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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 crunchy 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. It 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 than 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...

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