Monday, March 26, 2007

A Trip to the 'Burgh

Weatherwise, last Saturday was pretty dreary, even for Western PA. It was quite reminiscent of the weather in Northeast France & Belgium, actually - dark, gray, and rainy. Not cold, but not exactly picnic weather, either. I ran a few errands that morning, including a trip to Agway to buy some grass seed, fertilizer, and lime ... the back yard needs some work.

Dana was slated for a day of studying, as is normal right now for her. But the thought of sitting in our living room all day was not that appealing, and we were both in the mood for a change of scenery. She suggested that we drive to Pittsburgh for the day; she'd study in the car on the way down, and then we'd hit a few beer places. She'd study, I'd read, and we'd both drink some good beer. I love my wife.

So, at 12:30 we got in the old Honda and headed off to the Strip District. First stop was a late lunch at the original Primanti Brothers on 18th Street. Now, for the uninitiated, this place looks a little seedy. Outside, the streets are pretty dirty and worn, and the smells coming from all the produce and fish warehouses don't exactly fill one with wide-eyed wonder. Regardless, perhaps you've seen Primanti's featured on one of the Food Network shows - it's a Pittsburgh institution.

A Primanti Bros. sandwich is everything slammed between two thick pieces of Italian white bread. You order based on the meat selection (or cheese if you're a vegetarian). I normally get bacon, egg, and cheese. This is grilled by a grumpy old lady with tons of other orders being screamed at her by various employees - all rather terse (but not outwardly rude). The meat & cheese is put on a piece of bread, on top of which is slapped a handful of hot, fresh-cut french fries, then some sweet & sour cole slaw, and a slice of tomato. Last piece of bread, cut in half - Voila! It's even better when sprinkled liberally with some Louisiana hot sauce.

If you get a chance to go, try to get a seat at the counter in front of the grill - dinner and entertainment all in one.

After lunch, we hit a few stores to stock up on some hard-to-find items (well, hard to find in Indiana). Penzeys Spices is there now - grabbed some cooking supplies and some whole coriander seed for homebrewing. After that, the PA Macaroni Co. for some good olive medleys and some European cheeses. Picked up some Appenzeller, Comte, and a sharp Dutch cheese that's a little better (for its age) than Gouda. Stopped off for a quick coffee around the corner.

Now it was time for some beer. We headed up to East End Brewing, where I returned my empty Ugly American bottle. I tasted the Fat Gary Nut Brown Ale and the new session beer, American Wheat". The Nut Brown I'd had before but wanted a reminder. The American Wheat was good, and very hoppy for the style. But, after a taste, I decided to get a growler of the newly formulated East End Witte. It's a lot more orangy and spicy that previous batches, and it quite refreshing.

From East End, we drove over to the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium and grabbed a table. While there, Dana had a draught Hennepin, which was good; I prefer it from the bottle so you get the dregs! I tried both the Pink Clouds Porter, an East End Brewing interpretation of Kevin Kost's winning homebrew recipe, and an Atwater Vanilla Java Porter, which I have to say didn't impress me.

After an hour, we decided to head down the road to Robinson. First stop was the Bocktown Beer & Grille, a new pub near the Target store. They have a really nice beer selection, both on tap, and for bottles (for drinking or takeout). My only criticism is that the bottle prices are a bit on the pricey side, even for Pittsburgh. The food smelled and looked great, but we were just there for a drink.

Sitting at some high tables in the bar area, Dana ordered a limited release Penn Weizenbock on draught. Very yummy, and I suggest you try to get your hands on some before it disappears. I settled on a draught Great Divide Hercules Double IPA. Very good stuff, that.

For the road (well, not literally), I grabbed a 75cL Sly Fox Saison Vos, a Thirsty Dog Siberian Night Impy Stout, and a Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball.

After a quick trip to Target, we hit our final destination for the evening: Mad Mex. We were both craving Tex-Mex for dinner, and this place is great. Their beer selection is usually pretty fine, too, and I always find something new. Tonight was no exception, and I enjoyed a draught Green Flash Barley Wine. That stuff was hot, and I should buy a bottle and let it sit for a while.

Grabbed a post-dinner coffee and hit the road home. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday with my wife.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Beer Hearing in Harrisburg

From - "The prospect of selling beer in grocery stores and convenience stores was the subject of a legislative hearing in Harrisburg today."

Full article

Comments at the end are interesting, too. Apparently, PA is the 4th worst state for alcohol related deaths. Maybe if people didn't have to buy beer a case at a time? Or if everyone wasn't so hung up on alcohol like it was evil, rather than something to be enjoyed in moderation, responsibly?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Road Trip!

Wednesday, March 14 was a darned good day. The weather, albeit rainy, was unseasonably warm. I had a day off. Car? Check. Plan? Check. Empty growlers and some coolers? Check.

Jon, Lacey, and I left Indiana at 8:30am for one heck of a beer-related road trip. After a brief detour to St. Francis in Loretto (long story), we arrived in Duncansville to Marzoni's Brick Oven & Brewery at 9:45. I had made arrangements to meet up with Bill Kroft, brewmaster, and get a look behind the scenes of a brewpub that I've been going to for the last several years.

Our thanks to Bill for taking time to meet with us. He was in the middle of cleaning out his lauter tun and boiling a batch of the Amber Lager. For a more in depth talk with Bill, you can check out this article. We got a sneak preview of the Weizenbock, which should be ready to go in about two weeks, once the Doppelbock kicks. A new yeast strain this time around, and it was really good. Bill also said that he'll be getting busier soon, as the new Alison Park Marzoni's is going to be opening sometime around May. That'll be double the brewing for him, but good news for the folks over on Route 8, north of Pittsburgh.

After leaving Marzoni's, we headed up 'the back way' to State College (Rt. 45 up through Spruce Creek). We arrived at Otto's Pub & Brewery just in time for lunch. This was Jon & Lacey's first time to Otto's. For me, it was visiting an old haunt from my five years in State College. I got to try two new beers this time: 1) Wee Heavy Scottish Ale (cask conditioned, hand pumped) and 2) Rauchbier. Both went well with a Brau Burger! We also met up with two fellow RateBeerians, Mike and his wife Annie. Great to meet both of them, considering all of the posts I've read from Mike ;)

Well, we lingered a bit long at Otto's and found ourselves ready to hit the road to Williamsport at 1:30 or so. In an hour or so, we found ourselves pulling into Duboistown, a little village across the Susquehanna River from Williamsport. Luckily, it's a small town, so we didn't need to ride around too long before finding our next destination: Abbey Wright Brewing Co. situated in the Valley Inn. From the outside, this place looks a little sketchy. Throw up a neon light or two and you could call it the 'Double Deuce'. Anyway, never judge a book by its cover. We walked into a nice surprise!

Bart Rieppel, a former construction worker and long time homebrewer, is the brewmaster here. He was brought on by the Inn's owners a while back to completely set up the old 8 barrel system bought from Red Bell. Bart did all the plumbing and cleaning (he said there was still old beer inside from three years prior!) and troubleshooting before starting the brews. Bart is concerned only with one thing: quality. Several of his beers are now in their third or fourth generation. He admits having some real dogs at the start, but from what we tasted on Wednesday, those dogs learned to hunt! The Flower Power Pale Ale and Alpha Deuce IPA were wonderful - just the perfect balance of sweetness and that grapefruity aromatic hops that sends me into an altered state. He says his secret is not to add bittering hops early in the boil. I'm gonna have to try that next time I brew an IPA. All the other offerings were spot on as well: Mosquito Wheat, Irish Red Ale (excellent!), Patience Pilsner, Frosty Pumpkin Ale, and Vanilla Cream Stout. I took home a growler of the Pale Ale, and I'm sipping it now as I type up this travel report.

While here, I got in touch with my buddy Mark (whose culinary skills were praised here). Shortly thereafter, he and a colleague (Richard) came to meet us at Abbey Wright for a couple of pints. We all enjoyed the offerings on a lazy Wednesday March afternoon.

Ah.. tempting to hang too long. We were on a mission! Time to head across the river and meet up with Mark and Richard at the Bullfrog Brewery. This place has been around for a while, and you can read the site for more information. I had never been here, but had enjoyed several of their offerings at festivals and from growlers supplied by my father-in-law, who travels this area once a week or so. This is a nice brewpub atmosphere, with upscale decor and quite a good menu selection. I didn't eat here, though everyone else did - it looked really good. I focused more on the beer offerings, and was not disappointed. I have to say, though, after Abbey Wright, these beers didn't "WOW" me as much as previous samplings - but they were solid. Among the samples: Billtown Blonde, Holy Helles, Inspiration Red, Wolfsblood Scotch Ale (cask conditioned, hand pump), Phat Frog, Friar Frog Dubbel, and Tripel Trubbel.

Ooof. How did the day go so fast?! It was now shortly after 6pm and we still had one more place to hit before heading back west - Selin's Grove Brewing Co., about 45-50 minutes south of Williamsport on the Susquehanna. We arrived shortly after 7pm and made our way down the stairs to the cellar of an old Victorian style house. A perfect place for a pub! Cozy, crowded, and warm. Fireplace and wooden tables, intimate lighting and a raucous but friendly feel. We had to wait for 10 minutes before a table opened up. Both the food and the beer were tops, and I took away a growler of the Tripel with me. Bummer that this place is three hours from Indiana!!

Again, never been here, but I had tried a few of their beers at festivals - most notably the Phoenix Kriek. Tonight's offerings were: Cream Ale, Dunkelweizen, Goldings Special Bitter, Crystal IPA, Stealth Tripel, White Horse Porter, and Snake Drive Irish Stout. These were used to chase down a turkey wrap that was delicious! Very simple foods here, but quality and a lot of it's vegetarian and/or organic.

By this time, we were all sated and slaked. The trunk was full of growlers (only two of them mine!) and some souvenier glasses. We left Selinsgrove at roughly 9:15pm and got back to Indiana at about 12:30 am. All of us were spent, I dare say, but quite pleased with the effort and the good times at each and every place. I know that I'm looking forward to the next time I can get out on the road for a day and hit up some great new places (or old favorites) and try some world class beers right here in our back yard.

Thanks to all of our companions of the day: Bill Kroft, Mike & Annie, Mark, Richard, Bart Rieppel, our very pregnant bartender at Abbey Wright, and our servers at Otto's, Bullfrog, and Selin's Grove. It made for a great day off!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hennepin Clone Racked to Secondary

Well, I let it sit for longer than I hoped (two weeks tonight), but I didn't notice any ill effects on aroma or taste. The gravity was at 1.020 (target is 1.015-1.018) so lookin' good.

It's going to take a nice long rest in the glass for six weeks before bottling.

Tomorrow - a beer trip! Since we're on Spring Break, I'm taking a (if I do say so myself) well-deserved day off. Jon, Lacey, and I are leaving town at 8:30 for an excursion to the Northeast. Details soon.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Into the Sanctum Sanctorum of Beer

This week's article was penned by Joris Pattyn, a noted Belgian beer author, traveler, and web contributor to many beer-related sites (particularly RateBeer).

He was fortunate enough to be allowed a tour of the Westvleteren abbey brewery and talk with Brother Joris about the process and the difficulties of small production of the "world's best beer".

You can find this article here.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sheetz Selling Beer Again

Well, the court reversed its decision and so now you CAN buy beer at the one Altoona Sheetz (until more lawyers get involved and we see if it gets stopped again).

Meanwhile, enjoy the novelty of buying beer at Sheetz!

Saison Fermentation Video

I came home last Wednesday to find the saison bubbling away in the bucket quite vigorously - must be something about those Belgian and/or German yeasts .. or else I do a nice job aerating. Anyway, the airlock remained this time, but the cap was off and tons of foamy blow-off were spilled across the top of the bucket.

The fermentation was very active, and I took some video of it. If the volume is up loud enough, you can actually here the gas escaping. This was about 18 hours after pitching the yeast - Forbidden Fruit from Wyeast.

My first YouTube video ...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Session Blog - Oskar Blues Ten FIDY

Well, it's a day later than most others, but in recognition of the Friday session blogging of stouts, here are my short notes on the stout I had.

This probably doesn't even count towards the goal of a session tasting, as the stout I tried last night was Oskar Blues Ten FIDY Imperial Stout (Oskar Blues). This was on tap at the Mad Mex on McKnight Road in Pittsburgh. My, oh my.

Thick sweet molasses nose, with balsamic, licorice, chocolate syrup, coffee, and smoke. Light estery oily sweetness. Thick motor oil black with no head. Thick silky body with mild carbonation. Smoooth. Alcoholic warming. Great flavor - sweet malt and molasses, malted chocolate milk and coffee with bitter smoky undertones. Licorice, alcohol. Oak & vanilla. Dry bitter finish with a carbonic tangy hit. Really smooth and a tad syrupy. Roasted and toasted grains stay gooey on the palate afterwards. Very nice stout.