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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Where the hell is Cornwall?!

Well, if you reside in Central PA, you may want to inquire, because the Blue Bird Inn is perhaps Lebanon County's best-kept beer hideaway. 

Boasting one of the most impressive decks in the area, the Blue Bird recently did a complete make-over of its bar and inside dining area, complete with high beamed ceilings, exposed brick, hardwood floors, ample bar seating, and an awesome fireplace that is inviting during the winter months.  The ceiling fans are also quite unique and work in conveyer-belt-like fashion as they keep the bar area cool during warmer months. 

What's even better about the Blue Bird is its newely beefed-up tap selection, which jumped from eight handles to TWENTY, and the recent addition of a beer engine means an additional selection on cask.  Brewslut and I typically frequent on a Tuesday night, when all draught craft beer pints are only $3.00 (up slightly from $2.75, which they promoted for a looooong time).  Still, $3.00 for a pint of Nugget Nectar or Smuttynose IPA?  On our recent visit this past Tuesday evening, I was pleased to see the tap list expanding beyond the standard offerings.  While they still keep a few light offerings and imports on regular rotation, they consistently update at least twelve of the taps with good local, regional and national craft selections.  In addition to the two aforementioned beers, I was delighted to see Southern Tier IPA, ABC Espresso Stout, Victory Prima Pils and Hop Devil (the latter on cask), Stoudt's Carnival Kolsch, Bell's Oberon, St. Bonafice ESB, Otter Creek Spring Bock, and a few others.  Not a bad line-up, indeed! 

With daily food and drink specials (including house-infused vodkas and cocktails) and a varied menu, we'll keep coming back.  Hopefully they will keep getting more and more adventurous with the tap line-up, which certainly won't scare us away! 

For more information and photos, check out

Friday, April 6, 2012

A weekend even Zappa would be proud of!

The weekend of March 23 proved to be the perfect time to get away for a trip to one of the best beer cities in the nation - Philadelphia.  Lucky for us, Philly is only but a short hour-and-a-half drive from Annville (pending any unforeseen nightmarish traffic patterns on the Schuylkill Expressway - definitely not a rare occurrence, especially on a Friday evening).  Equally lucky for us, we made it into the city unscathed by perils of urban traffic.  This bodes well for us and the upcoming weekend activities.  A good omen, indeed!

The reason for our visit was two-fold.  First, one of my best and oldest friends, Matt, is finally taking the plunge and getting married later this month, and this was the weekend of his bachelor party.  Secondly, since I had no gigs, Brewslut tagged along, and we made it a long weekend filled with beer, including visits to some of our most loved beer destinations as well as some new favorites that I'm sure we will visit again sooner than later.  To quote one of my favorite musicians of all time, Frank Zappa: "I'm only interested in two things, and that's Titties and Beer."

You know what I mean?

We arrived at Matt's apartment at 8:30pm, and Brewslut dropped me off for an evening of debauchery, and she headed back to the hotel to enjoy some TV and a bottle of Kasteel Rogue.  I was surprised to find that my good buddy Chu, who was in charge of the beer for the evening, used his better judgement and selected a keg of Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale.  Additionally, I had a growler of the brand spankin' new Troegs Scratch 60 in tow, a Spring Fest Lager that was pretty tasty.  Actually, I found myself drinking more of the Yards, although I almost single-handedly polished off the growler solo.  Hey, its a session beer!  All drinking aside, it would be ungentlemanly of me to go into more detail as to what went on at the aforementioned bachelor party.  Let's just say that a good time was had by all, especially the groom-to-be!

The Last Soupie
 After an impromptu lunch at a great local Thai restaurant, day two of the bachelor party extravaganza continued.  Wait a minute!  When did this become a multi-day event?  When I got married back in 1999, I had one lone evening of drunken shenanigans.  At any rate, we needed to fill up before our hour-long workout with Matt's personal trainer, Sgt. Nate, a retired Army drill sergeant.  This was actually a pleasant deviation from the typical weekend beer jaunt, as both Brewslut and I are avid gym-goers and also work with our own personal trainer.  Needless to say, we got our asses kicked over the next hour.  All I can say is this: If I ever do another burpee again, it will be too soon for me!

The guys (and Brewslut) with Sgt. Nate
After a quick shower back at the hotel, we were ready to begin the "beer" portion of the trip (although I probably drank enough beer for an entire weekend on Friday night alone)!  Our first stop was the much-anticipated Barcade, which recently opened in the Fishtown section of the city.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep and profound love of classic 80's video games.  When I first heard of this amazing concept (craft beer and video games), I thought, "Man, if they just played Rush songs all the time, I'd never leave!"  I definitely could have spent many hours here, as they had a veritable cornucopia of games from my childhood that I loved and pumped full of quarters in my younger days: Spy Hunter, Paperboy, Gauntlet II, Track & Field, Frogger, Golden Axe and many more.  Best of all, the games are still only a quarter!  The beer selection was extremely heavy on Victory selections, as they had a tap takeover event the previous night.  So unfortunately they didn't have the selection I was hoping for.  Still, I was able to try a new Victory beer - a chocolate lager on nitro!  I must admit it sounded weird at first, but it was delicious.  I also had a Headwaters Pale Ale, which has recently become one of my favorite go-to session beers.  It's got a nice citrusy hop bite for a straight-up pale ale.  Brewslut was a good sport while she read her kindle and enjoyed her beer while the 10-year-old in me took over for an hour or so.

Our next stop was another Fishtown favorite - Memphis Taproom.  Unfortunately, it was almost elbow to asshole when we entered, but we quickly snagged a corner table in the bar area.  Since we'd eaten there on a previous visit, we knew the food was stellar, so we made plans to get dinner here.  I opted for a vegan Shepherd's Pie (something I miss since becoming red meat-free), while Brewslut chose an apple salad.  Beer-wise, I chose another session beer, this time a cask conditioned bitter from England called Bluebird bitter.  It was fine, but didn't wow me.  Brewslut went for the delicious Lost Abbey Deliverance, a blend of Brandy Barrel Angel's Share and Bourbon Barrel Serpent's Stout.  Hot damn!  This was one amazing beer!

After our visit at Memphis Taproom, we decided to swing by a place we hadn't visited before.  Kraftwork is a modern beer bar also in the Fishtown district that may very well be my favorite beer bar in the city... and that's only after one visit!  We grabbed two seats at the bar, which was actually a slightly lower than usual bar in the shape of a squared off letter "U".  The decor at Kraftwork is modern with an industrial flair.  Exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and metal tools posed as artwork decorated the establishment.  The tap selection was varied and well thought out, with just about every style of American craft beer represented.  The beer menu was laid out well and easy to read, with name, style, ABV, prices, etc. listed.  The service was superb.  Both of the bartenders on duty were extremely friendly and attentive.

For our first beer, we both opted for Russian River Pliny the Elder, a favorite DIPA amongst all hopheads.  Afterwards, we selected a flight of 5-oz. pours that included North Coast Old Rasputin on nitro, Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout, Darkhorse Blackbier and the Three Floyds/Mikkeller collaboration Boogoop.  I can't give this place enough praise.  This will be a must-visit on all future trips to Philly.

A quick stop to The Foodery was up next, and I picked up a mixed six-pack from a well-stocked selection at this fantastic but extremely cramped bottle shop.  I was happy to find a bomber of Great Divide's excellent Espresso Oak Aged Yeti, as well as Maine Beer Company's Peeper Ale (a favorite pale ale of mine) and a few other 12oz. bottles that I haven't tried yet.

Our final stop of the evening was Dock Street, one of our favorite brewpubs in the city, not only for their fine beer, but also for their amazing wood fired pizzas.  Brewslut and I shared a small vegan pie, topped with an assortment of veggies and tofu.  For our beer selections, I went for my old Dock Street standby, Rye IPA and Brewslut chose the Prince Myshkin's Russian Imperial Stout.  The vegan pie really hit the spot, and it was a good way to end a long day of imbibing!

After a good night's sleep, we awoke on Sunday morning and checked out of the hotel.  First on the agenda was to hit up Cafe Lift for breakfast.  We first visited Cafe Lift with Matt and Morgan during a recent visit to Philly, and we liked it so much that we wanted to go back.  With a flair for fresh, unique specials and a varied menu that includes several vegetarian options, Cafe Lift is worth a stop just for the coffee and turkey bacon!  Plus, they've got a hip European vibe and an ample waiting area (the latter of which is nice because they tend to get quite busy on the weekends). 

First up on the drinking activities for the day was to hit up The Farmer's Cabinet in Center City.  With a penchant for rare beers from Europe and pre-Prohibition cocktails, as well as a gourmet menu, The Farmer's Cabinet is also new home of Terry Hawbaker's beers.  While the atmosphere is indeed quite awesome, its Terry's beers that keep me coming back.  This is a must-stop for us when we visit Philly.  On this particular occasion, we enjoyed a line-up of beers inspired by Joy Division songs.  I must admit that I never got into any of the pre-Goth 80's alternative bands (such as Joy Division, The Cure, The Smiths, etc.), so I don't know much about the songs after which there beers were named.  Brewslut and I each sampled 5-oz. pours of all four beers.  First up was Exercise One, a Grisette brewed with peppercorns and Citra hops.  This was pretty damn tasty, but the peppercorns were overshadowed by the citrus character of the complaints here, though.  Second on the bill was New Dawn Fades, a dark Saison with lemongrass and peppercorns.  This was quite a diverse and complex brew.  Terry is know for brewing some exceptional Saisons, and this one is no exception.  Up next was Heart and Soul, a Farmhouse pale ale brewed with chamomile and citrus peel.  Think orange tea.  The fourth and final beer was No Love Lost, a Farmhouse IPA (yeah... that's what I said) brewed with a Saison yeast.  I must admit that this was a pretty damn delicious beer with an assertive piney, citrusy hop character and plenty of dark roast, not to mention the earthiness of the yeast.  Another complex gem from Terry's brain.  Next time, we'll be sure to hit up the new American craft beer-focused establishment owned by the same folks called The Boiler Maker.  And its just around the corner from The Farmer's Cabinet.

Afterwards, we took a short walk to Nodding Head Brewing Co. for lunch and a beer before our trip back home.  We both opted for the interesting-sounding Tasman, a low ABV pale ale brewed with organic Pacific Gem hops from New Zealand.  I have enjoyed many beers brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops (most notable Alpine's Nelson), a hop variety indigenous to New Zealand, so I was anxious to try this beer.  The hops imparted a berry-like sweetness that was odd at first but eventually grew on me.  Unfortunately, Brewslut didn't respond favorably and therefore took a while for her to deplete the contents of her glass.  Difference of opinions aside, we both enjoyed our lunch selections: her, the Moroccan Mussels and Frites, and me an interesting take on Huevos Rancheros, a brunch special that was not a regular menu item.  We also shared the hummus of the day, which was an olive Tapenade.  The first time we ever had hummus was at Nodding Head, so we always try to squeeze in a portion when we visit.  Our meals were tasty and quite filling, leaving no more room for beer, unfortunately.  Which brings us to the end of another trek to Philadelphia. 

All in all, this was a perfect weekend for me: beer, food, video games, nudity and a little bit of fitness on the side!