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Friday, May 20, 2011

Weekend at the chalet

This past weekend marked a rare entire three days void of any band activities, so I took the opportunity to plan a little weekend getaway for Brewslut and me.  Back in the 70s, my family purchased an acre of land near Penn's Creek in Millmont, PA, about an hour west of my hometown of Shamokin, PA.  Back in the day, it was more of a family cottage-type vibe, with a couple of mobile homes on the property, a picnic shed, a bunk house for the kids, and a fire pit.  As the years went by, my uncle Harry decided to build a rather large chalet (a kind of wooden A-frame style dwelling) on the property.  I have always enjoyed visiting the "trailer," as I used to call it.  But ever since the chalet was erected, our outings to the "trailer" have become more like relaxing weekend getaways compared to the slightly more upscale camping excursions from days past.  I feel like I'm on vacation when I'm there.  Lucky for these two craft beer lovers, the chalet is situated in close proximity to Selin's Grove Brewing Co. and Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks.  This poses the question: "Do I really need an excuse to go the chalet?"

Me and a Drunk Puppy
We hit SGB on a rare Friday night, a little later than we typically visit the pub.  I was excited to try Steve and Heather's latest bourbon barrel-aged concoction, this time a version of their Mudpuppy Brown Ale.  With the bourbon barrel-aging also came a slight name revision - Drunk Puppy.  Of course, no visit to SGB for me is complete without at least one pint of their stellar IPA.  When it's on, you can always count on me pounding down at least one of these bad boys.  Upon my last perusal of BA's Top 100 beers in the world, I was ecstatic to find SGB's IPA sitting at #97!  I can't say enough about this complete gem of a brewpub.  If you've never been there, do yourself a favor and get into the nearest car and drive there NOW (unless you are reading this on a Monday or Tuesday, or at like 3:17am).  Check out my BA review of Drunk Puppy.  After snacking on a delicious local cheese plate and our beers, we headed up to the chalet for a relaxing evening and bottle of red wine. 

Mural outside Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks
On Saturday afternoon, we headed out to Rt. 45 for a quick 30-minute drive to Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks.  Nestled in the quaint little town of Millheim, Elk Creek is situated right on the main corner of Routes 45 and 445 at the only traffic light in town.  I had always enjoyed driving through this small town each time I traveled to and from Shamokin to State College, back in my collegiate days.  When I heard of a brewpub opening in Millheim a few years back, I was excited to finally have an excuse to visit Millheim.  And Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks is definitely reason enough to visit.  During this particular visit, I started with a Colyer Kolsch, which hadn't been on tap for about two years.  

 I was in the mood for something crisp and refreshing, and this lightly hopped ale did just the trick!  However, I was glad to see a new offering on the beer menu - an MFA, or Multi-Faceted Ale - called "Little Villeage," which turned out to be a big, robust, hoppy American Strong Ale weighing in at 7.5% ABV.  You can check out my BA review here.  I kept things hoppy this afternoon and opted for a short pour of Double Rainbow IPA, which is dry-hopped with generous amounts of Fuggles hops, which in my opinion are underrated in the kingdom of hops.  I typically gravitate to this beer during each of our visits to Elk Creek, as it is one of my favorite regular Elk Creek offerings.  

Elk Creek's Colyer Kolsch
Aside from the stellar beer, Elk Creek also serves up an amazing menu filled with local flair and plenty of vegetarian and even vegan offerings.  Their motto is "We buy local.  You eat fresh... and sustainable," and they ain't kidding!  Their produce is local and fresh, and they source many of their ingredients from sustainable area farms.  For example, they get vegetables from Tait Farm Community Harvest, breads from Gemelli Bakery in State College, and other natural, organic goods from Frankferd Farm Foods of western PA.  They buy as much seasonal produce from local farmers as possible.  They even bake all of their desserts on premises and serve Fair Trade organic coffee.  Brewslut and I both opted for the smoked tempeh sandwhich, which was absolutely delicious!  It is also worthy to note that we rarely order the same menu item.  The sandwich featured a generous portion of smoked tempeh with hummus, tofu mayo, pickled onions and a variety of sprouts, all on fresh sourdough bread, and served with house-made chips.  I am getting hungry just thinking about it!

Smoked tempeh sandwich with a side of house-made chips
After our delicious lunch at Elk Creek, we headed across the street to a local wine shop (aptly named The Wine Shop at Millheim), which carries a variety of selections from two local wineries - Shade Mountain and Brookmere.  I am familiar with Shade Mountain, as we have stopped in a few times, since their winery is on the way up to the chalet from Selinsgrove.  But we had not heard of Brookmere.  I was pleased to see a Cabernet Franc, which I set aside immediately, as it may very well be my favorite wine style.  Overall, our purchase of six bottles also included, among others, an oak-aged Chardonay and tart Cranberry wine that Brewslut enjoyed.

Next door was a brand new coffee shop that had opened only three months ago (to the day, we were told), so we decided to stop in to get two coffees to go.  However, upon entering the establishment, the ambiance grabbed ahold of me, beckoning me to pull up a chair (or, in this case, a sofa) and stay for a while!  The IngleBean Coffee House is a perfect addition to the quaint downtown area of Millheim, and, along with Elk Creek and The Wine Shop, create a trifecta of sorts for Brewslut and me, as we both love beer, wine and coffee.  The prices were very reasonable for the area, and the menu seemed quite extensive.  Some of the sandwiches sounded amazing, so we will definitely need to make plans to eat there next time.  

The back room is comfortable and set up like a living room in a cabin, with a cozy sofa, several chairs, end tables and a main coffee table.  There is plenty to read while sipping you coffee, or enjoy one of the various board games they have on their shelves.  Upstairs is an actual Inn, The Triple Creek Lodge, where you can rent one of three rooms if you're inclined to stay in the area for more than a few hours.  I really enjoyed our time spent here, and we will definitely make it a point to stop in when we visit Elk Creek.  Plus the coffee is great!

 On Sunday morning, we got up from bed, made breakfast and straightened up the chalet before heading to Berwick Brewing Company for a few beers prior to meeting some Team D(r)INK members at the brand new Turkey Hill Brewing Company Pub and Grille in Bloomsburg.  Now that more brewpubs have popped up in the area, we definitely have an excuse for taking the hour-long drive to Berwick from Annville.  

Enjoying a Foxy Stout at Berwick Brewing Co.
Head brewer Guy Hagner makes some great beers and there is always something stellar on tap.  Beer aside, no stop to Berwick Brewing is complete without the Steve-O Inferno pizza!  This deliciously spicy concoction is the brainchild of Steve-O, who is a jack-of-all-trades at Berwick.  In addition to coming up with the recipe for this famous pizza, he also helps with the brewing process and plays guitar in one of the house bands, Jack Squat.  In addition to the pizza and some pleasant conversation with some first-time visitors, I enjoyed a new low ABV dry Irish stout, Foxy Stout, as well as my one requisite Atomic Punk IPA, which was as good as ever.  Since I was driving, Brewslut opted for FOUR beers, albeit all half pours in lieu of full standard pint glasses.  Check out my BA review of Foxy Stout. After almost two hours at Berwick, we were ready to head over to the brand new Turkey Hill Brewpub and Grille in Bloomsburg to meet fellow Team D(r)INK members Deuane, Carolyn, Dan and Kristen. 

Turkey Hill's brewpub was a long time coming.  They debuted beers almost two years ago at the Selin's Grove Hops and Vines festival and was scheduled to open some time ago, but severe damage to their roof and building during a storm caused many delays.  Well, they have finally overcome all of the hurdles and are open for business for about the last month or so.  And let me tell you, they are here to stay!  Overall, I really enjoyed the vibe at Turkey Hill, with its rustic stone walls and dark, earthy decor.  The service was stellar, and our waitress was chipper and friendly without coming across as over-anxious or annoying.  

Turkey Hill's beer chalkboard
The beers were solid as well.  I had a half pour of the Journeyman IPA (named after a Jethro Tull tune!) and the Bark Dance Blonde Ale, which is a kolsch.  Feel free to check out my reviews for the IPA and Blonde, respectively.  In addition to the solid beers, the menu looked great and, while I only had the roasted red pepper hummus appetizer as my main meal, a lot of the people at our table ordered a seared tuna salad with wasabi-infused goat cheese that looked amazing!  I am looking forward to visiting this area more often since there are now two brewpubs in Bloomsburg (the other being Marley's), plus Berwick, Old Forge and Selin's Grove and River House all nearby.

Now that's a good looking six-pack!
 All in all, it was a fantastic weekend spent with beer, friends and, of course, Brewslut!  I look forward to a return trip to the chalet in the near future.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Leisurely Saturday Brewpubbing

This past Saturday was a rare day off for me from my hectic band schedule, so brewslut and I decided to head north to visit a few brewpubs before taking my mom out for an early Mother's Day dinner at Ghezzi's, just outside my hometown of Shamokin, PA in nearby Paxinos.  (Not much of a beer menu, by the way, but they have a great wine list and some solid food.)  We had wanted to take her to The Inn at Turkey Hill in Bloomsburg, but with Bloomsburg University's graduation, they were all booked up.  I was also anxious to check out the new brewpub at Turkey Hill, but alas it would have to wait until another time. 

Our first stop was our favorite, Selin's Grove, where we had a quick lunch and a beer.  I said to brewslut when we were leaving that it was probably our quickest visit to SGB ever.  I think we were there for about 45 minutes!  I opted for the BYO (Build Your Own) Sandwich, which turned out to be a hummus wrap with an assortment of veggies.  They also make some amazing soups, and this week was no exception - a Thai spiced coconut milk soup with Asian veggies and shrimp.  Yum!  Brewslut got her usual vegetarian chili and curry chicken salad salad.  No, I didn't stutter... it's a chicken salad SALAD.  Surprisingly, the tap selection was a little less than stellar during this particular visit, although the IPA was on, so I was happy.  Brewslut got the Snake Drive Stout, which is a dry Irish stout with a bold, robust roasty flavor.  We landed at an odd time, so were were able to get a seat at the coveted bar area, which has been a challenge on most of our recent visits, as this places seems to get busier with each visit.  Bobbi, our waitress, indicated that a Bourbon Barrel Aged Brown Ale would be coming on the hand pump very soon, perhaps as early as Wednesday, May 11th.  Looks like another trip is in order, especially since we missed out on the Owen's Russian Imperial Stout event last Friday, much to my disappointment.

Our next stop was River House, just across the river between Lewistown and Milton.  During our first visit there a few months back, I really enjoyed the Vanilla Latte Stout.  This time around, they didn't have it on, but they did have several other seasonals and rotating taps that were not on last time, including Nitro Blaster IPA (a nitro dispensed IPA) and a new pale ale called Hopscape.  I had both aforementioned beers as well as the Buggytown Red (an Irish Red), which I shared with brewslut.  She also opted for the Canal Porter.  We had a pleasant conversation with Ron, the bartender, and he informed me of a possible beer and music festival to be held in late July or early August.  I gave him a laundry list of band contact info for my various musical endeavors.  You can check out my reviews for these and other River House brews on my BA profile.  Click below for reviews of the beers I sampled on this particular visit.

Nitro Blaster IPA
Hopscale Pale Ale
Buggytown Red

We had wanted to hit Marley's and the brand new Inn at Turkey Hill as well, but we discovered that Bloomsburg University's graduation was happening, so we decided to avoid the crowds of parents and recent grads likely heading to both places in droves to celebrate their entrance into the real world.  We had planned on visiting Berwick Brewing Co. as well, but decided the drive was too far to make it back to Shamokin in time for dinner.

So, we made the short drive from Lewisburg to Danville and stopped in to Old Forge Brewing Co. for a quick "beer and a half".  Located right downtown on Mill Street, Old Forge is a relatively small brewpub that really packs a lot into a small space.  With that said, they do have an upstairs seating area and bar as well as an outside patio area (also upstairs) for additional seating.  I really like the decor at Old Forge.  Everything from their mug club mugs and serve ware to their tap handles were crafted by local artisans, giving the atmosphere a very local, DIY vibe.  I thought the carousel mug club display attached to the main bar was really unique and well-done.

During our hour-long visit, I enjoyed a goblet of Slightly Rood, a Belgian-style pale ale, as well as my favorite beer on their roster, Slack Tub Stout, which I shared with brewslut.  The Slack Tub is worth a visit to Old Forge alone.  It's not a monster Imperial Stout or anything like that.  Instead, it's a nice, low ABV dry Irish stout with a flavorful roasty malt character and touch of hop bitterness.  Their Petey's Porter is also solid, although it wasn't on tap during our visit.  Check out some of my reviews of Old Forge's beers below.

Slightly Rood (from this visit)
Slack Tub Stout (from a past visit)

Stay tuned for next episode, which will include a recap of recent trips to Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks, Turkey Hill Brewpub & Grille and much more!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pizza Boy Brewing Co.

Just a quick bit of local beer news for you all...

Pub Crawlin' has the official scoop on the new joint venture between Al's of Hampden and ex-McKenzie's brewer Scott Morrison, which will be known as Pizza Boy Brewing Co.  I don't want to steal any of Carolyn's thunder, so please check out the full story on her great beer blog site.  Cheers!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Beer News Tidbits

Spring House has a new Peanut Butter Stout available at the Taproom in Lancaster, PA.  Also, sign-up has already begun for the inaugural Spring House Mug Club, so be sure to ask for details at the Taproom if you are interested.  I know I am!  Finally, check out their new food menu and expanded hours on the web site.

Selin's Grove will have another bourbon barrel aged beer (most likely on one of the hand pulls)... this time, a Brown Ale, which should be available today (5/11/11).  Just make sure to save me some!  I might have to get up there again this weekend to get my fix. 

Iron Hill Lancaster will host its Hop Attack/Kryptonite Release Party on Friday, May 27, 2011 between 11:00 am and 8:00 pm.  The tap selection will feature "an onslaught of 10 hoppy beers from Iron Hill Lancaster."  Kryptonite will be tapped at 3:00 pm.  Also in Iron Hill news, brewmaster Paul Rutherford (who began his career with Iron Hill as a busboy) will be relocating from the Lancaster brewpub to the newer Chestnut Hill location in Philadelphia, PA.  The newest brewpub in Iron Hill's chain is scheduled to open some time in late 2011.

The brewpub at The Inn at Turkey Hill in Bloomsburg, PA finally opened within the last two weeks.  At present time, they have the following beers on tap: Barn Dance Blonde Ale, Epiphany Pale Ale, Bamboozled in Bruges Belgian Ale, Donny's Dubbel, Journeyman IPA and Lightstreet Porter. However, no information is listed on the official web site yet about the brewpub or its menu.
That's all for now.  Stay tuned for my weekend recap with photos from our recent jaunt to Selin's Grove, River House and Old Forge.  Cheers!

Monday, May 2, 2011

I fulfilled my goat quota for 2011!

For many people, spring is the season of rebirth, renewal and regrowth.  It embodies warmth, newness and natural beauty.  In Pennsylvania, spring produces colorful perennials, green grass and usually warm, temperate weather (when it isn't raining, of course).  Sunday, May 1 proved to be a perfect day to be outside; a good omen, as I was on my way to Phoenixville, PA's Sly Fox Brewing Company, host of arguably my very favorite of all annual beer festivals - The Bock Fest and Goat Races!

Thousands flock to the Goat Races!
 Held on the first Sunday of May each year in the parking lot of the brewpub, this festival attracts thousands of beer aficionados and goat fanatics alike (I fall proudly under both categories) to celebrate the festive spring season and the release of Sly Fox's annual Maibock beer.  The Maibock style is basically a Helles lager brewed to bock strength, therefore still as strong as traditional Bock, but lighter in color and with more hop presence.  Beer aside, nothing gets me excited for spring more than watching a bunch of goats race each other for little more than having a beer named in their honor.  OK, there are also bragging rights... even if the goat's handler reaps all of the benefits.   

Goat gridlock!!!
In addition to the goat races, a German menu is offered to complement what might be the largest offering of bock-style beers by any brewery in the United States at one time.  Brewmaster Brian O’Reilly and his crew produce a stellar lineup: Slacker Bock, Helles Bock, Instigator Doppelbock, two Eisbocks (Slacker and Instigator) and a Maibock. The day also celebrates the release of the Maibock, which is tapped immediately after the race and named in honor of the winner.  As always, the German band comprised of no members likely under the age of seventy-five was there, performing authentic German beer-drinking songs and priasing Sly Fox beer as "wonderbar!"  They also led in numerous "socials," whereby all participants chug their beer after chanting in unison the following phrase: "Ziggy Zaggy, Ziggy Zaggy!  Oye, Oye, Oye!!!"

The goat races are split into eight heats, whereby six or seven goats are pitted against each other in a mad dash to the finish line.  Then, each of the victors from the individual heats partakes in one final race to determine the winner.  While I typically like to show no favoritism, I do like to pick out a goat for each heat that either has a cool name (ie. Elvis, Oreo, Infected) or just looks cool... a hard feat, indeed, as I think ALL goats look pretty damn cool!

Goats of all breeds, shapes and sizes are entered into the race.  However, this year, around the fifth heat or so, there stood a cute little female goat named Peggy.  I was immediately drawn to her because she had the unusual distinction of having only three legs.  I thought to myself; there's no way that this poor little goat is going to win.
Peggy, the underdog!
I knew that Dax was a prime contender, having won the last two years in a row.  Unfortunately, Dax was greeted to a barage of boos due to his show-boating handler.  The NY Giants shirt didn't help either.  Still, how can you NOT root for a three-legged goat?!  Watching her intently, I could actually sense her determination at the starting line.  You could see it on her face.  She was in it to win!

Peggy and her handler, Colin

Now, anyone who knows me well, knows that, despite not being much of a sports fan, I have a soft spot for underdog sports movies.  Seabiscuit.  Remember the Titans.  A League of Their Own.  The Waterboy.  Major League.  Hell, even The Mighty Ducks.  To put it in perspective, I've seen Rocky probably twenty times in my life, and I cry at the end every time!  Well, if there ever was an underdog at the Sly Fox goat races, it was Peggy the three-legged goat.  I knew it was going to be an emotional race... for the goats, the handlers, and me!  In a major upset, Peggy beat out Dax in the final heat after Dax took a nasty spill in the final few paces of the race.  The crowd responded with uproarious applause!

Peggy's final strides toward the finish line!
After the race, Sly Fox tapped a fresh firkin of the "Peggy" Maibock, and attendees were able to fill their mugs for free (assuming one could get to the front of the line before they ran out).  I was lucky enough again this year to get almost a full mug of this tasty springtime brew.  It was a huge victory for Peggy, and I hope she races again next year.
Me, Peggy and Colin after Peggy's triumphant victory!

As I said before, this is an absolute must-attend event for me.  I'm there, rain or shine, in 90-degree heat or bitter cold.  It doesn't matter.  Pair up great beer with a bunch of goats running around, and I'm there.  If you've never been to the Sly Fox Bock Fest and Goat Races, do yourself a favor and make plans to attend next year's event.  I guarantee you will have a blast!