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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Tröegs Field Trip!

Working at a brewery, you get to do some fun stuff every once in a while. Some would argue that we brewery folk are ALWAYS doing something fun every day of the week. But like any job, it's just that: A JOB. Lucky for me, my job happens to be at the very brewery responsible for turning me on to the craft beer scene all those years ago.

Our first stop was at the familiar Two Rivers Brewing in Easton. Brewslut and I had first visited at the tail end of our Drinksgiving 2016 trip, and we both enjoyed it quite a bit. I was excited to return, and since we rolled in around 11:15 a.m., we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Once the site of the Mt. Vernon Hotel - a hotel that occasionally served as a brothel from 1855 to 1994 - the owners of Two Rivers purchased the historic building at a sheriff's auction in 2011, and the brewery was born. (If you're interested, you can read more about the history of the building here.)

Two Rivers Brewing Co. (courtesy of Google Images).

I started off with a pour of bourbon barrel-aged Bangor State Baltic Porter, because... well, why not? It wasn't even listed on the tap list, but I was paying attention (rare for me, I know) and heard our server mention it when she was reciting the beer list to our group. She actually brought me the wrong beer - Jewel Pomegranate Dark Saison - which resembled in no way, shape or form a BBA Baltic Porter. I was like, "oh well" but she soon realized her mistake and brought me the correct beer. I'm glad she did, because I enjoyed it leaps and bounds more than the dark saison. I finished off our stop with a pint of Colonel Left Eye IPA, which was fresh, juicy and pithy (think grapefruit) with a very green, vegetal nose.

After a fantastic lunch (a house-made vegetarian black bean lentil burger with a side salad), Josh, the brewer, was kind enough to give us the ten cent tour of the brewhouse and barrel cellar. He has definitely made good use of the limited space in the dank, narrow cave-like cellar. Barrels were crammed into every nook and cranny of the cold basement. Turns out Two Rivers is doing quite a bit of barrel aging (at least as much as a brewery that produces about 550bbl per year can do), because he gave our group a few bottles of some great barrel-aged, fruited sour beers (i.e. road sodas). We were happy to crack a number of these once we got back on the bus.

First up was Fifty Cent Rosie's, a Wild Ale aged in wine barrels for two summers and finally blended with four pounds of dark and sour cherries per gallon of beer. The beer itself, a Belgian-style Kriek, poured into my plastic cup a deep ruby and boasted a pleasant cherry character with a good bit of barnyard funk. According to its web site, the beer is named after a notoriously seedy brothel located on Easton's South Side in the 1920s. I'd definitely like to know what kind of service a patron might have gotten from Rosie for fifty cents back during the depression.

Up next was Sadie's Green Peach Juice, an American wild ale aged in Sauvignon Blanc barrels with 500 pounds of local peaches. This one may have been my favorite of the bunch, as I of course LOVE peaches! White peach is a flavor characteristic of Sauvingnon Blanc grapes, so it was a natural choice to use these barrels for this particular beer. Add in a hint of zesty citrus and green apple skin, and you've got a very nice, refreshing wild ale with a bit of pucker and plenty of juicy peach goodness.

By the time we finished this bottle, it was time to check out the Martin Guitar factory. Being a musician (albeit a drummer... and yes, still a musician despite all of the worn-out jokes), I must admit that I was pretty stoked to visit this mecca for guitarists. I was blown away first by the size of the facility then later by the sheer craftsmanship each of the 500 employees bring to the table to hand-craft these amazing guitars. I'll let the pictures do the talking here. Too bad they don't offer a beer to take with you on the tour!

Outside the Martin Guitar factor in Nazareth, PA

Our awesome tour guide, Joel

Me being me.

Now, get ready for some wood. Lots of wood, actually!

Guitar bodies prior to finishing.

Neck pieces prior to attachment.

Guitar-smith working his magic.

Martin's custom shop!

Almost finished with these beauties!

Our final stop of the day was the brand new SOLE Artisan Ales tasting room. This once gypsy brewery has finally found its home in Easton, PA. I'd already been very familiar with SOLE over the last few years, encountering beers at Sabatini's and Al's of Hampden, as well as a few stray cans here and there. (According to Untappd, 13 times to be exact). 

The modern tasting room reminded me of Torst, the Brooklyn home base for Evil Twin Brewing Co. Inside, the room was sparsely decorated with in black and white with unique lighting, stark counter tops, and lots of clean, straight lines. Exposed brick accents added a bit of contrast, as did the colorful mosaic-like stained glass windows framing the front entrance. 

Entrance to SOLE's tasting room.

The beer board took me back to the concessions stand at little league baseball games (just replace hot dog, hamburger, fries, etc. with the various names of beers). See? 

I want a hamburger... no, a cheeseburger...

Each of us was allotted a flight of three 6oz. pours. SOLE is known for some NE-inspired IPAs and hoppy beers employing heavy dry-hopping, flavorful hop varieties, and oats to create delicate, hazy, flavorful ales. Naturally, I gravitated to two of them, which both happened to be high ABV IPAs. The first, Fruity Dabs, is a new DIPA brewed with SOLE's Nordic IPA Yeast and flaked barley, then triple dry-hopped (not to be confused with Miller Lite's triple hopped technique) with Citra and Amarillo, and finally conditioned on Satsuma orange and Madagascar vanilla. Needless to say, this one had lots going on. Indeed it was fruity, but the vanilla softened the 8.7% ABV, and the orange creamsicle notes shined through. Bitterness was light, but the aroma was big on citrus fruit and vanilla.

Moving on, I upped my game and dug into All the Feels, an 11% ABV Triple IPA brewed using a heavy dose of white wheat with panettone cakes thrown into the mash, and sacks of orange peel and white raisins steeped in the boil. This puppy was dry-hopped with Lemondrop and El Dorado. This beer could be described as "liquid dessert." The finished product resembled a birthday cake with a dense body, boatloads of tropical fruit, and orange gumdrops. It sounds ridiculously sweet on paper, but it wasn't. Plus the high ABV was kept at bay with everything going on within the context of the ingredients. I love experimentation in beer, and this one - pardon the pun - takes the cake!

Lastly, I simply couldn't resist trying a beer named Atmospheric Black Metal, an Imperial Stout. But guess what? The description is even better! From the SOLE Untappd description:

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 devil's loins.

See? Even Lord Lucifer has his place in craft beer. I love when a brewery embraces metal! But I digress. This was a pretty tasty cocoa concoction, but I preferred the hoppy beers a bit more.

After the three 6oz'ers, we were on our own. I had been eyeing up a beer called Hipster Blood, and thought it sounded tasty. SOLE considers this one a "Nordic farm-bier." OK, I'm listening. Fermented with what SOLE calls "Viking yeast," Hipster Blood was conditioned on 600 lbs. of tart and sweet cherries. I like when cherries and beer collide, so I was definitely curious about this one. However, the name put this one over the edge for me. The thought of a hipster bleeding in agony was somewhat comical to me... in a deranged, black comedy sort of way. A guy wearing a 1920's throwback bow tie and vest with a monocle and handlebar mustache bleeding to death from would inflicted by a Viking's battleaxe? My inner monologue had to give a chuckle.

From what I recall, the beer was pretty tame compared to what I was expecting. Perhaps my palate was still recovering from the one-two punch of Fruity Dabs and All the Feels. Either way, I felt I had one more in me.

On the other side of the space was a separate room with its own bar, plus a cooler for take-out beer. I was sure to pick up a few 4-packs of cans, plus the folks at SOLE were kind enough to send each of us home with a bomber of a farmhouse ale.

Adjoining tasting room at SOLE.

Someone had given me a sip of Simcoe Nerd, and it was probably the best beer I sampled at SOLE. I was hanging out on the other side of the tasting room checking out the "to-go" cans. Fritchey (one of my marketing team cohorts) came over and we started taking, and he offered to buy me a beer. So I had to get a pour of this one. Hopped exclusively with Simcoe (a favorite variety of mine), this sucker provides a blast of candied mango, grapefruit, tropical fruit, dank cheeba, and - to pull from its description - "white gummy bear juice." I wasn't aware one could juice a gummy bear. I guess anything is possible, right? 

After ending on a high note with Simcoe Nerd, it was time to load up the bus and head back to Hershey. One final "road soda" was on the agenda, a bottle of the recently procured Six Finger Sam's Saison from Two Rivers. To my surprise, the cork popped rather aggressively and I found myself with a wet, saison-soaked lap for the remainder of the trip. At least it happened on the way home. The bus driver wasn't too enthused, but what do you expect with a bus full of people who work at a brewery? We cleaned up our little "spill in aisle five" and all was forgiven. 

All in all, it was a fun day spend with co-workers. It's nice to get out from behind the desk every once in a while. I could definitely get used to these kinds of trips. Maybe it will become a weekly thing. Come to think of it, maybe not. Either way, we'll have to get back here with Brewslut and Pleeps in the near future. Until next time...

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Under the Weather and Drinking

We had the weekend of January 19 blocked off in our calendar for a possible Team D(r)INK outing to Richmond, VA. When that fell through, Brewslut and I seized the opportunity to make a return visit to the greater Philadelphia area. I found a great hotel deal on Priceline for Mt. Pleasant, NJ (right across the river) for two nights, so we were set.

Then I got sick.

Let me tell you, there aren't many things that prevent me from partaking in a good ol' beer romp through one of my favorite beer cities... but a wicked cold on the verge of flu-like symptoms is one of them. Indeed, I felt like a bag of assholes pretty much all weekend. I was chasing Dayquil with IPAs almost all weekend. I'll give myself credit, though. I wanted to bail multiple times on Saturday and just head back to the hotel for some much-needed rest. Through perseverance, however, we made it to five breweries on Saturday and another five on Sunday.

But first, let's start the weekend where it belongs: Friday evening.

We rolled out of Annville a bit earlier than usual to get a head start on weekend traffic. I decided to schedule a stop in Phoenixville to hit two new-to-us breweries on the way. Seemed like a good half-way point to me. First up was Stable 12, located right on Bridge Street, which is essentially the main drag. The beer menu looked promising and they served food; a good thing, as I knew we'd be hungry after the 75-minute drive.

When we arrived, some musicians were setting up in the corner of the small tasting room. There was also about 40 minutes left of Happy Hour, so pints were $1 off. We found a table on the opposite side of the room and shortly a server appeared to take our order. I almost went with the whimsically named Sugar Coated Pony Kisses, an IPA brewed with lactose, based solely on the name. Turns out Brewslut had the same idea, so I opted for Fresh Pick'd, a guava IPA with slightly higher ABV. Turns out I made the right decision, as it was more enjoyable than my companion's selection. Of course, we shared the beers, so I had about as much of it as she.

We decided to share a pour of a beer called Pucker Up Buttercup. I knew I'd heard this phrase before somewhere. I quick memory jog revealed it to be a quote from Ferris Bueller's Day Off (spoken by principal Edward Rooney to Cameron, who is playing the role of Sloane Peterson's dad). I'm usually pretty good to pick up on pop culture references (provided said reference isn't from pop culture of the last, say, twenty years). Unfortunately, the beer itself - a barrel-aged saison - was lackluster. It sounded great on paper, though: We aged this beer in oak Chardonnay barrels for 6 months and then blended it with red sour cherry puree from Oregon. 

Food-wise, we were pleased with our selections. I got a pulled smoked chicken sandwich with white Alabama BBQ sauce and a side of fries. The bun was great and appeared to be home-made. Brewslut enjoyed a plate of chicken nachos, which I helped her eat because the portion was pretty hefty. All in all, not a bad first experience. I enjoyed the Fresh Pick'd quite a bit and I look forward to revisiting Stable 12 in a few months to see how things are shaping up.

Time to move on, though.

What do you get when you combine craft beer with 90's hip hop, graffiti, and cheesy vintage kung fu movies? A pretty dope-ass brewery, yo! Root Down, situated a mere two blocks away from Stable 12, is housed in an old Hires root beer factory. (There's even a vintage sign adorning the tasting room wall to prove it.) Upon finding out this fun fact, Brewslut and I couldn't help but get the Hires jingle from the late 70s/early 80s stuck in our heads. (I tried to find a YouTube link, but sorry... no luck).

First impressions are key, and my initial selection - Flying Guillotine - definitely made the grade. Described as an unfiltered IPA, this one was definitely an above-average interpretation of the style. My condition was starting to improve once I got my hands on this delicious beer. However, the whole weekend would prove to be a see-saw ride of feeling OK to back to the bag of assholes. Brewslut wasn't completely sold on her selection, Cosmic Smooth, a nitro-dispensed milk stout. I thought it was fine; perhaps a bit too roasty for a milk stout, but tasty nonetheless.

Our server was super friendly, as were the surrounding patrons at the bar, which made for a pleasant evening. Since the beer menu was lengthy and quite varied, I asked for recommendations. The Keller Pils came up, so who am I to argue? I like me a well-crafted Keller Pils, which is basically an unfiltered North German pilsner. This was a fine representation of the style, and according to our server, it had one some awards. Brewslut went with the cleverly named Salty By Nature, a Gose that proved not quite tart enough for us in the long run. I personally feel like the style is played out. I'd rather a nice, tart Berliner Weisse in its place.

Up next was Flux, a single-hopped unfiltered IPA with Mosaic. Bine, its flagship IPA, followed soon thereafter. This was a bit more spicy, resinous and malty compared to the softer, more citrus-forward Flying Guillotine, which in our minds took the cake. Before we left, I was sure to grab a 4-pack of Flying Guillotine to enjoy at home.

Beer aside, this was one of the only times I've ever enjoyed a TV at a brewery. This kung fu movie was so hilariously bad it was enjoyable to the point that we couldn't take our eyes off the screen. From what I understand, Root Down purchased the rights to a handful of these cheesy kung fu movies and just show them exclusively in the tasting room, one after another, without pause. What an awesome concept!

Kung fu. Like watching a train wreck with subtitles.

After an enjoyable first-time visit to Root Down, it was time to ship off to more familiar territory. I really wanted to stop in at Tired Hands Brew Café, as we hadn't been there in almost a year. Brewslut, on the other hand, preferred to stop at the Fermentaria just down the street. So we decided to do both. I was jonesin' for some bread and butter!

Inside, it was pretty hoppin', and we were about to snag the tiny table near the window at the front of the downstairs room when a few bar seats became freshly vacant. We always prefer to sit at the bar when we visit breweries (usually because we only order drinks at one of every five we visit).

First up was a half pour of Ornate Window, a plum saison. You can seldom go wrong with a Tired Hands saison. I've never been crazy about beers brewed with plums because I find the flavor doesn't really come across well compared to other fruits. However, I was pleasantly surprised with this offering, which seemed to capture the fleshy, slightly sweet yet faintly tart flavor of the plum. It wasn't too heavy on the dark fruit, which made it all the more enjoyable for me. This one was delicate with nuanced flavors of sweet fruit jam and tea leaves.

Brewslut opted for Forests of the Sea Bottom, a blood orange and oyster IPA. Yes, you read correctly. Oyster. I've known oysters to be a prime ingredient in stouts over the years, but never in an IPA. While she enjoyed it quite a bit, I was taken aback by the slightly briny, salty finish of this one.

While we were enjoying our beers, a group of youngsters hovered toward the bar area. One of them, a female, was slightly annoyed (and simultaneously annoying) in her quest to find a suitable beer. I had to laugh when the entire lot of them (eight perhaps) were carded by the manager. Turns out one of them hadn't turned twenty-one yet. They were immediately bounced from the premises. I had to chuckle. (I know, I know... grumpy old man syndrome.)

Selfie recreation of one of our favorite pics.

We ended our visit with Wayward Tiramisu, a cask-conditioned version of Wayward Canoe, an English Mild, conditioned atop Ladyfingers, coffee beans, cacao nibs, dark chocolate, and brown sugar. This served as a great dessert beer after a long evening of drinking.

Brewslut really wanted to swing by Tired Hands Fermentaria, so she twisted my arm and we made the short drive over for one final beer of the evening. The crowd had already winded down for the night when we arrived, so we were able to have our pick of two bar seats. We shared a pour of the returning favorite We Are All Infinite Energy Vibrating At The Same Frequency, a hazy IPA that first hit the scene a few years back, well ahead of the current hazy NE-style IPA craze. Brewed with wheat and hopped with Centennial and Simcoe, this is a damn fine IPA in all its simplicity. By this time, I'd had enough, so we decided to head to the hotel for the remainder of the evening. I definitely needed some rest if I was going to maintain our typical drinking schedule. I apologized to my liver in advance, especially since I'd been taking plenty of medicine with acetaminophen, which doesn't agree with alcohol. So... off to bed.

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I knew I was going to be in for a long day on Saturday, because I slept terribly on Friday night. Flu symptoms aside, one of the unfortunate side effects is muscle soreness. At one point, I was waking up every 15 to 20 minutes simply to readjust my sleeping position. That was neither fun nor funny. Still, I had to get up and face the day with a smile on my face and a beer in my hand. (Remember... we're professionals.)

I was pretty excited to get to our first stop of the day: Spellbound. Last time, our itinerary was so ambitious that we were barely at Spellbound for an hour. Given the lackluster experience we encountered at a few breweries that day, we were able to weed out the undesirables and stick to our favorites. Spellbound might be our absolute favorite in this region. Rather than opt for a flight, we stuck with short pours of some favorites.

But first, something new. Apparently, Spellbound likes to tap firkins on Saturdays. Last time we were there, they had three if I'm not mistaken. This time around, they had two, one of which was an IPA aged on Spanish cedar. This sounded tasty, so I ordered a pour. Brewslut started light with It's Not yours, It's Mayan, 3rd anniversary imperial stout brewed with all of the various "Mexican" mole ingredients that have become all the rage (think Abraxas or Mexican Cake but not as mind-blowing). The cedar-aged IPA on cask was quite tasty, and definitely not as dry or as heavy on the cedar as, say, Cigar City's cedar-aged Jai Ali. It was a good way to begin the day, and I already was starting to feel better now that I had a beer in my hand and was sitting at the bar of a great brewery with my favorite lady friend.

Up next, it was time to revisit an old favorite: the Palo Santo Porter. This delicious beer is Spellbound's year-round porter aged on Palo Santo wood.  Palo Santo is a mystical tree that grows on the coast of South America and is related to Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal. This wood brings out an exquisite chocolate flavor with hints of vanilla, anise, and mint. I was happy to learn that Spellbound scored a gold medal for this beer at the 2017 GABF in the Wood Aged Beer category. Congrats! This is one of those beers that I have to get each time we visit. Brewslut grabbed a pour of Vices, a coffee porter. She opted for a nitro pour versus CO2 based on the endorsement of the brewer. Again, the porter serves as the base beer, which is then aged on Small World Coffee's Crispy Hippie coffee beans. This one was quite enjoyable as well!

By this point, I was pretty sure I was done and ready to move on. Then I realized that I probably shouldn't leave without having a pour of the Peach IPA, which is one of our very favorite beers from Spellbound. Unfortunately, my palate was firing on all cylinders due to my unfortunate illness, so the flavor was kind of muted. Damn you, flu! Damn you to hell!

On the way to our next stop, Double Nickel, my condition began to go south again. This snapshot of Pleeps captures how I was feeling during our visit:

Last time we visited, we really enjoyed the barrel-aged beers that were available, especially the Buffalo Trace BA stout. It was a standout of the trip. This time around, we decided to go another route and tried some experimental small-batch offerings. These were primarily hoppy ales but one was a Berliner Weisse, which Brewslut was excited about. Here's the low-down: 
  • Lawn Surfer - "juicy" IPA (perhaps an attempt at a NE-style IPA?)
  • DNA Brew Series Test Batch #1 - boysenberry Berliner Weisse
  • DNA Brew Series Test Batch #2 - wet hop IPA
  • DNA Brew Series Test Batch #3 - cascara IPA (brewed with "cascara" i.e. the “husk" or dried skins of coffee cherries)

Unfortunately, we were not as wowed as we were last year. The Wet Hop ale was kind of non-descript, and the Berliner Weisse, despite having a very pleasant boysenberry aroma, had a wretched cardboard finish. The Cascara IPA was probably my favorite of the bunch, as it featured a nice floral and fruity note amid the hop character. After being somewhat underwhelmed with our flight, Brewslut felt it necessary to end on a positive note and ordered a small pour of the Buffalo Nickel (the aforementioned Buffalo Trace barrel-aged imperial stout). We enjoyed this immensely during our visit last year. Our opinion hadn't changed. I had a small nick off her pour but by this time I was ready to throw up the white flag. I contemplated heading back to the hotel for some rest, but decided to soldier on so at least she could have an enjoyable weekend. "In sickness and in health," right? 

Up next was our single "new" brewery visit of the day. While we were at Double Nickel, I struck up a pleasant conversation with a woman around my age who was celebrating her birthday. She mentioned that she really enjoyed Eclipse Brewing, which was only about 6 miles or so away. She also informed me that the brewery was owned and operated by a retired couple that decided to open a small brewery in their home "for fun." Sounded cool to me. I'd seen this brewery on the beer map, but for whatever reason decided to leave it off our itinerary. Since we were nearby, we decided to drop by for a sampler flight. 

Photo courtesy of Google images.

Eclipse is tiny; the true embodiment of a nano brewery. The tasting room is literally set up in the front room of the owners' home. When we arrived, it was cramped inside but we managed to snag two vacant barstools when two partons happened to be leaving at the same time. I was surprised to see over a dozen beers on tap. Based on its size, I anticipated about 4 or 5 offerings. After looking things over, here's what we decided on for our flight:
  • Coconut Cream Ale - light cream ale with a hint of coconut
  • Haaze - hazy NE-style IPA
  • Citra Promised - IPA with Citra hops
  • Cranberry Kettle Sour - tart kettle-soured ale
OK, so these aren't the most clever beer names. While nothing blew us away, everything was pretty solid and enjoyable. The Coconut Cream Ale could use a bit more coconut character, but otherwise these beers were commendable and the brewery definitely shows promise. Plus the servers here were genuinely nice people, which made our visit that much more enjoyable. As we sat at the bar, I noticed a few Tröegs tackers adorning the walls. I commented on this to one of the servers, and he asked if I worked there (I was wearing my hoodie too, so that was another tell-tale sign). I confirmed, and he said that Tröegs was one of the owner's favorites, and also mentioned that he bought a bottle of Mad Elf Grand Cru for each of his employees as a gift for the holidays. Now that's a generous boss! They were also nice enough to comp our sampler flight.

It was off to Tonewood, and again I was starting to feel a little better. I was also pretty hungry by now, so I knew getting some grub in my gut would provide some additional fuel. Before we hit Tonewood, we stopped in to The Square Meal, a tiny restaurant a few doors down from the brewery, for dinner. We stopped in last year and really enjoyed our meal, which includes a lot of vegetarian and local farm-to-table options. The woman who owns the place is a school teacher by day but still manages to find the time to run the restaurant on the side. We each got a sandwich called "The McFadden." Comprised of organic turkey meatloaf, pepper jack cheese, a fried egg and local greens on sourdough, this sandwich was a home run! Since Tonewood doesn't serve food, I can't imagine ever visiting Oaklyn without stopping here for food. She will even deliver food directly to the brewery. However, once we got to Tonewood, we're glad we decided to eat in the restaurant.

Here's a pic from last year's blog to break up some reading.

As expected, Tonewood was elbow to asshole. The place was booming and it was insanely loud. Voices yelping with laughter darted into my aching head and only worsened my condition. Since it was still pretty mild outside, we decided to grab our beers and sit outside. It was still a little chilly with only a hoodie, plus I'd been battling with cold shakes off and on for most of the day. After a nice conversation with an older local customer (who had his cool dog in tow) outside, we decided to go back inside and stand on the ramp up to the bathroom, because there was nowhere else to go. We weren't there for more than two minutes when a group of "woo girls" came in screeching and acting like the 23-year-olds they were. Of course, they wanted a picture of their group in front of the logo mural on the wall we happened to be standing against, so we politely moved out of the way but managed to get a syncopated eye roll in. I tried to photo bomb them, but I'm not sure if I was successful. They ended up taking an assload of photos. They ended up annoying me so much that I just finished my beer and walked away.

By the way, the beers we ordered were Fuego, one of Tonewood's trendy IPAs, and mono.tone.citra, a Citra-hopped IPA from its single hop "monotone" series. I didn't enjoy these as much as Chief - the delicious pale ale I imbibed - from last year. Perhaps it was my compromised health, perhaps it was the annoying throng of "woo girls," or perhaps it was just the noisy clusterfuck of the space in general, but I just said, "Fuck this noise!" and decided to leave. 

Things over at Forgotten Boardwalk were much more manageable. My favorite bartender from last time was working, and the crowd was healthy but not overcrowded like Tonewood. We grabbed a pair of beers and found a small table in the back of the tasting room. Morrow Castle, a smoked porter, was in the cards for me this evening, and it was enjoyable. We also opted for a pour of the intriguingly named Mr. Watson Come Here I Want to See You, a white IPA brewed and dry-hopped with Ekuanot lupulin powder and Hallertau Blanc. This beer is also fermented with a Belgian yeast strain to impart a touch of spice and fruit. A quick Google search revealed the impetus of the name: "Mr. Watson, come here... I want to see you" were apparently the first intelligible words spoken over some newfangled invention called the telephone. Now there's some great useless trivia for all you readers!

Considering my weakened condition, I was surprised I'd made it as long as I did on this particular day. However, I was definitely ready to head back to the hotel for some much-needed rest. After all, we had five more breweries to hit on Sunday. I'd better rest up. No excuses, right?

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On Sunday morning, we enjoyed our complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel, then packed up and checked out. Today's agenda? Philadelphia. For years, the City of Brotherly Suds has been known more for its eclectic variety of corner bars and (in more recent years) world-class beer bars like Monks, Standard Tap, the P.O.P.E., Memphis Taproom, and many more. In the last two years, Philly finally has upped its game and entered the craft brewery ring in earnest. Several new breweries have opened in and around the city over the last few years, and it's our job to visit as many of them as we can.

Enter Urban Village. Located right around the corner from Philly's newest music venue, The Fillmore, Urban Village pairs fresh, small-batch beers with brick oven pizza. Pizza and beer... what a concept! I checked out the tap menu in advance, and the beers sounded great. The place seemed legit, so it made the cut.

We settled on a flight for each of us. Here's mine:

  • Sofa King - juicy grapefruit and tropical-forward IPA brewed with oats 
  • Huntingdon Drive - house IPA hopped with a blend of Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo 
  • All In - black DIPA heavy on roasted chocolate flavor and piney, resinous hops 
  • Cool Beanz - coffee stout brewed with an excessive amount of chocolate malt then rested on coffee beans from Reanimator Roasters for a week
Pleeps was eyeing up my Cool Beanz!

Not sure if I could pick a favorite, but if I had to it'd probably be the All In. I love me a good black IPA and this one was thick and chewy with plenty of roasted goodness and sticky, resinous hop flavor. Cool Beanz, while tasty, was a little too heavy on the booze and had a slight syrupy texture, which lost a few points for me if we were keeping score. The IPAs were both fresh and well executed with pleasant, balanced hop character.

All in all, this place has a similar vibe to Bar Hygge, so no complaints there. There were only a handful of other patrons there during the time of our visit, but I'd wager that this place gets mobbed before (and after) shows at the Fillmore. The beers were all on-point, and I'd love to try some of the brick oven pizza next time.

Up next was a trip to the brand spankin' new Yards facility, located on Spring Garden (familiar territory for us; a good friend lived on the 1100 block of Spring Garden for many years, just down the street from the new brewery). We try to visit Yards each time we head to Philly, but I was more excited this time, if only to check out the new digs. It's so new, in fact, that the packaging lines (including a canning line!) and brewing equipment aren't even on-line yet. How do I know this? Ron.

Outside and across the street from the new Yards facility.

Ron (the guy with the super-long dreads) from Yards was sitting at the end of the bar when we arrived, so we ended up sitting with him and catching up. How do I know him? Good question! Ron's the drummer for the Yard's house metal band, Yeast Factory, who took home the gold at the first annual Band of Brewers event, a Battle-of-the-Bands-style event organized by Philly Beer Scene magazine. It had been quite a while since I'd last talked with him, but he remembered my name. Since my memory remembers faces better than names, I immediately knew he was the drummer from the band.

From our vantage point at the bar.

After perusing the beer list, I was feeling like a barleywine. Old Bartholomew, which I'd never had before, was on tap. I believe Ron mentioned it was a 2014 or 2015 vintage, but it wasn't designated on the beer menu. This sipper of a beer really helped warm me up. I still wasn't feeling 100%, but I was definitely on the upswing. Since I was sick all weekend, Brewslut and I weren't sharing many of our beers (because germs). This resulted in less beer check-ins for each of us. I'm sure she could have handled it; she's got the most efficient immune system I've ever encountered. Hasn't been sick in probably 7 years, and she's around little grubby germ merchants all day at school.

At any rate, it was cool to catch up with Ron and check out the new digs. Cheers to Yards for the sweet facility. I look forward to a return visit where we can check out the rest of the facility once everything is operational. Philly Pale Ale in cans should be a home run for the locals, too!

Take-out beer and merch shop at Yards.

Another place we were stoked to visit again was Bar Hygge, which I'd recently named in my Top 10 New Breweries Visited in 2017 blog. This place has it all: great beer, killer food, perfect ambiance, skilled staff, and convenient location. We sat at the corner of the bar a few seats away from where we sat during our inaugural visit. Since we weren't eating, it would be a fairly short visit, so I made it count.

Scenes from Bar Hygge.

After careful consideration, I decided on a pour of Notorious F.I.G., a sour ale brewed with fig concentrate. I don't recall if I'd ever come across a fig beer in our travels, plus the name of the beer was pretty dope so I had to get it. I used to love Fig Newtons as a kid, so I enjoy the flavor of figs. Actually, I'm quite partial to any stone fruit or dried dried variation: raisins, prunes, apricots, dates, and, yes, figs. Despite being slightly outside my wheelhouse, this beer didn't disappoint. Brewslut enjoyed a pour of Lemon Meringue IPA, a zesty, citrus-forward IPA with a soft finish. I can't say enough good things about this place, and don't imagine we'd ever visit Philly without stopping here for a beer or two.

I was looking forward to our next stop, Crime & Punishment, but not before a quick visit to Brewerytown Beats, the sweet record store right across the street. Last time, I had snagged original pressings of Metallica's Ride the Lightning and State of Euphoria by Anthrax. For some reason I never bought either of these as a kid. FAIL! Brewslut was more than happy to get a head start at C&P rather than join me for some digging. Coincidentally, I picked up (among a few other titles) an original Megaforce pressing of Spreading the Disease, another old Anthrax album and one of my favorites. Horns up! \m/

After about half an hour, I made my way back across the street for a beer. Enter Ladyzhino Landscape. I had no clue what the name of the beer implied, and neither did our server. (Google tells me its a geographical area of Russia, which makes sense to me. Crime and Punishment is a novel by Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. (I never read it. Too long.) Connection made. Yay internet. Anyway, back to the beer. This particular beer, a pale ale hopped with Amarillo, Citra, and Ekuanot, was pretty tasty. However, it was our next shared selection, Space Race, that won me over. Hopped and dry-hopped with Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe, this IPA wasn't much to look at. It was murkier than most unfiltered IPAs I've come across, and it was more of a sludgy tan color rather than anything resembling orange or amber. See?

Thanks for the pic, anonymous Untappd user.

The taste, however, was another story. Think tropical fruit, citrus rind and peach and you get a pretty good painting of this beer's flavor. This one was quite enjoyable. And with that, it was off to our final destination of this haze-induced weekend.

Wissahickon Brewing Company was a brand new brewery for us. As a matter of fact, it's new to most folks, as it just opened its doors back in June 2017. By this time, the Eagles-Vikings game had begun, and all of the employees at the brewery were decked out in their favorite green and white apparel in support of the underdogs. Upon perusing the chalkboard, I had an idea of what I wanted but needed more info. I happened to ask if they had a beer menu with details, and the brewer just happened to be walking by and heard me, so he gave me the low-down on each beer I asked about (the IPAs).

On tap at Wissahickon.

I started off light with Wig Wam, a 5% ABV unfiltered pale ale kettle hopped with Citra and double dry-hopped with Citra and Mosaic. Not a bad first impression for a new brewery. Brewslut went heavy, with the 9% ABV Devil's Pool DIPA. According to the brewer, this was the first beer he brewed and, as a result, serves as its flagship offering. The body was nice and think (as it should be) with slight viscosity. It was quite piney and citrusy with hints of tropical fruit, but well-balanced with a heft malt presence. It didn't strike me as a beer weighing in at 98 IBUs, that's for sure. But both of these were solid offerings and all-around good first impressions.

We closed out our visit with a shared pour of Hail Mary, an IPA hopped with Warrior, Citra and Simcoe, then dry hopped with Citra and Mosaic. Plenty of good hop varieties in there! It also served as a fitting beer to drink during the football game, and I couldn't help but think of Doug Flutie's iconic throw in the Cotton Bowl back in 1984. (Wikipedia even has a page dedicated to this pass.)

Inside Wissahickon Brewing Company's tasting room.

All in all, this new brewery shows some promise, and we'll definitely be back when we're in the area and time permits. For now, I was itching to get home, chow down on some Chinese food and get some much-needed couch time. Until next time...

Friday, January 19, 2018

Top 10 New Breweries Visited in 2017

Each year, we visit a lot of breweries. So, we thought it would be a good idea to provide a year-end review of some of our favorites. Here’s a list of our Top 10 “new-to-us” breweries we had the pleasure of visiting in 2017. How did we come to the final list? While we’ve utilized no specific equation in determining the final Top 10 list, we did take the following into consideration: beer quality, atmosphere, service, gut instinct, and general awesomeness. With that said, we present to you the Pour Travelers’ Top 10 New Breweries Visited in 2017 (in alphabetical order):

1. Bar Hygge/Brewery Techné – Philadelphia, PA – First visited February 2017

Philly has been known more amongst beer geeks for its never-ending list of world class beer bars. However, only in recent years has the City of Brotherly Suds started to throw down the gauntlet and really enter the ring of craft breweries. Sure, the old guard is still hanging in there, cranking out quality stuff. However, Bar Hygge/Brewery Techne is perhaps the first brewery in Philly I’ve been seriously excited about. Everything about this place is picture perfect to me. The beer is spectacular, the food is bangin’, the atmosphere is top-notch, the service was stellar. Even the coffee was excellent! Through four perfectly executed beers (an imperial coffee stout, IPA, blood orange saison, and Baltic porter), we were bowled over each time. I mean, when Brewslut deems a beer “the shit,” I know they’ve got something special. I have absolutely no gripes with this place at all (other than it’s 90 miles away from me). Favorite Beer: Low Hanging Fruit

2. Bitter Brothers – San Diego, CA – First visited June 2017

I had a chance meeting with a sales rep for Bitter Brothers at Modern Times. We had a nice chat and he gave me his business card, telling me it was good for a complimentary sampler flight. After swinging by only to find out they were closed, I was still determined to get there. In retrospect, I'm really glad we made it in for a visit, because the beers are stellar. White Peach Family Tart, a peach Berliner Weisse, was freaking amazing and without a doubt one of our favorite beers – not just sours - of the trip. All of the other beers - everything from a dry-hopped sour to juicy IPAs to a coffee porter – were enjoyable and well above average. Favorite Beer: White Peach Family Tart

3. Commonwealth – Virginia Beach, VA – First visited November 2017

Commonwealth turned out to be another one of those places where I wanted to try EVERYTHING! But even with a DD and an experienced liver, there were simply too many beers (around 20) on tap to try them all. So, we chose wisely. Standouts included Halcyon, a blond sour ale with passionfruit and apricots; Big Papi, a super juicy DIPA, and Marvoloso - bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout on nitro. They even had a wheat IPA brewed with wildflower honey and a boatload of marshmallows. What does one name such a beer? Marshmallow Eyes, of course! Big Papi was so enjoyable that I had to take home some cans for future use. I liked this place so much, I bought a shirt, which is something I reserve for only the cream of the crop breweries (one shirt purchase per trip). I have A LOT of T-shirts! Favorite Beer: Big Papi

4. Diamondback – Baltimore, MD – First visited August 2017

I'm not sure what it was, but I felt an immediate connection to this place and knew I was going to love it. My instincts were right. I had to try everything. And we did… seriously. Lucky for us, there were only 5 beers available. Going light to heavy, one by one I was blown away with the depth of character of these beers – everything from the hop profile to the mouthfeel to the aroma was on-point. I was giddy, I admit it. While all of the beers were memorable, it was Green Machine that wowed me the most. Diamondback's take on a NE-style IPA is dry-hopped with Citra and Ella for a juicy, citrus-forward flavor with a hint of ripe mango. Now what's not to love about that? Favorite Beer: Green Machine

5. Draai Laag – Pittsburgh, PA – First visited April 2017

Pittsburgh is another city that has really brought out its A-game as of late. During a trip over Easter weekend, we visited close to a dozen new-to-us breweries. The cream of the crop? Draii Laag. Ironically, the types of beer you will never see on tap at Draii Laag are typically the kinds of beers I seek out. With that said, I was mesmerized by this place. Everything about Draii Laag was exquisite. Visiting their tasting room is definitely an elevated beer experience. Stand-out beers included Atomic Pomme, a bourbon barrel-aged American sour ale brewed with apples, and Öl (pronounced Oil), a strong ale aged in Laphroaig Scotch casks, bourbon casks, and 27-year-old rum casks. All of Draai Laag’s beers are unique and against the grain. They've really carved out a niche for themselves in this hop-dominated market. I doubt you'll ever see an IPA or run-of-the-mill styles like brown, red, or amber ales. Overall, we were both really impressed with the complexity, inventiveness, and presentation of the beers, the service, and the space itself. Favorite Beer: Öl

6. Ocelot – Dulles, VA – First visited March 2017

Dulles, VA's Ocelot makes the cut, not only for its amazing beer but also for its music theme. A colorful, psychedelic mural depicting band logos and mascots adorns the walls of the tasting room. Beers are named after song lyrics. Even the back wall housing its barrels has been dubbed "The Barrel Wall" in a sweet Pink Floyd The Wall font. The beers were off the hook and included several well-executed IPAs, an amazing coffee stout, an equally impressive maple stout, and much more. Nocturnal, a coffee stout aged on vanilla and cacao was easily one of the highlights of this particular trip. Brewslut was equally bowled over with the Megaton Maple, a maple stout. Three IPAs – Waterfalls, Juvenile Success and Jacks N Jokers also didn’t disappoint. From the vibe to the people to the beer itself, Ocelot seems to have everything dialed in. We got to visit again in June while pre-gaming for an Iron Maiden concert. I was excited to try a beer called Grunge Legdrop, a dry-hopped Simcoe IPA brewed in collaboration with our buddy Cy from Amplified Ale Works in San Diego. More tasty IPAs ensued, including Tongue Tied and Loaded Questions. Ocelot is doing some of the tastiest IPAs I've had on the East Coast. Favorite Beer: Nocturnal

7. Pro Re Nata – Crozet, VA – First visited March 2017

The next brewery made the list based on the strength of just two beers (as well as its sweet outside seating area): Crozet, Virginia’s Pro Re Nata Farm Brewery. I thought this was a peculiar name for a brewery, mostly because I had no idea what it meant. Luckily, there was a doctor and a pharm tech in our group who filled me in. Although the literal translation is "for the affair born," Pro re nata is a Latin phrase meaning "under present circumstances" or “as needed” and is commonly used in medicine or medical prescriptions. The two beers we had here were phenomenal. Cherry Coal Train – a barrel-aged cherry porter – was my highlight of the day. Aged in Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels, this supple porter featured Michigan-grown Montmorency tart cherries. The balance of this beer was amazing, with intense notes of Belgian chocolate and tart cherry followed by rich vanilla and a tinge of oak. Brewslut was equally impressed with her Beans Deep Coffee Stout. Favorite Beer: Cherry Coal Train

8. Strangeways – Richmond, VA – First visited November 2017

We’d wanted to get to Strangeways for the past few years, but somehow never managed to fit it into our travel schedule when we were nearby. They were either closed or we had time constraints. So needless to say, I was enthused that we were finally able to work a visit into our itinerary at the tail end of our Drinksgiving trip. A sampler flight featuring eleven beers and not a bad one in the lot. That says something. Beer after beer, we were impressed with the quality and flavors of each. And there were 30 different beers on tap! Everything from low ABV wheat sour ales to IPAs to a variety of barrel-aged treats were well-executed and enjoyable. Palooza – a NE-style IPA - was a standout, as were the various stouts, especially Reindeer Fuel and Virginia Peanut Butter Cup. The tart beers were also really well-done. To be honest, this place exceeded my expectations and we walked away being super impressed with Strangeways. I even bought a pink T-shirt (ok, it’s technically “raspberry”) so that should say a lot! Favorite Beer: Reindeer Fuel

9. Toolbox – Vista, CA – First visited June 2017

Every time we visit San Diego, there are a dozen or more breweries that have opened in our absence. As Pour Travelers, it is our civic duty to visit these during our West Coast excursions. I must admit I wasn't sure what to expect with a name like Toolbox. I always think of "toolbox," "toolbag," etc. as derogatory terms. Turns out this place is producing some incredibly complex sour and barrel-aged beers in the same vein as Lost Abbey, and its tap list was dominated by these types of beers. From Berliner Weisse to barrel-aged blended saisons to wild ales, Toolbox has definitely carved out a niche for themselves in the largely IPA-saturated San Diego beer scene. Its Eau d' Vine Rouge, a barrel-aged American wild ale with Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes was a highlight of the trip. Aged for up to 18 months in French oak barrels with a mixture of wild yeast strains and bacteria, this incredibly vinous beer boasted lots of ripe grape flavor and fairly sharp acidity. Favorite Beer: Eau d’ Vine Rouge

10. Vanish – Leesburg, VA – First visited June 2017

While we were driving through Leesburg, VA up to Frederick, MD, we drove right past Vanish Farmwoods Brewery. We decided to turn around and stop in for a beer. It was one of the best quick beer decisions I've ever made in my life, right up there with attending the soft opening of Lagunita's beer garden on our 10th anniversary trip eight years prior. Upon immediately setting foot inside the open tasting room area, I knew we were in for a treat. The vibe of this place was beyond cool, the beers all sounded amazing on paper, and the outdoor space was scenic and vast. What was only supposed to be a stop for a "quick one,” we liked it so much we stayed a while. In retrospect, we could have stayed all day. We sampled everything from an imperial IPA to a kettle-soured tangerine witbier to wine barrel-aged treats (icluding an unusual break of character for me – a beer called The White Wine Project, a tart, fruity ale aged in Fabbioli Pear Port barrels. But in this particular instance, they had me at "port." After we'd visited all of the breweries at the end of the weekend, we both agreed that this was our "find" of the trip. Favorite Beer: The White Wine Project

Honorable Mentions (if this was our “Top 20” list):

Attaboy – Frederick, MD – first visited June 2017

This place serves up some tasty beers amid a cool, modern tasting room with an industrial vibe. All of the beers we tried (mostly hoppy ales) well-done and enjoyable, and Attaboy was our favorite of three new breweries we visited in Frederick. 

Benchtop – Norfolk, VA – first visited November 2017

This place was soooo close to getting on the Top 10, but I had to give the slight edge to Commonwealth. With that said, Benchtop was easily in my Top 3 breweries of our entire Drinksgiving trip. Oaxaca Milk Stout, a low ABV Mexican mole stout, was a standout. Also, the cans of Lazy Floculation – a Mosaic and Galaxy DIPA – I bought were fantastic!

Collusion – York, PA – first visited January 2017

Variety and quality abound at York’s most impressive brewery. There is something for everyone here. Even if you don't like beer (which I’m sure you do… otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog), they had mead and cider available. Favorite Beer: What Gose Around

Cushwa – Williamsport, MD – first visited June 2017

Situated in a business park with dozens of identical suites, Cushwa caters to its locals (you can design your own crowler label on a huge chalkboard in the Tasting Room). Deuane recommended this place to us, so we changed our itinerary for the Maiden concert weekend in June and checked them out. All-around enjoyable beers and great people! Favorite Beer: Jell-o

The North – Endicott, NY – first visited May 2017

After perusing its tap list on-line, I knew I’d sniffed out a good one. We’d been in this area before, so I’m not sure how this place had eluded us for so long. Small, off-the-radar, and no-frills, this is the kind of brewery every town needs. I loved the vibe, the people, and - most importantly - the beers. Favorite beer: Black Donald

Pure Project – Miramar, CA – first visited June 2017

Pure Project boasts a clean, bright tasting room and delicate, flavorful beers with locally-sourced ingredients. What can you expect? Beers brewed with organic fruits and spices, local honey, hibiscus, and other non-traditional ingredients. We need to spend a bit more time here during our next visit.

Race Street – Clearfield, PA – first visited April 2017

Race Street’s sheer eclecticism evokes a vibe that is artistic and elegant… and at the same time scatterbrained and jumbled. But this juxtaposition is truly at the heart of this gem of a brewery situated in no-man’s land. If you find yourself in Happy Valley, make the extra 30-minute drive to Clearfield and visit Race Street. You won’t be disappointed! Favorite Beer: 10 Pound Torpedo

Resident – San Diego, CA – first visited June 2017

Resident featured all the tell-tale warning signs of a place I wasn’t going to enjoy: the patrons were noisy, TVs blared with sporting events, and they had a lot of guest taps. However, since it was our last brewery of the trip, I didn’t let it get me down. The beers I had here were some of the most memorable of the trip, including Vacation Coconut IPA and, my favorite, Walk of Shame, a blonde ale with coffee and cacao nibs. Morale of this story? Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Favorite Beer: Walk of Shame
Tonewood – Oaklyn, NJ – first visited February 2017

Another one so close to making the Top 10, Tonewood is definitely on the rise. This place was packed with locals when we visited, and for good reason! They’re cranking out some seriously tasty beers. Chief, a soft, hazy-colored pale ale is worth seeking out. The Revolution coffee porter is also bangin’! Favorite Beer: Chief

Yorkholo – Mansfield, PA – first visited February 2017

Yorkholo has been around for about six years, yet we still weren’t able to visit until 2017. Better late than never, because we both loved this place. In typical fashion, I wanted to try everything so we opted for a full flight of all ten beers (5 hoppy and 5 dark). There were several stand-outs, including a great Scottish Wee Heavy called The Yanochik, and Rez-Head, a DIPA with citrus and peach notes. But the winner for me was Alpenglow, a dark Belgian-style ale brewed with ginger and aged on tart and sweet black cherries.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Drinksgiving 10 - Days 4 & 5: That's a wrap!

We had a few random places left to hit on Sunday, which was our last full day in VA. On Monday, we'd be traveling back to good ol' PA. But for today, we were off to the town of Chesapeake, about 25 miles SW of VA Beach proper, to visit yet another brewery. Since he lived in Chesapeake, Kelly's friend Dave would be meeting us (if you've been keeping score, you may remember him from the other night as they guy who bought us a round at the piano bar). The brewery in question, Big Ugly, definitely gets an "A" for atmosphere. This place was colorful and fun, with friendly staff and a variety of interesting seating options. I mean, where else can you actually sit inside a full-size vintage VW Bus and enjoy a beer? Lookie here...

If you take that bus, you get there.

Sadly, the bus was occupied by three children doing whatever kids do these days (i.e. faces buried in their iPhones, oblivious to the outside world while mommy and daddy get drunk). And I would have sat in there if it wasn't for those meddling kids! Yes indeed, folks... once again, kids ruin everything. Man, it seems as though this blog deals as much with my disdain for children as much as it deals with beer. Hey, I'm middle-aged now, so it's only natural to be cranky about shit like this, right?

Now, on to the beer. The people here were friendly and talkative. I perused the chalkboard and opted for an IPA with an intriguing name - Leaf Peepers. Say it out loud, kids. LEAF PEEPERS. It's fun to say, isn't it? I thought so. This was yet another hazy, dry-hopped NE-style IPA with plenty of dry-citrus aroma. It was enjoyable but not mind-blowing, which seems to be the norm with the haze craze: a few winners, a few losers, and lots of "C" students in the middle. (That's my clever way of calling it "average.")

Inside Big Ugly Brewing Co.

I was really excited about my second choice, Goat Hanger. Anyone who knows me or follows me on Facebook is fully aware of my infatuation with goats. This imperial breakfast stout is a blend of Goat Locker by Young Veterans Brewing and Big Ugly's own Ape Hanger. To be honest, I never got the story straight about this beer. Is it a collaboration between the two breweries, or an actual blend of two finished beers? Either way, it was tasty but nothing special (save for the name, that is). Any beer with the word "goat" in it automatically gets bonus points. However, just like Whose Line is it Anyway?, points don't matter.

Pleeps hiding behind the haze.

While I wasn't really wowed by either of my selections, both were enjoyable and served their purpose. Dave's a friendly, talkative guy, and we enjoyed chatting with him about beer, Virginia, music, and what not. We sent him off with a few choice Tröegs offerings for he and his family to enjoy.

After an hour or so at Big Ugly, we headed to stop number two: Reaver Beach. Inside, I immediately detected a pirate theme. Its logo is a skull and crossbones with mash paddles as bones and an inverted hop as part of the skull's head. Beers with names such as Jolly Roger and Fire at Sea occupied the beer menu. I also was intrigued by the name of the brewery. Perhaps "Reaver Beach" was a nickname for Virginia Beach. After checking out the brewery's web site, I learned that a "reaver" is a plungering forager and one who takes by force (i.e. a pillager or plunderer). So that definitely fits with the pirate theme. With plenty of interesting selections on the board, we decided on a sampler flight of eight different, quite disparate beers. See?

Tower of Bones - DIPA with all Mosaic hops. Tropical and citrus notes.
Hoptopus - DIPA with 8 hop additions and tons of dry-hops.
Jolly Roger Pumpkin Porter - robust porter brewed with roasted sugar pumpkins, cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, and clove.
Fire at Sea - smoked coffee porter. 'Nuff said!
Navalis - Gose brewed with pink sea salt and lime zest.
Under the Black - brownie stout brewed with lactose, vanilla bean, and cocoa nibs.
Reaver En Noir - sour ale aged in oak barrels with Pinot Noir grapes.
On the Account - oak-fermented sour red ale aged in Madeira barrels for 16 months.

Of course Pleeps is honing in on the dark beers.
The sours seemed to stand out here again, with the two barrel-aged beers and gose at the forefront. The smoked coffee porter was also nicely done. With that said, it's probably one of those breweries that I'll forget about in a year or so. That's not a bad thing; it's just reality, especially when you visit as many breweries as we do. But the place was cool and the presentation was thoughtful, so it was definitely worth a stop. But, off to the next brewery.

Next on the agenda was Young Veterans. As you might be inclined to guess, this place had an obvious military vibe, from the names of its beers down to the beer label artwork, decor, and web site design. As someone who works in marketing at a brewery, I always appreciate when a brewery ties everything together. Young Veterans seemed to "get it." (Although, what happens when the guys get a little older; do they change the name to Middle Aged Veterans?) All kidding aside, it was time to belly up to the bar and order some beer.

Enter another (shared) sampler flight, consisting of the following six beers:

Semper Fi.PA - single hop Citra IPA.
Jet Noise DIPA - brewed with lots of hops, apparently (couldn't find any additional details).
Private Plum - sour ale brewed with plums and hibiscus. Part of its new Pucker Factory series.
Tower Buzz - another Pucker Factory release; this one's a passionfruit sour ale.
MOPP4 - more Pucker Factory business... a sour IPA brewed with Falconer's Flight and El Dorado.
The Objector - yet even more Pucker Factory in the form of a sour IPA brewed with hibiscus.

Pleeps has taken flight!

It seems as though this brewery has found its niche brewing sours. I didn't really get to talk to anyone about their process, but I'll be the majority of these (if not all) were kettle soured. I didn't really have issue with any of the sours here. They were well-done and pretty tasty for the most part. I also dig the name of the sour series: Pucker Factory. Kudos on these beers. I'd like to see them begin a barrel-aging program if they haven't already.

The IPAs, however, were another story. Brewing sour ales on the same brewing system as other beers requires Anal Retentive Chef-like cleanliness and sanitation efforts, and I felt these two hoppy beers suffered from some kind of airborne bacteria or other souring agents. Semper Fi.PA and Jet Noise were not intended to be sour, but they definitely displayed characteristics of sour beers. With that said, based on the quality of the sour beers we sampled, I'd wager that these two IPAs would have tasted fine had they not been compromised by bacteria.

Inside Young Veterans' tasting room.

Brewslut and I are no strangers to Green Flash, our final stop of the day. I figure we'd end on a high note, given the reputation of this brewery and numerous past visits to both its San Diego facility as well as the experimental Cellar 3, just outside San Diego. I'd forgotten that Green Flash opened this East Coast brewing facility to accommodate growth in the Mid-Atlantic region. This seems to be a big trend lately with bigger West Coast breweries such as Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, Stone, etc. all of which now have East Coast facilities. Hey, if it means fresher beer for us folks on this side of the mighty Mississippi, then I'm all for it!

Green Flash... buildin' a wall!

But back to Green Flash. Outside, the courtyard was brimming with visitors drinking beer and eating grub from the food truck we were also about to hit up. It was another unseasonably warm day for November, and although it was just a tad chilly, the nearby fire pits helped take the edge off. We sat outside for a bit after getting our first round, then headed inside after we'd eaten. I forget what we got, but it was good. That I remember!

Inside, the tasting room and merch shop echoed those of the Green Flash brewery HQ in San Diego. The board was rife with Green Flash classics, selections from its sister brewery, Alpine, and a few choice nuggets from both the Cellar 3 and Genius Lab small-batch series. After immensely enjoying Cellar 3 on our last two trips to San Diego, I was glad to see a few of these limited elixirs made their way to the east coast. We dipped our toes into the selection in typical fashion - with hops. Brewslut liked the Spanish Trampoline, an IPA brewed for National IPA day (Aug. 3). This one boasted a tropical flair with notes of passionfruit and mango in the nose. I dug into a pour of Hard Count IPA, a collaboration with Nick Hardwick. Do you know who that is? Me either. It was OK, but not what I'd call a resume builder.

Inside Green Flash's right coast digs.

After dabbling in hops for our first beers, we did a complete 180 and dove headfirst into the Cellar 3 tanks. Brewslut enjoyed her Ideal Sauvage, a Belgian-style dark ale aged in red wine barrels with Brettanomyces. Pretty tasty, I thought. However, once I put my glass of Sepia Frumento to my lips, I knew I'd made a sound decision. This cask-conditioned bourbon barrel-aged barleywine brewed with orange zest and cherry was everything I anticipated... and more! I feel sorry for beer lovers who simply can't get into the nuanced layers of a nicely executed barleywine. Sure, they're challenging to manage when planning an all-day drinking excursion. But... DD, baby! Kelly to the rescue. Not only was I able to savor this liquid gold, but I also decided it was in my best interest to order a pour of something I'd overlooked on the board the first two times around. This would be Cosmic Ristretto, a Baltic porter with espresso from the Genius Lab series. While not as mind-blowing as my previous beer, this was well worth the addition of a mere 8.2% ABV thrown on top of the 13.5% of the barleywine. Not gonna lie to you, but I was feeling pretty mellow after that one-two punch. While all of the beers were enjoyable, I could have bathed in the Sepia Frumento. Seems like barleywines won big time on this trip (thinking back to Gorgon, the amazing barleywine from Coelacanth as a top-tier beer as well). And with that, folks, we ended our trip on a high note.

However, there's always a fun postscript to the majority of our trips, which often comes with the car ride back to PA. I'd been wanting to visit Strangeways Brewing in Richmond for the last several years, which honed into my radar range back when Mike Hiller (proprietor and brewer of the now-defunct Bavarian Barbarian in Williamsport, PA) started brewing there. I was glad to see Mike continue on with brewing. To be honest, I never quite understood why BB never got much love. I know Bullfrog was right down the street and already had a decade under its belt, but this was several years before the recent craft boom where towns even smaller than Billtown can accommodate multiple breweries. I always thought that BB's marketing was amazing (for example, its labels resembled Soviet propaganda posters, while its tap handles were forearms gripping huge battle axes). I know, right? Awesome! Sadly, Mike closed the brewery's doors back in 2012 or thereabouts, and Bullfrog has since occupied the brewing space in an effort to expand its sour beer program.

But more on Strangeways in a bit. First, a slight detour.

When we were heading home on Monday through Richmond, I managed to guilt Brewslut into a quick visit to a local record store. When we parked the car, we noticed a Mellow Mushroom across the street. We'd been to a few locations before (it's a well-established chain largely found in VA and neighboring states to the south), and we knew they always featured a nice, well-curated craft beer selection with a focus on local breweries. So, we made an executive decision to stop in for lunch and a beer.

Musical montage at Mellow Mushroom (nice alliteration, eh?)

After reviewing the vast beer selection, I opted for a flight (a rarity for me at such an establishment). But with a great selection of local beers, my curiosity to try a few beers from unknown breweries prevailed. Here's the low-down on my flight:
  • Zombie Killin' from Three Notch'd Brewing Company - supposed to be an imperial black IPA, but I got some sour ale instead. They had two Three Notch'd beers on tap, and I'm pretty sure the bartender poured me the wrong beer. The one I received wasn't very enjoyable. 
  • Red Army from Trapezium Brewing Company - a red IPA
  • Rum Pumpkin from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - imperial pumpkin ale matured Caribbean dark rum barrels. This sucker was so God damned boozy!
  • Mochaccino Shake from Kindred Spirit Brewing - golden ale brewed with lactose sugar, coffee and vanilla beans, and cacao nibs.
Unfortunately, nothing really jumped out at me in this flight. The most enjoyable one of the bunch was the Mochaccino Shake. The Red Army was non-descript, the Rum Pumpkin was way too hot, and the [INSERT BEER HERE] from Three Notch'd simply wasn't good. I should have just had a Victory and have been done with it. But I like trying new local breweries when we're traveling, so no harm, no foul. Food for thought: Our salads for lunch were killer, though. Anywho, onward and upward.

Finally got to Strangeways!
Since Strangeways was our only brewery visit of the day (well, there would be one other quick stop), we decided to split a huge sampler flight. There were close to 30 beers available on tap, and after all, it did take us a few years to get here. Who knew when we'd be back? So we decided to go big, then go home. Check out this flight of epic proportions:
  • Palooza - NE IPA brewed with a pilsner/wheat malt base, loads of oats, Azacca, Cascade and Pacifica hops for notes of mango, passionfruit and pear
  • It Gose... - notes of lemon, dewy grass, hay and coriander. 
  • Wake Me Up Before You Gose - Gose with lacto, Brett, fleur de sel (French sea salt), coriander, and ginger 
  • Überlin - tart Berliner Weisse featuring a dry, fruity funkiness thanks to wild Brett claussenii yeast fermentation
  • Red Sangria - sour Berliner Weisse brewed to mimic sangria wine
  • Turning Torso - farmhouse ale fermented with a variety of yeast and brett. Galaxy and Huell Melon hops lend a fruity, floral nose with a funky finish.
  • Virginia Peanut Butter Cup - chocolate peanut butter stout
  • Reindeer Fuel - coffee & vanilla imperial stout conditioned it on 10 pounds of Counter Culture coffee and rich bourbon-soaked Madagascar vanilla beans 
  • Ape Armageddon  - Brandy barrel-aged imperial stout
  • Thistle Killya Scotch Quad - Scotch Ale/Belgian Quad hybrid aged for a year in Macallan Scotch barrels
  • Hop Howler - flagship IPA brewed with Citra, El Dorado, Jarrylo and Pacific Gem hops. I decided to add this after the fact because I really wanted to buy a shirt with this label. I tried it. I liked it. I made the purchase. 
All the dark beers are front and center... where they should be.
OK, that was a lot. And you know what? Not a bad beer in the lot! The Palooza was quite enjoyable, as were the various stouts, especially Reindeer Fuel and Virginia Peanut Butter Cup. The tart beers were also really well-done. To be honest, this place exceeded my expectations. Mike has definitely honed his skills over the years, and overall I was super impressed with Strangeways. 

Self portrait of me tasting beers at Strangeways.
The staff were extremely friendly and talkative, which we always appreciate. Mike was also kind enough to leave us a few bottles, one of which was unlabeled and the other was an imperial-something-or-other. I can't wait to dig into these with some friends. We, of course, reciprocated with a selection of Tröegs, which we always have in tow. Pleeps was obviously a big fan of this place, what with the monkey mascot and all. They became fast friends, and Pleeps is already asking if we can go back. We just might be back later in January... you never know!

Pleeps LOVES this place!

It's customary for us to end a trip at Pizza Boy when we travel homeward via I-81 N. This time was no different. I got to try a new version of Hazelton Native, a dank, hazy - dare I say NE-style - IPA, which was tasty. I also had to get a pour of the newest batch of Magic... Under Where?, originally brewed for my annual Ffej of July extravaganza. You can never go wrong with that beer. I mean, after all... it's a solid beer with a dumb name.

There you have it, folks. Another Drinksgiving in the bag. We've got lots of beer traveling to do in 2018, so stay tuned to your friendly neighborhood Pour Travelers blog to see where we're headed next. Until then...

When's the next trip?!