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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Springtime in February: Day 2

We awoke in our hotel room on Sunday, February 26 to the sound of intense wind echoing across Cherry Hill. I checked my weather app and the current temperature was 29 degrees, a far cry from the mid-70s temperatures we enjoyed the previous day. I didn't even bring my hoodie into the hotel room because it was so warm on Saturday. Nevertheless, it was time to continue our little weekend jaunt and head back across the river into more familiar territory - Philadelphia.

My vantage point from the bar at Bar Hygge.
First up was a brand new place called Bar Hygge (pronounced huu-guh). This place, along with its brewing counterpart, Brewery Techné, first hit my radar a few months ago when I was reading an article about the influx of new tiny breweries in the Philadelphia region. Bar Hygge was one of the places I was most excited about, just from the types of beer they were brewing and some photos I saw. They also open at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays and serve a special brunch menu. At this time, I'd like to encourage other establishments to follow suit and open earlier on weekends. It's never too early for a beer! (If you're interested in the name, you can read about its origins HERE.

Located at 1720 Fairmount Avenue in the Spring Garden section of Philly (in close proximity to both the Art Museum and Franklin Institute), Bar Hygge is co-owned by Tom Baker, who you might know from Earth Bread + Brewery (EB+B) in the Mt. Airy section of NW Philly. Tom's also the brewer at Bar Hygge/Brewery Techné. FUN FACT: Brewslut jokingly refers to EB+B as "Earth Bread and Daycare" because both times we visited, there was an inordinate amount of children romping around. I actually didn't have the connection until I was doing a bit of post-visit research.

Slightly to the right of my barstool.
Inside, Bar Hygge is clean, sophisticated, and offers a variety of seating including tables, a comfortable bar, and small lounge area. It reminded me of a place we visited in Charleston, SC a few years earlier on our annual "Drinksgiving" excursion called Closed for Business. Perhaps Bar Hygge wasn't as eclectic, but the space and atmosphere definitely felt in sync. We'd perused the brunch menu in advance to ensure they had a few "Ffejetarian" options (we don't eat red meat or pork, and Brewslut is allergic to shellfish) and they did. The food sounded promising and the beer list appealed to us. While they don't have a ton of taps, they offer a well-curated list of rotating house beers ranging from an IPA to a Baltic Porter (the latter snagged a gold medal at the 2014 GABF for EB+B).

Onto the beer. With eight offerings, we decided to get half pours of four of the most interesting sounding beers on the menu. I started with House of Bitterness, an IPA brewed with Amarillo and Citra hops. Brewslut opted for a more morning-appropriate beer in Imperial Java, a coffee-infused double stout served via nitrogen. Both beers definitely delivered. I was pretty floored, to tell the truth. The IPA boasted everything I love about the style - a zesty, pungent aroma, soft texture, balanced bitterness, and tons of flavor. This was gold in a glass! The Imperial Java hit well about the mark as well, touting a smooth, creamy mouthfeel, huge coffee aromatics, dense nitro head, and balanced malt character with plenty of roast, chocolate, coffee and vanilla notes. "Sweet," I thought. "Two for two!" It was a great way to kick off the day.

For my next selection, I decided to go off the beaten path and try the aforementioned GABF-winning Baltic Porter, named Perkuno's Hammer. From its Untappd description: "Perkuno's Hammer was brewed to the original Heavyweight Brewing recipe, a gold medal winner at GABF. It contains 50lbs of Roman beans in a grist of Munich and pale chocolate malts and is fermented with a prestigious German lager yeast." Not many Baltic Porters have left a lasting impression on me over the years (Danzig from Devil's Backbone comes to mind immediately as one that has), but this one was definitely memorable and worthy of its gold medal status. Intense flavors of dark stone fruit, bold coffee, roasted malt, cocoa, molasses and caramel all washed across my palate. Brewslut was equally as bowled over as me with her second selection, a blood orange sour saison named Low Hanging Fruit. The name of this beer prompted me to strike up a conversation with the bartender about Tenacious D (they have a song on their last album by the same name), and turns out he was a fan and actually was at the concert at Festival Pier we saw a few years ago. Brewslut deemed it "the shit" and listed it as a standout beer of the trip. Four for four. In my best Austin Powers impersonation, "Yeaaaah, baby!"

Brunch was equally impressive. Upon reviewing the brunch menu ahead of time, I knew Brewslut would opt for the tuna melt (which I must admit sounded delicious). However, I went with a fritatta made with roasted poblano peppers, avocado crema, and fried onion straws, plus a side of Hygge home fries. One word: BANGIN'! This place has got it's shit together, man! Atmosphere? Check. Service? Fantastic. Beer? Outstanding! Brunch? Delish! Hell, even the coffee was great, and it came served in a custom logo mug. And the icing on the cake was there were no little rugrats crawling around or making a ruckus. Yeah, I think we'll be back.

I'm in the mug club.

Our next stop, Crime & Punishment, was in contention for brunch this morning. I was eyeing up a house-made pretzel bagel with beet-cured salmon, farmers cheese, and pickled veggies, but ultimately we decided on Bar Hygge since they opened half an hour earlier. However, we decided that we were both still hungry, so we decided to share the aforementioned bagel and salmon plate. It was very well done and gave us a bit of additional fuel to continue onward. This place had a definite Philly vibe, with its exposed, weathered brick walls, high ceiling, and an eclectic gathering of customers congregated at the bar and adjacent mix-and-match tables.

Find yourself a (secret) city to live in.
Beer-wise, the tap list looked extremely interesting, with a few off-the-wall selections such as a sour ale brewed with beets and a "Sugar Cookie" IPA. OK, we were game. Brewslut jumped right in and ordered the sour, which carried the intriguing name Disturbing the Beets. Kettle-soured and fermented with Brettanomyces and 50 pounds of juiced beets, this lovely pinkish ale combined the earthy sweetness of beets with a tart yeast character. I opted to begin with a shorty of Secret Cities, a Citra and Mosaic-hopped Pale Ale with notes of grapefruit and fresh-cut grass. This is also unique in that it's the first beer where the guys at C&P experimented with hop additions. For this particular beer, they added all of the pre-fermentation hops during the whirlpool process. This provides a lower temperature of flavor extraction, producing a "tea bag" or steeping effect. Overall, this was a solid effort. It was hazy, pale and lacked a frothy head, but the aroma was fresh and the flavor was balanced and not overly bitter. It was definitely a "soft" pale ale, if that makes sense.

For our next selections, I was intrigued by Magic Lantern, the "sugar cookie" IPA I mentioned earlier, so I chose that. Brewed with oats and dry-hopped with Lemon Drop and Citra, this was definitely an IPA, albeit a strange one. Strange in a good way, though, because they conditioned the beer on 50lbs. of homemade vegan sugar cookies and Madagascar vanilla beans. This conditioning lent a sweet, supple finish, which played nicely with the citrus and lemongrass notes of the hops. The vanilla was definitely apparent and softened it just a bit. I love when breweries experiment with unusual, non-traditional ingredients, and this little experiment seemed to gel quite nicely. The other beer we chose immediately grabbed me just by reading its stream-of-consciousness description:

It’s the juicy fruit gum thing. A menagerie. Dad’s peach tree. The amount of Citra hops in this beer, it’s a huge amount. THE MOST. Like drinking from Pooh Bear’s sweet funny reserve; honeysuckle. The gentle juice. Just be careful, it’s offensively easy to finish and repeat.

Love it! This beer was called Repeat Offender, a single-hopped DIPA brewed with (as the description reveals) Citra hops. You can't really go wrong with Citra. Since "citrus" is pretty much my favorite IPA flavor profile, naturally I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

My vantage point from the bar at C&P.
For our last beer, we opted to share a Russian Imperial Stout called Gulag Uprising. We seldom skip over a RIS when traveling (despite the style's high ABV content), although that's more of Brewslut's doing than mine. This dark beast was aged for two months on cacao nibs and vanilla beans, then finished with local One Village coffee. I let her have the lion's share because I had ulterior motives, as you will learn in a few seconds. The bartender was nice enough to also give us a complimentary sample-size pour of the Behemoth, a straight-up Oatmeal Stout, for comparison. The Behemoth definitely wasn't as intense, but it was pretty full-bodied with plenty of chocolate flavor and hints of coffee, dark fruit, and raw earth.

When we parked the car outside C&P, I noticed a little record store right across the street. I could feel Brewslut's eyes roll as I mentioned stopping in for a "quick look" after our beers. She loves digging through crates of vinyl about as much as I enjoy shows like Cake Wars, Bridezilla, or Chopped. As she was finishing up our pour of Gulag Uprising, I decided to take a quick stroll over to check out the store, coincidentally called Brewerytown Beats. I'm glad I did... not just because I found original copies of Metallica's Ride the Lightning and Anthrax's State of Euphoria, but also because I'd discovered that I was missing not one, but TWO of my three credit cards. It was a distressing "WTF?!" moment. My wallet is pretty old and the card slots are stretched and blown out like a 60-year-old prostitute's woman parts, so I thought perhaps they slid out at some point when I paid a tab. Hitting so many breweries in a single day results in the wallet going in and out of my back pocket quite frequently. In uncharacteristic fashion, I actually remained calm and thought about it for a second. When we travel, we typically bring along cash, which serves as a "soft" budget (meaning we each try to spend less or equal to that amount, thus avoiding the use of credit cards). However, many bars and breweries ask for credit cards in order to open a tab in your name. I suppose this stems from one too many drunk patrons forgetting to pay their bar tab over the years. Although we use our cards as a "marker," I always tag on the following phrase when opening a tab: "...but we'll probably pay cash." After mulling it over for about a minute, I realized that I'd used two different cards and two different breweries. My instincts were correct, and I was relieved to learn that both Forgotten Boardwalk and Tonewood were keeping my cards safely behind the bar.

Of course, this threw a wrench into our Philly plans, as we had to traverse back into NJ and pay the dreaded toll to drive across the bridge. (You don't have to pay to get into NJ, but you have to pay to get back into PA... makes sense, right?) Fortunately, we were only about 20 minutes away from Forgotten Boardwalk. We decided to stop in at Tonewood for a one-and-done, and I revisited the Terminal DIPA, while Brewslut opted for a full pour of Chief since I'd enjoyed it so much the previous evening.

Ashland... tastes like the 
Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine.

After our little detour back into NJ, we changed gears and called an audible. I'd planned on making our last stop at the newish Stable 12 in Phoenixville, but we decided to hit a brand new place in Philly on Passyunk Avenue (home of the infamous P.O.P.E.) called Brewery ARS. This place is the latest "garage brewery" in the city, and that's a fitting description of the place. Terry (Hawbaker, Pizza Boy's head brewer) also mentioned that he was really interested in visiting this place, and he'd heard good things and was familiar with the brewers' work (twin brothers, apparently). Inside the tiny tasting room, tables were crammed closely together, while a tiny standing bar occupied the right side of the wall as you entered. Toward the back of the room was a counter where patrons can order beer. There was also a serving hole in the right wall, where a local BBQ vendor was serving a variety of items. We opted for a snack in the form of guacamole and chips (can't go wrong with that combo)!

Beer-wise, we shared a sampler of all five beers available during our visit. Here's the run-down:
  • Wayne's Pale Ale - American-style Pale Ale with lots of citrus character.
  • Antique'n - saison brewed with copious amounts of Simcoe hops.
  • Ashland - robust porter with coffee and chocolate notes. 
  • Living Saints - ale dry-hopped with El Dorado and infused with local Ethiopian Guji Sidamo coffee from Green Street Coffee.
  • Old Stoop City Rye - rye saison with a blend of German hops.
All in all, solid beers across the board. Nothing jaw-dropping, mind you, but I appreciate both the craft and the experimental nature of the beers. One thing I must point out is the simplicity and charm of their beer label artwork. Each whimsical drawing looks like it'd been torn from a child's coloring book. The handwritten fonts and brewery logo add to the appeal as well. 

To cap off the weekend, no stop to the greater Philadelphia area is complete without a visit to Tired Hands. I was in the mood for their bread and butter (so simple yet so delicious), so we opted for the Brew Cafe rather than the newer Fermentaria. It wasn't packed when we arrived, so we were able to procure bar seats on the first floor. There's always plenty of interesting-sounding beers on tap, including hazy, hoppy creations and more sophisticated saisons, two styles I feel are Jean's forte. I settled on a half pour of Space Canoe, a new rye IPA hopped with Simcoe and a new variety with which I was unfamiliar - Huell Melon, a fruity aroma hop that lends hints of honeydew and strawberry. Brewslut selected Unimpressive View, a saison brewed with pink peppercorns and lemon zest. I like the flavor note of "lemon verbena" and "Claey's watermelon hard candy drops" for this one (on Tired Hands' web site), which I thought fit the bill perfectly. Space Canoe was solid but not a favorite in the grand scheme of Tired Hands' hoppy beers, although the rye spiciness complemented the bread and fennel pollen accoutrement nicely. up next, we enjoyed half pours of On Tap, an IPA brewed with oats and Citra and Amarillo hops, then dry-hopped with Galaxy and more Citra. Yum! Thick Ambient was up next, and I'm glad Brewslut chose this one, because I really wanted to try it based on the description. The beer, a dark saison brewed with rye, midnight wheat and Tired Hands' house yeast culture, as well as 100lbs. of local sweet and tart cherries. This may have been my favorite of the four beers we sampled. 

After our beer and bread break at Tired Hands, it was time to head home. All in all, it was a productive beer trip, with 8 new breweries visited over just two days. We also got to return to two new favorites - Spellbound and Forgotten Boardwalk - and check in at Tired Hands. Thanks for following us on our journey to "beervana." Until next time...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Springtime in February: Day 1

More often than not, my various musical endeavors have a tendency to thwart the frequency with which Brewslut and I can embark on beer adventures. These days, I rarely have a full weekend off from playing music, let alone two weekends. It's a self-imposed schedule that can be quite hectic at times, not to mention inconvenient when something comes up that we want to do. But the extra scratch certainly comes in handy when the opportunity of back-to-back weekend beer jaunts presents itself.

Case in point, the winter doldrums of February. I try to keep this typically cold and frigid month sparse with band activity, as the chance for snow in PA can rear its ugly head at any given moment. (I'm reminded of a joke my PA friends can appreciate: "Say, how's the weather there in Pennsylvania?" "I don't know, ask me again in ten minutes.") As luck would have it, the forecast was taunting us with promises of temperatures in the seventies for this particular weekend in late February. Never one to argue climate change (that's global warming for all the cave dwellers and naysayers), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to spend some time in nature. And by "in nature," of course I mean in my own natural habitat (i.e. my ass firmly planted on a bar stool somewhere).

So on the morning of Saturday, February 25, Brewslut and I headed out on our second consecutive weekend beer trek. This time, we were off to The Garden State - New Jersey, the land of Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, and Snooki (now there's a supergroup I'd avoid like the plague). To be honest, I've never been much of a fan of Jersey, but one can't help notice the influx of small craft breweries spreading across the state. Jersey first hit my beer destination map when Team D(r)INK visited Kane and Carton - two small craft breweries churning out some impressive beers - for my birthday a few years ago. I was so impressed that in the summer of 2015, Brewslut and I decided to venture across the river from Philly to Jersey and check out a few new places. This resulted in us discovering Spellbound and Forgotten Boardwalk, both of which you'll read about in a bit.

All of the breweries we'd planned on visiting didn't open until 12:00 noon or later, so we had plenty of time to get up from bed, make our customary big weekend breakfast, and pack the car. Sadly, by the time we got near the turnpike exit, we'd realized we'd forgotten to pack one of our most valued possessions when traveling for beer - Pleeps! Since we were already about twenty minutes tardy, I decided not to turn around to retrieve our beloved, happy-to-lucky travel companion. I felt bad, but ultimately decided that Pleeps needed a rest after last weekend's adventures in NEPA and upstate NY.

Entrance to Spellbound's courtyard.
About one hundred and eleven miles and two hours later, we arrived in Mt. Holly, NJ at our first destination. As I'd mentioned before, we first visited Spellbound back in the summer of 2015 during a weekend trip to Philadelphia to attend the second of three Rush shows we saw on the band's amazing R40 tour. On that first visit, I was pretty amazed at what this new brewery was cranking out, so I was glad to see some of the same beers on tap this time, most notably the Peach IPA and Palo Santo Porter. Our first stop of the day usually yields a variety of sample-sized beers, and this time was no different. In addition to about sixteen house beers on tap, Spellbound was also pouring two variations of its delicious Cherry Tripel on firkin, one infused with coconut and the other with vanilla beans. Gotta try both of them, right? Of course we do.

We settled on "dual flights," a term I'll now come to use when each of us order separate sampler flights. This happens when a brewery has a proven track record and too many beers we want to try. Here's the run-down:

  • Major Anthony Nelson - juicy Pale Ale with Nelson Sauvin hops (one of my favorites) and a few other varieties.
  • Peach Citra Pale Ale - really pleasant peach character; I preferred this over the Peach IPA.
  • Vanilla Bean Cherry Tripel (firkin) - cherry, honey and soft vanilla notes.
  • Coconut Cherry Tripel (firkin) - dominant tropical coconut flavor with sweet edges.
  • Saison w/ ginger, lemongrass & white sage - self-explanatory, right?
  • Living the Dream  - second anniversary Russian Imperial Stout.
  • Peach IPA - citrus-forward IPA with peach sweetness
  • Palo Santo Porter - Porter aged on Palo Santo wood to introduce notes of chocolate, anise, and mint. This was a favorite of mine during our inaugural visit.

While none of its beers are cleverly named, all of them are artfully crafted and delicious. Standouts for me included the Peach Citra Pale Ale, Palo Santo Porter, and both firkin variations of the Tripel (though my preference leaned toward the vanilla if I had to pick). I was glad to notice that Spellbound has enjoyed apparent growth since our last visit, as their cellar had expanded to included more fermentation tanks, a brite tank, and some other fancy brewing implements. I tend to geek out more on the actual beers rather than the assorted equipment, vessels, and paraphernalia of it all.

Inside Spellbound's tasting room.

While we enjoyed our brief visit to one of my favorite NJ breweries, in hindsight I wished we would have stayed longer. I really wanted to try the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cherry Tripel, but I knew we had to pace ourselves. These brewery trips can prove to be long and arduous, you know? I'm still kicking myself for not even getting a sample size pour of it, especially since the two firkin variations were so enjoyable. What can I say? Sometimes you err. (Did I err, Rufferto?) Ten bonus points if you get that reference. So it was off to stop number two. 

Until next time, Spellbound...

One thing I forgot about beer traveling in NJ is that tours are a requirement of the state when visiting production breweries. And people think PA has weird liquor laws? I find this to be a strange, unnecessary bit of red tape that only seems to delay a patron’s drinking time. I guess lawmakers in NJ think that customers should first know how beer is made before they imbibe it. Thankfully they don’t require tours of fast food chains to see how that stuff is made. So after our quick ten-cent tour, we moseyed up to the bar and perused the beer menu. Unlike Spellbound, Nale House (situated in nearby Medford, NJ) seemed to have the witty beer names dialed in. Beers boasting monikers such as Yoga Pants, Tea Bag, and Hit It & Quit It all made me chuckle. The beer, though? That's a different story. The place itself seemed inviting, and the tasting room was pretty busy. The brewer and bartender were friendly and willing to converse to customers. We read online that they allowed BYOF, so we grabbed some snacks at a nearby Wawa to enjoy with our beers. So, onto the beers. Here's the low-down on what we sampled in our dual flights:

  • Yoga Pants - straight-up Blonde Ale.
  • Peacock's Nightmare - hazy double dry hopped IPA with lots of Amarillo. My favorite of the bunch. 
  • Hit It & Quit It - Double Chocolate Imperial Stout. 
  • Tea Bag - milk stout blended with an oak "tea bag" to infuse vanilla and woody notes. Served on nitro for a smooth mouthfeel. Cool concept. 
  • Yellow Haze of the Sun - Pale Ale brewed with Mosaic hops. 
  • Out Cold - Oat IPA hopped with Warrior and Cascade.
  • Snitches Get Stitches - Mosaic and Citra Pale Ale.
I wanted to like this place, but unfortunately more than a few of the beers suffered from either line contamination or poor equipment sanitation. That's not to say all of the beers were tainted. I thought Peacock's Nightmare was a pretty solid IPA, and Brewslut enjoyed the Snitches Get Stitches. The Hit It & Quit It (my favorite name) wasn't too bad either. My constructive criticism would be this: "Cleanliness is next to godliness." Enough said.

My view from the bar at Lower Forge.
Just down the street from Nale House (walking distance), things got a bit more promising at Lower Forge. From what I've seen of Jersey towns, Medford seems to be a diamond in the rough. On our short walk down what I assumed was the "main street," I was reminded me of a small town like Lititz, PA, with its abundance of small shops, historical-looking buildings, and clean, well-kept walkways and landscape. Plus, it was nice to walk a few short blocks since the weather was so unseasonably warm. 

Inside, Lower Forge was warm and inviting with lots of rustic wood, tin tiles, fun lighting, and an unfinished stone floor. The place was sparsely populated with a few customers here and there, so we had no problem securing bar seats. The head brewer was a friendly guy who I later learned is a volunteer firefighter on the side. After our brief tour, we made our way to the bar and settled on a shared flight of four offerings. 

Interior of Lower Forge.
Uncharacteristically, I opted for a hefeweizen called Healthy, Wealthy & Weizen, because the brewer mentioned Tröegs DreamWeaver was a favorite of his and an inspiration for this particular beer. Naturally, I felt obliged to try it. We rounded out our shared sampler with these other three selections:
  • Catch Me If You Can - Gingerbread cookie brown ale with notes of cinnamon, ginger and brown sugar. 
  • Jabberhoppy - Double IPA brewed with six hop varieties.
  • BBA Vertically Challenged - Imperial porter aged in bourbon barrels.
While I wasn't blown away by anything, all of the beers were solid, with my favorite being Catch Me If You Can. I felt the BA Porter could have benefited from a longer slumber in the barrels. The presentation of the flight was nice, too.

Sampler flight at Lower Forge.

Next up was more familiar territory. Forgotten Boardwalk, plain and simple, is just a fun place. Growing up in Central PA, a popular vacation destination for middle-class families was always "the shore." This meant Ocean City or Wildwood, NJ, because both are a relatively short drive from PA. Anyone who has visited "the shore" as a kid can appreciate this place. Think of the boardwalk back in the 40s or 50s, or even Coney Island, and you get an idea of the vibe of this place. Complete with fun-house mirrors, skee-ball, and general carnival-esque ambiance, Forgotten Boardwalk makes great, forward-thinking beers in the midst of a fun atmosphere.

Beer and skee-ball... what else do you need?

This was one of the other places we enjoyed during our little R40 side excursion a few summers ago. We opted for a few “half pours,” or 8-ounce glasses, of the following beers:
  • Mr. Watson – White IPA aged in French Sauvignon Blanc wine barrels.
  • Ginger Snap Cookie – Who doesn’t like ginger snaps? They taste good in liquid form, too!
  • Morro Castle - smoked porter with notes of charred wood, smoked meat, peat, and tobacco.
  • Funnel Cake – this is FB’s sweet, tasty flagship cream ale served on nitro. I liked this beer so much last time that we bought a 6-pack to go. I’d love to see them do a stout version of this!
The Big Wheel at Forgotten Boardwalk.

The employees here are pleasant and laid-back. They can also geek out over beer, so I decided to share the wealth and offer a few choice Tröegs selections from my cooler. When traveling locally via automobile, I usually throw in a few treats to give as presents to breweries I really like. More often than not, they reciprocate with some equally tasty treats for Brewslut and me.

Cat tail tap handles at Forgotten Boardwalk.

Despite having way too many brewery shirts, I couldn’t resist getting a "souvenir." I'm a fan of their creative, retro artwork, and one of their T-shirt designs caught my eye, so add another one to the collection. I also couldn't resist snapping a selfie of my reflection in one of the fun-house mirrors.  

I look like Jacob the twiggy alien man!

While en route to our next stop, Double Nickel, we experienced an unexpected torrential downpour of severe rain. This, coupled with the fact that our GPS wasn’t cooperating, put me in an agitated state. Pleeps wasn’t there to calm me down, and I almost abandoned our plans to visit the brewery. In a last ditch effort, I ducked into a nearby Wawa and asked for directions. Luckily, a customer pointed us in the right direction, and soon we were dry and inside sipping some intensely flavorful barrel-aged creations and noshing on a pile of salty Goldfish crackers. Scratch that. Multiple piles. The carb junkie in me kicked into high gear and there was no turning back!

Today's catch.

I was surprised by the size of not only the tasting room, but also the building in general and the amount of fermentation tanks visible from the bar area. Seems like Double Nickel is a fairly large operation despite being open a relatively short period of time. Or at least that's how they appeared to me. We perused the extensive beer list, which included close to twenty different beers, including several barrel-aged releases. Since I’m quite partial to barrel-aged beers, I chose the following flight of four wood-aged treats:
  • Mother's Barrel - Brown ale aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for 6 months.
  • Father's Barrel - Rye porter aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for 6 months.
  • Marbled Buffalo - Marbled Rye (a rye ale) aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for 6 months.
  • Buffalo Nickel - stout aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for 6 months.

Darkness, imprisoning me!

Notice a trend? Seems like Double Nickel prefers Buffalo Trace bourbon. Fine with me, because these were all enjoyable. I feel that 6 months is the perfect length of time to age beer in bourbon barrels. All of these beers were drinkable and smooth without being too boozy or hot, yet the bourbon presence was pronounced in the flavor profile. The texture of all these beers was rich and silky, another attribute I appreciate in barrel-aged beers. I've had plenty that have tasted fine, but have been thin and watery or over-carbonated. These all straddled the line well, offering a pleasant viscous mouthfeel. Lastly, I always commend balance in these types of beers. Anyone can throw a shitty beer into a barrel for a few months and create a bourbon bomb to mask any flaws a particular beer might have. I would have liked to have sampled the base beers side by side with the barrel-aged versions, but alas it was late in the game and we still had a pair of places to visit before 10 p.m. I couldn't help but think of my poor, absent pal Pleeps, who would have loved these beers. Sorry buddy! 

Lots of taps to be had at Double Nickel.

We ended with a small pour of Deborah, a sour ale aged in Malbec wine barrels for 13 months. This was tasty but my least favorite of the bunch, as I typically favor the more robust beers aged in bourbon barrels over thinner sour ales aged in wine barrels. All in all, this is a place I'd definitely like to revisit, as they had an extensive, diverse tap list, which included everything from a Vienna Lager to an Imperial IPA.  

Them's some big tanks at Double Nickel.

As we headed into Oaklyn for our next stop on the itinerary, we felt the pangs of hunger strike. Luckily, we noticed a little place nestled just downwind of Tonewood Brewing (next on the list) called The Square Meal. We decided to give it a shot. Turns out they’d only been open for a few weeks. This little eatery focuses on fresh food made with organic and locally-sourced ingredients. 

Fresh organic food at The Square Meal in Oaklyn.

The organic turkey meatloaf sandwich immediately struck a chord, and we each ordered one with a side of sweet potato cuts and an apple crisp square to share for dessert. This really hit the spot, and the prices were reasonable as well. We'll always favor a small "mom and pop" operation over a restaurant chain any day of the week. The people here were friendly and there was just a great positive energy about this place, like crunchy granola and hula hoops. 

Interior shot of The Square Meal.

A few doors down from The Square Meal on the same side of the street, Tonewood was bumping with a healthy crowd of what appeared to be locals supporting their home brewery. Turns out The Square Meal has an agreement with Tonewood allowing them to serve as its "kitchen" of sorts. Folks can order food in the tasting room and someone from The Square Meal will deliver it. One of my long-time friends from high school, Spade, had just moved to Oaklyn with his wife into a new home just a few blocks down the street from Tonewood, and he’d already given them the “thumbs up.” We snagged seats at the end of the bar just inside the main entrance, and I decided I needed a full pour of something to wash down my delicious, nutritious meal. I tell you, it was the right choice.  

All just bricks in the wall at Tonewood.

Enter Chief, a hazy, soft-colored pale ale that just hit the spot brilliantly! It turned out to be one of the stand-out beers of the trip in all its simplicity and deliciousness. After about two sips, I was congratulating myself for ordering a full pour of this flavorful ale. It also brought back snippets of a Dane Cook bit about an experience at the “B.K. Lounge.” Fans will get it. Editor’s note: Sorry readers, but those two first Dane Cook CDs are hilarious. #noshame. 

Chief, buddy, gaylord... whatever! 

Brewslut went with the Revolution Porter, an English-style porter brewed in collaboration with Revolution Coffee Roasters. This sucker is doused with a blend of beans from Malawi and Ethiopia for a coffee-forward aroma and dry, roasty finish. Yum! I like coffee beers so much that you could probably steep toilet water with fresh, local coffee and I'd drink it. OK, maybe not. I guess it would depend on the severity of my thirst. If I hadn't had my first cup of morning coffee... look out! 

View from my barstool at Tonewood.
We ended our visit with a goblet of Terminal DIPA, a somewhat earthy offering with an abundance of dry, charred malt notes. Brewslut doesn't remember drinking this one. This one didn't feature one of my favorite flavor profiles for a DIPA, but it was still enjoyable. I was surprised that this was brewed primarily with Simcoe, as it's one of my favorite hop varieties. 

After visiting Tonewood, we swung by Spade’s new homestead for a quick visit. Situated in a nice, quiet suburban area, it’s in stark contrast from South Central Philly, where he had resided for the better part of the last 25 years. Plus it’s a hop, skip and jump away from Tonewood, so he’s got that going for him as well.

People gettin' down at Devil's Creek.
We capped off our day with a visit to Devil's Creek. We thought we had just enough time for a quick beer, as they advertised closing at 10 p.m. However, it turns out that they get quite busy on weekends, and they just stay open until “whenever.” Grabbing seats at the bar (we lucked out on this trip), we struck up a pleasant conversation with a couple and started talking about music. This mutated into me regaling her with stories of high school marching band and how Brewslut and I met. The woman, only a few years older than me, was surprised by how “young” I looked. Hey, I’m almost 43, so I’ll take what I can get. We opted for more "short pours" here, with the Black Eye being a sampler-sized pour. Here's the gist:
  • Pecan Swirl - Oatmeal stout infused with the flavors of pecan pie. Served on nitro.
  • Cordially Yours - Stout brewed with dark chocolate and cherries. 
  • RetrIBUtion - Belgian IPA brewed with Trappist yeast. See what they did there?
  • Toasted Rye - Ale brewed with 50% rye for notes of toasted bread and smoky cherrywood. 
  • Black Eye - Black IPA with roasty malt and an earthy, piney bite. 
My view from the bar at Devil's Creek.
Overall, the beers here were satisfying, although by the end of the day we our palates were feeling pretty frazzled. By 11 p.m., we were obviously exhausted from a full day's "work," so we decided to head back to the hotel and get an early start in the morning. Stay tuned for Day 2, when we visit a few new, up-and-coming breweries in Philly and return unexpectedly to Jersey after I spend too much money in a record store. Until next time...

Miss you, Pleeps.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Everybody got to deviate from the norm

Readers of the Pour Travelers are certainly familiar with "The Chalet." In case you're just joining us and have no frame of reference, you can read the opening paragraph of this blog for some background on the Chalet. For those of you who have been following us for a while and have wondered what the Chalet looks like, I decided to snap a few pictures this time to share. Here you go:
The Chalet
Typically, +we'll follow one of two standard itineraries when we get away to Chalet for the weekend. Friday evening always begins with a stop for dinner and drinks at Selin's Grove. This is a constant and always a given. Sunday is sometimes a mixed bag, but more often than not, we'll hit Selin's Grove again in the afternoon and end up at Pizza Boy by the early evening. As for Saturdays, here's the two alternating itineraries we usually follow to the T:

Option 1 - State College: Elk Creek > Happy Halley > Zeno's > Otto's


Option 2 - Williamsport: Bullfrog > Riepstine's

We'll usually tack on a visit to Rusty Rail at the end of each day since it's in such close proximity to the Chalet, followed by a nightcap at Pap's Pub (ie: Ffej's Igloo North).

This past weekend, however, I was up for some much-needed deviation from the usual suspects. I felt that our weekend trips were becoming too predictable and stagnant. On Friday afternoon, I texted Brewslut and asked, "Feeling limber on Saturday?" Always one to go with the flow, she responded in terse fashion with, "Sure." This is one of the many reasons why I love her.

I'd suggested that we head north to Mansfield, PA, and eventually across the border into upstate New York, then loop back around to Williamsport, PA, before heading back to the Chalet for the evening. It was quite an ambitious itinerary for a single day, as I'd hoped to hit six breweries. While it doesn't sound like too many stops given our track record of visiting up to 10 breweries in a single day, the challenge here was the five-and-a-half hour round trip from the Chalet to our northern-most destination and back. I, too, was feeling limber. We got this!

But first, we had a date with the Pub on Friday night. I was hoping the new cask-only Cocoa Nib Stout would still be available when we arrived, and luckily it was. This cask-conditioned version of
Shade Mountain Oatmeal Stout was aged on vanilla beans, cocoa nibs, and bourbon-soaked oak spirals. The oak and bourbon character was modest, but the cocoa aroma and flavor was quite pronounced. Brewslut and I both enjoyed it quite a bit! I followed up the stout with an IPA (can't pass on one of these when it's on), and a Framboise. We also tried the latest draft cocktail, which was a blood orange vodka-infused concoction with house-made lemon-lime soda, which was quite tasty. I love that the Pub is now offering these draft cocktails in addition to its stellar beer, local wine, and cider, and nitro cold brew coffee. The only problem now is that there are too many awesome selections! Steve, the owner, was also in rare form this evening. I think he was hitting the Tripel pretty hard and trying to remain in a well-lubricated state due to the fact that his twin daughters were having a birthday slumber party next door. He was also gracious enough to give me a healthy sample of a special secret beer he got from the brewery while he disappeared for a few minutes. I'm not gonna lie to you, but it was like getting a gold star on my book report in fifth grade.

We woke up uncharacteristically early on Saturday morning, made breakfast, and headed out around 11:15 a.m., which was only about 15 minutes behind schedule. Our first stop of the day was Yorkholo Brewing Company. Situated in Mansfield, PA, (within walking distance of the college), Yorkholo has been around for about six years. Brewslut had visited once a few years ago on a Team D(r)INK trip to the Fingerlakes. I couldn't join them, as I had a gig that particular weekend. I'd been wanting to get there for quite some time. After perusing their tap list on-line, I decided it was finally time to make the trek. I'm glad we did because I loved this place!

Pleeps lends a hand with our 10-beer sampler flight!

It was close to 1 p.m. when we arrived. Just across the street, there was a small crowd of ladies holding signs about educational rights, so I beeped to show our support. I parked next to what we assumed was one of the protester's cars, because Brewslut noticed a comical bumper sticker, which read: "What if we destroy the planet before Jesus comes back?" I had to chuckle. It made me proud to be a liberal and glad to have a warped (scratch that... depraved) sense of humor. Plus my sarcasm meter is usually running well into the red at all times, especially as I get older and crankier. But enough of that. Why are we here? Because of beer!

In typical fashion, I wanted to try everything on the beer menu. So, we opted for a full flight of all ten beers currently available. Five were hoppy offerings while the others were an assortment of dark beers like Belgians, porters, and stouts. Here's the run-down:
  • House Beer - a Belgian-style "Single" (aka Blonde Ale)
  • Komorebi - an "extra" pale ale. (FUN FACT: Komorebi is a Japansese word used to describe when sunlight filters through trees and the interplay between the light and leaves.)
  • India Pale Lager - hoppy lager with hints of pine, mango, and grapefruit.
  • Amarillo IPA
  • Alpenglow - dark Belgian-style ale brewed with ginger and aged on tart cherries and sweet black cherries. Yup, this one was as good as it sounds! Probably my favorite of the lot. (Another FUN FACT: Alpenglow (noun) is the rosy light of the setting or rising sun seen on high mountains.)
  • The Tantalizing Succulent Monk - Belgian Dubbel with lots of dark fruit, clove and a hint of anise. 
  • Molé Stout - milk stout aged on cocoa nibs, Serrano peppers, vanilla beans, and cinnamon. This was was brand new as of 2/13. 
  • Imperial Porter - chocolate and espresso goodness!
  • The Yanochik - A Scottish Wee Heavy style ale with notes of tobacco, leather, caramel and faint smoke. I dug this one quite a bit too.
  • Rez-Head - Imperial IPA with citrus and peach notes. Loved this one too!
#winning at Yorkholo!

Overall, the place had a great vibe and we felt very comfortable drinking there. I liken it to hanging out with an old friend. The space was open and inviting, with high ceilings, exposed brick walls and fun strings of lights strewn about the space. The servers were super-friendly and we learned a bit about the history of the brewery, including the man behind the logo (Grandpa Yorkholo), and a few Japanese words. (We were both English majors, so we're always interested in expanding our vocabularies.) Word of the day: KOMOREBI (pronounced ko-mo-RAY-bee). Editor's note: Sorry to all the linguists out there... this might not be the actual phonetic spelling of the word.

After a fantastic visit to Yorkholo, we were off to New York. We had another 30-odd miles to traverse, plus we ran into a detour, which tacked on a few additional minutes. Our first stop was in the town of Elmira. Like Yorkholo, Upstate Brewing boasts a 6-year brewing history. When we arrived, I was excited to see a firkin sitting firmly on the bar. Turns out it was a bourbon barrel-aged version of its flagship beer, Common Sense, a dark cream ale. Brewslut went with a beer called Ipso Lacto, a Berliner Weisse dry-hopped with Amarillo and Equinox. Both were pretty solid. For this stop, we decided to share a few half pours of some more interesting-sounding selections. Around us, the place was brimming with friendly people chatting about beer and travel (go figure!), so we were happy to chime in. We chatted with a couple from nearby Sayre, PA, as well as another couple from Rochester, NY. Upstate is also dog-friendly, and there were some pretty chill pups hanging out with their owners. We're both pro-dog, and we'll gladly take a brewery packed with pooches over a congregation of ill-behaved children any day of the week.

On tap at Upstate.

Up next, we sampled the New Zealand IPA and another Molé Stout. Hops harvested in New Zealand continue to be in vogue in 2017, and we come across many hoppy offerings brewed with hops "Southern Hemisphere" varieties. This one didn't "wow" me, but it was pleasant enough. The stout was solid too. We ended with a pour of the aptly named Double, a DIPA with minimal bitterness and notes of tropical fruit and berry. 

The many moods of Pleepleus.

A few miles north of Elmira is the oddly named village of Horseheads, NY, which is actually a part of the greater Elmira area. I just love the name Horseheads. Needless to say it sparked an interesting conversation between Brewslut and I while we were on our way to our next stop, Birdland Brewing. I suggested that the founder of the village perhaps saw a team of horses as he was coming over the horizon and named the town after this sighting. Brewslut, on the other hand, had a somewhat more morose theory about decapitated horses. (A quick Wiki search revealed a brief account of how the village acquired its name, which you can read about here if you are so inclined. She was closer to the actual story in her estimation.)

Birdland is a tiny place nestled in a small commercial plot next to a carpet cleaning business. The place probably seats only 25 or so people. Since we passed on a snack at Yorkholo and Upstate didn't have any food (except for bar pretzels), we decided it was time to feed. Lucky for us, Birdland has some tasty-sounding sandwiches and salads. We both opted for The Gobbler, a turkey breast sandwich with American cheese, cracked pepper mayo, cranberry horseradish, Granny Smith apple slices, and lettuce. The sandwiches hit the spot, and we especially liked the crusty baguette-style bread. 

Inside Birdland's tiny tasting room.

As you might imagine, all of its beers and menu items are named after species of birds (or parts of birds' anatomy). I thought that Deuane would appreciate the effort here. We again opted for a sampler flight of six different beers selected from a list of ten. These included some fruited porters, a maple beer, an IPA, and a few others. Unfortunately, none were particularly memorable. We appreciated the effort of beers like Bluebird (a chocolate blueberry porter) and Crimson Chat (a double chocolate cherry Porter), and the staff were super friendly, but overall the beers were lacking complexity and aroma. Still, it's always nice to get a new brewery under our belts and chalk off another place from the list. Plus the place was packed, so it looks like the locals are digging it. 


Our final destination in NY was the actual Horseheads Brewing Company. This was one I'd been privy to for a number of years, as its Pumpkin Ale is considered one of the best of its kind in craft beer circles. (NOTE: A quick search of my old BA reviews revealed that I did, in fact, have at least one of its beers in the past. Click here to check it out!) Inside, the tasting room was booming with folks getting down to some tasty beers and a trio of musicians playing antiquated but entertaining music on acoustic instruments (although the one guy did play a Tele with a slide on a few tunes). We found a tiny table in the corner of the room and settled in with our drinks. It was loud and boomy inside, making it difficult to hear the trio's vocals. The TVs didn't help, either. The place wasn't dripping with ambiance (it was a big square room with plain white walls and non-descript seating), but the beers were solid and the place was packed with locals. It was tough to strike up a conversation with the band playing, so we kept to our own devices and planned our next attack over a pair of tasty beers. While we're not huge fans of getting beer in plastic cups, we did like what was inside said cups, so forgiveness was in order.  

Pleeps and the plastic cups.

For our first selections, I opted for Tropical Daze, a blood orange IPA, while Brewslut ordered OMFG, a chocolate peanut butter porter). Both were quite tasty and neither had that "fake" flavor (you know what I'm talking about) you sometimes get with other similar beers using these types of ingredients. Brewslut commented that the Tropical Daze was her favorite beer of the day thus far. I liked it also, but it was like drinking orange juice. Not a bad thing, right? Could be an alternate breakfast beer when you're short on coffee stouts. Since we were impressed with our first two selections, we decided to share another half pour of the Double IPA, which was also quite good. At almost 9% ABV and around 91 IBUs, this one was pretty potent and displayed a huge citrus punch. After sharing that one, it was time to hit the rocky road back to PA. However, the day wasn't over just quite yet. 

Billtown (that's code for Williamsport, PA) is familiar territory for us. I'd just learned of a brand new brewery in Billtown called Boom City, which was just down the street about two blocks from Bullfrog Brewery. I figured this night was as good as any to swing by and check another new place off the list.

Inside Boom City.
Inside, it was fairly crowded, but we managed to spot two stools on the far left side of the bar. We recognized the bartender as a guy who previously worked at Bullfrog (or perhaps still does). Beer-wise, they had six offerings available. We settled on Smash Simcoe IPA (me) and Muddy River, an American Porter (Brewslut). Both were solid and showed promise. However, they've only been open a very short period, so I'm sure they'll get their system dialed in quickly. It's great to have another place in Billtown, especially one just around the corner from Bullfrog. They also have a full menu that looked pretty good. Tonight, they were featuring fried banana peppers as an appetizer special, and we actually managed to get a few free samples. These were bangin' and after tasting these, I'd wished we'd ordered some. Oh well. Hopefully next time they'll have them on the menu.

View from the bar at Boom City.

Since it was getting late, we unfortunately decided to skip Riepstine's this time and drive around the corner to Bullfrog. I decided to shoot my buddy and fellow drummer, Joel, a message. Thinking he was probably gigging that night, I thought I'd at least invite him to meet us for a beer. He handles the marketing duties (sound familiar?) for Bullfrog, so I know he's always up for some "frog in his throat." As it turns out, he was enjoying a rare night off, and happened to be hanging out at his office right across the street from the Frog. Joel was gracious enough to hook us up with a few beers and an appetizer (we love the tofu bites, so we opted for those). I settled on a pint of Edgar IPA, one of my all-time favorites, while Brewslut opted for a pint of Coffee Stout. The recipe for this seems to change from time to time, and this version was very different than the one I'd just had during our last visit. This version was lighter and extremely hazy, almost like a Northeast Style IPA a la Trillium, Tree House, or Alchemist. It was fairly dank and citrusy. It paired nicely with the killer band that happened to be playing that evening, a band from Burlington, VT, called Gang of Thieves. I was immediately struck by the quartet's unorthodox instrumentation, featuring a frontman and lead vocalist who also played electric violin, and a guy playing trombone. The rest of the ensemble was rounded out with guitar, bass, and drums. These guys boasted a fat 70's funk groove with some danceable beats and killer vocals. The group also traded off slick leads on the violin, guitar, and trombone. I liked them enough to buy both of their CDs during set break. They were just kicking off a 6-week tour that would take them all the way down the east coast to Florida, then out west to Colorado followed by a few random dates in the Midwest. Their originals were enjoyable, and they even threw in a few choice covers including some Chili Peppers, a Stevie Wonder medley, and Hendrix. Great stuff! After finishing our beers, we shared a pint of Hopsphycitration, a dry-hopped Pale Ale steeped with fresh, organic citrus. This version was light, vibrant and pretty hoppy. It was great to catch up with Joel a bit and enjoy some great beers at the Frog. Plus, I absolutely loved the band (which is rare... like the beer, the band has to be pretty damn killer to capture my attention). It was the perfect cap to an amazing day. Did I mention it was like 65 degrees all day... in February... in northern PA and upstate NY?! Yup. It was surreal to walk around outside in February in a T-shirt. I would have loved to have stuck around for Gang of Thieves' second set, but we had a 45-minute drive ahead of us, and we'd been drinking since 1 p.m. It was time to retire for the evening. Stick a fork in me, Billtown!

Until next time... Pleeps says, "Cheerio!"