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Friday, September 9, 2016

Labor Day Weekend Excursions

I love long weekends. They serve as an excuse to travel... not that we need one. Brewslut and I enjoyed a few beer adventures over Labor Day weekend, so I thought I'd interject a short intermission between Portland posts. Readers of the Pour Travelers (all 5 of you) know about the Chalet, our little getaway along Penn's Creek. It's in close proximity to Selin's Grove Brewing Co. (aka "The Pub" for us locals), an added bonus when we visit. Almost no trip to the Chalet is complete without a stop at The Pub on Friday evening, which is a mere 20 miles or so away from our destination. With Saison de Peche going on tap recently, it wasn't even open to debate. Of course, we NEVER argue about going to The Pub. EVER!

First Peche.
I was itchin' to get my peach on (or should I say peche?) because after an impromptu trip to The Pub the previous Sunday, I had come to the decision that Saison de Peche is my favorite beer ever. This year's batch, in particular, was off the charts good. I can't say enough about this beer. Anyone who knows me knows of my devotion to The Pub and my respect for Steve and Heather, the proprietors and brewers (although Steve primarily does the brewing these days). The only brewery I can think of that is on-par with The Pub when it comes to fruit beers is New Glarus. I had a feeling that the peche was going to be special this year after my brief infatuation with the Phoenix Kriek this season. At any rate, if you enjoy peaches this time of year, then this beer is probably right up your alley. Despite its confusing name, Saison de Peche (meaning literally "season of the peach") is NOT a Belgian farmhouse style. It's a thirst-quenching, lip-smacking, sweet and slightly tart treat that comes smack dab between the end of summer and beginning of autumn, and heralds the return of my very favorite time of year at The Pub. After the Kriek kicks, I know the Peche will be available soon, followed by their amazing Pumpkin Ale and Hop Nouveau, the latter a pale ale brewed with hops grown on premises as well as donated by friends and fans.

Fourth Peche.
 After starting with a Peche, I decided to get an IPA to go with my dinner (a Thai soup made with shrimp, spices, and special coconut milk acquired from Baltimore, according to Steve) and vegetable lasagna. As much as I love the IPA, I took one sip and knew I should have just gotten another Peche. Yeah, that's how good it is! Don't worry though, because I made up for it by having three more. For dessert, I split a Roasted Oat Stout mixed with cold brew coffee on nitro. Oh yeah... this is another new offering at The Pub. Steve got on the cold brew train early, I'm happy to report. We'd encountered a few places around the country (Cleveland, Raleigh/Durham, and San Diego) that offered cold brew coffee dispensed via nitro. I think the first place we had it was at Modern Times in San Diego, and we fell in love. If you're a coffee lover, try some the next time you visit The Pub, or blend it with your favorite dark or malt-forward beer. Aside from the aforementioned stout, we tried it with the Scottish Ale, Cream Ale, and Dubbel. The stout is our favorite. And of course The Pub is always great for a late-night chat with the locals, so we ended up closing the place down despite actually getting there about half an hour earlier than we usually do.

After sleeping in on Saturday morning, we had plans to head north to Williamsport. But first, we decided to hit a pair of new places to us in nearby Lewisburg. First up was West Branch Brewing Company. Situated in the renowned Bull Run Tap House on Market Street (the main drag), this place is a favorite among Bucknell students and craft beer fans alike. With 47 taps (mostly local and regional craft) and a solid bottle selection, Bull Run is also the de facto tap room for West Branch. During our particular visit, I was happy to see five house brews on tap. Coincidentally, their sampler flight consisted of five 5oz. pours. How convenient for us!

Sampler flight and growlers at West Branch (courtesy of Google Images)
We decided to share a flight to test the waters. Here's the run down: Blonde, Saison, Rye-IT, Hopcore Pale Ale, and Black Magic Porter. Not bad overall. While the Blonde and Saison were middle-of-the-road offerings, I quite enjoyed the finish of the Rye-IT and the Hopcore was pleasant as well. The Porter wasn't bad either, although what it lacked in body it made up for in roasty flavor. Overall, this place shows some promise. The Bull Run is a huge place with plenty of seating, a huge wrap-around bar, pool tables, games, and enough beer on tap to keep things interesting. We'll be back the next time we're spending some time at the Chalet.

Beer and cider offerings at Civil War Cider
Right across the street, we noticed the tasting room Civil War Cider. We were familiar with this local cidery because The Pub had been carrying their ciders on tap regularly for about a year. While we'd yet to sample any of their libations, we figured we might as well stop in and check it out. Inside, the tasting room was quite small with a colonial flair: dimly lit with lots of exposed brick, old weathered wood, and some cool antiques including a working cash register from the early 1900s. There was a decent amount of people inside for a random afternoon, but we found two open stools at the small bar. Aside from having three house ciders on tap, they also boasted a few craft beer taps (I was pleased to notice Troegs JavaHead Stout was one of them) and a selection of local bottles from Troegs, Stoudt's, Appalachian, and some others.

Civil War's tap tower looked like an old tree stump
We got small samplers of each of the three ciders. The first was Brew Cannon, a dry cider that was simple yet pleasant with a crisp apple bite. The second offering, Maple Sap Tap, featured local maple syrup from the PA Grand Canyon and Union County apples. I found this to be quite sweet with a hint of molasses and maple flavor. The third, Iron Horse, was a coffee-infused cider with a slightly tawny appearance. As a coffee lover, this sounded interesting and it didn't disappoint. Although it was 9.5% ABV, we decided to split a jar of this one. (They served their ciders in squatty mason jars, which I thought was cool.)

After hitting these two new places, it was time to venture onward to Billtown. Home of the Little League World Series, Williamsport, PA is also home to one of my favorite brewpubs in PA, and one of the first places I came to love the IPA style. Bullfrog Brewery first came onto my radar when my band, herbie, used to play there back around 2004. I had just started getting into craft beer, and playing at breweries and brewpubs really allowed me to dive into trying different styles, as I typically drank for free. Once I met Deuane, we then became friends with Terry Hawbaker, who was brewing at Bullfrog at the time. We liked Bullfrog so much that Brewslut joined the pub club, which gave us lifetime access to cool events like Halloween and Christmas parties. Although we were sad to see Terry eventually move on (even though he landed much closer to home at Pizza Boy), his successor, Nate, hasn't missed a beat and has been churning out unique concoctions including smoked wheat-based fruit beers, crazy sours, and ciders. He's also kept Edgar IPA alive and well, one of my all-time favorite IPAs!

The carved wood tap handles at Bullfrog have long been some of my favorites!
One of the perks of the pub club membership is the ability to enjoy a complimentary pour of any beer "new to you." We spotted a coffee stout on the chalkboard (one of our favorite styles) that Brewslut hadn't tried before. I had recently heard about a tasty Smoked Berry Wheat Farmhouse Ale from a friend, so I was delighted to see it on tap during our visit. Yes please! This puppy was brewed with 100% German beechwood-smoked malt and oak smoked wheat, then fermented with a house ale yeast blend and finished with raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and aronia berries. Google to the rescue! Aronia berries, also known as "choke berries," are cultivated as ornamental plants but are also edible despite being quite astringent, causing the mouth to pucker. I enjoy Bullfrog's smoked offerings quite a bit, and I found this one to be subtly complex with a hint of smoked cedar-like wood, plenty of sweet and tart berry flavor, and traces of wheat bread dough.

Pleeps was digging the Smoked Berry Wheat!
I had a few sips of the Coffee Stout and it was quite tasty. This latest version features locally roasted coffee from Alabaster Coffee Roaster in Williamsport. With a slightly roasty flavor and chocolately coffee note, this stout boasted a smooth, creamy texture and clean finish. Next time we're in town, we'll make it a point to swing in for an iced coffee. Up next, we split a full pour of the new Lemon Party IPL (India Pale Lager), brewed with organic lemons. Wow! This hoppy lager was packed with zesty lemon tartness and citrusy hops. Overall, the balance of tartness and hop bitterness was quite amazing, as neither ever became too overpowering. The aroma was fantastic... no whiff of fake lemon Pledge, just pure zesty goodness amid citrus and tropical fruit. I finished up our visit with a half pour of Edgar IPA, a must-have every time we visit. The bartender mentioned they recently added Galaxy hops to the mix, and while the flavor was pretty close to what I recall, there was a distinct hint of passionfruit, which is a hallmark of the Galaxy hop variety. This is a world-class IPA!

After Bullfrog, we always head down the road to Newberry (although technically part of Williamsport) to Riepstine's Pub. Owner and brewer Bart Rieppel has been part of the local craft beer scene for many years, getting his start at Abbey Wright Brewing in nearby Duboistown. It was there that I first had his Alpha Deuce IPA, and I knew he was legit. After a few years at Abbey Wright, he moved on to River House Brewing in Milton, bringing along with him not only Alpha Deuce but also his exceptional Vanilla Latte Stout, which is still one of the best stouts brewed in PA I've ever had. After a short stint there, Bart realized that he needed to be his own boss. The rest is history.

Riepstine's Pub exterior shot (courtesy of Google Images)
Bart has been churning out some fantastic beers over the last two years. In addition to the aforementioned beers, some standouts have been Reindeer Fuel (a Mad Elf-esque Belgian strong ale brewed with tons of fresh raspberries), Blackberry Brandy Barrel-Aged Tripel, and Tropical Barbie, a blond ale brewed with four varieties of fruit. We were happy to see the return of the latter during this particular trip, and Brewslut enjoyed this one quite a bit. This time around, it was heavier on the strawberry versus last time when pineapple was the dominant fruit. Speaking of strawberry, it also happened to be Firkin Saturday, and Bart was pouring a "Chocolate Dipped Strawberry" version of his Midsummer Night's Cream Ale. Aside from being somewhat thin, the flavor was pure cocoa nib and strawberry bliss. After finishing the firkin pint, I moved on to the new-to-me Sun Kissed, a tasty Pale Ale brewed with an assortment of citrusy hops and orange juice. I dig! And since Vanilla Latte Stout was also on tap, we HAD to get a pour of that. I sneaked a few sips from Brewslut when she wasn't looking... and so did Pleeps! Before we left, we picked up a very limited bomber of a Rum Barrel Aged Tripel. If it's anywhere near as good as the Blackberry Brandy Tripel, it was worth the shekels. Plus our friend Carolyn is on the label (she's one of the original mug club members)!

By now, it was time to start heading back to the Chalet. On the way home, we swung by Rusty Rail in Mifflinburg, which is just a few miles from home base. Since they've been cranking out Sidetrack Series beers (similar to Tröegs Scratch Beer Series), they always have one or two different beers on tap when we visit. This time, they had Sidetrack #5 - Grapefruit IPA and #6 - Chocolate Hazelnut Porter. We ordered one of each and sat outside by the awesome fireplace. Both beers were a marked improvement from our last visit. I'm all about revisiting a brewery several times to track their improvement and see how they are growing (or devolving) as a brewery. We were glad to enjoy both of these beers outside on the patio under a lovely starry night. 

I'm gonna lay you down by the FIRE!
After our quick stop at Rusty Rail, it was time to retire to the Chalet for the evening. The next day, we were off to State College. When we visit the area, we typically venture to either Williamsport or State College, but seldom both. Fortunately, it was a long holiday weekend, so we were able to fit in both! We've been going to Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks since they first opened in 2007 (I can't believe it's been almost a decade)! This place is a true gem. Aside from solid beers across the board, they also have a beer engine (and they usually offer some fantastic British style bitters), tasty local farm to table fare, and extremely reasonable prices. We always make it a point to stop in on our way to State College. Unfortunately it was a Sunday, and IngleBean, the coffee shop just down the street, was closed. No second coffee for us today. At any rate, we headed into Elk Creek and bellied up to the bar.

Our view from our seats at the bar at Elk Creek.
Shortly after we sat down, we bumped into our friend Huck, who we know from "The Pub." He joined us and we conversed over a glass of the brand new (aptly named) Elk Creek IPA. This was another solid offering, and I was happy to see another IPA on tap. This was was more of an American style with slight herbal, floral and citrus notes. Huck mentioned it was Krick Fest weekend in the area, and we were tempted to postpone our drive to State College to check it out, but I had Zeno's on the mind. We stuck around Elk Creek to share a glass of our favorite year-round offering, Poe Paddy Porter.

Soon, we were off to Happy Valley. First stop, Happy Valley Brewing Company. I must admit these guys have been knocking stuff out of the park lately. We've been there a handful of times since they opened and have routinely been impressed, save for a clunker of a beer here or there. The brewery is situated in an old converted barn, which makes sense as their tap handles are topped with weathervanes and most of their beer labels feature farm animals. As with most breweries, they have around six year-round beers available and a handful of seasonals and limited beers. This time around, I went with a pint of Summer Camp, an Imperial Citrus Wheat as they call it. Basically, it was a citrus-forward IPA brewed with wheat. I had this once before, but damn was this beer tasty! Brewslut opted for the Scream, a pumpkin ale. After consulting our Untappd beer history, we realized we also had this during a previous visit. We decided this would be a one-and-done visit so we could get downtown to Zeno's.

Tap handles at Happy Valley.
Aside from being the coolest beer bar in State College (one of the best in PA), they also have the most memorable bathroom I've yet to encounter. Never mind all the great graffiti (er, poetry!) on the walls, but it also has such a distinct smell that slaps you in the face as soon as you enter. I liken it to taking a whiff of an uber-hopped DIPA reeking of Amarillo hops (you know, the cat piss one), except for, you know, the hop aroma. I always find some new, entertaining reading material adorning the walls in the bathroom at Zeno's. Lucky for me, each visit is met with multiple trips to the bathroom, most likely caused by drinking too much while we're there!



Bathroom Literature 101 at Zeno's.
I always have a good time here and usually end up talking to some rando or one of the staff. This time, I hit the jackpot because not only did we enjoy some good chatter with the bartender, lo and behold I ran into a raisin cake in the bathroom. When I came out, I mentioned to Brewslut that I'd just rocked a piss next to a guy who "looked exactly like Joe Manganiello." Her face lit up with a mixture of both intrigue and disbelief. When he walked out, she said I was full of shit. Regardless, this guy was a trip. I won't go into details because you just had to be there. I will say that he was quite inebriated and tried to order a "half Jameson and half Rumplemintz." Dear God!

Funny story aside, we were pleased to see Goose Island 2015 Bourbon County Stout on tap. At only $8 for a 10oz. pour, we thought this was reasonable. I ordered one. Brewslut made the mistake of getting a Stone Americano Stout instead. Not to say it's a bad beer, but Bourbon County Stout it ain't. She had no qualms sharing some of mine, though. Hey, that's what marriage is all about, right? (Inside joke alert: Especially if you're a frequent visitor of TJ's: A Private Club.) Speaking of sharing, we decided to split a pint of the tasty Zeno's Rye, a beer brewed especially for them by Otto's.

Pleeps can't stop Joe'kin around!
I suppose this is a good segue, because our next stop was, in fact, Otto's. We almost skipped it this time around after our lengthy stay at Zeno's. However, Otto's has been releasing special cork & cage series beers over the last several months. At around $10 a pop for a 750mL bottle, these are great to share at the brewery (they are only available for on-premises consumption). They usually have a few different beers in stock, and they all sound really interesting on paper. We've had a few now, and they've mostly been hit or miss. Some have been fantastic; others, not so much. Still, we appreciate the experimentation and the fact that these are very reasonably priced. This time, we opted for a beer called Joe'kin. This sucker is brewed with real roasted pumpkins, caramelized brown sugar, Madagascar vanilla, pumpkin pie spices, lactose, and three types of coffee. You'd think that this would be a dark, menacing beer but it's a wheat-based ale that pours amber-orange and was highly effervescent. Overall, not a bad release and it was interesting to mix pumpkin with coffee. If this would have had a porter or stout base and less spice, it would have been a homerun! There was also another cork & cage beer available called Neo (based on Neopolitan ice cream flavors chocolate, vanilla and strawberry that sounded awesome) but it would have to wait for another time.

So it was back to the Chalet for a few late-night beers and some couch time, followed by a good night's sleep. Since Selin's Grove was closed on Monday (m'wah!), we skated down Rt. 11/15 South to Al's of Hampden for some Labor Day libations. I don't visit as often as I'd like, but each time I do, there are a few new beers on tap that sound tasty. I went with Stay Handsome, a new IPA brewed with peaches and hibiscus. This one was particularly delicious and left a ton of lacing all around the glass (see pic below).


In addition to about 25 house beer at any one time, Al's is known for his unparalleled tap selection in the area, boasting 101 different beers on draught, nitro, and cask. They've also become what might as well be called Tired Hands' West Shore location, because Al has been featuring anywhere from 4 to 8 Tired Hands beers on tap at any given time. Since I make it to Tired Hands even less than Al's, I always make it a point to try a new beer if I hadn't already had it. On this day, I sampled Hoi Oligoi, a cloudy IPA brewed with spelt and rye and hopped with Cascade, Hallertau Blanc and Columbus. I followed this up with Confrontation of the Unconscious, a barrel-aged saison. One of Jean's fortes is brewing complex farmhouse-style ales, and this one was no exception. This one featured a blend of a fresh, citrusy Saison base with a 1-year aged red wine barrel fermented "red" Saison. Delicious! 

Pleeps' Confrontation of the Unconscious
With an extra day of drinking, it was time for a much-needed rest. Stay tuned for more scenes from Portlandia. We're about halfway through our adventure. Thanks for reading. Until next time...



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