis," which is the result of leaving beer in primary fermentation too long. Healthy yeast cells die, which in turn produces off-flavors of - you guessed it! - burnt rubber. This made sense to me, as lagers take longer to ferment than ales. So I learned something new, and you probably did too. 

Robot roll call... let's go!

Otherwise, our flight was pretty solid, with Disco Boy being the clear winner... and coincidentally the one of four beers we tried named after a Zappa tune rather than a Dead song. That observation certainly wasn't lost on me. But Jack Straw was a decent pale ale, and Dark Star boasted a surprising hoppy character I wasn't expecting. But the clear winner for me was Disco Boy, although the strawberry came across more as cherry than strawberry on my palate. 

Meanwhile, my nephew Kyle and his entourage showed up to meet us, as they had been at the nearby Moondancer Winery just a few miles down the road. With the whole crew there, I decided to go with my favorite of the lot, Disco Boy, for a full pour to accompany my tropical shrimp taco (not the best pairing, mind you, but I follow my beer instincts more than my food palate). Thankfully, we could purchase a single taco as a "meal" while we were there. Hey, at least it wasn't a hot dog. 

Brewslut tried her luck with Dupree's Diamond, a DIPA brewed with local Nugget hops from River Hills Hop Farm in nearby Mt. Wolf, PA. I tend to be wary of hop-forward beers from brand new breweries (especially ones made with local hops), but I was pleasantly surprised with this one. It was a tad malty and sweet for my personal preference, but otherwise we both thought it was well done. It had a full, somewhat sticky mouthfeel that I appreciate with DIPAs.

We asked if the youngins wanted to accompany us to our next stop, but they apparently had already consumed a lot of wine at Moondancer and needed to take a breather for a few hours. Plus they had to attend to various pets and what not (one of the reasons why we're still pet-less). We made plans to meet up later at Mellow Mink, which is in their neck of the woods. 

I must admit that I didn't have high expectations for our next stop of the day, Lydian Stone. I figured it was worth a stop since we were in the general area. At the very least, we could cross it off the list and move along. As we pulled into the parking lot, the building reminded me of someone's house. A make-shift beer garden was assembled in part of the parking lot, with some tables, colored lounge chairs and tents scattered about. I honestly didn't know anything about this place at all. As a matter of fact, the only reason I even knew it existed was because it popped up on my beer map app a few times while searching for new breweries in the area to visit.

Outside Lydian Stone Brewing Company.

Originally founded under the name Touchstone Brewing in 2016, the brewery took its name from a hard, black stone traditionally used to measure the quality and purity of gold and silver. I dig it. We made our way inside and checked out the beer selection, which to my surprise was quite extensive and varied. We decided to share a flight to try a cross section of different styles. Here's what we settled on:
  • Sweet Apricot Ale - light fruity ale with a juicy apricot flavor
  • Pretzel Wheat - a light wheat-based ale meant to mimic a soft pretzel
  • Kilt Lifter - Irish style dry stout
  • Northwest IPA - west coast style IPA
Pleeps has taken flight!

I couldn't really find any information on the beers; the brewery's Untappd page offers little to no ingredients or additional descriptions. But I will say that we were pleasantly surprised with our beers. The only one that came across as a bit lackluster was the Pretzel Wheat, which was kind of thin and lifeless. The others were all quite enjoyable. Even the dry Irish stout, a style I don't tend to get into much, was nicely done, with a roasty flavor and heftier-than-usual body for the style. The somewhat light, watery body is one of the things I tend not to enjoy about Irish stouts, but this one was beefier and still maintained that dry, roasty flavor that's a hallmark of the style. I was also surprised by the IPA, which was well-balanced with a moderate bitter finish. Aaaaah, bitterness... a commodity seldom found in IPAs of the last five years. It's great to see that west coast IPAs still aren't extinct. Hopefully we'll see a resurgence in the style as beer drinkers begin to tire chasing the haze craze. 

Honestly, we could have stayed a bit longer and tried a few others, but we now had somewhat of an agenda, as we were regrouping with Kyle and Co. in a few hours. We had one more brewery to visit before meeting up at Mellow Mink with the gang. 

Mechanicsburg's Hemauer Brewing kind of floated under my radar. In the past, when a brewery opening occurred within a 50-mile radius of my house, I heard about it. I actually discovered Hemauer when I saw a post from a friend on Facebook, who gave it "thumbs up." I must be getting old! Naturally, we had to make plans to visit. As I said earlier, we'd planned to visit a few weeks ago, but the pool enticed us away from beer on that sweltering hot Sunday afternoon. 

In 2017, owner Brooks Hemauer decided to take the leap into professional brewing and got the ball rolling on all the backend stuff like paperwork, clearances, securing a location, etc. In August 2019, Hemauer opened its production facility in nearby Dillsburg. The taproom opened in May 2020 smack in the inauspicuous midst of COVID-19, which is perhaps why I hadn't heard anything about it. At any rate, here we were, about three months after the grand opening of the tasting room. 

Hemauer is situated in the Wesley Drive shopping plaza, a practice that has become more and more commonplace with small breweries in recent years. We ran into some beer buddies sitting out on the patio and chatted for about a minute or so. After the formalities, we headed inside to peruse the beer menu. Immediately, I was drawn to a collaboration IPA Hemauer brewed with Collusion Tap Works, my favorite brewery in York. The beer, Hazy County Bois, is a hazy lactose NEIPA hopped with Citra, Mosaic and Lotus for a melange of juicy citrus and tropical notes. I really enjoyed this one. It paired nicely with my mini box of Frosted Mini Wheats that I purchased as my "meal" for a mere $0.50. Dinner is served! I mean, it sounded like a square meal to me, right? 

Outside Hemauer Brewing in Mechanicsburg.

We were also pleased to see a collaboration with Chambersburg's GearHouse on tap, which Brewslut dutifully ordered. Chocolate Covered Cherries is a dark, bold stout brewed with Nathan Miller chocolate and sweet cherries. This one was heavier on the chocolate with a touch of dark roasted coffee and just a tinge of cherry sweetness in the finish. Pretty solid overall, although I preferred my IPA over this, and so did she. 

We decided to split a beer, and we'd be remiss if we didn't try the Raspberry Berliner Weisse (the style being a favorite of Brewslut's). It was pretty solid overall albeit a tad thin. However, it displayed a sweet-and-tart berry tang amid the light, effervescent base beer. By now, it was nearing the time to head over and regroup with Kyle and his cohorts. 

As I said earlier, we'd been wanting to get back to Mellow Mink for quite some time, especially since my nephew had been raving about its sour beers lately. We'd visited twice in the past with mixed results, but with several more months under its belt, we were convinced that Mellow Mink had finally found its voice. With a bent leaning towards sours and funky farmhouse ales, Mellow Mink prides itself on embracing local terroir and ingredients such as fruits, flowers, and spices. 

With a tap list featuring around six beers, the selection is always light but fairly eclectic. We decided to dive into a pair of its Superfruit beers to get things started. The first, Superfruit #7, is a golden sour ale brewed with cherries, blueberries and black currants and blended to capture the flavors of summer fruit wines. It definitely had that tart, refreshing, fruity sangria vibe going for it. The other, Superfruit #1, is a blonde sour ale featuring raspberries and passionfruit. I found this one to be a bit more tart than #7. Passionfruit just has that tart bite that clings to the sides of your throat. I found both of these to be quite enjoyable. 

Pleeps rockin' some Superfruit.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group got here and we all ordered our requisite hot dogs (yes, I ate an actual hot dog for the first time in probably 10 years). Gotta do what you gotta do. I wasn't happy about it, but I was hungry, so I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best. Eric (one of my nephew's buddies) and I decided to share two 750mL bottles that sounded tasty. The first was Scarlet Sunrise, a blend of sour red ales aged for 12 months in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, then refermented on blackberries and blueberries. This might have been my favorite beer of our visit. After all, a dry, robust Cab Sauv is probably my go-to wine (even though my favorite style is Cabernet Franc). 

The other bottle we shared, Barrel Aged Janet Weisse, is a barrel-aged golden version of Mellow Mink's apple pie sour. A blend of blonde sour ales aged in Chardonnay barrels for 12 months, it's aged for an additional 6 months on cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, and locally harvested apples. Part cider, part spiced ale, and part Belgian ale, this tasty concoction boasts lots of fall spice flavor with a vinous character hinting at dark stone fruit but with a crisp apple presence that somehow works. 

Pleeps is lookin' California at Mellow Mink.

We decided to squeeze in a visit to good ol' Pizza Boy. As it would happen, our old pal Swingle was out back drinking with one of Al's delivery guys who was off his shift. We pulled up a chair and waited a few minutes until 9:45 p.m. to order our cheap slices... but not before getting our hands on one of Pizza Boy's two dozen or so tap offerings. I was excited to see Just the Tidbits on tap, a pungent, tropical IPA brimming with bright pineapple and fuzzy hop juice that was the impetus of a past Ffej of July beer that ultimately became Pina Coolada. Brewed with Pilsner malt, fluffy malted oats, unmalted wheat, a touch of Honey Malt and hopped in the kettle with Amarillo and Mosaic, this juicy IPA is conditioned on about 700 pounds of pineapple tidbits and dry-hopped with tons of Australian Ella hops. This is a solid offering in a fine pedigree of tasty IPAs from Pizza Boy.

Speaking of tasty IPAs, I washed my buffalo chicken pizza slices down with Murren River, Pizza Boy's 100% Citra-hopped signature IPA. It's a Pizza Boy classic for sure... just ask Swingle. He's got 1000 Untappd check-ins of this sucker. 

Well kids, that's all for now. Join us for the next installment of The Pour Travelers when we head to Bellefonte, PA to check out a few breweries and even a... GASP!... distillery. Until next time... 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Campground Brewbound

I've written about Penn's Creek and the surrounding area many times on previous entries of The Pour Travelers, so I won't bore you with superfluous details of the region. Since we love the area so much and the chalet no longer available for our use, we decided to check in with our good friends Kramer and Chu at Penn's Creek Campground just outside Millmont, PA, about 7 miles from the chalet, for a leisurely weekend of beer and brotherhood.  

Since our summer vacation plans had been thwarted by the 'Rona, I've amassed a surplus of vacation days at work. With that in mind, I decided to take off on Friday so we could get an early start. After much deliberation, we decided to begin our day at a recent favorite of ours, Shy Bear. Prior to this fantastic brewery, I'd always thought of Lewistown, PA, as "the town with the Electric Ave. exit sign." Now when I think of Lewistown, the first thing that pops into my mind is Shy Bear. 

We arrived about ten minutes prior to the 11 a.m. opening time, but we noticed the door was already propped open. So we did our whole mask rigamarole, grabbed our phones and monkey, and headed inside. We were hoping to sit inside, as it had recently rained and everything was sopping wet outside. Plus it was kind of muggy for the late morning. Not surprisingly, we were the only people there except for staff. We were promptly seated and greeted by a varied beer menu bosting a plethora of styles and flavors. I was immediately drawn to a - wha-wha-whaaaaat?! - Lichtenhainer, a rarely seen, antiquated style that's about as common as tripping over a T-Rex femur in your backyard. But it would have to wait, because I wanted to prep my palate with something a bit more, well, not smoky and sour. 

For my first beer, I opted for Sunset at the End of the World, a delicious sour IPA hopped with Sultana, Lemondrop and Southern Cross for a pungent tropical bite and a hint of sour pucker in the finish. This was a great way to kick off the day. 

Pleeps enjoying Sunset at the End of the World.

Meanwhile, we ordered a nacho stack, which is now in the running for "best nachos ever." Except for the omission of guacamole, the ingredients served as a laundry list of everything I want on my nachos: delicious chopped chicken, pico de gallo, green onion, sour cream, beer queso, thin sliced fresh jalapêno, and cilantro. These are served in a cylindrical vessel to optimal topping dispersal. OK, I think I just made that up, but it sounds pretty cool. Seriously, these nachos are freakin' amazing! 

We had the place to oursleves.

So, back to the beer I was really excited to try - Eldritch. If you are unfamiliar with the style, Lichtenhainer is a pale beer brewed with lightly smoked malt and exposed to a lactic acid bacteria infection, which gives the beer its sour finish. If you don't care for sours and hate smoked beers, then a Lichtenhainer is definitely not for you. Personally, I love them, so coming across one on tap is a rare treat for me. (Feel free to brush up on the history of this long-forgotten style if you so desire.) Of course, Eldritch is no plain old smoked sour. The addition of key lime puree and meco chipotle peppers gives this beer an depth of flavor that is both exotic and delicious. The key lime bolsters the acidity with a hint of sharp citrus, while the chipolte peppers really help coax out more smokiness. With all of this, the balance was exquisite. I absolutely loved this beer. 

Pleeps loves Teku glasses!

While we were enjoying our visit, Jason, one of the owners, walked by and recognized us after we'd met he and his wife at Covered Bridge a few months prior. We chatted about beer and his coffee company, Rich Coast, which is right across the parking lot from the brewery. We actually decided to each get a cup of the house roast since we'd only gotten a single cup in thus far. It was very good, so we decided to head over and pick up some single serve bags to-go. 

After chatting with Jason for a while, head brewer Roger also came out and sat with us for a good 20 minutes. Roger used to be the assistant brewer at Pizza Boy a while back, and had the opportunity to climb the ladder to brewmaster at Shy Bear. And let me tell you, he's absolutely killing it. He was also stoked with the way the Lichtenhainer came out (as he should be), so we geeked out over that for a bit. He also gave us a taste of a still-fermenting Peach IPA that he recently brewed in collaboration with Robin Hood Brewing out of the Bellefonte/State College area. Turns out a friend of his recently was hired as Robin Hood's brewer, so we'll definitely have to revisit that brewery, as we weren't impressed the first time we visited several years ago. Even in its "green" state, this beer was absolutely delicious. It was so tasty that I would have bought a 4-pack of the unfinished beer to take home!

There's really nothing more I can say about Selin's Grove that I haven't already said. I mean, it's my favorite brewery. If you've never been there, stop reading, get in your car, and drive there now (unless, of course, you're reading this at 1:25 a.m. and they're closed). Seriously, I can't sing enough praise for this place. 

Upon or arrival, we were surprised to find a new beer on the menu - Blood Orange IPA. Owner and brewer Steve has recently been experimenting with fruit infusions in hoppy beers, and both Brewslut and I loved the recent Orange Mango Fat Cat NEIPA. This one is basically the standard IPA infused with blood orange juice. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The blood orange definitely provided more juiciness and a pithy bitterness that I tend to like in west coast-style IPAs. 

We were also surprised to run into so many regulars this early in the day. One of our favorite things about the pub is the people who have become friends over the years. It really is a family. Speaking of new beers, I followed up the Blood Orange IPA with Sweet Hope Blueberry Ale , and excellent addition to its stellar fruit beer line-up. This purple ale in knee-deep in blueberries with a squeeze of refreshing lemon and a slightly tart, earthy finish. This reminds me of "Kriek Lite." I hope Steve and Heather continue to brew this one annually, because I love it. Fun fact: the name "Sweet Hope" comes from an old neighborhood in Selinsgrove dating back to the 1800s.

Since I typically get three cups of coffee in per day, I opted for a pour of Snake Drive Stout with cold brew coffee. An assertive, fairly bitter dry irish stout, this beer is not as thin and definitely beefier for the style thanks to copious amounts of black roasted malt. This beer is usually unveiled around St. Patricks Day, because legend has it that St. Patrick himself drove all the snakes out of Ireland. Man, I'm a fountain of knowledge today! Speaking of Cold COFFEE , the pub serves up some amazing cold brewed coffee from a nitro stout faucet. It's strong, aromatic and frothy, and you can enjoy it on its own or add to any beer for a shot of coffee flavor. The pub recommends a coffee porter or stout or coffee & cream with its flagship cream ale. They use an Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe roasted locally by Fresh Roasted Coffee. 

I closed with the tried and true American Pale Ale, a classic take on the style that started the craft beer revolution. This beer features a citrus-forward hop aroma and sweet malt backbone with a vivid Cascade hop finish. The regulars' beer of choice at the pub is far and away the APA. 

My apologies for the lack of photos. I never take pictures at the pub because I always get lost in conversation. We obviously came for the beer initially, but aside from the world class beer, we keep coming back because of the people too. 

One place I'd been missing deeply through all of this has been Elk Creek. Although their cafe has been closed for several months, I recently discovered that they had opened a "Creekside Cafe," a makeshift beer garden behind the Millheim Fire Company just around the corner. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperating, and it was looking like we were soon in for a downpour. So when we arrived, we quickly secured our beers, ordered a snack, and found a table under one of the large tents in the grass. 

As anticipated, the beer selection was light. With that said, I was pleased to find Weather Rock IPA on tap, which I'd enjoyed a while back on one other occasion. This old school west coast IPA is on the malty side, but there's plenty of citrusy and grassy character thanks to generous additions of Cascade and Palisade hops. While I tend to gravitate to brewer Tim's English style ales, it's refreshing to know that he's not a one-trick pony and can brew other styles like pilsners, porters and IPAs competently. Come to think of it, I don't think I ever had what I'd call a "bad" or "flawed" beer at Elk Creek, which speaks volumes about why I love this place so much. 

The Pleeps before the storm.

Meanwhile, the sky was looking ominous so we decided to quickly get a second round. I opted for one of the aforementioned English-style ales, a simple Mild. Elk Creek's rendition of this classic malty English session ale definitely hits the mark with its hints of caramel, molasses and dark dried fruit. While I missed sitting inside at the comfy bar, it's always a pleasure to return back to Elk Creek for a beer or two. 

It's also worth pointing out that I've noticed several new beers (many packaged in cans or bottles) from Elk Creek popping up on its social media channels. In addition to 6-packs, they also offer 25oz and 32oz cans/crowlers via curbside to-go as well as pre-orders and pick-ups at a few local farmers markets. 

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Like Shy Bear the day before, we'd been looking forward to getting back to New Trail for quite some time. We enjoyed our initial visit very much, and even ran into our friends Dain and Jill from St. Boniface. We arrived shortly after opening time, and there were already a decent amount of people sitting outside. A parking attendant waived us in, and when we got out of the car the heat smacked us in the face. I was hoping for some inside seating, which in retrospect wasn't much cooler since New Trail is situated in an old warehouse and therefore doesn't have air conditioning. At least it was shady and not too bright.  

We queued up for our beers and I spotted SOB Hill on tap. I'd had this American IPA before and enjoyed it better than the majority of its hazy NE-style beers. Brewed with a mixture of pilsner and caramel malts as well as wheat, this generously hopped west coast-style IPA features a combination of newer American varietals paired with some tried-and-true classics to elicit an abundance of citrus and pine with a moderate bitter finish.  

I decided to follow up the west coast IPA with a pair of NEIPAs. It's hard not to, because New Trail makes so many of them. The first one, called Up the Creek, is a hazy IPA featuring oats and light caramel malts and hopped assertively with Centennial, Idaho 7 and Amarillo. This one was quite tropical with a hint of grapefruit pith, white pine and juicy apricot. 

I followed it up with Rock Run, a hazy Double IPA brewed with a slew of oats and wheats and hopped with plenty of Amarillo, Motueka and Mosaic. This one boasted lots of mango and citrus. Both of these hazy beers had lots of hop flavor and low bitterness, with a soft, silky texture. With that said, I still prefer SOB Hill over these two... or pretty much ANY hazy IPA I've had from them thus far. Call me old fashioned. With that said, plenty of folks swear by them so they must be doing something right. As long as the keep brewing SOB Hill for geezers like me, I'll be a happy camper. 

Brewslut also shared a bit of her Heliocentric: Berry Berry Lemonade, a collaboration with Foreign Objects and Discord (a subsidiary of Foreign Objects). The resulting beer is a tart ale featuring a wheat malt base and a profusion of raspberries, strawberries and lemons. This one was moderately tart with a prominent berry character and a slightly odd lemon note that stuck out from the pack a bit. Still, it was quite enjoyable overall. 

...and now for something completely different.

Since food and beer are pretty much a requirement these days, we opted for a chicken taco platter with a hefty portion of rice and beans on the side, courtesy of the on-site taco truck whose name escapes me at the moment. On our way out, I picked up a 4-pack of Sunrise, a Baltic Porter brewed with coffee and vanilla. More on that later. 

After spending some time at New Trail, we made the short drive northward to nearby Montoursville for a quick stop at Sonic Ascention Records. I decided to squeeze in a visit since we'd be checking out a new-to-us brewery in the same town... well, kind of in the same town... er... I mean, vicinity. More on that in a few shakes. This cool little record shop has a solid rock collection as well as an entire dollar bin room in the back, where I always find some great deals. This time around, I found bargains from Dusty Springfield to Joni Mitchell to Missing Persons, so I suppose it was a female vocalist kind of haul.  

However, the impetus for this little excursion was to hit up a new place in Montoursville - at least that's what their mailing address indicates - Therapy Brewing. I'd heard good things about this new brewery that had just opened in May 2019, and the photos looked promising - basically a rustic wooden barn tucked away on a quite country road overlooking lots of trees. See?

Outside Therapy's century-old farmhouse.

After we parked, we made our way down to the building. There were several people toting growlers and getting in line. Hmmmm. I guess folks are stocking up for a Saturday night at home. Nope. Sadly, we had missed Therapy's notification only 24 hours prior, announcing that it had changed over to growler fills due to the Governor's recent decision to require food purchases with alcohol sales. Since Therapy doesn't have on-site food, they were forced to limit sales to growler fills only. Thanks Rona! Luckily for us, we decided to throw a pair of growlers in the back of the CRV "just in case." Good thinking, Brewslut. So we took our places in line and decided what to get. 

Brewslut had her eye on a milkshake ale called Creamsicle brewed with milk sugar, vanilla, and "an orange twist." I opted for Back 40 Porter - Toasted Coconut, a porter brewed with toasted coconut. But more on these beers later. Unfortunately, we didn't get to sample anything else while we were there. Sadly, this was a really quick visit, so we didn't really get to experiencing anything other than the building itself and the scenery. Next time, we'll be sure to stay extra long and soak in the atmosphere. 

After twisting through the backroads of Montoursville and the surrounding area, we headed back to familiar territory - Northumberland County. Our next stop was the new Pineknotter Brewing Company, located just a few blocks from where Brewslut and I celebrated our wedding reception, The Front Street Station. 

Outside Pineknotter in Northumberland, PA.

When we arrived, the tasting room was already at capacity, and it was excrutiatingly hot outside. Much to our chagrin, all of the shady tables on the patio were also occupied. I shrugged and went back to the car to get my safari hat and sunblock. The reflective silver tables weren't helping, either. However, we decided to stay since we had gotten positive reviews from Deuane and Carolyn, and had also enjoyed some early beers two years ago at the Selin's Grove hops and vines festival. Thankfully, the server (also one of the owners) mentioned there was shadier seating out back under a tree, so we quickly took him up on his offer. 

After the bombardment of hops at New Trail, I decided to easy back with something malty and opted for Illusion White, a tasty blonde stout with notes of vanilla, fresh roasted coffee, and mocha. I found this to be well done, so we were off to a good start at Pineknotter! 

This is not an illusion. Actually, it is!

I'd be remiss if we visited a brewery for the first time and didn't try its signature beer. In this case, it happens to be Knotty Juice, a hazy IPA with tons of tropical flavor. A strong whiff of juicy fruit greeted me, and I knew I was in for a treat. Turns out this beer is way more up my alley than most NEIPAs (at least the local ones), as it displayed a juicy, heavy-handed mango character. It also featured that smidgen of spicy pepper that's common with mango that I tend to enjoy. I was surprised to find that this beer gets all of its fruit flavor from the hops. Lots of breweries infuse beer with fruit and even juice to get the desired flavor. This one is all about the hop combo. I was pretty impressed with this one... and you know me and hazy IPAs by now. Wink wink nudge nudge, know what I mean? 

Pleeps tryin' to wheez the ju-uice!

Brewslut and I decided to share a pour of another IPA on the beer list. A traditional American-style IPA, Born on the 4th of July is more of an old-school "hop bomb" (remember that term, geezers?) IPA featuring three tried and true hop varietals: Columbus, Simcoe, and Cascade. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed Knotty Juice a bit more, although this beer was solid as well. 

Pleeps posing at Pineknotter.

During our visit, we were amused by a curious, young raccoon in the tree above our table. According to testimony from an older woman who witnessed the event, the little guy apparently jumped down out of the tree and grabbed a partially eaten container of beer cheese left behind by a customer literally moments before we arrived. This critter kept us occupied and entertained while we enjoyed our beers at a liesurely pace. Eventually, he jumped over to another tree, then the roof of the brewery, took a few sips out of the rainspout, and he was off on his merry way. 

"You gonna finish that cheese?" - Rocky

Speaking of beer cheese, we decided to order a soft pretzel with a side of beer cheese. I was beyond excited to find that Pineknotter orders its pretzels from the same bakery as Selin's Grove! Turns out the owners of Pineknotter are also big fans of the pub. So it goes without saying that the pretzel was fantastic. However, the beer cheese was pretty amazing as well! Rocky Raccoon wholeheartedly agrees. All in all, we experienced a wonderful first visit to Pineknotter despite having to endure the heat. 

Pleeps concurs: "Drink Knotty."

As we were heading to New Trail earlier in the day, we actually drove right by Jackass Brewing, our final stop of the day. I was surprised by the size and decor of the place. Like nearby Rusty Rail, it seemed like the owners had some serious monetary backing for this brewing endeavor. New to the area's craft beer scene, Jackass broke ground in May 2019 and had only just opened its doors on March 11, 2020... literally days before the COVID-19 shut-downs began. Talk about bad timing! 

Outside Lewisburg's Jackass Brewing Company.

After waiting for about 20 minutes for a table inside, we were seated at a hightop table for two near the bar. Our server was friendly and attentive (and masked... which is more than could be said for about 80% of the patrons during our visit). I should have known better than to open with a NEIPA, but sometimes I abandon good judgement for reasons unbeknownst to me. This was one of those times. The beer in question, Foggy Doo, was undrinkable. Yes, folks, occasionally we run into a beer that just should have been dumped down the drain. This was one of those times. Touted as a "traditional New England IPA with a spotlight on Citra hops," I struggled to decipher any flavors remotely suggesting an IPA. As a matter of fact, the dominating flavor (and Brewslut concurred) was wet cardboard, which is a common off-flavor found in beer caused by how the beer is aged. I won't bore you with the details of how beer can transform into a liquid resembling used bath water, but feel free to read up on your own. There will be no quiz following this blog post... I assure you.

Tap handles at Jackass.

Foggy Doo promised aromas and flavors of lime, grapefruit, orange and mango. Cue that beautiful tumbleweed footage, Pleeps. Nope, not this time. Shame on me for making a NEIPA my first impression of a brewery. I should have known better. Thankfully, I went with an 8oz pour rather than the full pint. 

Meanwhile, Brewslut was faring slightly better than I with her selection, Pink Rubber Duck . A light sour ale brewed with sweet cherries and lime, this one had a decent flavor but was very thin and only slightly tart. I wouldn't necessarily describe it as sour, but it wasn't undrinkable either. This one could benefit from more carbonation, a heftier body and smoother mouthfeel. Not bad, though, for a second attempt. 

Since we were getting dinner, I thought I'd try and recover from my first mistake and order a second beer. I decided to keep things safe with Dumbass Porter (perhaps as an ode to my previous blunder). It's pretty hard to mess up a porter, so I was hoping for the best. This was a marked improvement over the NEIPA. Served via nitro, this porter was pretty solid overall with a roasty flavor hinting at chocolate and light coffee. It went well with my chicken and waffle sliders. 

No bar seating during 'Rona's reign, unfortunately.

Speaking of dinner, the food was delicious across the board. Brewslut enjoyed her poke tuna sliders, and we shared a heaping pile of seasoned shoestring fries. The food, ambiance, service and branding were all solid here. They just need to work on the beer. Also, some people I've talked to have an issue with the name Jackass, but I think it's all in good fun. I mean, donkeys are awesome (second only to goats in my personal pantheon of animal heirarchy). And with that, it was time to retire for the day.

Back at Campground, we cracked open a few cans and one of the growlers from Therapy to share with Kramer and Chu. Here's the lowdown:

Sunrise by New Trail - Baltic Porter brewed with Coffee & Vanilla. Brewed in collaboration with our friends from Sprinkled Sweet & Alabaster Coffee. We brewed this beer with a plethora of dark malts and aged it for a substantial amount of time on freshly roasted coffee from Alabaster and Madagascar Vanilla Beans from Sprinkled Sweet. It was brewed to compliment a very popular Ice Cream from Sprinkled Sweet aptly named Sunrise! Show Less

Passion Blaster by Shy Bear - This sweet and sour seductress will stimulate your senses. Saturated with passion fruit and silky milk sugar the tartness provides a supremely sexy symmetry. One sip and surely you’ll be under her spell.

Back 40 Porter with Toasted Coconut - Therapy growler. A silky porter brewed with a heaping amount of hand-toasted coconut to lend a sweet tropical flavor to this otherwise dark, roasty porter. While the body was silky, it was a tad thin. Also, the coconut came across as slightly artificial. It was pretty solid all around but not one of my favorite coconut porters. (Editor's note: We drank the Creamsicle growler about a week later and enjoyed it much more than the porter. While the aroma was strange at first, the flavor was unabashedly creamsicle with a swirl of orange and vanilla cream with very minimal hop presence. 

We changed our plans on Sunday and stuck around Selin's Grove at Aunt Carol and Uncle Rick's to get in a few games of Minki Ball in the pool. We swung by the pub for a quick one - the tried and true IPA, one of my favorites - before heading to the pool, where I pounded a few cans of Naturdays, a strawberry lemonade version of... clears throat and mumbles... Natural Light. Hey, it's a great pool beer and actually tastes more like a juicy cocktail. Don't judge me!

We'd planned to hit the newly opened Hemauer in Mechanicsburg and check out Mellow Mink since we hadn't visited in a while. My nephew has been raving about their sours lately, so we need to get there pronto. I guess we'll have to leave it for another day. Until next time...

Friday, July 31, 2020

A Day of Tomfrippery

It's rare that I get a weekend all to myself. Brewslut was recently invited to go on an extended "girls' weekend" to the beach with some friends, which left me alone to my own devices. With a few days to myself, I decided to round up Darin and Doug (see The Point of Bro Return for a refresher) and head to the fabled Princeton Record Exchange, an iconic record store in New Jersey. Upon looking at my trusty brewery map, I discovered a plethora of craft breweries both on the way and in the general vicinity of Princeton. I scoped out some familiar - and unfamiliar - names and came up with a short list of places to hit after digging for records for about an hour and a half. Turns out I'd wanted to visit these places for quite some time, and now the opportunity had presented itself.

After mining for plastic for about an hour and a half, it was time to celebrate our hauls with a few cold ones. First on the agenda was a visit to Vault Brewing in nearby Yardley, PA. I'd first come into contact with Vault's beers during my frequent visits to the good ol' Corvette Bar & Grille in my adopted hometown of Annville, PA. Turns out that Travis, one of the Vette's long-time bartenders, is friends with one of the owners of Vault... at least that's how I remember it. So I'd had a few of their beers in recent years and have generally enjoyed them quite a bit. One that comes to mind is the Full City Coffee Stout, which I recall was quite good. At any rate, it was good to finally visit the source after having enjoyed some of their beers for about three years or so.

Outside Vault Brewing Co. (photo courtesy of

With the 'Rona still in full force, Vault (like many other small breweries) has adopted a makeshift beer garden area for outside seating. I'd perused the food menu in advance and decided it would serve as a suitable spot for lunch. The beer garden is set up in the adjacent parking lot, complete with a large pop-tent affair... the kind that cost like $1000 to rent for a wedding. The shade was definitely welcome - although I always prefer inside seating with air conditioning - and despite being around 92 degrees outside, it was fairly comfortable at our table.

I started the day off with a pour of a NE-style Pale Ale called Of Hops and Clouds. We joked that it sounded like the name of a prog rock album title. Brewed with a hop combo of Mosaic, Citra, and Amarillo, this fruity ale boasts a juicy smack of pineapple and citrus with tropical notes of guava and  mango. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

For lunch, the waffle grilled cheese sandwich sounded too damn good to pass up, so I opted for carb overload... always a good decision when drinking all day! This was essentially a grilled cheese sandwich with homemade waffles standing in for plain old bread. I believe there was also smoked gouda in the mix, but I could be wrong. At any rate, this was bangin' and provided a solid base on which to lay lots of beer.

Speaking of beer, my second beer was one Darin had just had called Chasing Nickels. This NE-style session IPA is hopped with Idaho Gem and Mosaic for bright aromas of sweet citrus, grapefruit, and a hint of pine. I got more of a tropical fruit vibe with a twist of  lemon meringue pie. This was quite enjoyable albeit a tad muted after my initial hoppier beer. I did get inside for a bit to use the restroom, and the place is bigger than I'd anticipated. It kind of reminded me of Iron Hill, with lots of dark, smooth wood and a similar layout. I'd love to visit again when we're able to sit inside. Plus Brewslut needs to get to this place. I imagine we'll be back within the next year. 

Up next on the agenda was Huntindon Valley's Naked Brewing. This brewery has been around for the better part of the last decade, and I'd wanted to visit for quite some time. Naked debuted its beers at the Newtown Beer Fest (I performed there once with herbie) in 2011. After receiving a positive response from attendees, the brewery decided to go full time and was officially licensed on April Fool’s Day 2012. Within just a few months, Naked moved from a tiny garage to its present location. Again, we were forced to sit outside in the heat (thanks, 'Rona!), but like so many other small breweries, Naked had erected a pop-up beer garden and employed a food truck to keep its customers hydrated (or should I say libated?) and nourished. As you can see from the photo below, the beer garden was nothing fancy; a few scattered picnic tables and a covered bar with about eight seats. We grabbed a few seats at the bar as there was only one guy occupying a stool when we arrived. 

Naked's pop-up beer garden (courtesy of Trip Advisor)

After enjoying two IPAs at Vault, I decided to switch things up a bit at Naked. I spotted a beer called Ground Effects on the menu that sounded tasty described as a cream ale brewed with coffee roasted at Calm Waters Coffee Roasters. I'll typically order one of these whenever they appear on a beer list, and I've typically enjoyed these more often than not. This one features a nice balance of vanilla and light coffee with an almost blondie (blonde brownie) vibe going on.  

I decided to stay on the lighter side, and once I saw a beer name referencing Motorhead bass god, Lemmy, the decision was made. Lemmy Czech is a crisp Czech-style Pilsner brewed with the classic German noble hop Saaz for a grassy, citrusy bite in the finish. This was pretty solid overall, though not as super crisp as other examples of the style I've had. Still, it's refreshing to see more lagers being brewed by small breweries these days. I'd drink it again. Plus... Lemmy! \m/ However, I think that any beer named after Lemmy should taste like cigarettes and whiskey. Maybe a smoked beer next time? 

All in all, this was a pleasant first-time visit... even with the heat. The three of us always engage in lots of silly music geek humor (i.e. Tomfrippery, a term taken from our self-penned Prog Rock Dictionary, which includes 40 different entries thus far). Also, I did get to meander inside for a peek while waiting for the bathroom to become vacant. The brewery and adjoining tasting room definitely has a dimly lit warehouse vibe, which is totally fine with me. I tend to like my breweries to straddle the line between utilitarian and one-of-a-kind. I enjoy a space has its own unique character and doesn't employ a generic cookie-cutter design thats typically of a chain restaurant. I'd rather have no-frills than no personality. I'm looking forward to getting back here in the post-Rona world as well. 

In researching breweries for this little jaunt, I was surprised to find that Conshohocken Brewing Company has five different locations. The location in closest proximity to us was situated in Bridgeport, PA, so we set the GPS for Puddlers Kitchen & Tap, one of Conshohocken's satellite tap rooms. With PA liquor laws constantly changing (fortunately for the better), small breweries can now operate multiple tap rooms under a single license, which means other nearby communities can share the wealth while the brewery spreads awareness of its brand. This building is pretty damn cool too. Check it...

Conshohocken's Puddlers site (courtesy of

When we arrived, all of the tables under umbrellas were already reserved, so we had to sweat it out in the sun. We found a partially shaded table, but I'm prone to burst into flames during especially hot summer days, so I made a quick bathroom visit and popped back to the car to grab my own umbrella to provide a bit of shade. Brewslut and I had visited the original Conshohocken site shortly after it opened back in 2014 and were somewhat impressed. We weren't necessarily wowed but we also weren't underwhelmed. At any rate, it had been a while since I had the opportunity to dig in for a second run, so I was glad to be back to see what they'd been up to. I mean, they have five locations, so they must be doing something right, eh?    

Beer Garden at Puddlers site (courtesy of Facebook)

After perusing the beer list, I settled on Type A, a 7% ABV west coast-style IPA hopped with a blend of Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe against a backbone of pale and pilsner malts. This one boasts a full hop aroma with flavors of citrus and pine as well as that textbook dry finish that defines the style. It turned out to be a good choice. This one a one-and-done stop for me, as I was driving. 

Not sure what else to do since we had more time, we ultimately decided to end the evening at one of our collective favorites, St. Boniface. One of my regular quarantine libations has been SB's coffee IPA, recently matriculated from the Offering Series to a bona fide beer now named Whiff Roasters. The beer borrows its name from the Lititz, PA-based company that provides the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans for its recipe. Seriously, folks... this beer is bangin'! It may very well be the best coffee IPA I've had in my travels thus far. I simply can't get enough of it. As a matter of fact, we're heading down to check out the newly opened Tied House, SBC's new Lititz, PA taproom. Here's to hoping it's on tap this evening! I'm glad to see them thriving, as they've been one of my favorite central PA breweries since the get-go. 

Well kids, that's all for now. Brewslut and I recently made a weekend jaunt up to Penn's Creek Campground (not too far from our beloved chalet... RIP) to hit some new breweries and a few old favorites. Stay tuned for an account of that weekend, coming soon to The Pour Travelers blog. Until next time...