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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Centre of the (PA) universe

January 2012 proved to be a slow time for my band-related endeavors, so we made a few weekend getaways, the first being a trip up north to good old Mehoopany, PA to visit our friends Bruce and Carrie.  Two weeks after that (or a fortnight for our British readers), we made another trip to the chalet in Millmont, PA, which seemed a fine time to hit some of our favorite brewpubs (Selin's Grove and Elk Creek), make a stop at a rarely visited place (Otto's) and try a new one on for size (Gamble Mill).  (Editor's Note: If you are new to The Pour Travelers, you might want to check out last year's "Weekend at the chalet" blog.)

Anyone who knows me knows that I preach the gospel of Captain Selin.  Selin's Grove may very well be the best place in PA (if not the entire USA!) to drink beer... at least for this beer enthusiast!  A quick stop on Friday evening for dinner and beers proved to be fine and dandy, just like any other stop at this goldmine.  I was pleased to see that the new Galaxy IPA was still flowing, and was surprised to find that a Whiskey Barrel-aged Wee Heavy was on one of the beer engines!  I had one of each, and both were top notch, especially the Wee Heavy.  Steve has been experimenting with barrel aging for about two years now, and this is definitely his masterpiece thus far.  Smooth and exceptionally drinkable for such a big beer (I'd imaging this sucker weight in at no less than 9%), it only got more enjoyable with each passing sip.  The Galaxy IPA (a single hopped IPA utilizing a relatively new hop varietal known as "Galaxy" hops) also proved an enjoyable quaff.  Brewslut opted for... big surprise... the Framboise, a tart raspberry beer that has attained legendary status amongst local beer aficionados.  After dinner and drinks, we made our way to the chalet, which was a quick thirty minute drive from Selin's Grove.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, we made a brief stop at the Union County Sportsmen's Club, a place I'd absolutely loved visiting when I was a kid.  You can stroll around the grounds and enjoy an abundance of PA wildlife, including black bear (in hibernation this time of year, unfortunately), bobcats, deer, and a variety of birds such as peacocks, grouse, turkeys and more.  You can even feed the huge trout by purchasing fish food for a quarter at one of the vending machines.  This was just as fun to do at age thirty-seven as it was at age six!  After a fun half an hour or so, we got back in the car and made our way to Millheim for lunch at Elk Creek Aleworks.

Elk Creek is definitely near the top of my list for favorite brewpubs in PA, not only for the fine beer but also for the fantastic food.  We try to make it a point to stop in during lunch, when they typically have a nice selection of specials, including soups, salads and sandwiches.  I opted for a pint of the Anniversary Ale, brewed in celebration of Elk Creek's fourth anniversary.  Brewslut returned to her perennial favorite - the Poe Paddy Porter.  We recalled our first visit to the brewpub, only weeks after Elk Creek opened its doors.  After that initial visit, I knew the place had tons of potential.  For lunch, we both enjoyed one of the specials - a delicious black bean burrito with guacamole, cheese and tomatillo salsa and a side of their house-made chips.  It is always a treat to visit Elk Creek, and I look forward to each visit with much enthusiasm because unfortunately we don't get there as often as we'd like.

I'm hungry looking at this!
Gamble Mill was a place that had eluded us in our travels thus far, despite us having been a stone's throw away numerous times in the past.  Located in the quaint Centre County town of Bellefonte, Gamble Mill had been a fairly renowned restaurant for decades, but they didn't begin brewing craft beer until October 2010.  (In talking to Tim, owner of Elk Creek Aleworks, I found that his first job in the restaurant business was at Gamble Mill, some twenty years prior.)  They had been on my radar for quite some time, though I never seemed to have the opportunity to visit.  That changed on this particular weekend, however, when I made an executive decision to swing by after our visit to Elk Creek.

We arrived a little after 5pm, which proved a good omen, because they are closed between 2:30pm and 5pm between lunch and dinner.  The greeter was just unlocking the door when we arrived.  Needless to say, we obtained seating at the bar with ease, as only two other people were waiting to get in when we arrived.  Overall, the pub section has a very colonial feel, with lots of exposed brick and stone, small tables and earthy decor.  The bar was broken into two separate sections, and we chose to sit near the back of the establishment.  After a half hour or so, the place started to fill up, and we actually had a great conversation with a young, relatively new craft beer convert who was new to the Bellefonte area, and also visiting Gamble Mill for the first time.  We talked about our beer travels and our mutual love for West Coast IPAs.  Our bartender was friendly and chatty as well.  All in all, it was a pleasant inaugural visit to Gamble Mill.  

Inside Gamble Mill's dining room.
After visiting Gamble Mill, we made the short drive over to State College to swing by Otto's for a quick one.  I was hoping that they still had the Bourbon Barrel-aged Jolly Roger RIS on hand pump, but alas it was not in the cards for this evening (although Brewslut was lucky enough to try it on a recent visit to her cousin's new home in State College).  However, the standard Jolly Roger was on cask, and believe it or not, I'd never had it before.  So this was another first for me.  It was a Saturday evening, so it was quite busy, but we managed to seize two seats at the bar.  We ended up having a fun conversation with a couple who apparently had a rare night away from their two young children.  The guy was already about four deep into the Double D DIPA, and was finishing a Slab Cabin afterwards (though he most likely couldn't taste the Slab Cabin after the shellacking of his palate at the hands of the Double D).  We had an enjoyable conversation about beer, heavy metal music, and even one of my favorite things to talk about - Rush!  After enjoying our goblet of Jolly Roger, we departed Happy Valley and headed back to the chalet.  Well, not exactly.  We make a quick stop by our friend (and uber beer freak) Kramer's new summer home - Penn's Creek Campground.  Yup, he bought an entire 12-acre campground right across the creek from the familiar Camp Karoondinha, where my brother and cousins used to frequent for Boy Scout outings.  So, after hanging out for about an hour or so, we headed back to the chalet after a fairly long day of imbibing.

On Sunday after an experimental pancake breakfast, we lounged around at the chalet for a bit, then headed back for a second visit to Selin's Grove, making a weekend Selin's Grove sandwich, I suppose.  Brewslut and I enjoyed a good old-fashioned game of Scrabble over a few beers.  I had to go with the Barrel-aged Wee Heavy again, because it was just so damn good on Friday night.  In addition, I also had a Priestley Pale Ale on cask, which was delicious.

While there isn't much deviation from visit to visit, we enjoy getting away for the weekend at the chalet, where the fireplace is warm and there is always good beer nearby.

Growlin' at the Moon!

A few years ago (probably at the zenith of my BA activity), I got involved in a growler exchange BIF (Beer It Forward) called "Growlin' at the Moon."  The premise of this particular BIF was to gather a geographically diverse group of fellow BAs and have each participant send a growler of fresh beer to another participant from a different state.  The ultimate goal is to share fresh beer with someone who wouldn't otherwise be able to acquire said beer unless he or she drove to the state (or in many cases, the actual brewery!) in which the beer was brewed.  Pretty cool idea, eh?

The other cool thing about this growler exchange is that each cycle follows the phases of the moon.   The cycle begins at the start of the moon cycle, and each participant has until the end of that cycle (or the beginning of the next moon cycle) to purchase, package and ship the growler to his or her "target".  It really is a lot of fun, and you never know when your growler will land on your doorstep, or where from where it will be traveling. 

So I recently decided to re-enlist in Growlin' at the Moon after a short hiatus in "beer trading," and I was pleased to find a box from Illinois sitting on my doorstep last Thursday afternoon!  I shared the growler (Bear Claw Wheat Wine from Flossmoor Station, brewed with maple syrup and Weihenstephan yeast) with Brewslut, Dan and Kristen on Super Bowl Sunday, and it was quite delicious.  I won't bore you with the details of the beer, but if you are interested, you can check out my BA review by clicking here.

In addition to sending a growler, it is also customary to include a few "extras," such as bottles, glassware or other brewery swag.  I was delighted to find two 22oz. bombers from Half Acre Brewing - Big Hug Imperial Stout and Double Dare IPA, both of which I've never had before.  Additionally, there was a 12oz. bottle of Three Floyd's Zombie Dust (an amazing Pale Ale that Brewslut brought back after her last trek to Great Taste of the Midwest), a tiny bottle of a homebrewed Barrel-aged Stout (hysterically named "Cupping the Bals") and a Flossmoor Station pint glass.  Wow!  A very nice haul, indeed!

As for my target, I sent a growler of Selin's Grove's Stealth Tripel as well as a bottle of Troegenator and Philadelphia Brewing Co. Joe Coffee Porter.  I'm looking forward to the next cycle, and will report on what I send as well as what I receive.  Cheers!