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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Celebrity Status

Podcasts are like slightly more high-tech versions of blogs. I've had the pleasure of doing a handful of these over the last few years through Tröegs and a couple centered around some of my bands. However, I've never been asked to appear on one based on my own merit as a - for lack of a better term - local celebrity.

With that said, check out my recent appearance on the new craft beer-centric podcast, Operation Shutdown. For its ninth episode, we discuss (among other things) working at Tröegs, my love for Selin's Grove, my Rush tribute band Solar Federation, Ffej of July, goats, beer traveling, and this very blog itself, The Pour Travelers.

Thanks to Bill and Ed for being cool hosts. I look forward to doing another episode soon (maybe to talk about Imminent Liquidation)!

You can stream the audio or download it by clicking HERE. Enjoy!

Brewery in my backyard!

For the longest time, I had wished for a small brewery to open in Annville, PA. As most people know, both Brewslut and I hail from Shamokin, PA. However, we've called Annville (our adopted town) "home" since 2000. Over the years, every time I'd see an interesting building in town come up for sale on the market, I'd say, "That would make a great spot for a brewery!" Years passed and Annville remained a college town bereft of its own little brewery.

Until now, that is!

Flying very low under the radar is the recently established Rotunda Brewing Company. Owned by the same group of three brothers that run the Batdorf Restaurant in town, RBC started off as a small bottle and "mix a six" shop situated a few doors down from the restaurant on West Main Street. A while back, they began brewing in earnest on a tiny 1-barrel system, making its beers available at the Batdorf. I decided to go out on a limb and try a pint of the Annville IPA (the only house beer on tap at the time). It sure sounded great on paper: an unfiltered NE style IPA with Citra, Mosaic and Galaxy. And you know what? It wasn't bad! To be honest, I really wasn't expecting much.

Rotunda Brewing Company tap handles.

Fast forward a few months, and Brewslut and I decided to head down to the Batdorf for Trivia Night. I was surprised to see these four RBC offerings on tap:

  • Annville IPA - I was told that this is out-selling ALL other beers on tap at the Batdorf... and they have a pretty decent selection of locals, regionals, and nationals. 
  • Squirm - Sweet potato ale aged on vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, and ghost peppers
  • Steubenfest - a Märzen, or Oktoberfest style, lager
  • Left My Wallet in El Dorado - an IPA brewed with oats as well as Lemon Drop, Zeus and El Dorado hops
I must admit that I was intrigued by Squirm because of its unusual combination of ingredients, but I was cautious to try it due to its use of ghost peppers. I've had some chili pepper beers in the past that have... well, let's just say that they have caused some future discomfort in the posterior region. Lucky for us, an older couple was sitting next to us at the bar and became adopted allies for our trivia team. They ordered a sampler flight of the aforementioned four beers and only took about a sip of each, then graciously offered them to Brewslut and I. The Annville IPA I'd had before, so I let Brewslut polish that one off. The Fest and El Dorado IPA were decent attempts that were neither memorable nor horrendous. However, the Squirm was pretty damn amazing! 

I was surprised to see a brewery employing a 1-barrel system execute a beer with these ingredients (especially the ghost pepper) with such finesse. The end result was a well-balanced, high ABV ale that concealed the alcohol heat really well. The ghost pepper character was spot-on and played nicely with the other ingredients, especially the vanilla, which produced a sweet, cooling effect. To top it off, they floated a few mini-marshmallows on top for some added aesthetics. Overall, I was pretty bowled over with this beer. I told my Team D(r)INK buddy (who was competing against us at a nearby table) about it, and he decided to try a pour. He too was quite impressed. 

Full pour of Squirm (courtesy of Untappd gallery)
I bumped into the manager of the bottle shop when we were there, and he informed me that they may be dropping the bottle shop and bringing in a 7-barrel brewhouse to ramp up production. I was pretty stoked to hear that, as I think they have some potential to make some interesting stuff. I will say, however, that the draft prices have gone up considerably over the last two years, and the house beers are a bit pricey, in my opinion. Still, if their house IPA is their top selling draft beer, then more power to 'em! So it looks like Rotunda Brewing Company is poised for some exciting times. I'm anxious to stop back in soon to see what they're up to. I see they currently have a Double Black IPA on tap called Chewbacca (perhaps a nod to Firestone Walker's Wookey Jack) that I'd like to try. Next time you're cruising through Annville on Rt. 422, pop in for a quick beer and check out what's brewing!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Fairweather Fall Frolicking & Fun Fermented Festivities

Having grown up in Shamokin, the Bloomsburg Fair was always a highly anticipated event for me. I was never much of a "ride guy" (especially the sketchy rides at carnivals and state fairs), but I loved the vendors, food, and games... in that particular order. I could find some sweet pins or patches for donning the names of my favorite heavy metal bands for my jean jacket, or maybe even a cool studded wristband, leather wallet with chain attachment, or some other piece of flair I used to think was cool. Who am I kidding? I still think these items are cool. Metal is a lifestyle. You either abandon it completely, or it engulfs you for life. I fall under the latter category. As for the food, I definitely had my favorites: Benton Cider Mill, St. Mary's potato cakes, and many others. Between scarfing down hundreds of calories of comfort foods, I would try my luck at winning glassware or - even better - goldfish! I once won so many goldfish that I traded them in for a super cool "fish house" so I had somewhere to keep all of my fish. Aaaah, the memories.

These days, I'm more concerned with checking out the livestock exhibits and connecting on some cosmic level with a Nubian goat or miniature donkey. I must admit that the animals are the main reason I enjoy going to the Fair in my older years, although the food is a close second. Since there's no beer (except of the root and birch varieties) available at the Fair, I won't bore you with a detailed account of our day at the Fair. Instead, here are some pics I snapped throughout the day (mostly of animals) for your enjoyment.

Little webbed-footed friends outside the Rabbit Exhibit.

How now?
Alpacas look like they're from the swingin' 60s!

We saved the best for last... GOATS!!!

Obligatory beer content: Hops are part of the agriculture competition!

We never go anywhere without first scoping the area for beer destinations. Fortunately for us, we were staying at the Chalet, so we know the area all too well. Backtracking to Friday evening, we landed at Selin's Grove around a quarter to nine, and I was bummed to find that Saison de Peche (my favorite beer) had a little frowny face sign covering its intricately drawn name on the chalkboard. For those of you who have never been to the Pub, the little frowny face means that the beer has kicked but will return soon. "Soon" means whenever Steve (the owner) is around the change out the keg. Unfortunately, he wasn't around, so no Peche for us that night. Oh well. It's not like they don't make a bunch of stellar beers. Sadly, the Whole Hop IPA was also off, and I must admit I was craving something green and hoppy. Plan C. I ordered a Shade Mountain Stout (back after a recent hiatus in favor of the newer Roasted Oat Stout) with cold brew coffee. I love blending darker beers at the Pub with this amazing cold brew, which is dispensed alongside all of the beers and ciders via a nitro tap. I followed up with a Market Street Fest, a variation on the Oktoberfest, or Märzen, theme. I was surprised to learn that I'd never checked this beer in on Untappd. New check-in for me, even though I've had it numerous times in the past. I finished the night with an 8oz. pour of my Kryptonite - Stealth Triple. Every time I end our visit with one of these high octane suckers, Brewslut has to drive home. She didn't have to this time, as I only imbibed a small amount. Still, this beer is aptly named "Stealth," as it can really sneak up on you like a ninja sneaks up on Hellen Keller.

Shade Mountain Stout with cold brew coffee!

Back at the Chalet on Friday night, we shared a can of The Alchemist's Focal Banger, graciously donated to us by Al (Kominski) by way of "Lawyer Steve," one of our many acquaintances from the Pub. He stopped in to see Al after a recent trip to Vermont, and he had plenty of beer in tow. Lucky for us, Brewslut was working and able to procure a can of this hoppy treat (as well as one you'll read about a little later).

Fast forward to Saturday after the Fair. We made it out of the fairgrounds just as it had started to rain (albeit a light mist rather than the downpour they were expecting) and were on our way to nearby Turkey Hill Brewing Company. I'd heard they were doing some good stuff in the form of sours and barrel-aged beers lately, so I was eager to swing by and check out what they've been up to since our last visit. I'd been a fan since our initial visit, not long after they first opened to the public.

Taps and chalkboard at Turkey Hill Brewing Co.

For my first selection, I went with my tried-and-true favorite - Revelation Pale Ale. However, this particular version was cask conditioned and dry-hopped with Citra. It went down way too quickly and I found myself still thirsty. I also had a few swigs of Brewslut's Berliner with Raspberry from Turkey Hill's new "Abandoned Sour Series." It appears that Turkey Hill is kicking things up a notch and dabbling in sours and other interesting styles. I noticed a variety of cork & cage 750mL bottles for sale in the reception area - everything from barrel-aged beers to blended sours - so it seems like they are doing a fair amount of experimentation, which I always appreciate.

Pleeps guarding our Berliner with Raspberry.

We decided to have another round and followed up our first selections with two tasty beers new to us: Mango-Habanero Pilsner and Urban Abbey Pumpkin Lager. Both of these were very well done. The Pilsner was sweet and fruity up front with a moderate amount of heat in the finish. The crispness of the malt helped bolster the sweetness a bit, which is a good thing because this flavor combination is all about balance. This combo is picking up steam and becoming quite popular among craft breweries. It almost seems like the next big trend after the Gose explosion of the last few years. I guess we'll have to wait and see. The Urban Abbey was also quite tasty. Pumpkin beers can be hit or miss for me. More often than not, it depends on the spice combination. I tend to prefer cinnamon-forward pumpkin beers versus ones heavy on clove or nutmeg. This one had a dominant cinnamon flavor but it wasn't over the top. Brown sugar sweetness mingled with the piquant cinnamon, ginger and other pie spices nicely, and I like the fact that they used a Märzen style as the base beer rather than an amber ale or lighter base. Hints of molasses and caramel came through in the malt, which thickened it up a bit, giving it the subtle chewiness I crave in pumpkin beers. Overall, it was nicely done.

We ate conservatively at the Fair, so we were starting to get a bit peckish. I spotted fish tacos on the menu so I didn't need to look any further. Brewslut ordered a Thai noodle bowl with chicken. This small meal held us over for a while and allowed us to keep the beer flowing, as we were on to our next stop.

I'd been following Old Forge Brewing Company in Danville since well before they were open for business. They were probably the first brewery to open in such close proximity to my hometown of Shamokin (although Selin's Grove is pretty close too). I remember seeing photos of their brewing equipment being delivered, and I was excited to have a place close to home when we visited our families. It was also easier to keep track of all the new PA brewery and brewpub openings back then. Nowadays, there are multiple openings every month instead of one every six months or so. At any rate, I love the philosophy of Old Forge (even though their beers have been hit or miss for me since the get-go). I love the fact that their approach to brewing beer echoes everything from the food they serve to the decor of the brewpub. All of the furniture at their location (including the bar itself) was handcrafted by a local wood and metal worker, while the tap handles, dinnerware, mugs, and sampler trays were hand-made by local potters and artisans. Now that's pretty damn cool!

Mug Club carousel at Old Forge.

We were meeting my cousin (who happens to live nearby) for a few beers. I decided to go outside of my comfort zone for a pair of beer styles I rarely order. Of course, I don't really see these styles on beer menus too often. Despite them having one of my favorites on nitro, Slack Tub Stout, I opted instead for 10oz. pours of the Ryetious Roggenbier as well as a Rauchbier. For those not familiar with the styles, a Roggenbier is a traditional German style made with a grain bill containing about half malted barley and equal portions of rye and wheat. The spiciness of the rye stands out in both the aroma and the flavor, giving a slight pumpernickel bread quality to the beer. Rauchbier, or "smoked beer," is exactly that - a beer brewed with smoked malt. This gives the beer a wood-smoked, beef jerky, or even a bacon flavor, which some people just don't care for in beer (Brewslut included). I, on the other hand, love them! This one was pretty solid, too. We were enjoying good conversation, so I opted for a third choice, this time Overbite IPA poured off the beer engine. I've had this one before a few times and it definitely benefits from cask conditioning to smooth out its rough edges.

By this time, it was getting pretty late and we decided we had to get to the Mifflinburg Oktoberfest for at least one beer. We'd attended a few times in the last couple of years and have always enjoyed the festivities. They serve a pretty solid roster of authentic German beers, the only recent deviation is the locally brewed Oktoberfest from the neighboring Rusty Rail just down the street. By this time of day, the rain had subsided and, although the field was pretty muddy in spots, our boots made it in and out of the tent unscathed. The food vendors were just shutting down for the evening, but we were able to score some free potato dumpling soup and tater tots. We made sure to reciprocate with a hefty tip. With our official Mifflinburg Oktoberfest mugs in tow, we filled them with Köstritzer Schwarzbier (me) and Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier Naturtrüb (Brewslut). We've had both beer several times in the past, and I didn't remember liking the Schwarzbier as much as did on this particular occasion. I wasn't even going to get it, but by the time we arrived it was late and they were sold out of a few selections. It went well with a bag of roasted peanuts Carolyn's friend gave us when they left.

Speaking of Carolyn (Deuane's wife), she's the reason why we know about this event in the first place. Although Mifflinburg is just a few miles from the Chalet, she grew up in nearby New Berlin, a small town just down the road. Mifflinburg and Lewisburg are considered the closest "big cities" in that particular neck of the woods. This year, she was entertaining some friends from Vermont who were staying in town at - of all places - the Scarlet D, which was just down the street. I didn't even know they had rooms for rent! After Oktoberfest wound down, they decided to convene at the VFW for a drink, while Brewslut and I headed over to Rusty Rail.

Pleeps clilli' with some NOktoberfest!

When we arrived, I noticed the considerable lack of crowd typically inhabiting the place. Plus it was a Saturday night, so I was even more surprised. There was plenty of room at the bar, so we grabbed a pair of seats and perused the beer menu. I spotted some new Side Track beers on tap (Rusty Rail's limited, small batch series) as well as a new seasonal called NOktoberfest, which Brewslut ordered. I went with Side Track #7 - Mixed Berry Imperial Stout. We found both of these beers to be vast improvements on the beers we sampled during our last visit. The NOktoberfest was a Märzen hybrid brewed with rye malt and blood orange juice. Kind of an odd combination, I know, but it seemed to work. The Side Track #7, which I suspect is a variation of its year-round Wolf King Imperial Stout, was also quite good and featured a blend of blackberries, blueberries, and boysenberries. On the insistence of Pleeps, we also decided to try our luck with an odd-sounding beer. Sidetrack #9 - Imperial Peanut Butter Hefeweizen was brewed with "peanut butter flavoring" and Jarrylo hops, a variety with which I wasn't familiar. (Upon further investigation, I learned that this variety imparts notes of pear, orange, fruity spice, and banana.) Optimistically, I was thinking this could be like a peanut butter-dipped banana (since most Hefes have a distinct ripe banana note as a result of the type of yeast strain used to brew the style). Instead, what we got was more like roasted peanuts with a hint of spice. It was definitely more dry that I was anticipating, and the roasty, nutty quality really overpowered everything else. Still, it was an interesting experiment I was happy to try. It actually wasn't that bad, just rather odd.

We were going to head back to the Chalet, but then Brewslut noticed Carolyn & Co. checked in at the Scarlet D just down the street. We'd stopped in the Scarlet D a few times over the years, mostly because it used to be a cool spot our families took us on occasion to have dinner or get roasted peanuts. (Aside from my family owning land in Millmont since I was a toddler, Brewslut's family also had a summer cottage in the area.) Almost every bar in PA has Yuengling Lager on tap. As a matter of fact, the flagship offering of America's Oldest Brewery has become synonymous with "lager" in Pennsyltucky. But what about the under-appreciated (and far superior)  Lord Chesterfield Ale? The Scarlet D has the distinction of having this (as well as Yuengling Porter) on tap! We enjoyed each of these at the Scarlet D to cap off a fun evening. We arrived just after last call, but the bartender was kind enough to allow us one beer each. Plus Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" was blaring out of the speakers, which was a huge plus for me! Apparently, the bartender likes to listen to "House of Hair," a syndicated radio show featuring hard rock and heavy metal from the 1980s. \m/

After our fun, impromptu visit to the Scarlet D, we headed back to the Chalet and enjoyed another treat from the Alchemist, Heady Topper. If you haven't heard of this beer, then I'm surprised you are reading a blog about craft beer. This is one of the most hyped-up beers in the pantheon of craft beer, and although its shelf life is shorter than that of an already ripened avocado, when this beer is in its sweet spot, it's tough to beat. This particular can was indeed right on the nuggets.

On Sunday morning, we had breakfast and packed everything up to return home. More times than not when visiting the Chalet, we do what I call a "Selin's Grove sandwich," meaning we stop in on Friday evening and again on Sunday afternoon. I guess this time we also had some dessert, because we'd planned on hitting up a few additional destinations on the way home.

Back at Selin's Grove, I was excited to see two open seats at the bar among a group of regulars. I was also stoked to see that not only had Whole Hop IPA returned, but Wild Peach was now on tap! I had both during our visit. While the Wild Peach is indeed an amazing beer, I actually prefer the standard version. Still, it was great to see this rare treat back on tap for a limited time. I also noticed that Hop Nouveau was coming out soon, as the chalkboard advertised a firkin event the following Friday. I wish the firkin tappings occurred later than 3 p.m. so we could attend them. Oh well. I'll get my fix of this sweet elixir brewed with locally grown hops during our next visit. The arrival of this beer also means that Pumpkin Ale is right around the corner! September through November is definitely my favorite time of year to visit the Pub. At the time of writing this, we'd visited the last 5 weeks in a row. The proof is in the pudding.

Wild Peach... what a surprise!

After yet another enjoyable visit to the Pub, we were off to Al's of Hampden to try some new Pizza Boy beers. Brewslut has the luxury of trying new beers more often than me because she works there once a week. So I always put in a request to visit when we're in close proximity. Al recently installed some new TVs to be used in conjunction with his rotating beer menu. In addition to all of the draft, nitro and cask selections, the new screens include all bottle releases available for on-premise consumption.

Al's new wall of TVs. That's a lot of beer!

First up was a new Saison brewed by Al (with help from the new Assistant Brewer, Roger) called The Hell That is My Life. Brewslut had it recently and mentioned it was awesome, so I had to see what all the fuss was about. This was a solid straight-up Saison with lots of zesty citrus fruit, some earthy herbs, and a hint of barnyard funk. I also had the Wet Shore, a wet-hopped version of their flagship West Shore IPA (recently re-named Hampden IPA due to a small entanglement with a West Coast brewery that will remain anonymous). I'd had this about two years ago when it first came out, and this year's version was killer! If you like fresh hop IPAs, this one is juicy and insanely drinkable. Check it out before it's gone. Up next, I settled on Washed Up, a bacon-washed beer. Brewslut opted for On the Fritz, an India Pale Lager. While I don't eat pork anymore, my one caveat is that I will still drink beers brewed with bacon (or any meat, really). I asked Al what the base beer was for this, and he said it was an Oatmeal Porter, so I was sold. Man, this beer was awesome! It featured just the right amount of smoky meatiness backed by a luscious mouthfeel and robust chocolately, roasty malt character. I had some of Brewslut's On the Fritz as well (another one new to me) and it was crisp and hoppy, just as I'd anticipated. We used these last two beers to wash down our tasty subs.

After Pizza Boy, it was off to a brand new Central PA brewery. Evergrain Brewing Company in Camp Hill had opened the week prior to our visit. Owned by the same two guys (Norm and Larry) who own the Brewhouse Grille, a beer bar in Camp Hill and mainstay of the local craft beer scene, Evergrain features a roster of ten house brews and food available through the adjoining Our Kitchen Table (where you literally order at a window connecting the two establishments). Brewmaster Bruce Tanner used to work at Tröegs for a number of years, so I knew the beers would be solid.

I was dying to try Joose Juicy, a NE-style IPA with a "hop character of dank, resinous hops" I'd heard from several friends to be excellent. Brewslut went with the Dark Necessity, a 10% Russian Imperial Stout. She doesn't mess around! Both were solid and enjoyable. We also enjoyed sharing a pint of the Wet Hop Cascade IPA, which was brewed with local hops grown and harvested at Painted Horse Hop Farm based in Dillsburg, PA. It was quite busy for a Sunday evening when we rolled in, and there was a hefty constituency of Tröegs peeps in attendance, which was nice to see. This place boasts a huge, open floor plan with the brew deck and tanks in plain sight, plus spacious seating options and even a ping pong table. Overall, it has a boomy warehouse vibe similar to some of the larger "industrial park" breweries in California. It seems like Evergrain is off to a great start, so I'm anxious to see what lies ahead for them.

Inside Evergrain's Tasting Room.

Thanks for reading. Perhaps we'll cross paths one day while seeking out some fresh, local beer. Until next time...