Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Springtime in February: Day 1

More often than not, my various musical endeavors have a tendency to thwart the frequency with which Brewslut and I can embark on beer adventures. These days, I rarely have a full weekend off from playing music, let alone two weekends. It's a self-imposed schedule that can be quite hectic at times, not to mention inconvenient when something comes up that we want to do. But the extra scratch certainly comes in handy when the opportunity of back-to-back weekend beer jaunts presents itself.

Case in point, the winter doldrums of February. I try to keep this typically cold and frigid month sparse with band activity, as the chance for snow in PA can rear its ugly head at any given moment. (I'm reminded of a joke my PA friends can appreciate: "Say, how's the weather there in Pennsylvania?" "I don't know, ask me again in ten minutes.") As luck would have it, the forecast was taunting us with promises of temperatures in the seventies for this particular weekend in late February. Never one to argue climate change (that's global warming for all the cave dwellers and naysayers), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to spend some time in nature. And by "in nature," of course I mean in my own natural habitat (i.e. my ass firmly planted on a bar stool somewhere).

So on the morning of Saturday, February 25, Brewslut and I headed out on our second consecutive weekend beer trek. This time, we were off to The Garden State - New Jersey, the land of Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, and Snooki (now there's a supergroup I'd avoid like the plague). To be honest, I've never been much of a fan of Jersey, but one can't help notice the influx of small craft breweries spreading across the state. Jersey first hit my beer destination map when Team D(r)INK visited Kane and Carton - two small craft breweries churning out some impressive beers - for my birthday a few years ago. I was so impressed that in the summer of 2015, Brewslut and I decided to venture across the river from Philly to Jersey and check out a few new places. This resulted in us discovering Spellbound and Forgotten Boardwalk, both of which you'll read about in a bit.

All of the breweries we'd planned on visiting didn't open until 12:00 noon or later, so we had plenty of time to get up from bed, make our customary big weekend breakfast, and pack the car. Sadly, by the time we got near the turnpike exit, we'd realized we'd forgotten to pack one of our most valued possessions when traveling for beer - Pleeps! Since we were already about twenty minutes tardy, I decided not to turn around to retrieve our beloved, happy-to-lucky travel companion. I felt bad, but ultimately decided that Pleeps needed a rest after last weekend's adventures in NEPA and upstate NY.

Entrance to Spellbound's courtyard.
About one hundred and eleven miles and two hours later, we arrived in Mt. Holly, NJ at our first destination. As I'd mentioned before, we first visited Spellbound back in the summer of 2015 during a weekend trip to Philadelphia to attend the second of three Rush shows we saw on the band's amazing R40 tour. On that first visit, I was pretty amazed at what this new brewery was cranking out, so I was glad to see some of the same beers on tap this time, most notably the Peach IPA and Palo Santo Porter. Our first stop of the day usually yields a variety of sample-sized beers, and this time was no different. In addition to about sixteen house beers on tap, Spellbound was also pouring two variations of its delicious Cherry Tripel on firkin, one infused with coconut and the other with vanilla beans. Gotta try both of them, right? Of course we do.

We settled on "dual flights," a term I'll now come to use when each of us order separate sampler flights. This happens when a brewery has a proven track record and too many beers we want to try. Here's the run-down:

  • Major Anthony Nelson - juicy Pale Ale with Nelson Sauvin hops (one of my favorites) and a few other varieties.
  • Peach Citra Pale Ale - really pleasant peach character; I preferred this over the Peach IPA.
  • Vanilla Bean Cherry Tripel (firkin) - cherry, honey and soft vanilla notes.
  • Coconut Cherry Tripel (firkin) - dominant tropical coconut flavor with sweet edges.
  • Saison w/ ginger, lemongrass & white sage - self-explanatory, right?
  • Living the Dream  - second anniversary Russian Imperial Stout.
  • Peach IPA - citrus-forward IPA with peach sweetness
  • Palo Santo Porter - Porter aged on Palo Santo wood to introduce notes of chocolate, anise, and mint. This was a favorite of mine during our inaugural visit.

While none of its beers are cleverly named, all of them are artfully crafted and delicious. Standouts for me included the Peach Citra Pale Ale, Palo Santo Porter, and both firkin variations of the Tripel (though my preference leaned toward the vanilla if I had to pick). I was glad to notice that Spellbound has enjoyed apparent growth since our last visit, as their cellar had expanded to included more fermentation tanks, a brite tank, and some other fancy brewing implements. I tend to geek out more on the actual beers rather than the assorted equipment, vessels, and paraphernalia of it all.

Inside Spellbound's tasting room.

While we enjoyed our brief visit to one of my favorite NJ breweries, in hindsight I wished we would have stayed longer. I really wanted to try the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cherry Tripel, but I knew we had to pace ourselves. These brewery trips can prove to be long and arduous, you know? I'm still kicking myself for not even getting a sample size pour of it, especially since the two firkin variations were so enjoyable. What can I say? Sometimes you err. (Did I err, Rufferto?) Ten bonus points if you get that reference. So it was off to stop number two. 

Until next time, Spellbound...

One thing I forgot about beer traveling in NJ is that tours are a requirement of the state when visiting production breweries. And people think PA has weird liquor laws? I find this to be a strange, unnecessary bit of red tape that only seems to delay a patron’s drinking time. I guess lawmakers in NJ think that customers should first know how beer is made before they imbibe it. Thankfully they don’t require tours of fast food chains to see how that stuff is made. So after our quick ten-cent tour, we moseyed up to the bar and perused the beer menu. Unlike Spellbound, Nale House (situated in nearby Medford, NJ) seemed to have the witty beer names dialed in. Beers boasting monikers such as Yoga Pants, Tea Bag, and Hit It & Quit It all made me chuckle. The beer, though? That's a different story. The place itself seemed inviting, and the tasting room was pretty busy. The brewer and bartender were friendly and willing to converse to customers. We read online that they allowed BYOF, so we grabbed some snacks at a nearby Wawa to enjoy with our beers. So, onto the beers. Here's the low-down on what we sampled in our dual flights:

  • Yoga Pants - straight-up Blonde Ale.
  • Peacock's Nightmare - hazy double dry hopped IPA with lots of Amarillo. My favorite of the bunch. 
  • Hit It & Quit It - Double Chocolate Imperial Stout. 
  • Tea Bag - milk stout blended with an oak "tea bag" to infuse vanilla and woody notes. Served on nitro for a smooth mouthfeel. Cool concept. 
  • Yellow Haze of the Sun - Pale Ale brewed with Mosaic hops. 
  • Out Cold - Oat IPA hopped with Warrior and Cascade.
  • Snitches Get Stitches - Mosaic and Citra Pale Ale.
I wanted to like this place, but unfortunately more than a few of the beers suffered from either line contamination or poor equipment sanitation. That's not to say all of the beers were tainted. I thought Peacock's Nightmare was a pretty solid IPA, and Brewslut enjoyed the Snitches Get Stitches. The Hit It & Quit It (my favorite name) wasn't too bad either. My constructive criticism would be this: "Cleanliness is next to godliness." Enough said.

My view from the bar at Lower Forge.
Just down the street from Nale House (walking distance), things got a bit more promising at Lower Forge. From what I've seen of Jersey towns, Medford seems to be a diamond in the rough. On our short walk down what I assumed was the "main street," I was reminded me of a small town like Lititz, PA, with its abundance of small shops, historical-looking buildings, and clean, well-kept walkways and landscape. Plus, it was nice to walk a few short blocks since the weather was so unseasonably warm. 

Inside, Lower Forge was warm and inviting with lots of rustic wood, tin tiles, fun lighting, and an unfinished stone floor. The place was sparsely populated with a few customers here and there, so we had no problem securing bar seats. The head brewer was a friendly guy who I later learned is a volunteer firefighter on the side. After our brief tour, we made our way to the bar and settled on a shared flight of four offerings. 

Interior of Lower Forge.
Uncharacteristically, I opted for a hefeweizen called Healthy, Wealthy & Weizen, because the brewer mentioned Tröegs DreamWeaver was a favorite of his and an inspiration for this particular beer. Naturally, I felt obliged to try it. We rounded out our shared sampler with these other three selections:
  • Catch Me If You Can - Gingerbread cookie brown ale with notes of cinnamon, ginger and brown sugar. 
  • Jabberhoppy - Double IPA brewed with six hop varieties.
  • BBA Vertically Challenged - Imperial porter aged in bourbon barrels.
While I wasn't blown away by anything, all of the beers were solid, with my favorite being Catch Me If You Can. I felt the BA Porter could have benefited from a longer slumber in the barrels. The presentation of the flight was nice, too.

Sampler flight at Lower Forge.

Next up was more familiar territory. Forgotten Boardwalk, plain and simple, is just a fun place. Growing up in Central PA, a popular vacation destination for middle-class families was always "the shore." This meant Ocean City or Wildwood, NJ, because both are a relatively short drive from PA. Anyone who has visited "the shore" as a kid can appreciate this place. Think of the boardwalk back in the 40s or 50s, or even Coney Island, and you get an idea of the vibe of this place. Complete with fun-house mirrors, skee-ball, and general carnival-esque ambiance, Forgotten Boardwalk makes great, forward-thinking beers in the midst of a fun atmosphere.

Beer and skee-ball... what else do you need?

This was one of the other places we enjoyed during our little R40 side excursion a few summers ago. We opted for a few “half pours,” or 8-ounce glasses, of the following beers:
  • Mr. Watson – White IPA aged in French Sauvignon Blanc wine barrels.
  • Ginger Snap Cookie – Who doesn’t like ginger snaps? They taste good in liquid form, too!
  • Morro Castle - smoked porter with notes of charred wood, smoked meat, peat, and tobacco.
  • Funnel Cake – this is FB’s sweet, tasty flagship cream ale served on nitro. I liked this beer so much last time that we bought a 6-pack to go. I’d love to see them do a stout version of this!
The Big Wheel at Forgotten Boardwalk.

The employees here are pleasant and laid-back. They can also geek out over beer, so I decided to share the wealth and offer a few choice Tröegs selections from my cooler. When traveling locally via automobile, I usually throw in a few treats to give as presents to breweries I really like. More often than not, they reciprocate with some equally tasty treats for Brewslut and me.

Cat tail tap handles at Forgotten Boardwalk.

Despite having way too many brewery shirts, I couldn’t resist getting a "souvenir." I'm a fan of their creative, retro artwork, and one of their T-shirt designs caught my eye, so add another one to the collection. I also couldn't resist snapping a selfie of my reflection in one of the fun-house mirrors.  

I look like Jacob the twiggy alien man!

While en route to our next stop, Double Nickel, we experienced an unexpected torrential downpour of severe rain. This, coupled with the fact that our GPS wasn’t cooperating, put me in an agitated state. Pleeps wasn’t there to calm me down, and I almost abandoned our plans to visit the brewery. In a last ditch effort, I ducked into a nearby Wawa and asked for directions. Luckily, a customer pointed us in the right direction, and soon we were dry and inside sipping some intensely flavorful barrel-aged creations and noshing on a pile of salty Goldfish crackers. Scratch that. Multiple piles. The carb junkie in me kicked into high gear and there was no turning back!

Today's catch.

I was surprised by the size of not only the tasting room, but also the building in general and the amount of fermentation tanks visible from the bar area. Seems like Double Nickel is a fairly large operation despite being open a relatively short period of time. Or at least that's how they appeared to me. We perused the extensive beer list, which included close to twenty different beers, including several barrel-aged releases. Since I’m quite partial to barrel-aged beers, I chose the following flight of four wood-aged treats:
  • Mother's Barrel - Brown ale aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for 6 months.
  • Father's Barrel - Rye porter aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for 6 months.
  • Marbled Buffalo - Marbled Rye (a rye ale) aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for 6 months.
  • Buffalo Nickel - stout aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for 6 months.

Darkness, imprisoning me!

Notice a trend? Seems like Double Nickel prefers Buffalo Trace bourbon. Fine with me, because these were all enjoyable. I feel that 6 months is the perfect length of time to age beer in bourbon barrels. All of these beers were drinkable and smooth without being too boozy or hot, yet the bourbon presence was pronounced in the flavor profile. The texture of all these beers was rich and silky, another attribute I appreciate in barrel-aged beers. I've had plenty that have tasted fine, but have been thin and watery or over-carbonated. These all straddled the line well, offering a pleasant viscous mouthfeel. Lastly, I always commend balance in these types of beers. Anyone can throw a shitty beer into a barrel for a few months and create a bourbon bomb to mask any flaws a particular beer might have. I would have liked to have sampled the base beers side by side with the barrel-aged versions, but alas it was late in the game and we still had a pair of places to visit before 10 p.m. I couldn't help but think of my poor, absent pal Pleeps, who would have loved these beers. Sorry buddy! 

Lots of taps to be had at Double Nickel.

We ended with a small pour of Deborah, a sour ale aged in Malbec wine barrels for 13 months. This was tasty but my least favorite of the bunch, as I typically favor the more robust beers aged in bourbon barrels over thinner sour ales aged in wine barrels. All in all, this is a place I'd definitely like to revisit, as they had an extensive, diverse tap list, which included everything from a Vienna Lager to an Imperial IPA.  

Them's some big tanks at Double Nickel.

As we headed into Oaklyn for our next stop on the itinerary, we felt the pangs of hunger strike. Luckily, we noticed a little place nestled just downwind of Tonewood Brewing (next on the list) called The Square Meal. We decided to give it a shot. Turns out they’d only been open for a few weeks. This little eatery focuses on fresh food made with organic and locally-sourced ingredients. 

Fresh organic food at The Square Meal in Oaklyn.

The organic turkey meatloaf sandwich immediately struck a chord, and we each ordered one with a side of sweet potato cuts and an apple crisp square to share for dessert. This really hit the spot, and the prices were reasonable as well. We'll always favor a small "mom and pop" operation over a restaurant chain any day of the week. The people here were friendly and there was just a great positive energy about this place, like crunchy granola and hula hoops. 

Interior shot of The Square Meal.

A few doors down from The Square Meal on the same side of the street, Tonewood was bumping with a healthy crowd of what appeared to be locals supporting their home brewery. Turns out The Square Meal has an agreement with Tonewood allowing them to serve as its "kitchen" of sorts. Folks can order food in the tasting room and someone from The Square Meal will deliver it. One of my long-time friends from high school, Spade, had just moved to Oaklyn with his wife into a new home just a few blocks down the street from Tonewood, and he’d already given them the “thumbs up.” We snagged seats at the end of the bar just inside the main entrance, and I decided I needed a full pour of something to wash down my delicious, nutritious meal. I tell you, it was the right choice.  

All just bricks in the wall at Tonewood.

Enter Chief, a hazy, soft-colored pale ale that just hit the spot brilliantly! It turned out to be one of the stand-out beers of the trip in all its simplicity and deliciousness. After about two sips, I was congratulating myself for ordering a full pour of this flavorful ale. It also brought back snippets of a Dane Cook bit about an experience at the “B.K. Lounge.” Fans will get it. Editor’s note: Sorry readers, but those two first Dane Cook CDs are hilarious. #noshame. 

Chief, buddy, gaylord... whatever! 

Brewslut went with the Revolution Porter, an English-style porter brewed in collaboration with Revolution Coffee Roasters. This sucker is doused with a blend of beans from Malawi and Ethiopia for a coffee-forward aroma and dry, roasty finish. Yum! I like coffee beers so much that you could probably steep toilet water with fresh, local coffee and I'd drink it. OK, maybe not. I guess it would depend on the severity of my thirst. If I hadn't had my first cup of morning coffee... look out! 

View from my barstool at Tonewood.
We ended our visit with a goblet of Terminal DIPA, a somewhat earthy offering with an abundance of dry, charred malt notes. Brewslut doesn't remember drinking this one. This one didn't feature one of my favorite flavor profiles for a DIPA, but it was still enjoyable. I was surprised that this was brewed primarily with Simcoe, as it's one of my favorite hop varieties. 

After visiting Tonewood, we swung by Spade’s new homestead for a quick visit. Situated in a nice, quiet suburban area, it’s in stark contrast from South Central Philly, where he had resided for the better part of the last 25 years. Plus it’s a hop, skip and jump away from Tonewood, so he’s got that going for him as well.

People gettin' down at Devil's Creek.
We capped off our day with a visit to Devil's Creek. We thought we had just enough time for a quick beer, as they advertised closing at 10 p.m. However, it turns out that they get quite busy on weekends, and they just stay open until “whenever.” Grabbing seats at the bar (we lucked out on this trip), we struck up a pleasant conversation with a couple and started talking about music. This mutated into me regaling her with stories of high school marching band and how Brewslut and I met. The woman, only a few years older than me, was surprised by how “young” I looked. Hey, I’m almost 43, so I’ll take what I can get. We opted for more "short pours" here, with the Black Eye being a sampler-sized pour. Here's the gist:
  • Pecan Swirl - Oatmeal stout infused with the flavors of pecan pie. Served on nitro.
  • Cordially Yours - Stout brewed with dark chocolate and cherries. 
  • RetrIBUtion - Belgian IPA brewed with Trappist yeast. See what they did there?
  • Toasted Rye - Ale brewed with 50% rye for notes of toasted bread and smoky cherrywood. 
  • Black Eye - Black IPA with roasty malt and an earthy, piney bite. 
My view from the bar at Devil's Creek.
Overall, the beers here were satisfying, although by the end of the day we our palates were feeling pretty frazzled. By 11 p.m., we were obviously exhausted from a full day's "work," so we decided to head back to the hotel and get an early start in the morning. Stay tuned for Day 2, when we visit a few new, up-and-coming breweries in Philly and return unexpectedly to Jersey after I spend too much money in a record store. Until next time...

Miss you, Pleeps.

1 comment:

  1. Always a pleasure to read! It makes me wish that C hadn't given up on her blog posts but...I'm not sure where she'd find the time! We'll done my friend! Cheers! 🍻


The Pour Travelers thank you for reading about our beer travels!