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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Springtime in February: Day 2

We awoke in our hotel room on Sunday, February 26 to the sound of intense wind echoing across Cherry Hill. I checked my weather app and the current temperature was 29 degrees, a far cry from the mid-70s temperatures we enjoyed the previous day. I didn't even bring my hoodie into the hotel room because it was so warm on Saturday. Nevertheless, it was time to continue our little weekend jaunt and head back across the river into more familiar territory - Philadelphia.

My vantage point from the bar at Bar Hygge.
First up was a brand new place called Bar Hygge (pronounced huu-guh). This place, along with its brewing counterpart, Brewery Techné, first hit my radar a few months ago when I was reading an article about the influx of new tiny breweries in the Philadelphia region. Bar Hygge was one of the places I was most excited about, just from the types of beer they were brewing and some photos I saw. They also open at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays and serve a special brunch menu. At this time, I'd like to encourage other establishments to follow suit and open earlier on weekends. It's never too early for a beer! (If you're interested in the name, you can read about its origins HERE.

Located at 1720 Fairmount Avenue in the Spring Garden section of Philly (in close proximity to both the Art Museum and Franklin Institute), Bar Hygge is co-owned by Tom Baker, who you might know from Earth Bread + Brewery (EB+B) in the Mt. Airy section of NW Philly. Tom's also the brewer at Bar Hygge/Brewery Techné. FUN FACT: Brewslut jokingly refers to EB+B as "Earth Bread and Daycare" because both times we visited, there was an inordinate amount of children romping around. I actually didn't have the connection until I was doing a bit of post-visit research.

Slightly to the right of my barstool.
Inside, Bar Hygge is clean, sophisticated, and offers a variety of seating including tables, a comfortable bar, and small lounge area. It reminded me of a place we visited in Charleston, SC a few years earlier on our annual "Drinksgiving" excursion called Closed for Business. Perhaps Bar Hygge wasn't as eclectic, but the space and atmosphere definitely felt in sync. We'd perused the brunch menu in advance to ensure they had a few "Ffejetarian" options (we don't eat red meat or pork, and Brewslut is allergic to shellfish) and they did. The food sounded promising and the beer list appealed to us. While they don't have a ton of taps, they offer a well-curated list of rotating house beers ranging from an IPA to a Baltic Porter (the latter snagged a gold medal at the 2014 GABF for EB+B).

Onto the beer. With eight offerings, we decided to get half pours of four of the most interesting sounding beers on the menu. I started with House of Bitterness, an IPA brewed with Amarillo and Citra hops. Brewslut opted for a more morning-appropriate beer in Imperial Java, a coffee-infused double stout served via nitrogen. Both beers definitely delivered. I was pretty floored, to tell the truth. The IPA boasted everything I love about the style - a zesty, pungent aroma, soft texture, balanced bitterness, and tons of flavor. This was gold in a glass! The Imperial Java hit well about the mark as well, touting a smooth, creamy mouthfeel, huge coffee aromatics, dense nitro head, and balanced malt character with plenty of roast, chocolate, coffee and vanilla notes. "Sweet," I thought. "Two for two!" It was a great way to kick off the day.

For my next selection, I decided to go off the beaten path and try the aforementioned GABF-winning Baltic Porter, named Perkuno's Hammer. From its Untappd description: "Perkuno's Hammer was brewed to the original Heavyweight Brewing recipe, a gold medal winner at GABF. It contains 50lbs of Roman beans in a grist of Munich and pale chocolate malts and is fermented with a prestigious German lager yeast." Not many Baltic Porters have left a lasting impression on me over the years (Danzig from Devil's Backbone comes to mind immediately as one that has), but this one was definitely memorable and worthy of its gold medal status. Intense flavors of dark stone fruit, bold coffee, roasted malt, cocoa, molasses and caramel all washed across my palate. Brewslut was equally as bowled over as me with her second selection, a blood orange sour saison named Low Hanging Fruit. The name of this beer prompted me to strike up a conversation with the bartender about Tenacious D (they have a song on their last album by the same name), and turns out he was a fan and actually was at the concert at Festival Pier we saw a few years ago. Brewslut deemed it "the shit" and listed it as a standout beer of the trip. Four for four. In my best Austin Powers impersonation, "Yeaaaah, baby!"

Brunch was equally impressive. Upon reviewing the brunch menu ahead of time, I knew Brewslut would opt for the tuna melt (which I must admit sounded delicious). However, I went with a fritatta made with roasted poblano peppers, avocado crema, and fried onion straws, plus a side of Hygge home fries. One word: BANGIN'! This place has got it's shit together, man! Atmosphere? Check. Service? Fantastic. Beer? Outstanding! Brunch? Delish! Hell, even the coffee was great, and it came served in a custom logo mug. And the icing on the cake was there were no little rugrats crawling around or making a ruckus. Yeah, I think we'll be back.

I'm in the mug club.

Our next stop, Crime & Punishment, was in contention for brunch this morning. I was eyeing up a house-made pretzel bagel with beet-cured salmon, farmers cheese, and pickled veggies, but ultimately we decided on Bar Hygge since they opened half an hour earlier. However, we decided that we were both still hungry, so we decided to share the aforementioned bagel and salmon plate. It was very well done and gave us a bit of additional fuel to continue onward. This place had a definite Philly vibe, with its exposed, weathered brick walls, high ceiling, and an eclectic gathering of customers congregated at the bar and adjacent mix-and-match tables.

Find yourself a (secret) city to live in.
Beer-wise, the tap list looked extremely interesting, with a few off-the-wall selections such as a sour ale brewed with beets and a "Sugar Cookie" IPA. OK, we were game. Brewslut jumped right in and ordered the sour, which carried the intriguing name Disturbing the Beets. Kettle-soured and fermented with Brettanomyces and 50 pounds of juiced beets, this lovely pinkish ale combined the earthy sweetness of beets with a tart yeast character. I opted to begin with a shorty of Secret Cities, a Citra and Mosaic-hopped Pale Ale with notes of grapefruit and fresh-cut grass. This is also unique in that it's the first beer where the guys at C&P experimented with hop additions. For this particular beer, they added all of the pre-fermentation hops during the whirlpool process. This provides a lower temperature of flavor extraction, producing a "tea bag" or steeping effect. Overall, this was a solid effort. It was hazy, pale and lacked a frothy head, but the aroma was fresh and the flavor was balanced and not overly bitter. It was definitely a "soft" pale ale, if that makes sense.

For our next selections, I was intrigued by Magic Lantern, the "sugar cookie" IPA I mentioned earlier, so I chose that. Brewed with oats and dry-hopped with Lemon Drop and Citra, this was definitely an IPA, albeit a strange one. Strange in a good way, though, because they conditioned the beer on 50lbs. of homemade vegan sugar cookies and Madagascar vanilla beans. This conditioning lent a sweet, supple finish, which played nicely with the citrus and lemongrass notes of the hops. The vanilla was definitely apparent and softened it just a bit. I love when breweries experiment with unusual, non-traditional ingredients, and this little experiment seemed to gel quite nicely. The other beer we chose immediately grabbed me just by reading its stream-of-consciousness description:

It’s the juicy fruit gum thing. A menagerie. Dad’s peach tree. The amount of Citra hops in this beer, it’s a huge amount. THE MOST. Like drinking from Pooh Bear’s sweet funny reserve; honeysuckle. The gentle juice. Just be careful, it’s offensively easy to finish and repeat.

Love it! This beer was called Repeat Offender, a single-hopped DIPA brewed with (as the description reveals) Citra hops. You can't really go wrong with Citra. Since "citrus" is pretty much my favorite IPA flavor profile, naturally I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

My vantage point from the bar at C&P.
For our last beer, we opted to share a Russian Imperial Stout called Gulag Uprising. We seldom skip over a RIS when traveling (despite the style's high ABV content), although that's more of Brewslut's doing than mine. This dark beast was aged for two months on cacao nibs and vanilla beans, then finished with local One Village coffee. I let her have the lion's share because I had ulterior motives, as you will learn in a few seconds. The bartender was nice enough to also give us a complimentary sample-size pour of the Behemoth, a straight-up Oatmeal Stout, for comparison. The Behemoth definitely wasn't as intense, but it was pretty full-bodied with plenty of chocolate flavor and hints of coffee, dark fruit, and raw earth.

When we parked the car outside C&P, I noticed a little record store right across the street. I could feel Brewslut's eyes roll as I mentioned stopping in for a "quick look" after our beers. She loves digging through crates of vinyl about as much as I enjoy shows like Cake Wars, Bridezilla, or Chopped. As she was finishing up our pour of Gulag Uprising, I decided to take a quick stroll over to check out the store, coincidentally called Brewerytown Beats. I'm glad I did... not just because I found original copies of Metallica's Ride the Lightning and Anthrax's State of Euphoria, but also because I'd discovered that I was missing not one, but TWO of my three credit cards. It was a distressing "WTF?!" moment. My wallet is pretty old and the card slots are stretched and blown out like a 60-year-old prostitute's woman parts, so I thought perhaps they slid out at some point when I paid a tab. Hitting so many breweries in a single day results in the wallet going in and out of my back pocket quite frequently. In uncharacteristic fashion, I actually remained calm and thought about it for a second. When we travel, we typically bring along cash, which serves as a "soft" budget (meaning we each try to spend less or equal to that amount, thus avoiding the use of credit cards). However, many bars and breweries ask for credit cards in order to open a tab in your name. I suppose this stems from one too many drunk patrons forgetting to pay their bar tab over the years. Although we use our cards as a "marker," I always tag on the following phrase when opening a tab: "...but we'll probably pay cash." After mulling it over for about a minute, I realized that I'd used two different cards and two different breweries. My instincts were correct, and I was relieved to learn that both Forgotten Boardwalk and Tonewood were keeping my cards safely behind the bar.

Of course, this threw a wrench into our Philly plans, as we had to traverse back into NJ and pay the dreaded toll to drive across the bridge. (You don't have to pay to get into NJ, but you have to pay to get back into PA... makes sense, right?) Fortunately, we were only about 20 minutes away from Forgotten Boardwalk. We decided to stop in at Tonewood for a one-and-done, and I revisited the Terminal DIPA, while Brewslut opted for a full pour of Chief since I'd enjoyed it so much the previous evening.

Ashland... tastes like the 
Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine.

After our little detour back into NJ, we changed gears and called an audible. I'd planned on making our last stop at the newish Stable 12 in Phoenixville, but we decided to hit a brand new place in Philly on Passyunk Avenue (home of the infamous P.O.P.E.) called Brewery ARS. This place is the latest "garage brewery" in the city, and that's a fitting description of the place. Terry (Hawbaker, Pizza Boy's head brewer) also mentioned that he was really interested in visiting this place, and he'd heard good things and was familiar with the brewers' work (twin brothers, apparently). Inside the tiny tasting room, tables were crammed closely together, while a tiny standing bar occupied the right side of the wall as you entered. Toward the back of the room was a counter where patrons can order beer. There was also a serving hole in the right wall, where a local BBQ vendor was serving a variety of items. We opted for a snack in the form of guacamole and chips (can't go wrong with that combo)!

Beer-wise, we shared a sampler of all five beers available during our visit. Here's the run-down:
  • Wayne's Pale Ale - American-style Pale Ale with lots of citrus character.
  • Antique'n - saison brewed with copious amounts of Simcoe hops.
  • Ashland - robust porter with coffee and chocolate notes. 
  • Living Saints - ale dry-hopped with El Dorado and infused with local Ethiopian Guji Sidamo coffee from Green Street Coffee.
  • Old Stoop City Rye - rye saison with a blend of German hops.
All in all, solid beers across the board. Nothing jaw-dropping, mind you, but I appreciate both the craft and the experimental nature of the beers. One thing I must point out is the simplicity and charm of their beer label artwork. Each whimsical drawing looks like it'd been torn from a child's coloring book. The handwritten fonts and brewery logo add to the appeal as well. 

To cap off the weekend, no stop to the greater Philadelphia area is complete without a visit to Tired Hands. I was in the mood for their bread and butter (so simple yet so delicious), so we opted for the Brew Cafe rather than the newer Fermentaria. It wasn't packed when we arrived, so we were able to procure bar seats on the first floor. There's always plenty of interesting-sounding beers on tap, including hazy, hoppy creations and more sophisticated saisons, two styles I feel are Jean's forte. I settled on a half pour of Space Canoe, a new rye IPA hopped with Simcoe and a new variety with which I was unfamiliar - Huell Melon, a fruity aroma hop that lends hints of honeydew and strawberry. Brewslut selected Unimpressive View, a saison brewed with pink peppercorns and lemon zest. I like the flavor note of "lemon verbena" and "Claey's watermelon hard candy drops" for this one (on Tired Hands' web site), which I thought fit the bill perfectly. Space Canoe was solid but not a favorite in the grand scheme of Tired Hands' hoppy beers, although the rye spiciness complemented the bread and fennel pollen accoutrement nicely. up next, we enjoyed half pours of On Tap, an IPA brewed with oats and Citra and Amarillo hops, then dry-hopped with Galaxy and more Citra. Yum! Thick Ambient was up next, and I'm glad Brewslut chose this one, because I really wanted to try it based on the description. The beer, a dark saison brewed with rye, midnight wheat and Tired Hands' house yeast culture, as well as 100lbs. of local sweet and tart cherries. This may have been my favorite of the four beers we sampled. 

After our beer and bread break at Tired Hands, it was time to head home. All in all, it was a productive beer trip, with 8 new breweries visited over just two days. We also got to return to two new favorites - Spellbound and Forgotten Boardwalk - and check in at Tired Hands. Thanks for following us on our journey to "beervana." Until next time...

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