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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Memorial Day Weekend: Part I: DetFest Bound

For the last four years, we've made the trek up to the Montrose, a tiny blip on the map in northeastern PA just south of Binghamton, NY for a small, private music festival organized by fans of my long-time original band, herbie. I recalled last year's trip in depth, so I'll keep the opening to this year's voyage brief and point out the 2016 blog for reference.

We set sail in the early evening of Friday, May 26 (the start of Memorial Day weekend) with a few new places on our agenda. Our first stop of the evening was Benny Brewing Co. The last time we were up in this neck of the woods, we skipped Benny due to time constraints. Since then, they'd moved to a larger location and opened a brew pub in Wilkes-Barre, only a few miles from our next stop - Breaker Brewing. But more on Breaker in a bit. I was surprised by the size of Benny... um, OK... that sounded dirty! But the place was much roomier than I'd anticipated. They also have a beer garden out back, and they even grow their own hops. See?

Hop bines outside in Benny's beer garden.

The place was hoppin' and no tables were available inside, so we sat in the beer garden area. The weather was pleasant albeit a bit chilly, so it was fine with us. After perusing the beer menu, I opted for something simple for my inaugural beer of the weekend - Pale Ale. No clever name, just a no-frills, straight-up American-style Pale Ale. You know what? It actually reminded me of the old Tröegs Pale Ale (R.I.P.) from back in the day. Brewslut opted for the Sippin' Time Session IPA, which was also served its purpose. Both beers were solid, although I preferred the Pale Ale a bit more. We had a hankering for some grub, so we decided to split an order of hummus, which came with baked pretzel bites and veggies. Our waitress was only two days in, but she did a fine job. I noticed that their giant soft pretzels looked eerily identical to the ones we serve at the Tröegs Snack Bar, which almost prompted me to order one, because they're that good! But Brewslut vetoed, so hummus it was. I almost got some fish tacos, but we decided to eat at Breaker since we enjoyed our pannini sandwiches so much last time we visited. We rounded out our visit at Benny with its Hopenstein IPA, a decent offering with ample bitterness, although the hop character was a bit non-descript. So the Pale Ale took top honors for me on this visit. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Benny, and we even got to meet the owner/brewer himself. I like when owners/chefs, etc. walk around to the tables and chat with customers. Turns out Benny just opened this site in November 2016, so it's still a very new undertaking. We enjoyed our visit, and even got a few games of Connect 4 in while we enjoyed our beers. We'll definitely stop in again next time we're in the area.

Pleeps with our first beer of the weekend!

We headed a few miles across the town to Breaker Brewing Company, a haven for coal crackers. I appreciate this place due to its nod to the coal region, which as many of you know, is our old stomping grounds. Well, Breaker is a bit north of where Brewslut and I grew up, but it's definitely all the "coal region" up in them there parts! We typically opt for sampler flights at Breaker, since they usually have 10+ beers available. Since our last visit, it seems like they changed gears a bit and moved more from using odd ingredients in lieu of more approachable NE-style hoppy beers. Aside from the Farmhouse Plum (which Brewslut ordered as part of her 3-beer flight), all three beers I sampled were hazy hoppy offerings. Here's the low-down:
  • Dem Oats Pale Ale - American pale ale brewed with oats and Citra and Eureka hops.
  • Smooph 04 - NE IPA hopped with Citra and Mosaic. Hints of melon and tropical fruit.
  • Carbon IPA - IPA hopped with Simcoe, Citra and Apollo. Grapefruit and piney notes.
Insider Breaker's bar area.
While each of the three hoppy beers I sampled were fine, I'm hoping that Breaker doesn't jump on the bandwagon of hazy IPAs.

With a new-ish tasting room, I made it a priority to add Susquehanna Brewing (SBC) to our weekend itinerary. While the spot itself was pretty cool, I was ultimately disappointed with my beer. Sadly, Brewslut concurred. SBC first hit our map when brewer/friend Guy Hagner (of One Guy and Berwick fame) helped open - and then started brewing for - SBC. I'd had a few of its beers over the years, none of which particularly "wowed" me (although Brewslut loves the Shady Spot shandy beer). But based on Guy's reputation as a brewer, I tried the beers as I encountered them out in the real world.

Entrance to Susquehanna's newly opened tasting room.

For our inaugural visit to the tasting room, I decided to go with the Hop Five IPA. I noticed the Hopcelerator was also available, but I'd had that before and wasn't a huge fan. Unfortunately, the IPA I ordered was a complete diacetyl bomb. If you are not familiar with diacetyl, it is a common off-flavor found in beer that elicits a microwave buttered popcorn flavor. Some beers - such as Heineken and Rolling Rock - consider it a hallmark flavor (why on earth, I have no idea)! I rarely don't finish a beer when I'm traveling for two reasons: 1.) I don't want to appear to be rude, so I'll usually just choke down a flawed or off-putting beer; and 2.) Because I paid for it, damnit! Sadly, Brewslut was equally unimpressed with her Hopcelerator.

Monkeying around with Pleeps.

Disappointed with our brief visit to SBC, it was off to Sabatini's - NEPA's premier craft beer mecca! I usually find a new SOLE beer to try while visiting, and tonight was no different. I spotted a beer called Over 9000 on tap; a DIPA, so I was sold! While it was a vast improvement over the beer I'd recently abandoned, I felt it didn't hit the mark of other hoppy offerings I've had from SOLE in the past. Coincidentally, SBC contract brews for SOLE, and its can releases are conducted on premises at SBC. Since we had about a 30-minute drive to the hotel, I nursed this beer while Brewslut dug into the menu a bit more, even ordering a cocktail (created by our friend and server, Kristen, so happened to be working that evening). It's always great to catch up with a friend in real life, as opposed to the interwebs.

I'd like to quickly point out that I love the bathrooms at Sabatini's... perhaps not as much as Zeno's, though. But still, I love the walk through the corridor to a collection of unisex stalls, with each door depicting a famous celebrity - everyone from Kermit the Frog to Bill Clinton.

...back and to the left.

When nature calls at Sabatini's, you have plenty of decisions to make, one of which is this: Who's going to watch over me while I urinate? I went with Caitlyn.

OK... I'm going in!
After an enjoyable visit to Sabatini's (which included a pizza, of course!) we were off to our accommodations for the evening, which were much nicer than the Red Roof Inn we stayed at last year over Memorial Day weekend.

Things got off to a good start on Saturday. I'm not sure how our first brewery of the day had eluded us for so long. The North, situated just west of Binghamton in the town of Endicott, had been alive and kickin' for a solid 5 years by the time we'd caught wind of this sweet little brewery. I had pretty high hopes after perusing the website, and I'm glad to say The North didn't disappoint. Sometimes I feel I possess an innate ability to sniff out the "good ones." The North is definitely one of the good ones.

The North... cross another one off the list!

The North is set up like a typical tasting room, with a long standing bar and sampler flights, growler fills, and the ability to purchase a glass of your favorite beer. I wanted to try everything, so Brewslut and I each ordered a flight, which included all five beers available on tap. Here's the skinny:

  • Naked Rambi - kettle soured ale
  • Blü - easy-drinking pale lager (the first lager they ever brewed).
  • Black Donald - flagship porter with equal parts roast, chocolate and hops. My favorite of the line-up!
  • Roasty O'Donnell - Pun-filled roasty, coffee-forward oatmeal stout. 
  • Kookie Klouds - a tasty imperial cookies and cream stout.

Inside The North.

Since we pretty much opened the place, patrons were sparse. Luckily, the bartender was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and answered all of our questions about the beer and brewery. The brewer was also on-site (brewing, no less) and came out to share a few words about the beers (and chow down on some Chinese take-out for lunch). When we mentioned Pizza Boy, the bartender expressed her love for the brewery, so I asked her if she'd ever had the Vietnamese coffee version of Sunny Side Up. She hadn't. I just so happened to have a can in the cooler out in the car, so I brought it in to share with the group. Our bartender reciprocated with Beelzebub, hoppy stout from The Alchemist. They definitely didn't skimp on the hops with this one. It reminded me of a Victory Storm King or more full-bodied version of Tröegs Dead Reckoning Porter. Either way, I was glad to see them dabbling in other styles outside of the tried-and-true IPA.

This isn't the monkey you're looking for.

After sharing these cans with our small congregation, one of the other customers purchased a bottle of Loaded God Complex, one of The North's Imperial Stouts, and cracked it open to share with the group. It's never too early to imbibe a nice RIS (that could be our Pour Travelers motto... or perhaps our mantra), and this one was a fine example of the style. As its name implies, this particular variation was the "loaded" version, and was touted as a "hazelnut mocha chili stout." The hazelnut was quite prominent, but there was also some peppery heat in the finish, which mingled nicely with the cooling chocolate notes.

Thanks for sharing, bro!

This is the kind of brewery every town needs. I loved the vibe, the people, and - most importantly - the beers. This place is worth going out of your way to visit. We'll definitely be back... hopefully sooner than later.

After kicking things off on the right foot, it was off to Binghamton Brewing, another first-time stop for us. During our previous night's visit to Sabatini's, Kristen said that Binghamton was her favorite of the breweries in Binghamton, so we were excited to check it out. We arrived right at the 2 p.m. opening time, so the place was vacant, save for the cheery and talkative purple-haired bartender. We took our places at the bar and perused the tap list, which included about six beers. I began with a short pour of the aptly named Citra Pale Ale, which was light, hoppy and enjoyable. Brewslut opted for the Purple Rain, a Gose with Concord grape juice. She was wowed. I rarely see her bowled over with a beer, but this was one such occasion. Ultimately, I believe it turned out to be her favorite beer of the weekend. I must admit, it was quite delicious, and the color of the beer hearkened our friendly bartender's hair.

Pleeps and a half pint!

After our pair of inaugural beers, I made a comment about the number of taps on the wall, remarking how sometimes breweries keep "special secret beers" on tap. Turns out my instincts were correct, as they did, in fact, have a secret, unmarked tap! The incognito beer was called Susan Bees! (another clever pun), an imperial brown ale brewed with honey. Our bartender was kind enough to let us in on the secret and provide a sample. It was smooth, viscous, and sweet. By now, I had to visit the restroom (we drink a lot of coffee in the morning too; a diuretic, according to Dr. Brewslut, which causes the coffee to travel through your bladder quickly and efficiently). A quick stroll through the production space and I could relieve myself. See?

...just a quick stroll through the brewery to the can!

Back at my seat, we went in for round two. I decided on the Maple Brown Ale, while Brewslut went with the Sweet Milk Stout. Both were solid but not quite as enjoyable as our initial beers. However, Purple Rain especially was tough to beat. Since our bartender was so friendly and accommodating (and an apparent fan of Tröegs, I learned), I went out to grab her a bottle of Crimson Pistil, our new hibiscus IPA, and she was thankful (so much so that she comped our entire tab)!

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the awesome cheddar popcorn they had as a complimentary bar snack. This stuff was like crack, and I had to push the bowl away after a while before I devoured an entire bag myself. Hey, at least I was loading up on carbs, right? (Actually, the beer was doing a fine job in that respect.)

This popcorn is making me thirsty!
Two for two, and it was off to Water Street. We first visited last year on our NEPA excursion and were impressed enough based on our initial experience. Plus the owner is a Judas Priest fan (as evidenced by some framed posters and LPs on the wall), so that's always a plus in my book! I opted for a wheat session IPA called Suco de Tangerina. As you can imagine, this one boasted hints of tangerine. Brewslut tried one called Betty White, described as "a golden beauty with a rye sense of humor." Cool. More puns. Over a pour of Avenger Pale Ale (a study in Cascade and Northern Brewer hops), we struck up a conversation with a couple from North Carolina, which kept us occupied. Water Street is a cool little spot, although I failed to snap any photos during this particular visit. Also, just around the corner is another mainstay of the Binghamton beer scene. "Hooray!" I thought. "We don't have to park again."

Like Water Street, we first visited Galaxy Brewing over last Memorial Day weekend. This place has an obvious outer space vibe with a seating area called the "lunar lounge," complete with a moon mural, and many of its beers are named with the space theme in mind. Last time, we enjoyed a few hefty IPAs. This time, however, it was a whiskey barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout called Panic that caught our attention first. But first, a bathroom break!

The Lunar Lounge inside Galaxy Brewing.

On my way back from the restroom, one of the brewery employees asked if I could spot an anomaly in the moon mural. I looked over it briefly, and noticed that the planet earth in the upper right corner depicted two North American continents. For displaying such a keen sense of observation, Galaxy kindly awarded me a complimentary beverage of my choice. Panic it is! At 8.8% ABV, it wasn't too heavy, although the whiskey character was fairly pronounced and tangy. I let Brewslut enjoy the lion's share of this pour since I was driving (plus I had to play drums for about two-and-a-half hours later than evening).

Speaking of stouts, our next selection was named after my favorite episode of Ren & Stimpy - Space Madness. This was an Oatmeal Stout with Brettanomyces (a wild bacteria that imparts sourness or barnyard funk to a beer). I don't dig sour stouts too often, but this one was subtle and pretty enjoyable. And we couldn't leave without trying Clax, a lime stout, which came across like a Mexican cola. The lime was off the charts here. I'm not sure how they landed on that particular name, as a quick trip to Urban Dictionary lists the following definitions:

  • A word to describe people with the relative IQ of a salmon. 
  • Somebody who acts like a complete idiot 24/7.
  • It can also mean nothing.
Hmmmm. OK, so that wasn't helpful. I guess this one will remain a mystery sealed in citrus. 

After our visit to Galaxy, it was time to say "farewell" to Binghamton and head back to Montrose, PA for one final stop - Endless Brewing. For a super tiny place in the middle of nowhere, these guys are legit. When we arrived, the parking lot was full and the place was packed with folks sampling beer and getting growler fills. Upon perusing the amusing chalkboard, I was sad to see that Grasshopper, an excellent pale ale (and its flagship beer) was sold out for the time being. Last year, I bought a six-pack of cans and enjoyed it very much. However, there were plenty of new beers to try this time.

Always great to be back at Endless!

First up for me was Vacation Inspiration, a white IPA brewed with limes and kafir lime leaves (a type of lime native to tropical Asia commonly used in Thai food recipes). I love me some lime, and this one was pretty tasty. While imbibing, we chatted with a variety of customers as well as one of the owners (the woman we spoke with last time and also the wife of the brewer, I believe). We were able to snag a small table in the corner of this otherwise standing-room-only tasting room, which was fine because I was about two-and-seven-eights sheets to the wind by this time. However, we couldn't leave without enjoying some Bombshell Blonde IPA, its signature IPA. Last time, Brewslut was loving a TRIPLE version of this, which sadly wasn't available during this visit either. Still, this one is a solid, drinkable, straight-up golden IPA. Finally, we sampled the Bourbon Barrel Cider, a house-made hard cider aged in bourbon barrels for 11 months. This sucker was strong and boozy!

After our last sample, it was time to head to DetFest and get down with my peeps. More drinking ensued, of course, thanks in part to my well-stocked cooler of Tröegs beer including recently procured crowlers of Scratch Boysenberry Gose and Passion Fruit IPA. I also had a few nicks of whiskey, thanks to a few of my bandmates. After melting faces for a few hours, it was time for a hard - and well-deserved - crash in the tent!

Stay tuned for additional adventures from Memorial Day weekend 2017, including the return trip home and our stops along the way. Never fear! We took the scenic route.

Until next time...

Brewslut must have been pretty tipsy to let me capture her eyes on camera. 
(Pleeps is usually her photo stand-in; otherwise, she's usually wearing sunglasses.) 


  1. IIRC, Sole doesn't use SBC to contact brew their beers but rather leases the equipment and brews themselves...with SBC assistance I assume.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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