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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Old School College Party Throwdown

Sometimes you just gotta hang up the Beer Geek hat and throw down, college style!  Of course, that would imply that I actually used to throw down "College Style" back when I was in college, but unfortunately, that's not the case.  I didn't play beer pong and Kings (my favorite card game EVER) until my late twenties, nor did I enjoy the simple pleasures of Flip Cup until I was... wait for it... thirty-six (my current age)!!! 

When I use the term "throw down," I of course mean the kind of drinking in which one would typically engage during one's formative drinking years.  This would entail drinking the dreaded fizzy, yellow piss water, as us beer geeks refer to it.  You see, in my close-knit circle of musician friends, I am the lone true beer geek stuck amongst a horde of Silver Bullet swillin', triple hop enjoyin', "lite" beer drinkin' yokels.  These guys definitely prefer quantity over quality, while I tend to enjoy both quality AND quality!  Perhaps that's why I was zonked out a little after midnight, while many of my cohorts kept it going until almost 4am.  Of course, I was knocking back Troegs Hopback like it was Bud Light, while most everyone else was partaking in a keg of Miller Lite (which happened to kick at around 11pm... an impressive feat for less than 20 guys). 

As an unfortunate result of my beer geek-ery, I am frequently targeted as an object of ridicule.  This includes getting teased for pouring a bottled beer into a pint glass, then smelling it before I take a sip.  I am also taunted for reviewing beers, and they typically start making up fake reviews when the see me taking notes on a beer.  For example: "I can taste the 95 IBQs of the malted hop barley flakes in this porter when served at optimum cellar temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit."  Clearly, they don't get it, but it is still comical to hear them poke jest at me for something I enjoy so passionately.  Hey, if you can't laugh at yourself, you have no business laughing at others, right?

But let's backtrack a bit.  The reason for this gathering was for my good friend Jay's bachelor party.  I've played in bands for almost ten years with Jay, and he is like a little brother to me.  We both share a deep love and passion for making music, and we also have an affinity for loud, obnoxious gaseous secretions from our nether regions (or farting, for those of you not feeling overly verbose today). We both grew up in similar areas of PA (me, in the "coal region" town of Shamokin, and Jay in the more NEPA-based town of Mountain Top). 

OK, back to the bachelor party festivities.  Typically, the focal point of most old school college parties is a good, old fashioned Beer Pong tournament.  Ironically, my Beer Pong team (Team Taint, consisting of Mark Halowka and myself) went undefeated, beating every team pitted against us.  I found this to be amazing for a two reasons: 1.) I was undeniably intoxicated for pretty much all of the matches, and 2.) I have probably played beer pong maybe a dozen times in my life.  While I got mocked for my "bounce" technique by virtually every competitor we faced, all I can say to those Team Taint defeated is... EAT IT!!!  After our Pong victory, we assembled teams for an epic game of Flip Cup.  Unfortunately, the game was not completed due to some of the guys taking a smoke break, and others (ie: me), went downstairs to pass out.  I am happy to report that my team was kicking major ass, though!  Fast-forward seven hours, and after a good night's sleep and a fantastic homemade breakfast from Jay's mom consisting of pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, juice and coffee, I was ready to come home and take my mom out for a birthday dinner at Iron Hill Lancaster, where I enjoyed the new Sweet Leaf IPA and Habanero Porter. 

While I absolutely have come to love and appreciate the more cultured beer tasting events I typically attend, sometimes I just can't resist unleashing the caveman inside of me and "throwing down" old school college style!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Drinking "One Day at a Time"

Sometimes, I think I drink too much.  Other times, I feel like I'm not drinking enough.  One thing is for sure, though... I am usually drinking something, somewhere.  If I'm not, I am probably sleeping or working (unless it's a long lunch day at Troegs, but that's a different story)!  Let's walk through a typical week of beer drinking for The Pour Travelers, shall we?

More often than not, I head over to Brass Rail Deli at around 7pm and hang out until closing time, which is only 9pm, unfortunately.  I started this tradition mainly because brewslut got a part-time job there about two years ago, and she always works on Monday nights.  I will typically have two draught beers from Cisco's small but well thought-out tap selection.  This past week, I enjoyed a Rogue Morimoto Imperial Pilsner and a Fort Collins Chocolate Stout. 

I typically have band practice on Tuesday nights (though not tonight, surprisingly) and I usually have two or three bottles from my "DBF" (Dedicated Beer Fridge) down in the basement, or from the beer cellar, especially during the fall and winter months when the beer is at its optimum cellar temperature.  I typically try to keep this limited to my "usual suspects," such as variety cases I purchase.  These tend to be beers I have already reviewed on  I am usually mocked for pouring these beers into plastic cups or (even worse) glass tumblers or shaker pints.  Tonight, I am enjoying a Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout. 

Another band practice night, which alternates with "hang out with brewslut on the couch" nights.  We will typically share a beer or two, or occasionally drink a bottle of wine.  I have fallen behind on my "home reviewing," unfortunately, but sometimes use this night to catch up on a review or two.

Thursday is a great beer day for me, because I always head over to Al's of Hampden prior to my weekly gig with The Think Tank at T. Brendan O'Reilly in Harrisburg.  I slam down one or two pints (usually two) as well as a grilled chicken sub with wing sauce and banana peppers.  I follow this up with one or two beers at O'Reilly's during our set, which lasts from 7pm to 11pm.  They have happy hour from 5pm to 7pm, so I can always grab a Troegs for around $2.25 before we play, which is sweet!  Nugget Nectar is on at the moment, so I am in heaven!

Friday and Saturday
Being a busy musician, I am typically playing shows on Friday and Saturday nights, and more times than not, beer is available.  When I drink for free, look out!  I will take full advantage of it, unless it's free Miller Lite and Yuengling Lager, in which case I will maybe have a Lager and just start a tab if they have decent beer on tap.  On rare weekends when I am not playing, brewslut and I (sometimes with fellow beer travelers) will visit local brewpubs, with our favorites being Selin's Grove, Bullfrog, Victory, Berwick, etc.  Basically, any time I don't have a show (or when I'm playing somewhere close to a brewpub or good beer bar), we will be somewhere drinking beer.

Most Sundays, I am prety run down.  Between working 45 hours a week at my job, playing drums on most days, and going to the gym five times a week, a guy's gotta rest, right?  Sundays are typically lazy days, or "Sillyhead Sundays" as we like to refer to them.  We also reserve Sundays for beer tastings with friends, and had a great one on Super Bowl Sunday, which featured some fantastic growlers including selections from Jackie O's, Weasel Boy and Hill Farmstead.  Occasionally, if I can muster up enough energy, brewslut and I will travel to Iron Hill Lancaster to take advantage of brewslut's mug club membership.  They always have some awesome fresh beer on tap, and the food is stellar.  Afterwards, we'll catch up on our TiVo viewing and fall asleep on the couch.  Then, on Monday morning, we get up and do it all over again!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Great beer in the Coal Region!

Berwick, PA has always been known for its power plant and high school football team.  A seemingly quiet little coal region town in NEPA, Berwick has never been a beer destination, unless you were looking for Genny Cream Ale or Yuengling.  That is, until now.  What began as a one-man operation in what seemed like a one-car garage, the aptly named One Guy Brewing Company (founded by an actual "Guy"... Guy Hagner) soon blossomed into Berwick Brewing Company and now boasts seven draught beers, amazing homemade pizzas (try the Steve-O Inferno!), a live entertainment annex, and a beautiful, authentic German Biergarten.  Wow!  These days, I find myself looking for any excuse I can to visit somewhere in the vicinity of Berwick just so I can stop by for one of Guy's fantastic brews, whether it be his hoppy Atomic Punk IPA, tasty Hondo Kellerbier or the rarely seen but absolutely delicious bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout (see below for Pleepleus enjoying one as much as Brewslut and I did on our last visit)!

Get off my Kool-Aid, Pleeps!
 Guy has a fondness for traditional German ales and lagers, and he has a knack for brewing them.  His flagship Berwick Lager is flavorful and sessionable, and at only $3.00 a pint, you can't go wrong knocking a few of these back or pairing with a pizza.  As for seasonals, Guy's got a bunch of solid rotating offerings throughout the year, including the beer that has the distinction of being the ONLY BEER MY MOM LIKES!  Yes indeed, while my mother doesn't share my love of beer (one could say that she doesn't even like it at all, and has probably had the equivalent of what I drink in a single day over the course of her 66 years on earth), she had no problem finishing a half pint of Peach Wheat during a visit about a year ago.  Now if that doesn't say something about how good Guy's beers are, I don't know what does!

Guy's solid line-up of beers available during our last visit.

Aside from the food and drink, the people here are great, too.  With a somewhat similar vibe to Selin's Grove Brewing Company, you won't find a bunch of TVs blaring sporting events, but rather you will find good people sharing stimulating, beer-centric conversation with light music playing in the background.  Also, the decor is quite eclectic yet comfortable, and creates an atmosphere that is conducive to good, old fashioned drinking!  When you visit Berwick Brewing Company, you feel like you are drinking in your parent's basement.  But then go outside to the Biergarten, and you are transported to Munich during Oktoberfest!

So, next time you find yourself in the area, do yourself a favor and head over to Berwick for some damn fine beer and pizza, as well as a great atmosphere for your imbibing pleasures.  Knoebel's Amusement Park and Bloomsburg University are both a stone's throw away from Berwick.  And if you're not nearby, then just jump in the nearest car, truck, scooter, RV, snowmobile or helicopter and get moving.  You won't be sorry!

Mmmm... Atomic Punk IPA.  Cheers!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The End of an Era... and the beginning of a new one!

I'm sure if you follow craft beer news in PA, then you have heard of the parting of brewer Terry Hawbaker from Williamsport's Bullfrog Brewery.  This news will perhaps come as a shock to many local craft beer enthusiasts (myself included), so I can't help but shed a tear, as Bullfrog was perhaps the first brewpub in PA that I truly came to love.  I remember having my first pint of Edgar IPA back when my band, herbie, used to play there regularly and I was just getting into craft beer. Aaah, the memories!

Brewslut and I hold Bullfrog in very high esteem (she's even a mugger there), and Terry is undoubtedly an integral part of Bullfrog's awesomeness.  We even chose to spend some time there on the last day of 2010, which coincidentally was brewslut's birthday (I won't tell you how old, though).  Terry has been knocking just about everything out of the park over the last year or so.  Some highlights have been Busted Lawnmower, HopGASM, Double Coffee Stout, Smoked Porter, and Deuane (the latter, a DIPA brewed in honor of my friend and beer guru, Deuane Hoffman).  And that list doesn't even include some of the stellar sour beers that were released in bottles, including El Rojo Diablo and the 2010 GABF bronze medal-winning The Jaspers!

Pleepleus and myself enjoying Master Blaster Imperial Stout.

While it is truly sad to see Terry leaving after several years with Bullfrog, it is equally as exciting to see him venture off into new territory, as he will be heading to the City of Brotherly Love to brew for a brand new establishment called The Grainery*, owned by the Fork & Barrel folks.   The Grainery won't exactly be a brewpub proper, but it will tentatively feature 24 taps, four of which will be dedicated to Terry's artisan beers.  He will also have an exclusive handpump, which is really exciting news.  What does this mean?  Well, you can probably expect lots of barrel aged brews, wild ales, and sours... you know, the stuff Terry is known for brewing!

With that said, what will the future have in store for Bullfrog?  Well, while Terry is finishing up his tenure, the search is on for a new brewer.  Mightly big shoes to fill, indeed.  Bullfrog has been one of my very favorite brewpubs in PA, and hopefully that won't change.  I wish them the very best in finding a successor worthy of Terry's crown. 

*Editor's Note: The name was later changed to Farmer's Cabinet.

Check out some reviews of my highest rated Bullfrog beers...
Barrel Aged Old Toad Barleywine
Smoked Porter
El Rojo Diablo

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

More craft beer for the Amish!

Well, it looks like Lancaster County's craft beer family tree is about to get a new branch!  Saint Boniface Craft Brewing Company will open its doors TONIGHT (Groundhog Day) at 100 N State Street, Suite 401,
Ephrata, PA.  Their current beer roster will feature three beers: a DIPA, an Imperial Stout and a Dubbel.  For now, they will have limited hours on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons, and will simply sell growler fills.  I hope to get there soon, as I live in close proximity to Ephrata, and it will also give me an excuse to swing by The Record Connection!

In other Lancaster County beer news, it looks like Spring House Brewing Company will open its doors at a new "Taproom" in 25 W. King Street, Lancaster, PA on Thursday, February 3.  You can check out pictures at their Facebook page... and let me tell, it is shaping up to be an awesome place at which to enjoy some serious imbibing!  With the new establishment also comes new, expanded hours of operation, which makes me very happy!  Mon-Wed-Thu. 4 to 10pm, Tue. 11am to 10pm, and Fri-Sat. 11am to Midnight.  They will be closed on Sundays.  Matt is also doing a 'Seven Gates of Hops' series, and rumor has it that a Sorachi Ace version will be available at the grand opening on Thursday.  Sounds tasty!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Troegs Splinter Tasting - 1/23/11

It was time.  Yes, it was time to break open the Troegs Splinter beers that have been aging in the cellar for quite a while.  In case you've been living in a cave and don't know what I'm talking about, in late 2009, Troegs Brewing Company announced the release of two barrel-aged beers, Splinter Red and Splinter Gold.  The former is a barrel-aged version of their cult classic holiday ale, The Mad Elf, while the latter is a barrel-aged, Brettamomyces-infused version of their Tripel, originally released as Scratch #3 in their Scratch series of experimental beers.  Troegs followed up the simultaneous release of Red and Gold with Splinter Blue, a version of their year-round DreamWeaver Wheat aged on sour cherries, and, most recently, Splinter Black, a barrel-aged Imperial Stout. 

 The impetus for cracking these bottles open began with an email from a beer friend, Craig (BA corby112), who was getting back in touch after a six-month hiatus from Beer, during which time he had missed the release of Blue, and hadn't been able to get any Red or Gold.  Sounds like a good reason for a tasting, right?  So, a group of us gathered at my house on Sunday 1/23 (coinciding with the Steelers victory over the Jets... BOOYEAH!) to enjoy a vertical tasting of the Splinter beers, as well as a few other choice nuggets from Craig, Dan and Deuane's collections.

Here are some of the other beers we enjoyed at the tasting!

The big surprise for me was how good Red got with a bit of age under its belt.  So good, that is was my favorite of the four.  It really had time to mellow out after about 14 months in the cellar, and the bourbon and vanilla really came to the forefront.  I was definitely pleasantly surprised, especially since I'd enjoyed Gold and Blue more than Red when I originally tasted it.  Go figure! 

Word on the street is that the next Spliner beer slated for release is Splinter Tan, which is apparently going to be another version of Mad Elf, but this time with wild yeast added.  However, there has been no release date announced as of yet.