Search This Blog

Monday, May 10, 2021

Little Cabin in the Woods: Part II

The weekend was quickly coming to its inevitable conclusion. Tristan shipped off pretty early on Sunday morning and Taylor decided to head back to Delaware to take care of some chores, so by early afternoon the group had been reduced to the "four regulars" - D&C, Brewslut, and yours truly. Considering we had to work the following day and had a three-and-a-half hour drive ahead of us, it didn't stop us from undertaking a fairly ambitious schedule. Turns out we'd hit five breweries on this particular day, four of which were new to us Pour Travelers. 

First up was another farm brewery, the brand spankin' new Death Ridge. Situated on Higher Ground Farm on the outskirts of Culpeper County in the small town of Jeffersonton, VA, this brewery takes its inspiration from the American Civil War. The streams that wind through the property are part of what's called "Delridge Run." Originally known as "Deatherage Run," the name stems from William Deatherage, who settled in Culpeper County in 1675 after he and his two brothers had been granted 950 acres by King Charles II of England. Since the brewery is situated on part of this land, the owners decided to combine these two similar names and adopt Death Ridge as the name of the brewery. The actual site of the brewery was once used as a campsite during the Civil War, and many relics have been found all over the surrounding fields. 

Doesn't say anything about monkeys, so...

I noticed quite a bit of variety on the beer menu, so I decided that I flight was in order. Here's the run-down:
  • Dark Mild - an easy-drinking 2.5% English dark mild ale with notes of chocolate, toffee and lightly toasted bread. 
  • Bonfire Lager - clean, crisp Helles lager brewed with German malts and Noble hops. 
  • Coffee Lager - coffee-infused Vienna lager
  • Blackpowder Stout - American stout offering traces of dark chocolate and coffee flavors. Brewed with Maris Otter, chocolate, special roast, and black malts.
Like me, Pleeps prefers sitting in the shade.

Although the main tasting room area is quite large, we decided to sit outside on the patio since Magpie was in tow. The weather was cooperating and it was a shady spot, so I had no qualms with getting some fresh air. As we worked on our beers/flights, we had a fairly long conversation with one of the owners, who told us all about the land, how the brewery got its name, and the history of the farm. He was also more than happy to chat about the beers, not to mention offer a discount when I told him I worked at Tröegs. 

After finishing my flight, I decided to go with a full pour of Brass Button IPA, a hop-forward American IPA hopped with Citra and Cascade. I had a sip of Deuane's and it passed the taste test, so a pour of my own was in order. This old-school style IPA came across as more West than East coast (fine by me!) and hinted at notes of grapefruit and tropical fruits with a sweet, malty backbone and pleasant hop/malt balance.

The beers here were all solid and respectable, especially for a brewery that had just opened a few months earlier (January 2021). I particularly enjoyed the Brass Button IPA, of which I had a full pour after the flight. Otherwise, I'd say I liked the Mild best of the lot from the flight. It's always nice to encounter this traditional albeit scarce beer style in our travels.  

Outside Powers Farm & Brewery

Our next stop brought us to another farm brewery. Based in Midland, VA, Powers Farm is an integrated sustainable farm, hopyard and brewery that sits on 21-acres, although the majority of its operations take place on just two-and-a-half acres. On this land, the farm grows almost all of the ingredients it uses in its beers. Most of these come from organic and heirloom seed stock, and everything is grown sustainably without chemicals or pesticides. The farm even goes as far as to practice "companion planting," whereby it grows a wide variety of flowers to help attract beneficial insects such as bees. Its on-site hop yard is comprised of traditional American varieties, and they conduct an annual hop harvest each August. Powers Farm brews on a 5bbl brewhouse adjacent to its hop yard and garden, which churns out fresh "farm to glass" beers using the fruit, herbs and vegetables grown on-site. The farm even offers a produce CSA! 

And what they can't grow, they purchase from local purveyors and farms. Every batch of beer is fermented with custom-propagated yeast from a local lab called Jasper's Yeast, and 100% of its specialty malts are Virginia-grown and locally malted in Charlottesville by Murphy & Rude. If you're as intrigued as I am, you can read all about the history of the farm, its ingredients, and more by clicking here

Pleeps gets to know the beers at Powers Farm.

With lots of interesting beers to be had, I opted for the Lemongrass Pils. I find the flavor of lemongrass to be refreshing and its aroma quite pleasant. This crisp, dry pilsner starts with a soft malt bill steeped with dried, farm-grown lemongrass added during the boil, which coaxes delicate floral aromas and the slightly citrusy flavor of this unique ingredient. This was quite refreshing and packed with flavor. I was off to a good start!

Pleeps has extraordinary powers!

I decided a second beer was in order, so I went with a pour of Appalachian Corn, an American-style lager brewed with a large portion of Virginia-grown red and yellow-hued, fully flavored Bloody Butcher and Golden Butcher corn. According to the folks at Powers Farm: "Bloody Butcher corn is an open pollinated heritage variety traditionally grown in Appalachia where seed savers have preserved this variety for centuries." This lager was very light and slightly crisp with a smooth, creamy texture. 

Meanwhile, we were starting to get hungry, and luckily a food truck called Rolling Wraps was on-site during our visit. After perusing the menu, I settled on a falafel wrap and a side of fries that was absolutely delicious! Brewslut and I also shared a pour of Cold Moon, an easy-drinking IPA brewed with a Virginia-cultivated yeast strain and hopped with 4lbs. per barrel of Citra, Mosaic, and Cascade. This was a light, citrusy, well-balanced IPA with a touch of bitterness in the finish. Nothing crazy; just a good, solid old-fashioned IPA. Sometimes you just need that kind of simplicity. 

What's a farm without a tractor?

We kind of stumbled upon our next stop, Altered Suds. This new brewery opened for business in 2019 with a simple business plan: to brew quality beer and have a cool place at which to enjoy it. (I think that's pretty much the goal of every small-town brewery, isn't it?) The brewery's owners and master brewer all grew up and went to school in town, which by the way happens to be Warrenton, VA. Like its off-centered beers, the brewery incorporates its collective passion for music, the arts, and - to quote them - "all things a little weird." The long, narrow tasting room ends with a small deck in the back overlooking a makeshift beer garden in the parking lot. If you're hungry, Molly's Irish Pub is right upstairs and offers a limited pub menu for guests Altered Suds. 

Outside Warrenton's Altered Suds Brewery.

After examining the eight available beers on tap, I narrowed my decision down to two IPAs. I got the low-down from the bartender and ultimately landed on Late to the Tea Party, an unfiltered IPA that was first released when the brewery opened its doors and has remained a fan favorite since the beginning. This was damn tasty, especially for a new brewery. The fact that they led with this beer is pretty impressive. I'd be happy if I was a local and this was the IPA I had to drink day in and day out. 

Colorful beer boards at Altered Suds.

After a nice diversion frolicking through the farmlands of Virginia, it was time to continue our homeward trek. It seems like every trip we've gone on this year has included a stop at one of our favorite Frederick breweries, Attaboy. It was fairly busy when we arrived, so we snagged a table outside. Once we got situated, Deuane and I went inside to order beers. When we got inside, there were two lines: the first was for people who knew what they wanted (i.e. no samplers); the second line was for those people who simply can't commit to a beer without trying it first. Heaven forbid! So wouldn't you know it, the people in front of us ask to get a flight, to which I replied, "C'mon man, didn't you see the sign?" The two of them looked at me like I was speaking another language. I was only kidding (half, perhaps), but I do wish people had more situational awareness. I suppose it comes from staring at a phone or similar device and "scrolling down" for hours on end. Oh well... I'd have to wait an extra 90 seconds for my beer. 

Obligatory "Attaboy, Pleeps!" caption.

Since we've been talking about Attaboy a lot this year, let's just sit back and focus on the beers this time, shall we? This time, I opted for The Whistler, an old-school West Coast style IPA, which I don't ever recall having at Attaboy before. Hopped with Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin (I almost always order a beer when I see it features the latter variety), this crisp, slightly dry IPA boasts hints of citrus and juniper berry. To my good fortune, it finishes with a solid bready malt backbone and wash of good old bitterness across the palate. Imagine that. An IPA that's actually bitter.  

I followed this up with another IPA called Boss of the World, a 7.7% ABV hazy orange delight hopped with Citra and Strata. With hints of orange marmalade and mango, this was another winner in a long pedigree of fine beers from Attaboy. Strata hops are known to be both dank and fruity with somewhat of a weed-like aroma. A versatile variety that's been around for a little over a decade, this hop harnesses layers of fresh fruit flavors - think bright tropical fruit and juicy grapefruit - with a hint of sweet strawberry and mild cannabis vibe. 

Extreme close-up!

We ended the evening at Smoketown Brewing, which happens to be at the other end of the same block as Attaboy. We'd visited Smoketown's original location back in 2018 on my On the verge of 44 birthday weekend jaunt. While we weren't terribly impressed, I always enjoy revisiting a brewery after a hiatus to see how they've evolved during the down-time. I seemed to have remembered this place more for the people-watching and less for the beer (check out the blog for details and a story about a guy we dubbed "Feets on Fire"). 

The brewery's main location is actually in Brunswick, MD. In the early 1900s, the town of Brunswick coined their famous nickname, Smoketown, after the valleys of the town were blanketed in smoke from coal trains passing through. This Frederick location opened in October 2019, complete with a 10bbl brewhouse and total brewing capacity of 40 barrels. Not too shabby! 

This was our final "one and done" stop of the trip, so I had to make it count. There's nothing worse than ending an amazing drip on a down note with a shitty beer. I eyed up my choices and settled on Smokestack, a black IPA. Hopped with Citra and Centennial, this was a straight-up old-school black IPA with notes of bitter grapefruit amid chocolate and coffee notes. I was pleasantly surprised with this one, and was ultimately glad we swung by to check out this new Frederick location. 

And with that, it was all over. By this time, it was already dark out and we still had an hour-and-forty-minute drive ahead of us... with the new work week ready to rear its ugly head. We parted ways with D&C (and Magpie) and set the ol' GPS to the familiar "home" setting. 

Well kids, another "birthday weekend" is in the books (although this was technically the week after my birthday). Somewhere out in the woods, there's a cabin that's calling my name. I'm already looking forward to next year's adventure... I just hope there's a working shower and shitter that flushes! Until next time...

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Little Cabin in the Woods: Part I

For the last several years around my birthday, Brewslut and I have continued a streak of traveling with our long-time friends Deuane and Carolyn to partake in some casual brewery-hopping amid the picturesque landscapes of the Appalachian Mountains. Rather than hotel rooms or even Air B&B rentals, our lodging for these long weekends comes in the form of rustic cabins usually situated in quiet, remote areas. 

For this particular weekend, we'd be "roughing it." We'd been informed by Deuane in advance that there'd be no running water or indoor bathroom; instead, we'd have to schlep water from a nearby spring or perhaps bring our own. The bathroom situation? We'd be required to use an old-school outhouse or, easier for us dudes with dangling bits, whip it out and use a nearby tree or bush. As someone who showers once daily (or more, depending on my gym schedule) and uses the "facilities" more often than the average person, the thought of not having these amenities at my disposal was nudging me to the verge of bowing out this time around. Of course, Brewslut talked me into it. Not since I'd traveled to northern Maine for a Phish festival had I not bathed in several consecutive days, and this trip would undoubtedly put an end to that streak. 

So we set off one Thursday afternoon to Syria, VA, for a long weekend at Meadows Cabin, a dwelling of which Laura Ingles would likely be proud. The drive took about three-and-a-half hours (about the same time as it takes for us to get to Pittsburgh). We drove past GearHouse, Homaide and Cushwa along the way, and it killed us not to swing in for a beer at each. But it would have put the kibosh on our timeline, as we'd hoped to arrive before the sun set. After all, we had about a quarter-mile jog from our car to the cabin and would need to make a few trips.

In addition to D&C, we'd be joined by Taylor (whom you may remember from our trips to Delaware and Dogfish Head) as well as Deuane's favorite "beer son," Tristan, who has been in our close-knit circle of beer friends for quite some time (though he'd be joining us the following day). 

The cabin is regularly available to members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, of which D&C are long-time members. In a nutshell, the PATC acquires, maintains and protects trails and land on the Appalachian Trail as well as adjacent trails and facilities in the region, and endeavors to provide a dynamic outdoor experience to hikers, nature lovers, and other outdoorsy folk. The PATC also maintains 42 cabins to provide hiking and outdoor experiences for its members as well as the general public. These cabins in its network extend from Charlottesville, VA, through Maryland and West Virginia, reaching as far north as Shippensburg, PA. To quote the PATC: "Each cabin tells a unique, vibrant story; constructed by forest rangers, PATC members and benefactors, the Civilian Conservation Corps, or even Prohibition-era moonshiners." As you will soon discover, Meadows Cabin will unravel the story of a dingy, unwashed middle-aged man who is forced to sleep in a chilly second-floor loft overcome with ladybugs and reduced to using a make-shift piss jug his wife fabricated from a used plastic one-gallon water bottle. While that all sounds abysmal to someone who takes for granted such necessities as hot running water, a microwave, and flushable moist wipes, it was a pretty amazing weekend. 

Meadows Cabin is a semi-primitive chestnut log cabin built in 1913 by Edgar Meadows. It's located west of Syria, VA, on the east side of the Central District of Shenandoah National Park and features two rooms with an eat-in kitchen on the main floor and a large single room upstairs. Brewslut and I decided to take the loft, and the reason I opted for the piss jug is because the stairs were so narrow and the headspace was tight that I could see myself stumbling in the middle of the night to relieve myself only to crack my dome on the way down the stairs. While the cabin does have electricity, heat is provided by a wood stove, and the kitchen stove (which we didn't use) also requires wood. Here are some lovely photos Carolyn took of the cabin and its rooms:  

Exterior shots of Meadows Cabin.

Upstairs loft area where Brewslut and I slept.

Kitchen and dining room area.

We arrived to Meadows Cabin as we'd hoped: before sunset. Although daylight was beginning to fade quickly, we made the jog to the cabin without incident. Once we got settled in, we enjoyed a plethora of beer brought by Deuane, Taylor and I. With no internet connection in such a remote part of the world, we didn't have the luxury of being able to access Untappd - first world problems, right? - but you can rest assured we sampled a fine assortment of beers including several one-off DFH beers brought by Taylor. 


After a quick mile-long hike the following day, Tristan joined us and we were back to civilization with a few visits to some nearby breweries. First up was one that was new to all of us: Octonia Stone Brew Works in Ruckersville, VA. The brewery's curious name is derived from an historic boundary marker, The Octonia Stone, located near Stanardsville, VA, which marks the westernmost boundary line of the Octonia Grant. A quick history lesson: In 1722, King George granted 24,000 acres of Virginia land to Lieutenant Governor Spotswood. Much of the grant was the very same land that Spotswood explored with his Knights of the Golden Horseshoe. On July 20, 1722, Spotswood passed on the grant to the Octonia Company, a group of eight prominent Virginians, who engraved an indigenous stone along the border with a figure (a cross atop a figure 8), which is incorporated into the brewery's logo. 

Cool quilt at Octonia Stone Brew Works (note the logo).

Oddly enough, instead of a pre-Revolutoinary War vibe that would have been consistent with its origin story, we were greeted by a fairly modern-looking dwelling that was decorated with movie and music posters and memorabilia (especially the Grateful Dead). They even had a working Atari 2600 in the upstairs area, and I managed to sneak in a game of Adventure, one of my all-time favorite Atari cartridges!

After perusing the menu, I opted for Lode Star, described as a smoked brown S'more ale. Despite being called an ale, this dark porter-like beer is actually fermented with lager yeast. Smoked and roasted malts lend a chocolatey backbone with just a hint of campfire smokiness. The addition of chocolate and toasted marshmallow syrup sweeten the pot - a bit too much, perhaps - and temper the smoky notes I'd hoped for. It was enjoyable overall, albeit not as complex as I'd hoped. With that said, I seemed to have been the clear winner of the group, because the rest of the beers ordered by our group (save Carolyn) were complete duds. Brandi's Milk Shake on You Crazy Diamond - while we appreciated the Pink Floyd reference - was completely undrinkable. We passed this abomination around the group and were greeted by a similar reaction and facial expression from all (I'll let you use your imagination). Everyone seemed to enjoy my Lode Star, though, and Deuane even decided to get his own pour after being disappointed by his selection. Sadly, he'd thought it was No Fracking Way, a fluffernutter stout that Tristan had and was equally as unappealing as Brewslut's IPA. Needless to say none of us helped him choke that one down. Aside from Deuane, this was a clear one-and-done visit. Time to move on to (hopefully) bigger and better things.

Up next was another familiar brewery, one that we'd visited during the Old Rag Shizzle weekend: Bald Top. Bald Top is one of Virginia's many farm breweries, a trend that continues to grow steadily in the state due to legislation passed in 2014 allowing farms to begin operating breweries on their properties. As of August 2020, there were 31 licensed farm breweries throughout the state. Touted as "Virginia's first historic farm brewery," Bald Top is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the shadow of Bald Top Mountain. The brewery is situated on 53 acres of farmland that's actually listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and also the National Register of Historic Places. On its farm, they grow five different varieties of hops to use in its beers. 

I kicked things off with a pour of Schwarzbier, the traditional dark German-style lager I've been ranting on about for the last few blogs. This was pretty solid overall, with a dominant roasty malt character and hint of cocoa with a smidgen of crispness one would expect with the style. Not bad at all.  

Pleeps likes BOTH kinds of beer: dark and light.

I followed up the Schwarzbier with Secretly Smoked Lager, a beer the folks at Bald Top promise "hints of smoked ham." The base beer is actually light amber lager but it definitely has a smoked ham flavor in the backend. This one was enjoyable, and it's always nice to see the words "smoked" on a beer menu. Meanwhile, we grabbed a few pies from the on-site wood-fired kitchen. I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to... well, just about anything... but Taylor wasn't down with the 'za here. I was more than happy helping him finish his pie, though. 

Like many of the breweries in this region of the country, the view at Bald Top is impressive. With that said, we were having a nice time and decided to stay for another round, so I went big and black with a pour of Russian Imperial Stout. According to Bald Top, this beer is a direct descendent of its original 2017 RIS. Brewed the previous July, it had been aging ever since. This one was definitely pretty heavy on the boozy bourbon character, but notes of chocolate, coffee and vanilla mingled with the warm alcohol notes. 

Friday was a short day. After hitting just two breweries, we decided to head back to the cabin, as Deuane was preparing an epic meal featuring wild-caught Alaskan salmon as the entrée. Plus we had plenty of beer to drink. To add to the ambiance, Taylor brought his portable turntable to the sparsely appointed cabin for our listening pleasure. He had asked me to pick out about ten records I thought he'd like, which I was happy to do. I actually put quite a bit of thought into my selections, and I had to narrow down my picks to twenty. I went heavy on jazz/rock/fusion with a few prog rock favorites. Herbie Hancock's Man-Child proved a favorite of the weekend, and he was also really excited that I brought along "Weird" Al's In 3-D, the only of his I have on vinyl. The record player provided plenty of entertainment throughout the weekend as we cracked open beers and enjoyed the warmth of the wood-burning oven. After a fine evening session, it was off to bed (thankfully it was much warmer in the loft compared to Thursday night... and I only had to use my piss jug once during the middle of the night). 


After some breakfast and a lengthy morning hike on Cedar Run Trail in Shenandoah National Park (including some fantastic views of three different waterfalls), it was time to get cleaned up as best as we could and venture off to a new-to-us brewery called Skyline. Also known as Little Washington Winery & Brewery, this hidden gem of a place is tucked away in Virginia Wine Country's sweet spot near the Thornton Gap entrance to Shenandoah National Park. While they've been handcrafting old world-style artisan wines from its estate vines for more than seventeen years, brewing is a new venture for them. In addition to well-appointed tasting rooms, they have a wonderful deck area, sprawling, well-kept grounds and even a disc golf course. Also, they offer sixteen different classes in an attempt to educate folks on the finer points of wine and food pairing. 

Pleeps exploring the grounds at Little Washington aka Skyline.

Right off the bat, though, I felt like I was at some upper echelon country club, as a 16oz pour of beer in a plastic cup was $10 plus tax. We were all pretty vexed by this, and I joked that "the place down the road charges $10 for beer, so why can't we?" (That place is Pen Druid, a brewery I wouldn't bat an eye at spending $10 for a beer.) At any rate, I decided to go with a safe bet, a Cacao Nib Porter. While it wasn't worth almost $13 after tax and tip, I think I made the right decision, as some of the others weren't too jazzed about their beers. This was solid enough, with ample body, smooth creaminess, and a pleasant dark cocoa flavor amid the sweetness. The scenery was magnificent, so perhaps they worked the ambiance of the place into the cost of the beer. 

Weather-wise, it was turning into a lovely day, and we had no issues setting outside on the patio while we worked on our beers and conversed with each other. I took a little stroll around the grounds and snapped a few photos, the following of which is my personal favorite. That Pleeps... what a social butterfly. He's always busy making new friends. 

Pleeps and his new pink friends.

After our one-and-done visit to Skyline, it was time to head to the brewery I was most excited to visit again: Pen Druid. I was anxious to check out the new brewery, as they'd just moved to a brand new location in Sperryville, VA, last October. Pen Druid is owned and operated by the three brothers: Lain, Van and Jennings Carney (who also perform in a psych-rock band called Pontiak that's apparently big in Europe). In conjunction with Black Hops farm, the three brothers opened Pen Druid in August 2015. The brewery takes its name from an old family farm, which sits on the Thornton River in Rappahannock County, just a few miles downstream from the brewery. 

One of my favorite aspects of this brewery (and also one of its most unique) is that it focuses on wild and barrel-aged beers, spontaneous fermentation, and natural carbonation. Shortly after opening its doors, the brothers cultivated its own proprietary blend of wild yeasts and bacteria from the Virginia Piedmont, which represents the terroir of its native Rappahannock County. It's in this spirit that the Pen Druid brothers also began their spontaneous fermentation program utilizing two copper-lined coolships. Quick lesson for you: A coolship (based on the Flemish word "koelschip") is a broad, flat, open-top fermentation vessel, which allows wort to cool and simultaneously collect airborne yeast and bacteria to inoculate the beer naturally, thus creating spontaneous fermentation. 

As if using a coolship wasn't traditional enough, these guys brew on a 10bbl wood-fired brewhouse. Yes, you read that correctly... a wood-fired brewhouse! Now that's old-school! I can only imagine how labor-intensive their brewing process is, not to mention how difficult it must be to control the temperature of the mash boil. Brewing beer is a finicky science, so Pen Druid's archaic way of crafting its beers is a lost artform during a time of automated, push-button brewing systems with all the bells and whistles. Methinks those brewing Belgian monks of centuries past would be proud of Pen Druid!

Pen Druid's wood-fired brewhouse (above) and coolship (below).

As soon as I spotted Amaro on its short but diverse tap list, I immediately knew I wanted it. An 11% ABV dark sour ale aged in bourbon barrels, this deep, rich amaretto-colored beer is then aged in fresh oak barrels before finally resting on organic oranges. The beer is most likely based on the Italian herbal liqueur of the same name. Amaro (Italian for "bitter") is commonly consumed as an after-dinner digestif. Its bitter-sweet flavor and thick, sticky texture was well-represented in this beer. Though it was an absolute joy to drink, I wish I'd ended with this one! 

The vibe at the new location was in stark contrast to the one I'd experienced two years ago. Of course, we were sitting outside on a beautiful early spring day rather than inside an old farm-style building in the evening. However, both visits were enjoyable and quite memorable for very different reasons. One thing still remained, though: the amazing beer: Up next was a pour of Spiritual Nurse, a lightly hopped, wild Virginia amber ale brewed with a portion of local 2-row malted barley and fermented with Pen Druid's proprietary "Flower" wild culture strain. This beer encapsulates everything this brewery is about: old world craftsmanship with a true taste of the region. 

I was in a charitable mood, so I excused myself to snap a few pictures. However, when I returned to the group I was joined by a recently procured 750mL bottle of a beer called Spontaneous Raspberries. As the label reads: "Brewed in the traditional spontaneous method. Made with malt, raw wheat from the farm at Sunnyside, aged hops, our well water and wood-fires. Conditioned on raspberries." I knew we simply all had to try this beer. I don't regret it.

Pleeps gets in on the action... of course!

My expectations were high, and Pen Druid did not disappoint. Of course, I knew the beers would be top-notch (I didn't mind paying $10 for a pour of this beer). Add a table full of friends and a happy-go-lucky little monkey mascot, and you've got the makings of a perfect Pour Travelers day. This photo succinctly sums up our collective mood during our visit to Pen Druid:

Cheers to Pen Druid for a memorable afternoon!

Up next was more familiar territory with a fun visit to Hopkins Ordinary Ale Works. We'd been there just once before, about two years prior (also for my birthday weekend, as told in Old Rag Shizzle: Part 2) and enjoyed it quite a bit. Not only are the beers solid with a traditional bent, the place reminded me a bit of Selin's Grove, if only for its diminutive size and quaint atmosphere and colonial décor.  

Situated in the cellar of an operating Bed & Breakfast, Hopkins Ordinary is a small-batch brewery made with locally sourced barley that's malted right up the road by Copper Fox Distillery as well as other local, seasonal ingredients like hops, honey, fruit and herbs, when available. While the tasting room is tiny yet charming, it's the Biergarten - sprawled out under a huge elm tree and surrounded by plants in the summer or a fire pit in winter - that's the focal point of this small brewery. 

Entrance to Hopkins' tasting room.

I started with a beer I'd enjoyed on our first visit: Mary's Rauch Smoked Honey Rye Ale. As you already know, rauchbiers are a favorite of mine and due to their scarcity, I'll almost always order one. Occasionally I'll pass if I really craving hops, but 9 times out of 10 I'm going to order one when I encounter one. The smokiness here is fairly mild but pleasant and nuanced, with traces of applewood, tobacco and campfire all propped up by a sweet-and-spicy backbone courtesy of honey and rye added into the mix. I find this one to be a very approachable smoked beer that is equally enjoyable for novices and hardened aficionados alike.   

I kept things traditional and went with Stony Man ESB. I hadn't had an ESB in quite some time and I suddenly had a hankering for this - despite its name - malty British style. An "Extra Special Bitter" is somewhat of an antiquated style that, though once popular in the early days of the American craft beer movement, has all but disappeared at most small breweries... especially the "trendy" ones. The style is known for its balance of malty sweetness and hop bitterness. Tröegs HopBack Amber, for example, was born out of its original ESB recipe. Back in the day, it was commonplace for - to borrow from the nomenclature of the times - "microbreweries" like Tröegs, Appalachian, Stoudt's, etc. to have an ESB in its arsenal of beers. This one was a pretty solid interpretation of the style, although I prefer a tad more hop potency in my ESB. There's something about those faint fruity esters and flowery perfumes when they blend with that big caramel and toffee malt character that gets me. This style is especially magnificent on a traditional beer engine (aka "on cask"). 

Me and D acting like idiots at Hopkins.

I don't remember a whole heck of a lot at our final stop of the day, Shotwell Run. It was a one-and-done stop for us, as the day was quickly coming to an end. Nestled in the gorgeous country surroundings of Old Rag, Shotwell Run focuses on classic beer styles rather than hazy juice bombs, fruited sours, pastry stouts and the like. In addition to brewing beers in small batches, it also operates its on-site sister company, Blue Quartz Winery, which produces a variety of wines and ciders. 

Outside Shotwell Run

I opted for the old-school Centennial 5 Cent, an IPA named not only for its contents but also the hopping process it employs. This moderately bitter IPA boasts five additions of classic Centennial hops from the Pacific Northwest for a blend of grapefruit and orange notes accent by traces of pine resin. Nothing mind-blowing here; just a solid, well-crafted IPA with a pleasant malt-hop balance and some bitterness in the backend. What else can you ask for? 

Pleeps is ready to raise the white flag.

By this time, we were ready to head back to the cabin and break into some of the beers we all brought to share, which was quite a haul. By the end of the weekend, the mantle of the fireplace was littered with stacks of (mostly) cans and a few scattered crowlers and bottles. We didn't hit it as hard as we did on Thursday or even Friday, as we'd already enjoyed a long day of brewery hopping. 

Stay tuned for Part II, as we make our way back home, but not before hitting up some new breweries as well as an old favorite. Until next time...

Sunday, April 25, 2021

"Maybe I can twist you arm..."

We had it all planned out. Brewslut and I were going to pick up Doug and Lynn at their house in Hershey, then head down to York for lunch and hit a few breweries and record stores. Then we showed up and Doug threw a wrench into our agenda by saying, "Maybe I can twist your arm and we can head down to Baltimore." The weather was certainly cooperating, and after a brief moment of thought, I realized that Baltimore was only about another 40 minutes from York. So it was settled. We're callin' audibles like champs! Unfortunately, we hadn't planned on making the day a full-on brewery day, so Pleeps was not in tow with us. Sad panda. 

We still kept true to our original intention of hitting up Collusion Tap Works for lunch. But first, we swung by Mothership, a great little record store on Mt. Rose Ave. in York. Things got off to a slow start for me, but once I hit the "M" section or thereabouts, I quickly had a pile of records that was going home with me. 

But we're here to talk beer, so let's get to that. 

Collusion is far and away my favorite brewery in York. Before I discovered a few cool record stores in town, I had no other reason to visit York aside from grabbing a few beers at Collusion. Open since September 2016, Collusion operates on a 7-bbl brewhouse as well as a 1-bbl pilot system to brew test batches. These guys came out of the gate swinging and haven't slowed down one bit, churning out stand-up versions of just about every possible beer style under the sun. IPAs, lagers, coffee stouts, fruit beers, Belgians, sours, traditional styles, and more. You name it, they've done it... and chances are they've done it well. I even had the pleasure of Collusion pouring beer at my last Ffej of July event in 2019. 

Since it was early in the day when we arrived - brunch time, perhaps - I felt it was appropriate to kick off my day with a maple French toast version of its coffee milk stout, Fresh Pots. I'd had a chocolate cherry variant a while back, and it was quite tasty. This particular version wasn't too sweet; instead, it offered wisps of vanilla, cinnamon and maple syrup flavor amid the roasty coffee goodness of the base beer. Also, you gotta love the name Fresh Pots. I can neither deny nor confirm its origins, but I'm fairly certain the name of this beer was inspired by an old video of Dave Grohl in the recording studio with Foo Fighters, which shows him running around and screaming "Fresh pots!" at the top of his lungs. Of course, he's looking for coffee and apparently needs an abundance of caffeine flowing through his veins to make musical magic. Fair enough. (The video is hilarious, buy the way.)

I followed this up with Welcome Back, a delicious take on a hazy IPA brewed with flaked oats and Verdant ale yeast. (We'll get to the hops in a minute, but first I've got a public service announcement about yeast.) Although its always been an important ingredient in the brewing process, yeast has routinely taken a back seat to hops and malt when people discuss flavor and aroma profiles in beer. However, beer drinkers are slowly beginning to take notice on how yeast can completely change the profile of a beer using the same base ingredients. Developed with England's Verdant Brewing Company, this particular yeast strain produces a soft and balanced malt profile with slightly more body than a typical American IPA yeast strain, coaxing notes of apricot, tropical fruit and citrus, flavors which merge seamlessly with the character of the hops. 

As for the hops, Welcome Back features some newfangled varieties including Citra and Mosaic Cryo hops (remember my lesson on those a few blogs ago?) and - prepare for yet another hop lesson - Citra Incognito. Incognito is an all-natural hop flavor product specifically designed to be used in the whirlpool. MORE DETAILS HERE!!!!!

I ended with a pour of Schwarzbier, a classic German-style dark lager. I've been digging this style as of late, probably when Deuane and I had one at Desperate Times in Carlisle a while back. I've been drinking a fair amount of lagers lately, and I will typically order a Schwarzbier if I see one on tap in my travels. This was a fine example of the style, with notes of cocoa, coffee and roast. And with that, it was time to visit the restroom then hit the rickety road - OK, the interstate - to Baltimore. 

Outside Baltimore's Nepenthe Brewing Company.

As we get down to Baltimore every once in a while, Nepenthe had been on my radar for a few months. I actually had it in the "notepad" section of my phone, and I remembered there was a brewery in Baltimore that somebody told me about or that I'd read about recently. A relative newcomer to the ever-growing Baltimore beer scene, Nepenthe actually started back in 2013 as a homebrew shop but eventually moved due to flooding. Built on a mission to become “a brewery with food, not a restaurant with beer," Nepenthe was born and finally moved into an expanded facility in January 2019 complete with a shiny new 10bbl brewhouse, on-site taproom, and its award-winning homebrew store. 

What's on tap at Nepenthe? Lots of IPAs, for starters!

Being our inaugural visit, I decided to dip my toes into its offerings with a sampler flight. Since the brewery is primarily known for its IPAs, I decided to go all-in with hops and ordered IPAs exclusively. Here's the run-down:

  • Space Jellyfish - Brewed with barley, wheat, rye, oats, and honey malt, this IPA is hopped with Galaxy, Motueka and Simcoe, then double dry-hopped with the same blend. Soft yet dank with juicy notes of tropical fruit and papaya. 
  • Odin's Bane - DIPA hopped with Riwaka, Nelson Sauvin, Vic Secret and Mosaic and rife with bubblegum, citrus, strawberry, and a hint of white grape.
  • Pyromancer - crisp, dry West Coast-style DIPA featuring Citra and Simcoe at the forefront with supporting roles courtesy of old-schoolers Chinook, Cascade and Centennial. This one boasts earthy notes, pine resin, freshly cut grass, and citrus fruit with a fair amount of bitterness on the palate. 
  • Dubbabeebweepa - DIPA based on an IPA called Beebweepa but amped up to 8.7% ABV. Built on the same malt base and hop bill, this hopped-up version cranks things up with extra Citra, Mosaic and Amarillo, then chucks some Galaxy into the mix for a blast of tropical citrus. This one is soft and creamy with just a hint of bitterness. 

Where my monkey at?!

I enjoyed all four beers quite a bit, and everyone in the group was digging their selections. During our session, I was fixated on some of the brewery's T-shirts, which were on display above the bar. Their artwork is colorful and screams outer space, with equal parts Star Trek and heavy metal. Some of the designs and color schemes reminded me of various Mastodon T-shirts I've seen throughout the years, some of which I own. I was torn between two equally bad-ass designs, one for its Pyromancer and the other for Space Jellyfish. I'll never buy a shirt with a beer label if I hadn't tried - and enjoyed - said beer. Luckily, I'd sampled both of these and enjoyed each equally. After some careful deliberation, I decided on the Space Jellyfish design, which I felt was a bit more colorful than the design for Pyromancer. So I guess I can add yet another brewery T-shirt to the pile. I look forward to a return visit to this fantastic up-and-coming brewery!

While we were at Nepenthe, I decided to try my luck and Google "record stores near me" for shits and giggles. Wouldn't you know it, there was a record store ripe for the picking just two doors down from the brewery. What are the chances? I suppose I've got good beer karma! Doug and I headed two doors down to Celebrated Summer for a bit of digging while the ladies held down the fort at Nepenthe and enjoyed another round. Unfortunately for Doug, the selection was vinyl only; not that he needs any more CDs, though. Doug is a CD guy whose collection is so massive it wallpapers his entire man cave. He helped me look for some stuff on my want list and I left with a healthy stack of wax. I also think I re-sparked his interest in records while sifting through the rows here. I could hear the spark of the kindling firing up. (Editor's note: Doug bought a mac-daddy turntable about two weeks after our little Baltimore excursion.) After a successful stroll down to Celebrated Summer, I returned to Nepenthe with my haul and we headed to our next stop... but not before purchasing a pretty bad-ass T-shirt. (I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the awesome artwork adorning Nepenthe's cans and merch. The shirt has since been in my regular rotation of T-shirts since this little trip.) 

Since Brewslut had yet to visit the new Union Craft Brewing space and Doug and Lynn hadn't been there either, I suggested it as our next stop. I really enjoyed our visit about two years ago for our Tröegs Field Trip, and their beers are great. With a simple motto of "Beer unites!" it's no wonder why Union is a hallmark of Baltimore's burgeoning beer scene. 

Union Craft Brewing (courtesy of

Situated within the Union Collective business hub in Baltimore's Medfield neighborhood, Union was founded in the fall of 2011 and officially opened its doors in the spring of 2012 with the installation of a 20-bbl brewhouse and the launch of its flagship beer, Duckpin Pale Ale. After five years in a tiny location just up the road from its current site, Union set up shop in its current digs - a 148,000 sq. ft. building that was formerly a warehouse for Sears department store. In addition to its sprawling tasting room and production facility, Union boasts a sizeable beer garden, which we got to enjoy during this particular visit. (Sadly, the inside was closed to the public except for take-out beer and for customers to visit the restrooms.) 

Once we were seated and I was able to peruse the beer menu, I settled on Skipjack Pils. But first a funny story...

Lynn and I were both trying to open tabs on some newfangled app utilized by Union that allows customers to order food right from the table. We still had to mosey over to the bar and order beers, but we needed to open a tab first. After struggling with the app for about 10 minutes, Lynn beat me to the punch and successfully opened a tab. I offered to go up and grab our beers. After a quick 20-second stroll, I was greeted by a guy around my age with pretty much the same look as me: long hair, glasses, and a fairly full graying goatee. I ordered our four beers from him and told him we had a tab open under... but before I could say Lynn's name, he said, "It doesn't matter. These are on the house!" Wait, what?! I didn't even tell him I worked at Tröegs or provided any additional information that might prompt him to comp four beers for our party. When I inquired about this, he said, "I like your look"... and not in some veiled gay way, either. Cool beans! Free beer. This guy must have some clout at Union! If you're reading this... I owe you a few beers!

OK, let's get back on topic. Skipjack, brewed with real Bohemian pilsner malt, is an exceptionally clean and crisp German-style pilsner featuring Mandarina Bavaria hops from Germany and Michigan-grown Zuper Saazer hops. 

OK, hit pause for a moment if you will. 

Ready for another lesson in hops? OK then, here we go! The classic Noble variety Saaz is widely known for its delicate blend of pleasant earthy, herbaceous, and spicy aromas. Traditional Saaz hops are very low in Alpha Acids and therefore primarily used as an aroma hop. It's long history dates back to more than 700 years ago with origins in the city of Zatec in - no surprise here - the Czech Republic. Brewers have been using this particular hop variety in Czech Pilsners, a favorite style of mine. The twist here is that these Zuper Saazer hops are much higher in Alpha Acids compared to plain old Saaz. Wait a minute... what the hell is an Alpha Acid? Well, it's a chemical compound found in the resin glands of hop flowers that also happens to be the source of hop bitterness. Needless to say this pilsner had an amped-up hop bite, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It was grassy and citrusy with a hint of earthy minerals... a refreshing easy drinker, just the way I like 'em!

OK, so remember the guy who was gracious enough to comp our beers? Well, he returned to our table 10 minutes later with a 750mL bottle of a limited bourbon barrel-aged stout... on the house! I'm actually on Union's mailing list and saw a blurb about a barrel-aged bottle release recently, and they sounded delicious! This particular beer, Dark Spot, is an Imperial Stout aged thirteen months and two weeks in 30-year-old French oak casks that previously held cognac and rye whiskey. Holy shit snacks! This black, viscous beauty poured with a thin veil of dark brown foam. Its aroma was rife with earthy oak, spicy rye, tobacco, molasses, and dark fruit. The velvety beer sat heavily on the palate and gave way to complex flavors of Belgian chocolate, coffee, and campfire notes (marshmallow and all), as well as hints of leather and roasted nuts with traces of the spirits previously occupying the barrels around the edges. If you at some point replied, "Wow!" to that description, then that's the reaction for which I was looking, because this sucker was deep, complex, rich, and decadent. What a treat! 

And with that, it was time to bid a fond adieu to Union, but not before stocking up on some Duckpin Pale Ale, one of Baltimore's most beloved beers. 

Ministry of Brewing opened its doors in early 2020 right before COVID-19 reared its ugly head (thanks 'Rona). Not the best timing, unfortunately. Actually, the brewery had its struggles prior to COVID, having experienced multiple delays to its grand opening while it waited for the City of Baltimore’s judgment on inspections and occupancy processes. Better late than never, right?

Occupying the former St. Michael’s Church in the Upper Fells Point/Washington Hill part of town, Ministry of Brewing has successfully revitalized a historic community gathering place and done it with the kind of reverence a place named The Ministry of Beer so richly deserves. I haven't been to a brewery like this since Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, the quintessential brewery situated in an old church. This place has a very similar vibe: high cathedral ceilings, brewing equipment where the alter should be, and ornate décor with religious overtones (how could it not?). The "stations of the cross" had been removed (don't ask me what they are... I'm not Catholic). I'm glad they did, though, because it's kind of disturbing if I recall correctly from a Catholic wedding I attended several years ago. Nothing like looking at a scrawny, bleeding guy lugging a cross around while I'm trying to enjoy a beer or two. 

Interior of the Ministry of Brewing.

I kept things on the light side as I knew this was our final stop of the day and I'd be driving home shortly. The beern in question, Rebuilding Year, is a Bohemian lager brewed with pilsner malt and Saaz hops. Yup, it's that simple. This was pretty solid overall, but not quite as good as the Skipjack I'd just enjoyed at Union. Still, I'd like to get back to this place and spend a little more time when we have the luxury of overnight accommodations. (I'm kind of sad that we couldn't get to Diamondback, one of my favorite breweries in Baltimore). Still, it proved to be a fine day with the Shirks: beer, records, and just the right amount of spontaneity. 

That's all for now. Tune in next time for another installment of the Pour Travelers. Cheers!

Monday, April 19, 2021

Reading, PA, and west thereof

Like most Fridays during the year of uncertainty (thanks 'Rona), we've hung out with our friends Darin and Jeni. Usually, we'll just order some wings from Big Daddy's or, on occasion, grab some 'za (the new, hip abbreviation for pizza) and then kick back with some adult beverages and tunes for a few hours. On this particular Friday evening, we were just about to head home when we all - in a semi-drunken state - decided to make plans for the following day. What did these plans entail? Making the short drive to our old stomping grounds of Reading, PA, an outing Jeni was surprisingly excited about. I'd never seen someone get that excited about Reading before (maybe when my brother used to buy up all the railroads on Monopoly back in the day). To her defense, when I say "Reading" I'm actually referring to "West Reading." West Reading is kind of like South Street in Philly, only cleaner and more upscale. Back when we lived in the area (Sinking Spring), we used to venture into West Reading to shop at the VF Outlets and buy horrendous pairs of Lee jeans like they were going out of style. Hey... we were in our early twenties, had little money, and Levi's were too expensive for the meager wage I was pulling in at the time (although I did save enough money to allow us to honeymoon in Europe). But back in the late '90s, West Reading was known for outlets, a diner, a sandwich shop or two... and that's about it. 

Fast forward twenty-odd years later, and the strip is rife with trendy little shops, upscale drinking establishments, restaurants, and - the reason you're reading this - breweries; three, to be exact, plus a satellite tasting room for a meadery, an awesome craft beer bar, and a whiskey bar. It's kind of like the Lititz of Berks County. As a bonus, one of my favorite record stores from back in the day, Vertigo Music Trade, had moved from West Lawn to West Reading since we'd moved out of Berks County. So, yeah, we'd find plenty of stuff to do to fill up a full day. 

We began our day on familiar turf: Chatty Monks. Since I was driving, I decided to limit my intake to one beer per stop and do my best to keep things on the lighter side of the spectrum. When we arrived, we had to wait for about five minutes or so, since there were no available outdoor tables. We actually scored a table inside (which I typically prefer, especially when no shade is available) and perused the beer list. Our server was working solo, an impressive feat considering she was waiting tables outside, inside and on the second floor, plus she was pouring her own beers and running food. Despite being a bit frazzled (who wouldn't?) she was pretty damn amazing, so we tipped her extremely well! 

Anyway, onto the beer. I settled on Monastery Pale Ale, which is Chatty's house dry-hopped pale ale. The combination of Citra and Simcoe, two tried-and-true varieties, lends a dank citrus vibe, while - get ready for another hop lesson - Pekko hops impart subtle tea-like notes. Pekko is another variety with which I was unfamiliar, so I headed down to the library and spooled up some microfiche to do a bit of research. Actually, I Googled it (although I used to love my Library Science class in middle school). Pekko is a new dual-purpose (i.e. used for bittering and aroma) hop variety with possessing floral and herbal traits. Despite its use by some big breweries like Stone and Against the Grain, it's a variety that isn't really used widely among craft brewers. Pekko hops were initially bred by the American Dwarf Hop Association and named after the Finnish god of crops. So there's your hop lesson for the day (the more you know). This was one of my favorite beers I've had at Chatty Monks amid the baker's dozen or so beers I've had from them, and I'm pleased to know it's a house beer that I can rely on if nothing else jumps out at me when we visit again. 

Just up the street on the opposite side is Vertigo Music Trade. We stopped in for a bit and I picked up a few reasonably priced records. This place is a cool little gem that always has a solid selection of new and used vinyl as well as CDs and memorabilia. I always appreciate when a record store is in close proximity to breweries. It not only gives me a break from drinking, it also feeds my record-buying addiction. 

Up next on our agenda was a stop at Broken Chair. Darin and I had visited back in November 2019 with Doug when the three of us went to see Kansas in concert (as recounted in The Point of Bro Return), but it was the ladies' inaugural visit. This little place with a music bent is a cool addition to the main drag in West Reading. I mean, when isn't a brewery a good addition to the local community? Broken Chair seems to have a fetish for fruit and pepper beers. I've seen a variety of fruit-based IPAs here as well as two habanero beers in the form of an IPA and rye stout. I decided to go with the former and try my hand at the Key West Pineapple IPA. A signature blend of six different hops lends some of citrus-forward bitterness, while the addition of fresh pineapple adds a hint of tropical juiciness and a touch of dankness to sweeten the pot. This one was pretty enjoyable, and I find that pineapple is always a pleasant fruit addition to IPAs to coax out more tropical notes. 

Oooh, what's that smell?!

To remain compliant with the still-lingering "gotta eat while you drink" rule in PA (which has since been revoked, I'm pleased to report), Broken Chair dolled out compact cheese, meat and cracker snack trays that were similar to more upscale Lunchables. Works for me! I will say I'm definitely relieved that some of the weird COVID restrictions have finally been lifted. The things you take for granted like sitting at a bar and drinking a beer... 

Another new mask, Pleeps?

On the way back up to the other end of the street, we stopped in at Rebel Hive Meadery. Darin and I stopped in here on one previous occasion when we were out record hunting. It's basically a small tasting room where you can sample four different meads for free, purchase a small glass to enjoy on-premises, or buy some bottles to enjoy at home. My personal favorite was Jazzy Java, a delicious mead cold-infused with gourmet Jazzy Java from Reading Coffee Roasters gourmet Jazzy Java. This tasty libation boasts notes of cinnamon, pecan, and chestnut with a sweet coffee and cream finish. Absolutely delicious, if you ask me. Brewslut agreed. We also enjoyed Cherry Lee Lewis, made with sweet and tart cherries. This one drank like a heavily fruited Belgian fruit beer with plenty of tart cherry pie filling flavor. We left with one bottle of each to enjoy on another occasion.

Willow Creek was the one new brewery we got to hit on this particular day. Founded in 2018, this small, veteran-owned brewery is a great addition to the West Reading scene and features year-round outdoor seating in its adjacent beer garden. Deuane had visited a few weeks prior, and gave it thumbs up. When we arrived, the place was pretty packed due to a birthday party for someone. There was even a live bagpiper blowing out Scottish melodies like they were going out of style. We made our way to the back of the long, narrow room and decided to snag a table out in the beer garden. After a few minutes, one of the owners came out carrying what appeared to be a guitar amp that turned out to be a pretty sweet Bluetooth speaker and told us we could play whatever music we'd like. Darin had just signed up for Spotify and had a prog rock playlist all ready to go (much to the chagrin of the patrons around us, I'm sure). So it was Rush, ELP and Kansas to the rescue! Good music always makes any brewery visit more enjoyable, especially a shitty one. However, that wasn't the case with Willow Creek. Turns out I had my favorite beer of the day there. Even more strange was the fact that it was a pineapple coconut porter.

Wait, what?

Yes. Pineapple. Coconut. Porter. I know, I know... sounds weird, right? Suddenly, my memory lept back to those old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials: "Hey, you got your pineapple in my porter!" No, wait... hold on. "You got your porter in my... um, pineapple?" 

OK, so the beer in question is called Gobshite. The name itself conjures images of someone struggling uncomfortably on the toilet for half an hour after swallowing a ball of Play-Doh, silly putty or - even worse - Slime (you know, that green slimy stuff from the 80's... I got it stuck in my hair once). 

In all seriousness, let's get back to the crux of the blog. So, coconut porter... I get. It's become a fairly popular style and I've had some amazing ones over the years (Three Hour Tour, anyone?). But the addition of pineapple into the mix, albeit intriguing, had me scratching my head. I'd wanted to try the West Coast IPA, but quickly realized that it was on the "coming soon" list and not the actual tap list. So I decided to give it a shot. 

Thankfully, Pleeps refrained from flinging his Gobshite.

After Willow Creek, we headed across the street to The Whiskey Bar, which shares its space with Winedown Cafe & Winebar. Jeni is definitely more of a "brown liquor" drinker compared to the rest of us, so we made some time to swing by for a drink. We secured a table outside, complete with a little gas fire, um... pit, I guess they're called? Perhaps I'll coin the term "Flaming Table," which seems appropriate I suppose. Whatever it's called, it served its purpose and provided a bit of warmth in the nippy late March air. I sipped on an ounce of Buffalo Trace while Brewslut and Darin stuck with beer and enjoyed a can of DFH Slightly Mighty. Jeni, meanwhile, worked on a flight of three different whiskeys. The atmosphere was enjoyable and the presentation was upscale, but the service was lackluster. Still, it's a good alternative if you need a break from beer. We all can use a little more whiskey in our lives, right? 

Our final stop of the day found us venturing across the river from West Reading to Reading proper for a stop at Saucony Creek Franklin Station for dinner and drinks. This was our first time visiting this cool new satellite location for the small Kutztown-based brewery, and it definitely had the coolest vibe of all the places we visited on this occasion. 

Opened in July of 2019, the Franklin Station site boasts a constantly rotating line of twenty taps and an adventurous menu that complements Saucony Creek's wide variety of beers. In addition to its house beers, they also serve a selection of PA wine and spirits.

Located on Franklin Street at the intersection of Seventh Street (aka the railroad tracks), the brewpub operates in the previous Reading Railroad Franklin Street Station, which was built in the early 1930s and completely restored in 2013. Inside, the main dining area is vast and spacious with a 30-ft. high ceiling, ornately detailed walls and trim, and lots of natural light. The large windows allow customers to enjoy the passing trains, which frequently roll by at numerous times throughout any given day. (We experienced a few while we were there.)

The place was pretty packed (for 50% capacity, anyway) when we arrived, and an acoustic guitarist was performing in the loud, boomy room. (When I was walking out of the bathroom, he actually recognized me and pointed to his stool, which had one of our Solar Federation stickers proudly affixed to it. No wonder why Darin called me "the mayor"; every time we go somewhere together, I get recognized. That's the price of fame, I guess!) We were forced to sit outside or wait an hour and a half for a table indoors. However, there's plenty of seating outside at this location, complete with wood fire ovens to help keep folks warm on chilly nights. (I'm still not sure how Darin made it with no hoodie while we were there. I had a hoodie and blanket wrapped around Brewslut and I, as the temperature dropped considerably over the last few hours.) 

By this time of the day, we were pretty hungry (although we'd been snacking throughout the day). I kept things light and opted for a pour of Kutztown Lager, a crisp, easy-drinking American-style amber lager. With a well-rounded sweet malt profile and hint of noble hops, Saucony Creek adds a smidgen of smoked malt to add a bit of depth to the malt character. I'd had this one before, and it's a reliable little lager that drinks like a champ. 

Since we were waiting a while for our food to arrive, I decided to order a second beer. The temperature was also dropping quickly, so I figured some more alcohol would help warm me up a bit. I opted for another coconut beer this time around with Kokosnuss Fur Dich!!, a porter brewed with oatmeal and conditioned on a bed of coconut flakes toasted in-house at the brewery. This beer was fairly soft and cuddly with just a hint of coconut in the finish, though not as coconut-forward than the Gobshite from Willow Creek. 

Although it took a really long time to get our food (like, an hour and a half), they weren't even going to seat us because apparently all of their line cooks up and quit that very same night. I didn't mind; I was enjoying some fine beer in the company of good friends, my best bud, and my main monkey. Loving life, as it were. My veggie flatbread hit the proverbial spot. We also had a great conversation with some folks from upstate NY who were visiting some friends in the area, one of which happened to be a big Tröegs fan. I gave the one guy (arguably the biggest beer fan of the group) a business card, so hopefully he's reading this. 

Pleeps keepin' warm and toasty at Saucony Creek.

If you're rooted in the same general area as we are (Lebanon, Dauphin, Lancaster Counties), West Reading is a pretty painless drive and you can easily spend several hours there without getting bored. Throw in Saucony Creek's Franklin Station site (just a few minutes away), and you've got a perfect day trip. Thanks for reading. Until next time...