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Monday, May 1, 2017

Jammin' in the 'Burgh: Part 2

We began our second day where we'd planned to end day one - at Hop Farm. In hindsight, I'm glad we decided not to squeeze in one more place on the previous night, because it would have likely been a blur. So, we opened the place. I knew we were in the right spot thanks to the van parked outside in the small customer lot. Zoinks, yo!

Hop Farm's van reminded me of the Mystery Machine!

The small tasting room was vacant when we arrived, save for the bartender. We perused the chalkboard, and there were a dozen or so interesting sounding beers available - everything from English-style Cream and Brown Ales to IPAs to funky barrel-aged beers. While I'm always a sucker for variety, I decided to start off with the brewery's eponymous Hop Farm IPA. It's flagship beer (and for good reason), is brewed with generous amounts of Cascade, Columbus, and El Dorado hops. This one went down all too well, especially for how early in the day it was. It wasn't hazy, turbid or trendy; this was a no-frills, straight-up, tasty, juicy-ass IPA. I was diggin' it fo' sho'! It was a good way to start the day. (I'm always about good omens!) Brewslut opted for a coffee porter called Fresh Pot of Porter. Quickly, I was reminded of the hilarious video of Dave Grohl in the studio demanding more coffee by screaming "fresh pots!" at the top of his lungs. This was quite the coffee-forward beer. I actually liked how they describe the beer as "local La Prima Dark Roast coffee brewed with beer."

Lots to choose at Hop Farm.

For her next beer, Brewslut was eyeing up Cupid, a chocolate cherry stout. I must admit, so was I. There was plenty to be had, so we settled on smaller pours of several beers in order to experience the full spectrum of Hop Farm's beers. Naturally, we also had to sample Cupid's Wicked Woody, a soured version of the standard Cupid that had been aged in a bourbon barrel with Brettanomyces from Wicked Weed Brewing. While vastly different than the base beer, I actually preferred straight-up Cupid. While I've had a few sour stouts that I've loved, it's generally not a style to which I gravitate. Still, it was nice to try them side by side and make note of the different nuances of each.

My view from the bar at Hop Farm.

Since I enjoyed the IPA so much, I decided I might as well try the Black IPA. Hop Dreams proved to be a roasty, citrusy treat. Brewed with three pounds of El Dorado, Lemon Drop and Mosaic hops per barrel, this interpretation was on the hoppier side of the spectrum. It had a nice slick texture, which I often appreciate in the style. I like the "black" characteristics to be stout or porter-like and the "IPA" attributes to be... well, duh!

Akin to myself ordering a Rauchbier when I see one on tap, Brewslut must always try a brewery's Russian Imperial Stout if one is available. Enter Kulak, a dark and foreboding 8.5% ABV treat. I'm typically on board with this, as it is one of my very favorite beer styles. This one seemed more along the lines of a classic RIS with flavors of smoke, leather and tobacco in lieu of chocolate and coffee. Given those flavor descriptors, I may have enjoyed it a bit more than Brewslut, as she tends to stray from anything even remotely described as "smoky." Me? I say, "Give it to me!"

I'm still not quite sure how Pleeps got that Russian hat.

After a great start at Hop Farm, it was off to East End. A few weeks earlier, I had the pleasure of meeting head brewer Brendan when he dropped by Tröegs with his cohort Scott (East End's owner) and the Pizza Boy crew. They were getting a tour from John Trogner and I came down afterwards to say hi. It turned out to be quite an evening, as we hung out in the tasting room for a few hours. Yup. Never made it to the gym that night. But we set the groundwork for a few Ffej of July collaboration beers for 2017 and made a few friend. Brendan had another commitment later that afternoon, but he was kind enough to meet us for an hour or so, share plenty of samples, and give us a quick tour. I reciprocated with a pair of recently released Pizza Boy cans - BBA Sunny Side Up with and without Vietnamese coffee. I also cracked a bottle of Freaky Peach and shared with him before he left. But let's talk East End beer. Here's what we enjoyed during our visit:
  • Eye Opener - tasty coffee porter brewed with local Commonplace Coffee.
  • Big Hop - flagship IPA brewed with tons of Centennial and Cascade.
  • Chamwow - a Belgian-style "table" beer brewed with chamomile. Slighty tart.
  • Little Hop - dry-hopped session version of Big Hop. Nicely done! 
  • Fat Gary - nut brown ale.
The bar at East End. I love the hop cone lighting!

Commonplace Coffee actually shares the space with East End, but sadly they were closed on Easter. East End does pour a tasty nitro cold brew, though, which I tried at the tail end of our visit. I wish more breweries would hop on the nitro coffee bandwagon. I'm all for every brewery having coffee available, especially dispensed via nitrogen right from the tap tower! After enjoying several samples, Brendan showed us around the brewery. I was surprised to see so many barrels in the cellar area. I was also surprised that they started releasing barrel-aged versions of the fantastic Gratitude Barleywine, one of my favorites of the style. Brendan was sure to send us home with one of those (and a pounder can, no less)! After poking around "backstage," we settled back into the tasting room area for a pint of Little Hop, my favorite of our visit. I also nabbed a pounder can of the newish Wheat Hop, a wheat IPA that was pretty damn delicious (had to wait to get home to enjoy that one)! I'm also looking forward to the beer that Brendan and Swingle concoct for this year's Ffej of July! 

Behind the scenes at East End.

After an enjoyable visit to East End, it was time to head south of the city (and rivers) to a few breweries closer to our hotel for the evening. I also got in touch with my friend and herbie band mate, Jay, who had migrated to the 'Burgh a few years ago, to meet us for some drinks. He's more of a whiskey guy, but appreciates a good beer now and then... at least when he's not drinking Miller Lite or Dos Equis.

Outside the larger-than-anticipated Spoonwood Brewery.

First on the chopping block was Spoonwood. When we arrived, I was surprised at the size of the building. I had a similar response a few months ago when we visited Double Nickel on our New Jersey and Philly weekend jaunt. We arrived about 45-minutes prior to Jay and his wife, Nicole, so we ordered some food and dug into the beer menu. Judging by its beers, it's obvious that Spoonwood has a soft spot for IPAs, as four of the five beers we sampled fell into the IPA category.

  • Side Scroller - dubbed a "16-bit" IPA brewed with El Dorado and Denali hops. Clearly the brewer (or someone at the brewery) is a pretty serious gamer.
  • Killer Diller - IPA with citrus, floral and fruity notes.
  • Good-eye Sniper - 9.5% ABV DIPA hopped with Amarillo, Citra, Equinox and Sorachi Ace.
  • Smoke & Oats - brewed with cherry wood smoked malt and flaked oats.
  • Forever Single - single hopped Citra IPA.
Again, I enjoyed everything we tried here, plus the food was very good as well (nachos and some other carb-heavy menu item that escapes me). I must admit that I wasn't concerned too much with the surroundings or taking notes, because we were catching up with Jay and Nicole. I do remember Side Scroller being the stand-out beer, though. Must be the El Dorado hops. Jay was also nice enough to pick up the tab, indicating "You're in my town." I promised to get a bottle of Crown Royal for our upcoming herbie rehearsal in two weeks. 


I'm pretty sure this mural was done with chalk!

We talked Jay and Nicole to join us at our next stop. Mindful Brewing was a large, modern building with about a dozen house beers and a host of guest taps. While there was some interesting stuff not brewed on premises, I always like to try the house beer first. I decided on Zero Visibility, described as a "turbid ale." I was led to believe that this would be akin to a Northeast style Pale Ale or IPA. I think that was the intention; however, this beer was clear as a sunny day. Great name if it would have lived up to its description. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed with my selection, not only for its lack of turbidity (that didn't bother me, actually), but the flavor just didn't deliver. I questioned whether or not I even received the correct beer. At any rate, I felt obliged to move on to a guest tap for my next selection. I settled on a Northeast Auburn Pale Ale from Knee Deep, which was a step in the right direction but average in the grand scheme of things.

Aside from an impressive tap list, Mindful also boasts a diverse and well-stocked bottle selection for take out and on-premises consumption. The building and atmosphere was pretty cool - perhaps a bit too trendy for my taste, but modern and well-maintained nonetheless - and had a pretty sweet outside deck area. There were a ton of people there during our visit, which gave the appearance that this was definitely a hot spot. Sadly, I snapped no pictures during our visit, save for this group shot of Jay, Nicole, Brewslut and I that a guy at the next table was kind enough to take:



Although Jay and Nicole headed back to Cranberry, Brewslut and I kept the Pour Travelers train a-rolling. Hitchhiker, our next stop, was pretty dark and crowded when we arrived. The dimly lit space made it feel like an old saloon. I moseyed up to the bar while Brewslut secured seating at a small round table in the corner of the small, crowded room. I opted for a pour of Porch, an American Pale Ale with hints of pine, melon and grapefruit. Brewslut settled on A Different Animal, a dry-hopped sour ale with notes of lemon, watermelon candy and bread. Both were quite good, and we noshed on a bowl of mixed nuts while we enjoyed our beers. Snack time anytime! It was pretty dark inside, so I failed to snap any pictures during our visit. It was also a pretty quick one-and-done stop for us, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Stock photo from Google.

Our final stop, Insurrection AleWorks, wasn't even included on our original itinerary. Not sure why, because it was pretty damn awesome! Either they were really new or I somehow missed them on the Beer Mapping Project map when I was researching our trip.

The place featured several heady-sounding IPAs (two of them named after Phish tunes) and a general crunch vibe, if you catch my drift. Fine with me. Seems that hippies generally make really good beer, especially dank-ass IPAs. (Gee... I wonder why?) Seems like all of their hoppy beers were brewed using oats and wheat, giving them a silky mouthfeel and hazy appearance. Here's the low-down on everything we had during our visit.
  • SHPAS - Pale Ale hopped exclusively with Galaxy. 
  • Aufstand - Berliner Weisse with fresh strawberries and rhubarb. 
  • Weekapaug Groove - IPA hopped with Denali (there's that name again), Motueka, Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin. 
  • Split Open and Melt - DIPA hopped and dry-hopped with exclusively with Citra.
The kitchen was just ready to close, so we quickly ordered two bowls of mac and cheese. I enjoyed all of the beers immensely, and the fact that two of them were named after Phish songs was an added bonus. By this time, we were turning into pumpkins and it was time to make the short drive to our hotel and retire for the evening after a productive day of doing what we do best! While we were leaving, I snapped this pic of me and a diminutive guy I've dubbed "Calvin the Dwarf."

Me with Calvin the Dwarf. 
I couldn't decide if he was a gold prospector or a D&D character. I'll let you be the judge... kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Remember those? I sure as hell do!

But for now... Beer. Beer. Beer. Bed. Bed. Bed.

On Sunday morning, we woke up fairly early and grabbed some coffee and granola bars from the "free breakfast cart" in the lobby. Weak compared to our previous night's accommodations. We had one single stop before we hit the PA Turnpike for our return home - Brew Gentlemen, located just outside of the 'Burgh in Braddock. I'm going on record that Braddock, PA is the saddest, most depressed town I've ever visited. And folks, I've been to Camden and outside the casino area of Atlantic City. This place was virtually a ghost town. Arriving in town about thirty minutes before Brew Gentlemen opened (they were hosting a yoga class in the adjacent room to the main tasting room), we decided to walk from the brewery down into "town" (I use that term loosely) to try and find some food. I swear, we walked for five blocks and encountered not a single open store except for a Family Dollar store, which was packed! The town did have its share of dilapidated buildings, boarded-up windows, and graffiti a-plenty. I seriously was a sad sight to behold. I couldn't believe that such a revered brewery was located in such a desolate place. I still can't believe that I didn't take any pictures. I felt like I was trapped in a weird episode of the original Twilight Zone.

Brew Gentlemen... a great brewery in a ghost town.

Dejected yet in awe of what we'd just experienced, we returned to Brew Gentlemen hungry and thirsty. Thankfully, a food truck had parked itself outside the brewery and was in the process of opening. I checked out the menu and - SCORE! - burritos, quesadillas and tacos. Sold! I don't know if it was because I was so hungry or what, but damn that was one tasty-ass burrito. It may have been one of the best I ever had. I love when burritos have potatoes as an ingredient, and this one was stuffed with them. Bonus points for guacamole too! By the way, this particular food truck was Brassero Grill, and they are at BG every Thursday and Sunday.

Inside Brew Gentlemen's tasting room.


Inside, the space was modern and hip but with a vintage feel. For example, the bartender was wearing a tie and apron, which made me feel I was back in the 30s or 40s at a speakeasy. He looked more like a mixologist and a beer slinger. The music choice, however, was total gangster, and while it fit perfectly with the vibe of the town, it felt out of place inside the establishment. I seldom comment on the music while we're visiting breweries, but Brewslut pointed out that it was indeed quite a peculiar choice. Fair enough.

With only five beers currently on draft, we decided to try them all. I've heard that BG has a penchant for brewing hazy NE-inspired hoppy beers. Sounded good to me. I began with the General Braddock's IPA, their flagship beer. While it didn't knock my socks off, it was a delicate, balanced beer with complex nuances if you dug deeply enough. Its sweet malt backbone played nicely with layers of citrus, melon and honeysuckle. It wasn't overly aromatic or flavorful, but it was insanely drinkable, and the texture of the beer was spot-on... for my tastes, anyway. I've always been a fan of hazy beers, so not being able to see through my glass has never been an issue for me. It's a good thing too, because all of the beers today were hazy and translucent.

Pleeps bogarting my juice!


Brewslut opted for the BG Lime, an ale brewed with lime (obviously). I found this one to be fragrant and extremely refreshing. It may have been my favorite of the bunch. Listed as a spring seasonal, this one is a thirst-quencher for warmer weather for sure! We followed up with pours of Overgrowth, an American Pale Ale. Floral and citrusy, this one was also quite delicate. Liquid Resume, an Americanized Kölsch-style ale dry-hopped with Motueka. This one featured citrus tones and a hint of grape. We ended with Tiny Tross (unfortunately Brewslut's least favorite), a Pale Wheat Ale reminiscent of trillium-esque hop profiles. Come to think of it, it was probably my least favorite of the five beers we had. Not to end on a negative note with a run-of-the-mill beer, I will say that this place seems worthy of the hype overall. While I wasn't blown away by anything, I left satisfied and glad that the trend for this type of brewery is spreading across the country like wildfire.

Pleeps was all set to do a speech about the trip, but he must have forgotten to bring his note cards so we'll just leave you with this pic. Until next time...



Monday, April 24, 2017

Jammin' in the 'Burgh: Part 1

It was time for a return trip to Pittsburgh. We hadn't dropped by the 'Burgh since our Drinksgiving Trip back in November 2013. A lot had changed since our last visit, and we planned to add another nine or ten new breweries to our ever-expanding list.

After an almost four-hour trek, my brain was begging for beer. Travelling a long distance always makes me thirsty, which perhaps is why we love travelling for our beer rather than cracking open a few bottles at home. The first stop of our long day took place at Fat Head's on Carson Street, Pittsburgh's equivalent of Philly's South Street. Upon entering, we noticed that they were going through a construction phase. I also asked about bottle shop situated upstairs in the loft area, as it looked like it no longer existed. Indeed, it was gone. We found our way to the bar just inside the main entrance.

In typical Pour Travelers fashion, I opted for a 9.4% Imperial IPA as my inaugural beer of the trip. Brewed with Citra, CTZ, Simcoe and Warrior hops, Bonehead Red blended biscuity malty notes with piney and resinous hops. Think sticky and slightly burnt malt and sugars. While not my favorite flavor profile for a DIPA (I was pining for some Hop Juju, but the well was dry), this was still enjoyable and easy to drink for such a hefty brew. Brewslut went with You Dropped the Hops on Me, Baby! This was a peculiar choice for her, as she's typically not a fan of Belgian IPAs, which is exactly what this beer is. Plus it includes Amarillo hops, so that's a double whammy. Still, she enjoyed it, as did I (although it was a tad too sweet for my palate overall). But the beer itself was inspired by the brewery's collective love for 70's funk music (named after the Gap Band's hit, "You Dropped a Bomb on Me").

Taps at Fat Head's from my vantage point.

There were a few others I wanted to try, but Fat Head's doesn't do half pours or single samplers, so we opted for a flight of five offerings, three of which were Fat Head's house beers. The other two were guest taps. Here's the run-down:
  • Jack Straw Pilsner - very good interpretation of a classic Czech pils!
  • Trail Head Pale Ale - brewed with whole flower Simcoe and Citra hops.
  • Black Knight Schwarzbier - excellent take on a classic German dark lager with notes of chocolate and coffee.
  • Windows Up - an IPA hopped with Citra and Mosaic from Alpine Brewing. This was a far cry from the old days of Nelson and Duet, unfortunately.
  • Goedenacht - a strong ale from Draai Laag brewed with apples, orange blossom honey, coriander and Brett. This tasty beer was a sign of good things to come! 
It's no Creepy Baby Head, but still...

Fat Head's does a good job across the board. While it's my opinion that they make some of the best hoppy beers on the East Coast, each of the three beers in our sampler flight was a spot-on representation of its respective style. Food-wise, we both enjoyed a tasty chicken chipotle cheese steak sub with house-made chips for lunch. Fat Head's always features plenty of tasty pub grub and comfort food on the menu, and we've never been disappointed. Although once again I was denied of Hop Juju, there was still plenty of great beer to be had during our visit to Fat Head's.

Since it was Easter weekend, I figured we'd better get to church. Our kind of church, anyway. Not much had changed since our last visit to Church Brew Works, the next stop on our agenda. I've often cited this brewpub as one of the coolest places I'd ever enjoyed a beer. Despite not having set foot inside a church since high school (with the exception of weddings and funerals), I find the architecture of churches quite breathtaking. I've always been a fan of stained glass windows and all of the ornate decor that adorns the house that Jesus built (after all, he was a carpenter). I'm just not generally a fan of what transpires inside. Except, of course, when it means drinking beer. Church and beer... it's a match made in heaven (pun intended)! I always thought the blood of Christ wasn't quite so carbonated. I guess not.



Jokes and blasphemy aside, we entered the building and were greeted with awe-inspiring views of the brewhouse (typically where the minister performs his sermon). Soaking it in, we b-lined to the jagged, winding bar (not that they were busy at this time of day; we just prefer bar seating) and took our seats. I feel they need to add some pews and perhaps make the beer menu mimic the Bible. Hey, why now go the whole nine yards, right? After ordering our first beers, I decided to take a quick stroll and snap some pictures of the surroundings.

The window above the pipe organ inspired Church's logo.

I started with a pint of ThunderCloud, dubbed as a "hazy IPA" brewed with Citra, Mosaic and Nugget hops. I had already had the Thunderhop, their flagship IPA, a few times in the past, and it was enjoyable. While this beer wasn't hazy in the least (see below for a shot with Pleeps), it was pretty damn tasty. It was light and went down easy... almost too easy! The hop combo provided a sweet, fruity base with some tropical notes around the edges.

Pleeps meets ThunderCloud

Brewslut opted for something called Almond Joy, which turned out to be a bourbon barrel-aged stout with a big coconut character and hints of chocolate, bourbon and vanilla. At 8.5% ABV, it was pretty light-bodied, although quite smooth and oily. The coconut character struck me as quite authentic. I've had some coconut beers in the past that have displayed a "fake" or chemical-like flavor, but not this one.

Interior of Church Brew Works. Love the stained glass!

For some reason, I always forget about the beer engine. Many places have them, but oftentimes you have to ask if anything is available. The beer menu indicated to "ask your server," so I asked. On this particular occasion, The Church was offering up its Ambrosia, a wheat ale brewed with herbs instead of hops. This cask-conditioned offering also benefited from the addition of apples. I've rarely (perhaps never) encountered a wheat beer on cask at a brewery, so I was game. We opted for a full imperial pint to share. The apple didn't really shine through like I'd expected, but it was a light, refreshing beer nonetheless.

Cherubs rockin' out at Church!

Prior to our trip, Deuane mentioned that Voodoo had opened a brand new taproom in the Homestead area. Needless to say, we had to go. We'd been fans of Voodoo since our first encounter with original owner/brewer Matt Allyn at Philly Beer Week shortly after he started Voodoo. We bonded over the band Primus (one of his beers, Wynona's Big Brown Ale, is a reference to one of the band's songs). So we worked it into the itinerary. Reminiscent of the original taproom in Meadville, this location mirrored the vibe and garage-like atmosphere of its predecessor. I noticed some familiar-sounding beers on the list, including Killapilz (formerly Pilzilla) and Big Black Voodoo Daddy. I knew Brewslut was going to get a pour of the latter. I was right. She did. I went for a limited brewery-only release, a DIPA called I'm a Loner Dottie, a Rebel. This 8.9% ABV bomb was brewed with Citra, Columbus, Simcoe and new 7 C's hops. The latter hop is actually a blend of seven varieties all starting with the letter "C" to produce a distinct tropical fruit character: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Cluster, Columbus and Crystal. As for the peculiar name of the beer, I was proud of myself for instantly knowing the movie to which this moniker made reference.

Go ahead, think about it for a few seconds. It'll come to you.

If not, I'll give you another hint. I mentioned to the bartender that "Large Marge sent me" when I ordered the beer. (If you still don't know, I'm not gonna tell you. Google it!)

Inside Voodooo's new Homestead taproom.

By this time, I was getting pretty hungry. I noticed something on the small but interesting food menu: salmon cakes. I was hooked. While they came out a bit mushy, they still tasted great and hit the spot. Plus they were served with a side of bowtie pasta salad. This served as a good mid-day snack while we continued to imbibe on the beer trail. 

Pleeps is down with the Voodoo.

We kind of went out of our way a bit to get to Voodoo, so in the words of James Brown, we "hit it and quit it." Up next on the agenda was Roundabout. The last time we visited, they'd just opened their doors for business a few months prior. The tasting room looked pretty similar, although they built on to it in order to facilitate more seating. But the bar area remained the same. Brewslut recognized the server as well (we believed her to be the wife of the owner/brewer). With only a handful of beers available, I opted for the Cadwallader IPA, which might have been my favorite IPA of the day. Brewed with Nelson Sauvin (already sold when I read this), Galaxy, Mosaic, and Cascade hops, this beauty of an IPA boasted hints of ripe melon and bright citrus fruit, especially pineapple. It was bangin', and I should have gotten a growler of it to take home. Fail!

Cadwallader IPA... you had me at Nelson Sauvin!

While Brewslut visited the restroom, I took a chance and ordered her a pour of the "And Now Pitching" Gose. Turns out I know her pretty well (I should after 27 years), because this was the beer she wanted. She was equally impressed with this offering. I'm glad to see Roundabout still operating and churning out some tasty beers. These two beers are definitely a step or two up from what we had when we originally visited, so kudos to them!

Up next was Grist House, and what a shit show! Remember the old days when Tröegs first opened in Hershey and it was a chaotic as all hell? Well, add the amount of customers we now have on any given Saturday and factor into the equation side street parking, and you can get somewhat of a snapshot of this place on the day we visited. But hey, good for them! These guys seem to be cranking out beer that people want to drink. Can't complain about a place for being popular, right? Plus it was a dog-friendly brewery, which I always enjoy visiting.

Outside at Grist House

Honestly, it only took us about five or ten minutes to get a beer at the bar despite the ordering process being a free-for-all. Grist House seems known for its take on the super-trendy hazy, turbid Northeast IPAs introduced first by breweries such as The Alchemist and later "perfected" (for lack of a better term) by places like Tree House and Trillium. The beer I settled on - Hazedelic Juice Grenade - was one of these types of beers. Great name! Brewslut went with the equally awesome-named Member Berries (fans of South Park will get that reference), a tart ale brewed with blackberries. While it wasn't overly sour or tart, it was enjoyable and the blackberry character was pretty pronounced. I enjoyed my "juice grenade" quite a bit, although Brewslut claimed it "tasted like a Trillium beer," so she wasn't too jazzed about it. She claims many of these types of beers have hop profiles that display notes of onion and cat piss. (For more on this phenomenon, you can go waaaay back into the annals of Pour Travelers history and read more about Brewslut's olfactory anecdotes.) I wanted to stay and try another beer, but it was so crowded and there was no place for me to rest my weary buttocks, so we decided it was time to move on.

After having a taste of Draai Laag (pronounced "dry log") at Fat Head's earlier in the day, we were excited to get to the tasting room. When we arrived, we felt right at home in the relaxed, charming atmosphere of the small space. Sitting down at the small bar, I thought, "This place is right up my alley!"

The Dutch term "Draai Laag" loosely translates to "turncoat."

With eight house brews on tap, the selection was quiet eclectic, offering up a variety of sours, farmhouse ales, and barrel-aged treats. I was more inquisitive than usual, and we were lucky to have a super-friendly and knowledgeable server who answered my questions about "lees" and "wild angels" (their signature yeast strain cultivated through open fermentation during their first year in business) as well as the origins of the name "Draai Laag." I was also surprised to learn that Draai Laag in fact had its own Koelschip (aka "Coolship"). We'd only ever come across one in our travels when we visited Allagash, and it was pretty cool (OK, that one wasn't intentional).

Tap list at Draai Laag.

We would have enjoyed sampling all eight selections, but we made a pretty good dent (considering we had one of these at Fat Head's earlier too). Here's what we tried:
  • Wild Hazy Dry Hopped Prototype #6W - a tart, lemony dry-hopped saison
  • Atomic Pomme - a bourbon barrel-aged American sour ale brewed with apples
  • Öl (pronounced Oil) - strong ale brewed for Draai Laag's 5th anniversary
  • Red Briar - an American wild ale brewed with raspberries
Taps at Draai Laag.


All of these beers were unique and against the grain. They've really carved out a niche for themselves in this market. I doubt you'll ever see an IPA on run of the mill styles like brown, red, or amber ales. The Atomic Pomme was especially memorable, offering an almost apple brandy character. Red Briar featured an authentic tart raspberry flair with a pleasant wild yeast backbone. We were also both pretty smitten with Öl as well. This 11.3% ABV strong ale was aged in Laphroaig Scotch casks, bourbon casks, and 27-year-old rum casks. I believe it was also conditioned on local maple syrup. The result was a viscous concoction of rum candy, dark fruit, molasses and Belgian chocolate. It was very Imperial Stout-ish, but with a Belgian yeast character that played nicely with the dark fruit and barrel wood. Before we left, we also had a thimble of a beer that had replaced the Prototype #6W, which was brewed with mustard seed. I'd never seen that as an ingredient in a beer before, so I was curious. It worked. It had more of a sweet, citrusy character, which was pleasant. I love when breweries experiment with non-traditional ingredients!

Peek-a-boo!

Overall, we were both really impressed with the complexity, inventiveness, and presentation of the beers, the service, and the space itself. A brewery like this could easily come across as pretentious; however our experience proved otherwise. While it was definitely an elevated beer experience, it felt casual and not forced in any way. In a nutshell, Draai Laag has their shit together. I will be seeking out more of their beers in the future for sure!

"Do we have to leave?"

We were happy to find that there was a food truck at our next stop, Dancing Gnome. We quickly perused the menu before heading into the taproom, which boasted a variety of wood-fired oven goodness. We settled on a calizone and headed in, but not before one of the pizza guys suggested we try the Jam. Sounded good to me, as I'm always up for a sweet jam session.

Following his advice, I ordered a Jam. This was a soft, hazy NE-inspired IPA brewed with rye and Australian Vic Secret hops. This newer hop variety is similar to the more popular Galaxy, also with origins in the land down under, offering notes of tropical fruit (especially pineapple) and pine. We also opted for a pour of Spy Dolphin, a DIPA with Citra, El Dorado and Idaho 7 hops. There was another DIPA on tap during our visit, but the Pour Travelers were becoming weary and fatigued. It had been a long, productive day, but alas we were tired... too tired to continue to our final destination of the evening, Hop Farm. We decided that we'd open Hop Farm the next day and adjust accordingly. For now, it was time to head to our hotel.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Pittsburgh jaunt, coming soon. Meanwhile, Pleeps will strike a pose. Until then...


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Where's Clearfield? You'll wanna know after reading this!

Since we had so much fun extending the boundaries of our last trip to the chalet, we decided to go this route again and explore uncharted territory with a visit to Clearfield, PA. More on that in a bit.

Like every trip to the chalet, the weekend began with dinner and drinks at The Pub (that's Selin's Grove Brewing Co. for those who aren't regulars). Although we live over an hour away, I think we've solidified ourselves as "regulars" here. We've met so many people at the pub whom we now consider our friends. This was an especially fun night, as Mayor Reed was parked in his usual spot, and a few other friends were in attendance as well. Typically, I limit myself to three beers during any given visit to the pub. Occasionally, I one-up myself and have a fourth.

Well, on this particular evening, I was feeling the quintessence.

Yup... it was a five-beer night, beginning with one of my favorites, the IPA. I followed up with a pint of the Pilsner (an underrated beer at the pub, in my opinion). Next was a Snake Drive Stout, a dry Irish stout. I opted to infuse it with the delicious cold brew coffee on nitro, which is always a good decision. For dessert, I went with a pour of Framboise. Anyone who knows Selin's Grove has likely had one (if not all) of the fruit beers (the other two being the Phoenix Kriek and Saison de Peche). These three beers form the trifecta of the pub, in my opinion, and are world-class beers that should be uttered in the same breath as New Glarus Raspberry Tart and Wisconsin Red. Yeah, they're that good! I finished up the night with a pour of Stealth Triple... my kryptonite! Brewslut always has to take the keys to the CRV after I've had one of these bad boys. Somewhere in the midst of all of that, I managed to crack open a bottle of the latest Tröegs Splinter Series release, Freaky Peach, a bourbon barrel-aged peach and nectarine sour ale, to share with our friends. It's pretty damn yum-tastic! Although we brought a few beers with us to enjoy at the chalet, by the time we arrived, it was already pretty late and I was feeling a bit schwilly (my new favorite term for "drunk") so we hit the sack. We knew we had a longer day than usual in store for us on Saturday.

Saturday began like every trip to State College from the chalet - with a stop at Elk Creek. I was excited to see a brand new IPA on tap called Crickwalker. Since this was a one-and-done stop for us today, I obviously went with the newbie. I've enjoyed both the Double Rainbow and Hairy John IPAs from Elk Creek, but this was easily my favorite IPA from them thus far. This one struck me as more of an American style IPA (The Double Rainbow is an English style and Hairy John, while a DIPA, is fine but a bit malty for my preference) with a nice balance of citrus, earth and pine amid a cleaner yeast character than English yeast. This one is a winner and I hope to see it on tap frequently during subsequent visits.

Pleeps concurs: Crickwalker is a winner!

After a quick visit to Inglebean (just down the street from Elk Creek) for an iced coffee to go, we headed off for Happy Valley. However, we'd be skipping Happy Valley Brewing Company this time in lieu of a brand-new-to-us brewer called Race Street. More on Race Street in a bit.

We opted for Otto's over Happy Valley this time only because of the tap lists. Checking both in advance proved that Happy Valley didn't really have anything new or exciting on at the moment. Otto's, however, featured the new Red Wheat IPA as well as Jolly Roger (a fantastic Russian Imperial Stout) on cask. Looks like Otto's wins out this time!

When we arrived, Brewslut made a B-line to the front bar, which I thought was peculiar since we typically sit in the back bar area. Of course, it wasn't quite as crowded as it typically is during our visits. We always tend to get the same seats every time we sit at the front bar. We opted for 10-ounce pours of the Red Wheat IPA (me) and Night Owl Coffee Stout (Brewslut). For a snack, we went with our go-to: tofu wings with spicy peanut sauce. Pleeps enjoyed some admiration from nearby patrons after we plunked him down on the bar shortly after we arrived. Since Jolly Roger was on cask, we couldn't pass it up (despite its high ABV%) so we split a snifter. Ross, the friendly neighborhood bartender, kindly gave us separate snifters to enjoy. He must have assumed that Brewslut didn't want any of my "Jeffrey Germs" as my brother used to tease me about many moons ago.

Sorry for the lack of pictures thus far, but I tend not to take a lot of pictures of places we'd been to many times. (Our next stop will more than make up for it, I promise.)

I'd stumbled upon our next stop after consulting the trusty beermapping.com web site prior to the weekend. I was surprised to find a brewery situated in Clearfield, PA. Additionally, I was excited to learn that Clearfield was less than 40 miles west of State College. After enjoying our last road trip to Mansfield and Horseheads, NY, we were game for another extended venture this time around.

When we arrived, it appeared that the brewery was situated on some kind of military compound or industrial park. We spotted the sign for the brewery and pulled into the parking lot, which was huge and completely empty. A car pulled in after us and looked on as we were now doubtful if the place was even open. Brewslut moseyed up to the door and, thankfully, it was unlocked.

Entrance to Race Street Brew Works.


Upon entering the building, we were greeted by a long hallway leading up to what we'd hoped was the brewery. I immediately commented that the inside reminded me of an old school. The sign above the entry way confirmed that we were on the right track.

On the right track...

The somewhat long drive warranted a quick pit stop in the bathroom, and I had to chuckle when I came across this old-school communal fountain:

Quick pit stop

I hadn't seen anything like this since elementary school when I was a kid. Another point for my "this place is definitely an old school" theory.

Along the way, we encountered some old lockers, which lent credence to my theory that this was, in fact, an old school building. as we approached the brewery, the decor turned more festive with strings of lights and paper machete decorations akin to flowers, lawn orbs and umbrellas. I had a feeling I was going to dig this place.

Better... closer... warmer...

My instincts were correct, for when we turned the corner and entered the tasting room, we were greeted by one of the coolest, most eclectic-looking places we'd ever encountered.

Inside the dimly lit Race Street Brew Works.

Deuane had already given me a head's up (and thumb's up) on this place a few days prior to our visit, and he suggested talking to Bob, the owner and brewer. Turns out Bob and his wife are pretty much the entire staff at Race Street. Bob turned out to be one of the friendliest, coolest, and talkative owners we've encountered over the years. His personality mirrored the decor of the space as well as the music that was playing (all groovy funk music from the 70s and 80s). After our introduction, it was time for beer. But first, a few more pics of the interior, with which I was enamored!

Cool awning and wall adjacent to the kitchen.
First floor seating area.
The room I dubbed "the tarot-reading room."

With at least 16 beers available (including a pair of Pizza Boy guest taps), we each opted for sampler flights. Here's the low-down on mine:
  • Polish Pilsner - a Czech-style pilsner
  • Susquehanna Pale Ale - dry-hopped with Citra and Amarillo
  • Loud Mouth Oaked IPA - barrel-aged IPA
  • 10 Pound Torpedo - DIPA
  • Rauch Street - classic German Rauchbier aka smoked lager
While none of the beers carried me off to beervana, they were all solid, well-done, and enjoyable. My favorite was probably the 10 Pound Torpedo, and we joked with Bob about getting a cease and desist letter from Sierra Nevada. 

Pleeps got tangled up in our sampler flights!

Later, Brewslut and I shared a pour of Comrade Conrad, a tasty Russian Imperial Stout aged in rye whiskey barrels. However, by then we had encountered two couples sitting at the bar next to us. Of course, we began chatting and they asked about Pleeps. Turns out they also traveled with a "mascot," in their case a severed baby doll head they dubbed "Creepy Baby Head." I was immediately intrigued. Much like our own Pleeps, turns out Creepy Baby Head was also into beer, as evidenced by this photo:

Pleeps meets his match: Creepy Baby Head!

Half a Comrade Conrad and a sample of Hop Hash Brownie (a tasty hoppy brown ale,) later, this happened:

One of my favorite pics EVER!
All in all, it was a memorable first-time visit to this fun, eclectic brewery. We'll definitely be back to Clearfield on future visits to the Happy Valley area. Of course, I need to get a pic of me with the group and Creepy Baby Head herself.

Me and Pleeps with Creepy Baby Head's caregivers.

We had to swing back into State College for a stop at Zeno's. Since it was later in the day than when we typically visit, it was more crowded. After getting carded (gotta love it!) and finding spots at the bar, I spotted Fat Head's Head Hunter IPA on tap, one of my favorites! Brewslut opted for a pint of Man Full of Trouble Porter from Dock Street, a brewery we seldom see on tap outside of the Philly area. By this time, we were pretty hungry (despite each having a panini at Race Street) so we ordered dinners (me, the salmon and Brewslut, the turkey dinner). I forgot how awesome the food is at Zeno's! This doesn't surprise me, though, because they share a kitchen with The Corner Room, known in Happy Valley for its simple yet tasty cuisine. The prices are really reasonable too! For dessert, I ordered a pour of Coconut Mudbank Milk Stout from Neshaminy Creek. Turns out I kicked the keg, so it was free. It'd been quite some time since I got a "spider" (that's Shamokin slang for a drink on the house when the bottle or keg kicks). 

Back at Chalet, we were able to split a pounder can of the newly released Pizza Boy Bourbon Barrel-Aged Vietnamese Coffee edition of Sunny Side Up (thanks Jamberg), which caused Brewslut to fall gently asleep on the couch shortly thereafter (a kind way of saying she passed out). I followed suit shortly thereafter.

On Sunday, it was time for another lunch-time stop at the pub for what I call the "Selin's Grove sandwich" (bookend visits on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon). The temperature was in the upper 60s, so we hung out with Dalton & Co. outside, who was on his way back home after repping Tröegs at Bloomsburg's Taming of the Brew beer fest. American Pale Ale was back on, so I snagged a pint and followed it up with more Framboise. Gotta have it while it lasts! Afterwards, it was time for more Snake Drive Stout with cold brew coffee and a soft pretzel to ease the pangs of hunger.

On the way home, we stopped at Pizza Boy to pick up Sunny Side Up cans, but the Rush podcast I was doing went long, so I sat in the car and finished up my interview while Brewslut enjoyed a beer and a slice. We had to jet back home to head on down to the Vette for Rock Music Trivia, where I enjoyed a few pints of Sunshine Pils and capped off the night with a Bell's Java Stout.

Thanks for reading! Until next time...



Friday, April 7, 2017

Happy Birthday, I'm 43 - Team D(r)INKing in Virginia: Day 3 of 3

I felt like a bag of assholes on Sunday morning. Surprisingly, I got up earlier than everyone except Deuane and went downstairs. Deuane was making breakfast, and I was looking to erase the fog that had infiltrated my brain from the previous night and had worn out its welcome. I felt a little better after breakfast (a tasty spinach fritata with a side of potato hash and coffee), but still didn't really feel up for much drinking. Of course, when I say that, it means that I will still begrudgingly consume beer if and when presented to me. This morning, I decided to crack open a bottle that had been residing in my beer cellar for a decade. Back when my band herbie used to play at Dogfish Head's brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, one of the assistant brewers, Brian, used to come out and see us all the time. He also knew I was into the beer scene, so he'd always bring out like a case of beer for me (ok... us, but mostly me). He once gave me two bottles of 120 Minute IPA in addition to a bunch of other stuff. One bottle, I shared with the band at a rehearsal shortly after producing said bottle. The other one would lie dormant in my cellar.

Until now, that is!

It was time to crack open this 10-year-old bottle (at 10 a.m. no less) and see how kind (or unkind) the years have been to it. The bottle cap was crusty as all hell, and the bottle was dusty and ravaged by time. I didn't have high hopes. I'd had this beer fresh on tap once, and it was like drinking rubbing alcohol. (It is actually my third lowest rated beer on Beer Advocate - only ahead of Bud Chelada and BrewDog's Tactical Nuclear Pengiun - out of the 1661 beers I reviewed during my heyday. You can read the review HERE.)

2007 DFH 120 Min. in a plastic cup, no less.
I must say that this wasn't terrible. It was dark and foreboding for an IPA, and a malt bomb for sure, but the 18% ABV gave this puppy plenty of shelf life. I must say it was more enjoyable than the fresh version I tasted on tap all those years ago. At the very least, it was a fun experiment. It's not as hard to hold on to beer for 10 years when you have so much of it! With that said, I'm glad it's out of my beer cellar.

After everyone had breakfast and got cleaned up, it was time to say goodbye to Dunlodge and start the drive back to PA. While we were packing up our belongings that morning, this happened...


Yup, that's poor Jamberg's bottles of Goose Island BCB Rare and Coffee, which escaped from his cooler after he inadvertently latched his cooler strap onto the door while loading the car. D'oh! Luckily, we were able to salvage the bottle of Proprietors 2017, which we decided to drink before we left. Couldn't waste that one! Lisa's Pepsi bottle escaped unscathed. Perhaps Goose Island needs to start packaging its beers in shock-resistant plastic rather than antiquated glass. C'mon, Goose Island... get with the program!



Our first stop of the day was Dulles, VA's Ocelot. I'd heard the term "ocelot" before but honestly didn't know what it meant. Proving once again his undeniable omniscience, Deuane informed me that an ocelot is a small mountain cat (kind of like a dwarf leopard). Come to think of it, that would be a great name for a Def Leppard tribute band comprised of midgets, wouldn't it? Of course it would. Speaking of music, this place had a definite music vibe, which I appreciated. A colorful, psychedelic mural depicting band logos and mascots adorned the wall just as we entered the tasting room. Beers were named after song lyrics, and the back wall housing its barrels was dubbed "The Barrel Wall" in a sweet Pink Floyd The Wall font. I knew right away that this place was up my alley.

Trippy mural inside the entrance to Ocelot.

The beer list here sounded off the hook - four awesome sounding IPAs, a coffee stout, a maple stout, and much more. Well, that's just what I ended up ordering. I had to start things off with Nocturnal, an amazing coffee stout aged on vanilla and cacao. Wow! This was easily one of the highlights of the trip, and this beer brought me out of my morning funk. After talking to the brewer, turns out it was a "happy mistake" because they weren't happy with the base beer, so they decided to salvage it and throw in vanilla and cacao. Whatever they did, it worked, because this beer was special. Brewslut was equally bowled over with the Megaton Maple, a maple stout brewed in collaboration with a homebrew contest winner. She liked it better than Nocturnal. I didn't. Sometimes we don't see eye to eye, and that's OK. At least we both know we don't want kids! That would put a serious damper on our beer traveling, don't you think? Yeah, me too!

Pleeps and I were infatuated with Nocturnal.

We followed up these amazing beers with three generous sampler pours of three IPAs (the fourth had kicked just before I ordered this flight, unfortunately):
  • Waterfalls - hopped with Waimea and experimental "06300" hops
  • Juvenile Success - hopped with Azacca and Mosaic
  • Jacks N Jokers - hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo
All three were very good, but are listed above in order of preference from good, gooder, goodest. The people here were great, too. Down to earth and chill is my speed... unless I'm stuck in traffic. You don't wanna know Ffej in traffic mode. You wouldn't like it when Ffej is in traffic mode. Bruce Banner's got nothing on me.

If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any barrel-aged stout!

Speaking of awesome people, Deuane and I hit it off with the brewer and chatted about beer and music for a bit, and presented him with a few gifts from the cooler. He kindly reciprocated with a couple of 750mL bottles of BBA stouts (one named My Only Friend and written in the Doors logo font) and a bottle of the IPA that had kicked while we were there. Can't wait to try these at an upcoming Team D(r)INK tasting! He also comped my tab, which was super generous, so I felt obliged to make a second trip to the car and hook him up with some BA Impending Descent and Jovial as well. I can't say enough good things about this place. From the vibe to the people to the beer itself, Ocelot seems to have everything dialed in. I can't wait for our return visit when we head back down into the area to see Iron Maiden in Bristow at Jiffy Lube Live for opening night of the tour! \m/  \m/

Brewslut and I had already visited our next stop, Old Ox in Ashburn, VA, back on our Rush R40 Tour weekend a few years prior. I remember liking this place quite a bit, although I gave a slight nod to Lost Rhino, which was located just a few miles down the road from Old Ox. We settled on Old Ox because some of us had already been to Lost Rhino but not Old Ox. The tasting room is small but comfortable. Since our last visit, they started opening up the actual brewing space to customers, most likely because they've gotten popular over the last few years and needed additional seating. The cellar area was pretty full when we arrived. We perused the beer menu to find about a dozen beers on tap ranging from lagers to IPAs.

I was in the mood for something hoppy, so I went with the one-two punch of Hoppy Place IPA followed by Galaxy Hoppier Place DIPA. Brewslut chose the cleverly named, Star Wars-inspired Brew Bocka, a coffee bock, which was pretty tasty. While I enjoyed both of my IPAs, I ultimately felt they fell a little short of most of the other IPAs we've had during the trip (Lithia and 320 Citra Wheat come to mind), but they were still enjoyable. We were all fairly hungry and in need of a snack, so James bought a big bag of corn tortilla chips and a jar of salsa and plunked them down in the middle of our table. Works for me! He also ordered a community pour of Saison d'Ox for everyone to sample. Although it's not one of their flagship offerings, they led with this beer at their grand opening celebration in 2014. Crisp, dry, and effervescent with a spicy yeast character, it's everything a saison should be. Since hunger was calling, it was time to pack it in at Old Ox and head to our next destination.

While we were en route to Leesburg, I glanced out the window of the van as we turned onto the main drag and happened to catch a sign for Dig! Records & Vintage. I was pretty stoked, because it was the last day of the trip and I really hadn't had any time to research record stores. It's always a last-minute kind of thing. More often than not, I tend to stumble on record stores while traveling. I was even more excited to learn that the place we were going was a mere two blocks away! So, we parked and I backtracked to the shop. This place was definitely worth a visit. I picked up about seven prog rock titles that were missing from my vast collection, including a replacement of an album (Moonmadness) by one of my favorite prog bands (Camel)... at five bucks to boot! Score!

After my quick vinyl-hunting detour, I made my way over to Fire Works Pizza for dinner and, of course, beer. Overall, the tap list was small but well-curated, albeit rather overpriced, I thought. Oddly enough, they had Lionshead on tap... for $5 a pint! I opted for an Alesmith IPA to pair with my shrimp salad, which was delicious. James decided to throw down and order a small pour of Illuminatos, a rum barrel-aged Imperial Stout from Lickinghole Creek Brewing Co. The place was pretty tiny and super crowded, but the food was solid despite the beer being overpriced. I guess Leesburg is for ballers.

After dinner, the weekend was quickly coming to a close. I figure I had one more beer in me. Since we had to take I-81 to get home, we stopped in at Pizza Boy for a final beer. The latest batch of last year's Ffej of July beer - Magic... Under Where? - was on tap and tasting mighty fine, and put a cap on a weekend well-spent with beer and friends. I'm already looking forward to our next Team D(r)INK excursion... wherever it will take us!