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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Drinksgiving 2016: Part I - Getting Kinky in NEPA on the way to New England

Thanksgiving is widely regarded as a holiday to spend with family. But what happens when you don’t really want to spend it with your family because it means having to deal with your bat-shit crazy sister-in-law? If you’re anything like us, you come up with “Drinksgiving,” and get as far away as possible. So, let us give thanks for everyone’s favorite festive fermented beverage and the fact that there is a multitude of breweries within driving range of Central PA.

For the 9th installment of our little holiday excursion, we headed up to Boston to spend a few days with our old beer friends Dan and Kristen, who migrated to New England about two years ago. One of the unfortunate side effects of traveling over Thanksgiving is missing out on arguably the best meal of the year. Lucky for us, Dan possesses some mad culinary skills and invited us for an epic Thanksgiving feast. Yay for us! No Subway turkey subs this year! In addition to Boston, we decided to spend a night in nearby Portland, ME and head back down through Portsmouth, NH on our way back to Boston before spending our last night of the trip at Dan and Kristen’s. This would afford us the opportunity to hit a few favorites and some new places as well.

So... on with the show!

Day 1 - Tuesday 11/22

We also decided to get a jump on that nasty day-before-Thanksgiving traffic by getting hotel accommodations in the NEPA area on Tuesday night. So after our daily rigmaroles on Tuesday, we made our way to Wilkes-Barre, which put us about an hour-and-a-half closer to our destination.
For our pre-game drinking festivities, we stopped in a favorite spot of ours in Wilkes-Barre – Krugel's. I remember this place when it first opened, and they have since expanded about three times. Krugel's definitely paved the way for craft in an area previously devoid of any kind of decent beer. 

Ironically, we initially stopped in to scope out our “shitty beer" for the trip. Wait a minute... what?! Shitty beer, you ask? I'll elaborate with a passage from one of my previous blogs, French Canada - Part I: Oui oui, eh?

We typically have a tradition of purchasing a "shitty" beer at a convenience store on the way to our destination and drink it as our inaugural beer of the trip in the hotel room.  This is a tradition that we started on our second trip (to Asheville, NC).  Bud Chelada was the first, followed by Tilt Red and Tilt Purple (enjoyed on our way to Athens, OH, complete with video footage of an angry black man venting about white people responsible for getting caffeinated malt liquor banned).  This year, it was a honkin' can of Steel Reserve, an 8.1% high gravity lager brewed by Miller.  With such catch phrases as "slow brewed," "select hops for extra gravity" and "extra malted barley," I knew this was going to be a winner.  First whiff reminded me of creamed corn, an aroma befitting of the Thanksgiving holiday.  With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I poured my share of the beer into a stemmed wine glass.  While I've definitely had worse, I don't think I'll be revisiting this one any time in the near future.  

So, after a quick perusal of the cold beer coolers, Brewslut zeroed in on what now seems like a totally obvious choice - Extra Kinky Pink. More on that later... I promise! 

We ended up staying longer than usual after striking up a conversation with one of the owners while enjoying a few draft selections. I was delighted to see Captain Lawrence Effortless Grapefruit on tap. This session IPA reminded me of a more crushable Grapefruit Sculpin, and I enjoyed it immensely. Brewslut opted for the Bruery's Autumn Maple, and she kicked the keg so it was complimentary. She wasn't a big fan, unfortunately. We also each got a pour of the new Cold Press Coffee Pumking from Southern Tier. Say what you will about pumpkin beers (we even had a discussion with the owner about them), Pumking is generally regard as the best pumpkin ale on the market. I must say adding coffee was a stroke of genius. As a matter of fact, I'll go ahead and take credit for this tasty little combo, because a few weeks before I learned of this beer, I blended Selin's Grove's pumpkin ale (the TRUE best pumpkin ale, folks... let's not kid ourselves) with cold brew coffee, dispensed via nitro at the pub itself. So Southern Tier, you can send some residuals my way. 

After an enjoyable stop at Krugel's, it was time to move on. But first, a few purchases. In addition to our annual shitty beer selection, we also picked up a 4-pack of Saugatuck Neapolitan Milk Stout (just because) and a big-ass can of Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy from Oskar Blues (whalez, bro)! 

No trip to NEPA is complete without a stop at Sabatini's (aka the NEPA branch of Al's of Hampden). Boasting some killer pizza and an expertly curated draft selection, Sabatini's is the premier beer spot in this neck of the woods. After picking up our pizza next door (we had to call because the kitchen closed at 10:30 p.m.), we headed in for a few beers. I was delighted to see a few SOLE offerings on tap, as this was the first place I’d experienced its beers back in May on our NEPA and Burlington excursion. I started with Rage Quit, a double dry-hopped Oat IPA brewed with a "melange of dank/citrus forward American hops." This beer was quite good, to say the least. Dry and dank indeed! Brewslut went with a pour of Lagunitas Born Yesterday, an aggressively hopped American Pale Ale. Surprisingly, I hadn't had that one before. Another winner! Finally, we ended our visit with another SOLE beer called Swamp Witch. At 13.666% ABV, this one was a heavy hitter. (Coincidentally, we ended our last visit to Sabatini's with another huge beer - a monster Strong Ale from Surly called 1349 Black Ale.) Swamp Witch was pretty tasty and super complex, but it was definitely a sipper. I think Brewslut drank the lion's share of this pour. Besides, I had bigger fish to fry once we got back to the hotel, which was a few short miles away. 

Now, for the moment you've all been waiting for! I give you the Drinksgiving "shitty beer" of the trip. And oh man, is it a doozie!

It doesn't get much better than Extra Kinky Pink from Kinky Beverages in a plastic hotel cup. Just look at those carbonation bubbles.

Aaaah, the effervescence! It also had that smooth 8% finish... you know how we do!

After sloshing down more than my fair share of this fruity malt beverage, it was time to get a good night's rest for tomorrow's long day. 

Day 2 - Wednesday 11/23

On Wednesday, our first full day of the trip, we traversed NEPA through New York into Connecticut, where we made the first of four stops in Oxford. I wasn’t familiar with Black Hog when I was planning the trip, but they were offering special holiday hours of operation and had a lot of interesting stuff on tap. Case in point...

We arrived about twenty minutes early, but one of the staff let us and a few other customers in early. With such a varied tap list, what's one to do? Try 'em all, of course! Since it was our first stop and we were both eager to commence with our imbibing exercises, we each opted for a “super flight” featuring a 5oz. pour of everything on tap. The folks at Black Hog get bonus points for serving these in cupcake tins! Here’s the run-down:

Easy Rye'da - session rye IPA
Autumn Nugget - wet hop ale with a variety of spices and vanilla
Delicata Squash Saison - spiced farmhouse ale
Ginga' Ninja - red IPA with fresh ginger
Hog Water - kick-ass, straight-up IPA!
Rosemary Dunkelweizen - traditional dark wheat beer with fresh rosemary
Granola Brown - ale brewed with a blend of oats, grains and roasted nuts
Coffee Milk Stout - brewed with organic cold extract coffee
CT Love Bomb - wet hop ale brewed with CT-grown hops
Biere de Hog - tart Biere de Garde (aka French farmhouse ale)
Disco Pig 5.1 - Barrel-Aged Kyūri Saki Bīru - experimental wild ale
Disco Pig 7 - Pineapple Express - another experimental wild ale, but this one was barrel-aged!

Pfew! I wish I could say that was a chore, but it wasn't. Instead, it was a treat, and the perfect way to kick off Drinksgiving '16!

Pleeps doesn't know where to start!
When traveling, we always come well-stocked with an assortment of Tröegs beer. Working in such a friendly industry definitely has its privileges. To paraphrase Sir Paul McCartney, “the beer you take is equal to the beer you make.” Show up with some gifts, and ye will be rewarded. We picked up two bottles of Disco Pig sour releases, plus a bomber of a Berliner with woodruff syrup and a 6-pack of the Nitro Coffee Stout. All in all, it was a great visit and a good omen for what lied ahead of us. When the first stop is enjoyable, the rest of the trip usually follows suit; not that I’m superstitious or anything.

Up next was another Connecticut brewery new to us called Cold Creek, which came with a recommendation from Dan. Situated in the town of Ellington, the small brewery opened its doors in August 2015. Similar to when Hill Farmstead first started, Cold Creek's beers are named after people. Unfortunately, I didn't get to ask about this while we were there, as I was only able to grab one of the brewers for a very brief conversation after sharing some beers with one of the servers. We settled on another flight of everything, although they had less than half the number of beers as Black Hog. Here's what we enjoyed during our visit:

Jane - American Pale Ale with Simcoe and Amarillo
Adelaide - Juicy NE style Pale Ale brewed with Mosaic and Amarillo
Natalie - DIPA dry-hopped with Mosaic and Azacca
Maple Winnie - a delicious honey oat stout infused with dark roast coffee from Kevin's Coffee Connection in Vernon, CT and raw maple syrup from Worthington Pond in Somers, CT.
Gisele - Gose

More samplers for the monkey, please!
Using my charm (since it was a male server; otherwise I'd rely on my dashing good looks), I was able to procure a crowler of the Maple Winnie, which they were not offering as a fill. OK, I bribed him with free beer. Either way, I can't wait to drink more of this, because it was pretty damn tasty!

Inside Cold Creek's tasting room.
For our next stop, we had planned on swinging by Tree House, which was only about half an hour away. Unfortunately, we got word from Dan that they had completely sold out of both cans AND draft. With the well dry at Tree House, we kicked into audible mode and decided to head into Framingham. We had already planned on stopping by Jack's Abby, but Dan also mentioned a brand new place called Exhibit A that had just opened in September. So these guys were brand spankin' new, and their beers were pretty damn good to boot! These guys have a clean, modern facility with their own canning line. One of the guys was nice enough to give me a quick walk-through when they closed. They are definitely poised for growth given the size of the space. And with Jack's Abby focusing exclusively on lagers, it makes sense for them to churn out some tasty hoppy offerings. Here's what was on the menu during our visit.

The Cat's Meow - IPA with Citra, Mosaic and El Dorado
Demo Tape 3: American Pale Ale - brewed with "high oil" Cascade hops
Demo Tape 6: Dry Hopped Kettle Sour - dry-hopped with El Dorado
Demo Tape 7: Double IPA - DIPA with Galaxy, Pekku and Cascade
Demo Tape 8: Simcoe Oat Pale Ale - session IPA with flaked oats and Jarrylo, Mosaic, and, of course, Simcoe hops
Goody Two Shoes - Kölsch-style ale

I dig the concept of the Demo Tape series. Well, the concept ain't new, but I like the name. It takes me back to when bands actually had physical demo tapes. My band had one (we recorded it on a 4-track machine). Sounds quite primitive in the digital age, but fuck downloading, I say. Give me something tangible I can hold in my hands and pop into a boom box (or even better, gently plop onto a turntable). OK, enough music geekery. Back to the beer. Both Brewslut and I concurred that the Dry Hopped Kettle Sour was our favorite of the Demo Tape offerings, so we ordered a full pour just before they started closing down for the evening.

Pleeps loves them tropical El Dorado hops!
Our last stop of the day was also located in Framingham. Jack's Abby brews lagers exclusively; a rarity in a scene dominated by ales. They've definitely carved out a unique niche in the craft beer universe. I've had the pleasure of sampling a few of their beers in the past, and I've enjoyed what I had. When I learned we'd be passing through on our way to Boston, I added their tasting room to our itinerary. I'm glad we did.

Interior of Jack's Abby
The vast tasting room area boasted a huge open floor plan with communal tables that screamed German biergarten. The place was inviting and the staff was super friendly. We found an open spot at one of the communal tables after ordering our beers at the bar counter (standard ordering procedure there). We started with a Wet Hop Lager (me) and Cuvee D'or Rouge (Brewslut), her beer being a blend of red and golden sour lagers. As for food, the menu looked great and the prices were reasonable, so we each ordered an entree. The food was bangin'! I had roasted chicken with dirty rice, Haricots Verts (I soon learned this was the fancy term for "green beans"), and a sweet fruit chutney (mango, I believe). Brewslut settled on an equally tasty salmon dish. I enjoyed a Sibling Rye-valry with my dinner. This India Pale Lager brewed with rye was flavorful, hop-forward and slightly dry, the latter characteristic a hallmark of rye beer styles. Oddly, Brewslut opted for a sour pumpkin version of Smoke & Dagger, which is a cross between a German Schwarzbier and smoked porter. After dinner, I perused the merchandise kiosk and picked up a bottle of Brandy Barrel-aged Framinghammer, a Baltic porter. Overall, it was a nice cap on a day well spent.

We arrived in Boston at around 9:30 p.m. and enjoyed a few more beers with Dan and Kristen (and fifth wheel Charles) before retiring for the evening.

Stay tuned for more Drinksgiving adventures from Boston, Portland and Portsmouth. Until next time... keep in kinky!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Music is the best

By way of my older brother, I was fortunate to get into music at a very early age. Real music. ROCK music! Before I dove headfirst into heavy metal around 1983, I used to sneak into my brother’s bedroom and dig through his vast record collection, despite the fact his room was “off limits” to me. I was mesmerized by the band names and album titles, and I listened intently with headphones while sitting on his bed and getting lost in the music. I remember albums by Boston, ELO, Kansas, Queen, Styx, Rush, and Billy Joel, to name a few. 

Since those formative years, to say music has dominated my life would be an understatement. To me, music isn't a hobby; it's a way of life. You don't grow out of it. It gets inside of you and embodies your spirit. It moves and inspires you. It can provoke a million different emotions. Music can elevate you to the heavens or tear your heart right out of you chest... sometimes it can achieve both of these within the confines of a single song. 

At any rate, I'm excited beyond belief to be hosting a monthly rock trivia night at my favorite local watering hole - The Corvette Grille - in my adopted hometown of Annville, PA. 

Please join me on Sunday, November 13 from 7 to 9 p.m. for the inaugural "Second Sunday Rock Music Trivia." Come and flex your rock music trivia muscle for your chance to win some awesome prizes including Corvette gift certificates. We'll also have $3 Tröegs draft specials and some other sweet giveaways. You can also "like" our Facebook page. Hope to see you there!