Sunday, April 27, 2008

Monkey Boy, Smokin' Joe's, and Another Batch Bottled

Yesterday, Dana and I went to Pittsburgh for the day. After having breakfast at Cafe 701 (isn't there a Cafe ### in just about every town?) with our friend Erick (also now a homebrewer), we got ready and hit the road. Well, I should say, first we did some stuff around the house and left around 11:30.

We decided the main visit of the day would be Phipps Conservatory. Dana wanted to see the spring flowers and also the newly opened butterfly forest exhibit. But first, I had an errand to run since we'd be on the right side of town - that is, get a growler of East End Monkey Boy, a really nice German Hefeweizen that Scott debuted last month. I was hoping to get some before it was gone (like the fate of the Cherry Grisette!), since I don't make it down as often as I would like. We strolled in at 12:45 or so .. absolutely empty, unlike every other Saturday visit I've had.

By this time, we were hungry, so we drove over to Shadyside for lunch at Girasole, a nice little Italian bistro on Copeland Street. Luckily, we got a table inside and not the patio, because half way through our meal the skies opened up for a nice shower.

After lunch, we hit Phipps and walked around for over an hour and a half. Nice place. While inside, a big booming thunderstorm passed - amazing how much water really comes down when the whole ceiling is made of glass! Dana picked up a neat little garden decoration - a tiny solar-powered 'lamp' with a hand-blown glass flower top. We put it out today, and as I write this I see it glowing in the dark out in the back yard. Kinda cool.

From Phipps, we took a slightly scenic drive through Schenley Park and over to Homestead, where we drove around the Waterworks 'mall' area. There's a Rock Bottom there, but we skipped that this time. I visited one in Seattle last summer, but wasn't hugely impressed - especially compared to our local scene. We killed some time, instead, in Barnes & Noble, where I read through a few beer magazines.

Next, it was on to the South Side. We tried to get a table at Fat Heads, but the wait was an hour! So we ambled down a block or so to Smokin' Joe's. We found no wait, and a nice tap selection. Between us, we had a Stoudt's Abbey Tripel, a Magic Hat Odd Notion Irish Red Ale, a Boulder Beer Obovoid Empirical Stout, and a Dogfish Head Burton Baton.

Slightly happy now, we decided not to eat there, but rather head across the street to Primanti Bros. Again, if you've not been to Pittsburgh or have been but not eaten here - do yourself a favor! The best place to have one is the original 18th Street location in the Strip District, but you can find them several places now, including PNC Park for a Pirates game.

After dinner, we were tuckered out form the day and drove back home.

Today, I bottled the Coffee Porter I made back in January. I'm a little slow this year! Anyway, it finished at 1.011 and tasted pretty fine. I hope it will be ready for the grand tasting during our Homebrew Club meeting on May 13!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lew Takes on the 800-lb Gorilla

Lew Bryson, author of many state-specific beer guides and a well-written blog (Seen Through A Glass), has started a new blog called Why The PLCB Should Be Abolished.

This is sure to be entertaining, enlightening, and (one would hope) influential at some point to get our fair Commonwealth out of the Dark Ages. An uphill battle to be sure, considering the puritanical, elderly-centric voting bloc and the corruption of many of our elected and appointed officials who aren't likely to give up control of such a cash cow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pints for Pets

What's that, you ask? Well, on Saturday, May 17 from 4-8pm at the Blair County Ballpark (home of the Altoona Curve), the first annual Pints for Pets beer festival will be held. All proceeds (that's 100%) will go to the Central PA Humane Society.

Tickets may be purchased in advance for $25, or at the event for $30. Unfortunately, in its infinite wisdom to promote safety, the PLCB squashed the idea of designated driver tickets at a deep discount. So, if you go and DON'T DRINK, you still have to pay $25/$30 - not just $5/$10.

If you plan to go, send me a comment/email - it'd be good to meet some of you!

Here's the current line-up of participants:

Abbey Wright - Duboistown, PA

Appalachian Brewing Co. - Harrisburg, PA

Arcadia Brewing Company - Battle Creek, MI

Bar Harbor (Atlantic Brewing Co.) - Bar Harbor, ME

Black Dog Brewery - Tulsa, OK

Brewerie @ Union Station - Erie, PA

Brooklyn Brewery - Brooklyn, NY

Bullfrog Brewery - Williamsport, PA

Church Brew Works - Pittsburgh, PA

Clipper City Brewing Co. - Baltimore, MD

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery - Milton, DE

East End Brewing Company - Pittsburgh, PA

Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks - Millheim, PA

Erie Brewing Company - Erie, PA

Flying Dog Brewing Company - Denver, CO

Franziskaner Hefeweizen - Munich, Germany

Great Divide Brewing Co. - Denver, CO

Green Flash Brewing Co. - Vista, CA

Green Mountain Ciders (Woodchuck) - Middlebury, VT

Harpoon Brewery - Boston, MA

Johnstown Brewing Company - Johnstown, PA

JW Dundee’s Ales and Lagers - Rochester, NY

Lancaster Brewing - Lancaster, PA

Leinenkugel Brewing Company - Chippewa, WI

Lindemans - Lenniksebaan, Belgium

Magic Hat Brewing Co. - South Burlington, VT

Marzoni’s Brick Oven and Brewing Co. - Duncansville, PA

Oak Springs Winery - Altoona, PA

Oskar Blues - Lyons, CO

Otto’s Pub and Brewery - State College, PA

Penn Brewery - Pittsburgh, PA

The Raven (Baltimore-Washington Beer Works) - Baltimore, MD

Red Star Brewery and Grille - Greensburg, PA

Rivertowne Pour House - Monroeville, PA

Rogue Ales - Eugene, OR

Sam Adams - Boston, MA

Sam Smith Brewing - Tadcaster, United Kingdom

Saranac - Utica, NY

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. - Chico, CA

Southampton Ales and Lagers - Southampton, NY

Spaten Brewery - Munich, Germany

Stone Brewing Company - Escondido, CA

Stoudts Brewing Co. - Adamstown, PA

Straub Brewing - Saint Mary’s, PA

Troegs Brewing Company - Harrisburg, PA

Unibroue - Chambly, Quebec

Victory Brewing Company - Dowingtown, PA

Voodoo Brewery - Meadville, PA

Weyerbacher Brewing Company - Easton, PA

Yuengling Beer Company - Pottsville, PA

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Day Trip to D.C.

Last Friday, my wife and I got in the car after dinner and drove down to Gaithersburg, MD. Unfortunately, we got nailed by a strong line of thunderstorms somewhere around Frederick and had to pull off the road for 20 minutes - otherwise we made fairly good time. We checked into the Comfort Inn off Shady Grove, a decent place for the money but which was extremely convenient to the Metro.

After a light breakfast at the hotel on Saturday morning, we drove the half-mile over to the Shady Grove metro stop - last on the RED LINE. Once nice thing about DC is the Metro system - an all-day pass is just under $8 - very convenient. We started our day with the ~30 minute ride into town to the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop, putting us only a few block from our first visit: the International Spy Museum.

We spent about 2 hours touring the place. It was interesting, and almost too much information to take in, but at the same time it left you feeling like you didn't really learn too much. Cool gift shop (no purchases). There are a lot more places to see in DC before I'm ready to go back to this place.

From here, we took the Metro up to Dupont Circle, and had lunch at Pizzeria Paradiso. Great wood-fired oven pizzas, fresh ingredients. The beer list was small here compared to the Georgetown location, but I enjoyed a Flag Porter 1825 Original with my Bottarga pizza.

After lunch, Dana wanted dessert, so we strolled over a couple blocks - past several embassies - to Teaism, a tea house and restaurant. We'd been there several times before, and usually picked up some interesting teas to bring home. Today we settled for a cool drink and split a jasmine creme brulee for dessert.

After our refueling, we got back on the Metro (that all day pass comes in handy!) and went down to Judiciary Square so that we could get close to our next stop: the National Gallery of Art (west). Dana wanted to be sure to get in some art while we were here, so we checked out some Monet, Degas, Cassatt, and others.

Since the weather was so cooperative today (sunny, in the 70s with a few passing showers), we hoped to see some remnants of the cherry blossoms. Took the Metro over to the Smithsonian stop, then walked down past the Washington monument to the Tidal Basin. Most of the blossoms were gone, but there were still festival tents up and people everywhere. We enjoyed the sunshine and people watching for a while, and got some nice pics of the Jefferson Memorial.

By this time, it was getting close to 5 - we'd been walking and on our feet most of the day and were ready for an early dinner, a beer, and a rest. So, back on the - yep, Metro - up to Metro Center. A few blocks up the street, and we found ourselves at Brasserie Beck.

Wow. First, I guess we were lucky in that we walked in the door at a hair past 5pm and were shown right to a table - without a reservation. Apparently the waiting list for reservations is fairly long. I hadn't really researched the place beforehand, and thought we'd just get a beer and some small supper (frites and salad, or something). Well - Joe M., our waiter and beer sommelier - introduced us to the beer menu, which was exclusively Belgian beer. Nice tap selection and an impressive bottle selection ~ 140 beers total. The list gets changed 2x daily. Joe also described several dishes on the menu with such precision and eloquence, that I could actually taste the dish from his descriptions. That was a first, and a real treat.

I enjoyed a St. Louis Gueuze on tap and Dana had a Tripel Karmeliet from a bottle. The gueuze was not top notch, as gueuzes go, but I was in the mood for it and it went really well with my choucroute en croute (Napa cabbage and a selection of different different pork products wrapped in a crust). Dana's halibut was, without a doubt, the best fish dish either of us has ever tried. Ever. Had we more time, appetite (and budget!), we would have loved to try some dessert and another round of beer. As it was, we were stuffed and ready to walk again. But final word on Brasserie Beck: if you can visit this place, do it!! (check out the staff section of their website - their beer specialist was knighted in Belgium)

Our last stop was for me to grab a Capitol City Fuel. From here, we grabbed the Metro and rode back out to Gaithersburg - exhausted, sated, and happy with our one-day DC trip.

The real reason for the trip in the first place was the business portion on Sunday. We drove to Woodbridge, VA on Sunday morning to my aunt's condo to meet my cousin. My aunt passed away in March, and since my cousin lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Richmond, could not take possession of the china closet that my aunt inherited from my grandmother. Hence, we now are the proud owners of a 100-year old china closet that my great-grandparents bought in 1908 for $20 in East Brady, PA.

DC this weekend, New Orleans last weekend ... I'm ready for a sit-on-my-butt or work-in-the-yard weekend, but it looks like we may be seeing the Pittsburgh Zoo with my nephews (5 yr old and 9 mo old) at some point. That's relaxing, right? A zoo trip with small children ;)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Trip to the Big Easy

I had the chance to visit New Orleans for the first time this past week. I flew down on Saturday, arriving in the French Quarter about 4:30. Took the St. Charles street car for the full loop - riding out through the posh residential areas past Loyola and Tulane, then returning. By this point, I was getting a little thirsty, so I took an interesting stroll down Bourbon Street. Very interesting ... nice restaurants next to dive bars, strip clubs, and hotels.

I grabbed a plastic cup of Abita Andygator and took it all in. After walking the whole length of Bourbon, I headed south for a few streets to Decatur, where I took a left over to Frenchmen. Here, I had some nice crawfish etouffe at Snug Harbor, then popped into d.b.a to see what type of jazz was playing. From there, back down Decatur to see all the tourist places and bars.

4/11/08 clarification: though I was completely stuffed from dinner and did not have a beer at d.b.a - this bar, and possibly Cooter Brown's (across town) have the best beer selections in New Orleans. Several good Belgian offerings, and other European imports as well as a decent selection of U.S. micros.

On Sunday morning, I had breakfast at Cafe Beignet, enjoying some cajun homefries and fresh beignets. Afterwards, I hiked a good way across town to visit the World War II Museum - definitely worth a trip!

After lunch at Gordon Biersch and a quick hotel stop, I headed over to the Convention Center for the reason I was in town to begin with ... the 235th American Chemical Society Meeting. I spent all Sunday afternoon listening to seminars, then attended a reception for the CINF (Chemical Information) Division..

On Monday, I spent most of day again at the Convention Center for talks. I did get a nice lunch break in, and had a shrimp po'boy from Johnny Po'Boys. In the afternoon, I gave my presentation in a special symposium honoring my former grad school advisor.

After business, a couple of us went to a nice reception on the top floor of the Sheraton (Harry's party) before meeting others for dinner over in the Quarter. There were a lot of presentations to see on Tuesday-Thursday, but unfortunately I'm still in the middle of the semester and had to head home.

All in all, it was a nice trip to New Orleans - and it beat my last experience with Louisiana ... 7 weeks of Army basic training upstate at Fort Polk :(

I did try a few Abita beers, along with Gordon Biersch and Crescent City ... New Orleans is not really a beer town. Though I will recommend if you fly through Atlanta to get there, have a pint at the Sweetwater pub in Terminal B.