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!


Adam said...

Holy smokes! I'm in awe. What a great trip.

Anonymous said...

You know, it's funny.... a friend and I were just talking about "brewery tours" tonight at work. (Our thought was the "brewery tour" is the grad student equivalent of the college bar tour.

Got a growler of Otto's Rauchbier last week (can't enjoy it in-house because of the smoke--kinda ironic, huh?) and was very impressed how well it turned out. It's an excellent match for their wasabi-sesame scallops, if you're eating in.

Also checked out Church Brew Works in Pgh this past Tuesday. Their oak-conditioned Belgian Dubbel from the beer engine was top-notch... and paired nicely with the Mediterranean chicken pierogies.

On the Pgh trip, I also discovered a new brew-pub tucked away in a Monroeville strip-mall--of all places!--right beside the Starbuck's and Sprint store. Definitely on the agenda for the next trip to da 'burgh....

~ [ sc'Que ]

Eli said...

What a trip, you guys make me wish I'd just blown off work!