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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Philly Beer Week 2013

I am grateful to have a wife who loves craft beer. Given my terrible memory about things outside the realm of music (ie: setlists for concerts I have seen, or album track lists for bands I love), I am also fortunate enough that Philly Beer Week (PBW) coincides with my wedding anniversary, which serves as a welcome reminder each year! PBW has exploded over the last few years, getting so popular that a mobile app is now required for one to navigate the labyrinthine maze of events throughout the city. I had since entered the age of technology when Tröegs was kind enough to provide me with an iPhone upon hiring me, so I was able to download the app and peruse the hundreds of events happening just over the first weekend of PBW! Below is a recount of our weekend.

We arrived in Philadelphia on Friday night at around 8:30 p.m. and decided to head straight to Devil's Den for the much-anticipated and extremely popular annual Bella Vista Bash. When we arrived, the crowd seemed considerably less intimidating than the previous year's, but it was still a healthy amount of people. Bella Vista and Devil's Den always bring out the crème de la crème for this event, and this year was no different. We perused the lengthy tap list, and as usual, some of the really sought-after beers had already kicked, such as Cigar City Peach Humidor IPA. Regardless, there was plenty to be had, so I started with a Central Waters Peruvian Morning and Brewslut opted for Internezzo from, a green apple and wasabi sour ale Carton Brewing Company. My selection proved to be the winner, as Brewslut said her beer neither tasted like green apple nor wasabi. We ran into some friends from Philly, and they were gracious enough to share some of the Cigar City and Hill Farmstead/Dieu du Ciel collaboration beer called Friendship and Reunion (F&R). Thanks Bill and Gumper! I liked the F&R enough to order my own glass (surprisingly it had not yet kicked) and it was quite tasty. Brewslut enjoyed her Voodoo Grand Master, a sour version of Gran Met aged in Buffalo Trace barrels with Brett, which turned out to be her favorite of the three she had at Devil's Den. After Bill and Gumper departed, we ran into Dr. Justin and company as we were enjoying our final beers (me, an AleSmith IPA on cask and Brewslut, Bada Bing Cherry Porter by Coronado Brewing Company). After some Ffej of July discussion, we headed back to the Spade residence (our innkeepers for the weekend) to catch up over some rare beers.

After enjoying a Victory Prima Pils from Spade's kegerator, we broke into a few bottles. Up first was a Deschutes/Hair of the Dog collaborative beer from the "Conflux Series" called Collage. An American Strong Ale weighing in at over 11% ABV, this complex beer is a blend of Deschutes' The Dissident and The Stoic with HotD's Fred and Adam, then barrel aged in a variety of wooden vessels (Rye Whiskey, Cognac, Sherry, Pinot Noir, Bourbon, new American Oak, and new Oregon Oak... JESUS!). The result is, according to the makers of the beer, "an artistic collage of cask-aging alchemy." True dat!

Up next were two classic Russian River sour ales that were collecting dust in our beer cellar since our 10th Anniversary Trip to California back in 2010. Since Spade had recently discovered Russian River and a new found appreciation for sour beers, we decided that the time was finally right to crack open these vintages. Up first was Beatification Batch 003, followed by Temptation Batch 004. Everyone was in agreement that the Beatification was superior, although both were enjoyable. As only a casual fan of sour and wild ales, I found this one to be particularly amazing! I also enjoyed a tiny snifter of The Macallan (Mr. Peart's preferred libation) between beers.

Batch #003 is the shit! Holy sour notes, Batman!
We decided to hit nearby restaurant North 3rd for brunch with Spade and a work friend of his. I was excited, because Spade told me they were having a Founders Brewing Company brunch. Unfortunately, when we arrived, he had mistaken Founders for Southern Tier. Nevertheless, we had one of our favorite beers of the weekend during our fantastic brunch - Southern Tier "215" Saison, which was brewed especially for PBW 2013. A reference to the city's most recognized area code, "215" is an unfiltered, cloudy, citrus-forward Saison with a pleasant peppery finish. We followed this up with Southern Tier's Eurotrash Pilz, which we shared. While it was enjoyable, it had nothing on the Saison. Ultimately, everyone at the table ordered a "215" and it was unanimously voted a winner.

It's a Firkin Riot at Johnny Brenda's!
After a not-so-quick detour to the grand re-opening of Philadelphia Record Exchange (yes, I spent too much money on records AGAIN!), we swung by Johnny Brenda's for their annual "It's a Firkin Riot" event. The brand spankin' new Tröegs Scratch #97 had been recently tapped, so I opted for that. This is a session-strength IPA brewed with peppercorns, three varieties of rye malt, and lots of American hops. We brewed this in collaboration with Devils Backbone and The Church Brew Works to commemorate our collective GABF success in 2012. The goal was to be able to drink several of these in one setting, which definitely comes in handy when one is attending a week-long (or in our case, a weekend-long) beer event. Brewslut decided to pass on a firkin pint since Dock Street Johnny Berliner Weisse was on tap and she is a sucker for this particular style, which is a refreshing, low ABV German wheat beer with tart notes.

Up next was a visit to one of my favorites - Barcade! I can't stress enough how awesome this place is. After a pair of games of Ms. Pac-Man and Spy Hunter played while sipping on the über-delicious New Holland Barrel-Aged Night Tripper, I enjoyed a fantastic turkey waffle panini sandwich served with a side of maple syrup. Even better was the fact that this "lunch special" also included a bag of chips and any beer under $6! The sandwich alone was $8 on the menu, so it was like getting a beer for $2. I chose a pint of Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, which complemented the sandwich nicely. While I spent a dollar in quarters on the games, Brewslut quietly checked in her beers on Untappd: Yards BBA Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale and Victory Liberty Bell Ringer, the latter of which was brewed especially for this year's PBW festivities.

Barrel-Aged Night Tripper. This is my "I like it" face!
After Barcade, it was off to another Fishtown favorite - Kraftwork. Unfortunately, this was a quick one-and-done stop, so I made it count. Upon perusing the draft menu, I was excited to see the amazing Firestone Walker Black IPA, Wookey Jack, on the list! I first had this beer during last year's trip to San Diego, and it is easily one of the best Black IPAs on the market. Brewslut enjoyed another fine offering from CA, Port Brewing's Summer Pale Ale.

Chillin' with Chewie.
I'm doing my best impression of a Wookiee (use your imagination)!
We ended the evening at Spade's neighborhood watering hole, Prohibition Taproom, where we had dinner with the Spades and our friend, Shinsk (one of the Bunker Hill gang from Shamokin). This place is an overlooked gem in the Philly beer scene. On this particular evening, they were hosting a superhero/villain comic book-esque event. They even had a costume contest and handed out X-Men and Game of Thrones (or was it Walking Dead... not sure, don't watch that shit) comics to all customers. The tap list was pretty damn amazing, too! Good thing we were closing out the night here, because there was a lot of high octane stuff on the draft menu. I started with one of my perennial favorites, Dorado from Ballast Point. They were serving it on nitro, which I'd never had before. Unfortunately, it lost a lot of its crisp, juicy citrus goodness in lieu of a softer, rounder mouthfeel from the nitro pour. It was still enjoyable, however. Up next on the agenda was Dark Horse Bourbon Barrel-aged Plead the Fifth, which may have been my beer of the weekend. I seem to recall having the standard version of this excellent Imperial Stout, but this BBA version was exceptional! I probably could have drank this for the rest of the evening, but I don't think my liver would have appreciated that very much. I finished up with Hill Farmstead's flagship Pale Ale, Edward, which proved a tasty counterpart to my delicious fried chicken dinner. In addition to the Dorado and Plead the Fifth, Brewslut also enjoyed an AleSmith IPA. All in all, it was a fun night, and I got to geek out about beer and metal with some industry peeps.

For the after-party, we all retired to Spade's house for a Prima Pils nightcap while listening to the new 5.1 surround sound version of Rush's 2112 album. We had assumed control, indeed!

Enjoying a nice break... an Imperial Biscotti Break, that is!
The following day, we made our way over to Old City for the 6th Annual Coffee Beer Brunch at Eulogy Belgian Tavern. We attend this event every year, and they always have a great line-up of coffee beers on tap. This year, I went with the one-two punch of Mikkeller's Beer Hop Breakfast and Evil Twin's Imperial Biscotti Break. The former is strangely similar to Victory Storm King, only more expensive. The latter I'd actually never had before, even though we purchased a bottle during our trip to Charleston, SC. Brewslut started with Elysian's Split Shot Espresso Milk Stout, then followed it up with a generous goblet of Ballast Point's incredible Victory at Sea, after which she assisted me with my tulip of Imperial Biscotti Break. For brunch, we both ordered the mushroom and goat cheese omelet with caramelized onions and a side of potatoes. Yum!

Behold the Hammer of Glory!
At around 2 p.m., we headed over to Kite & Key for the Throwdown in Franklintown, which pitted Yards, Victory, Allagash and Dogfish Head against each other in a variety of Olympic-style events including keg races and tug-of-war. Tröegs' very own Nick Johnson served as the referee for the afternoon. We ordered some nachos and some beers. I started with the Brotherly Suds 4 collaboration, listed as a citrusy Saison/Farmhouse-style ale. It sounded delicious, but I wasn't too thrilled with this year's version. However, I followed up this disappointing beer with the fantastic Liberty Bell Ringer from Victory, which Brewslut enjoyed earlier at Barcade. Brewslut was in the mood for something light and tart, so she went with a Dogfish Head Festina Peche, but then followed it up with a heavy hitter - Allagash James Bean, an 11% ABV barrel-aged Tripel brewed with coffee beans. We both agreed it was both tasty and cleverly named as well.

Brewslut man-handles the HOG!
After Kite & Key, we headed back to Casa Spade for a quick nap before we made our way over to Standard Tap for the Gold Standard tap takeover event featuring Tröegs, Devils Backtone, and The Church Brew Works. This event was put together to celebrate the success of the three breweries at GABF last October (a total of six gold, three silver, and six bronze medals were captured collectively by the three breweries). Tröegs also hosted brewers Matt Moninger (Church) and Jason Oliver (DB) to brew a commemorative Scratch Beer, a session-strength Black Rye IPA, especially for PBW. (NOTE: I discussed this beer earlier during our visit to Johnny Brenda's Firkin Riot event.) We met up with Dan, Kristen, Nate, and Charles at Standard Tap. It wasn't too crowded, so we were able to snag two tables in the upstairs area. After enjoying the rare Tröegs Scratch #94 - Apricot IPA (it kicked in about a day at the brewery), I decided to end on a simple note with two Devil's Backbone offerings. The first was its gold-medal winning Vienna Lager, which was an excellent representation of the style. I hadn't had a Vienna in quite some time, and I must say that this hit the spot, especially after drinking so many hoppy IPAs and huge barrel-aged beers for the majority of the weekend. The second was its Schwartz Beer, a German-style Schwarzbier, or dark lager. This beer was also very well done. Brewslut continued to nurse her Church Brew Works Coconut Stout, as she had to drive us back to Annville. We wrapped up the evening with a nice conversation with Matt Hasson, one of Tröegs' sales reps for the Philly market, and Jason from Devils Backbone.

Thankfully, we were able to avoid some of the events that turned into shit-shows and settled on some more low-key events. PBW might be starting to get too big, but it is still an enjoyable event and a good excuse to bum around the city for a weekend. We'll be back next year to celebrate our 15th anniversary!