Best Beers of 2013

Mikkeller & Friends, Copenhagen, DenmarkThere’s a little bit of everything this year – lots of local beer, and for many of the non-local ones, I got to enjoy them reasonably close to their sources, both at home and abroad. In roughly chronological order, please enjoy this year’s top 10:

Mrs. Pigman, Tired Hands Brewing Company, Imperial / Double IPA, 11.5%

I suppose the narrative is less ‘I don’t like double IPAs’ and more ‘I don’t like not-very-good double IPAs’ – and too many breweries seem to think it’s a style at which they will be especially successful. Whether it is down to dark powers or sheer hard work, Jean Broillet IV and the team at Tired Hands are consistently good at absolutely everything. It was hard to choose just a few favorites from their ever-changing lineup; among their 2013 beers I’ve particularly enjoyed are their Caskette and LiverPool, both milds, We Are 138, a Cascadian Dark Ale, and Dr. Grasshopper, a Berliner Weisse. And although I maintain that double IPAs rarely meet expectations, this one exceeded everything. Sure, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger are good, but they aren’t this good. Really.

Ancient Knovvledge, Tired Hands Brewing Company, Saison, 6.2%
Yes, it’s another from Tired Hands – and yes, I realize I am extremely fortunate to be able to walk there whenever the mood takes me. In some ways, this is a ‘typical’ Tired Hands beer – a saison with something a little bit different. In this instance, the Szechuan peppercorns were what made this one stand out, adding a nice kick and the odd bit of a good sort of numbness. We won an AHA medal for homebrewing a mead with Szechuan peppercorns some years back, but we didn’t approach this level of expertise. It’s all good.

Courage Russian Imperial Stout, Wells & Young’s Brewing Company, Russian Imperial Stout, 10%
As mentioned above, a general rule, I don’t love most ‘imperial’ beers – so many brewers seem to be caught up in an ABV arms race, so it’s nice to dial it back to a real historical example. Wells & Young’s events during Philly Beer Week have become must-attend annual outings for me – there’s always someone personable from the brewery, and you get a nice history lesson with your beer. I enjoyed getting to compare both the cask and bottled versions of this beer, though I’d give the edge to the bottled one, which likely had a little more time to mellow. But it’s a small quibble – both were very tasty indeed.

Reparationsbajer, To Øl, American Pale Ale, 5.8%
As much as I enjoyed everything I had at Mikkeller & Friends in Copenhagen – especially for the opportunity to try Mikkeller’s less high-octane beers, I have to admit a slight edge to a few beers from brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø’s former students who went on to found To Øl. Brewers Tobias Emil Jensen and Tore Gynther describe this beer as a ‘morning after’ affair, but I found it just as pleasant as a curtain-raiser to the evening. It was also a fine illustration that just because you can make excellent ‘unusual’ beers, you can show off your skills with a very straightforward recipe as well.

Black Ball, To Øl, Porter, 8%
Another entry from To Øl – I am always happy to find a hoppy porter. One of my local seasonal favorites is Tröegs Dead Reckoning Porter, and this was almost like an amped-up version, though it never went overboard; it was really rather delightful. In fairness, we had excellent (if pricey) beer all over Denmark – more large-scale breweries could take a leaf from Carlsberg’s page and invest in their own in-house (apologies for the loaded term coming up) ‘craft’ lines, as everything we tried from their Jacobsen line was excellent, as was their brewery tour. Big doesn’t have to mean bad, just as small isn’t necessarily good, but they seem to be doing both right there.

Mikkeller Yeast Series 2.0 English Ale, Mikkeller, English Pale Ale, 6.4%
But fear not – Mikkeller did make the list. The frankly amazing taplist at Mikkeller & Friends included a very wide range of beers, both Mikkel-brewed and literally those brewed by his friends, and I loved the variety on display. We tend to get the higher-ABV end of the Mikkeller spectrum in the US, and it was wonderful to see how much more there was on offer. I love a good English Pale Ale, and this fit the bill perfectly. Yes, Mikkeller can make wonderfully weird beers, but that’s only one part of the story.

Freigeist Ehrenfelder Alt, Freigeist Bierkultur, Gasthaus-Brauerei Braustelle, Altbier, 4.8%

I do love a good altbier, and I especially appreciate what Peter Esser and Sebastian Sauer are doing with Freigeist Bierkultur, the small experimental line from already-tiny Braustelle Brewery in Cologne. Their goal of reviving old and often peculiar (to modern tastes) German beers is one I wholeheartedly endorse. It can be difficult to avoid something of a hipster label when enjoying these occasionally difficult-to-find and sometimes strange beers, but they are well worth the effort to seek out.

Sauer Porter, Freigeist Bierkultur, Gasthaus-Brauerei Braustelle, Sour Porter, 6%
Yes, it’s another double entry. In this case, ‘Sauer’ refers to brewer Sebastian Sauer of Freigeist Bierkultur, as well as for the beer’s lactic sourness. This beer has a lot going on – it’s dark and chewy, but also salty – like a gose, a style I am quite happy is having a renaissance, but also refreshingly sour, so it’s something akin to a heavier, dark Berliner Weisse. This is all wrapped up in a ‘porter,’ though those who adhere strictly to (modern) style conventions might wish they had a different category in which to place this beer. Despite the current popularity of the very broad range of sour beers on the market, I often avoid this trend as they are rarely to my taste – and this is not to take a contrarian position, but simply because I don’t like more than a tiny smidgen of Brettanomyces (you can blame me for not being a wine drinker). However, I do like the lactic end of the sour spectrum, and this sits perfectly in that spot.

Edel Helles, Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, Helles Lager, 4.8%
After quite a saga, the General Lafayette Inn regenerated into the Barren Hill Tavern and Brewery, with Scott Morrison’s beers taking pride of place. Everything has been outstanding so far – the West Coast Oats and Burton IPA are particular stand-outs thus far – but I had to give the nod to the Edel Helles. Being able to drink the beer just feet from where it was brewed is especially useful for a beer in this style; sometimes even the best ones from Germany don’t necessarily travel well. This one is perfect.

Rosey Nosey, Batemans, Winter Ale, 4.7%
I have been a big fan of Batemans for many years, dating back to when I lived in the UK; indeed, I’ve often fantasized about being able to move to Lincolnshire, where I could easily enjoy their freshest local beers. Should I get transferred, I’d most likely end up near London again, but I would make it a priority to finally investigate their brewery tour at some point. Though rarely ‘weird’ or flashy, they always have a solid lineup, and I hope that more of their beers make their way to the US in future. I love this because it’s chewy and seems full-bodied, but without the 7%+ wallop it might have had it been brewed in the US. Lovely.

So, there you have 2013 – happy new year!

Book Review: D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc.

D.G. Yuengling & Sons, Inc.The good people at Arcadia Publishing sent me a copy of one of the newest additions to their Images of America series, and a very interesting one it is indeed. D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc., by Robert A. Musson, MD, covers the family brewery from its 1829 origin as the Eagle Brewery to its current status as America’s oldest operating brewery. What is perhaps most encouraging to see is the sheer number of photographs and prints the slim volume packs in; it suggests that the company archives are in a healthy state of organization. And, like any good introductory history, it raises more questions than it answers; I came away from the book wanting to know more.

While I was familiar with the general outline of Yuengling’s story – German immigrants, initial success, creative Prohibition work-arounds, post-war decline and re-invigoration – there were a number of surprises. I had never been aware of how far afield Yuengling’s reach was in the 19th century, and the snippets about David Yuengling, Jr., opening breweries in Virginia and New York was intriguging indeed. I was previously quite unaware that Harlem once boasted its own Yuengling Brewery, much less one turning out more than 30,000 barrels of just one beer – Champagne Ale – annually. Equally unknown to me was the family’s purchase of a further brewery in Harlem with an even greater capacity that was used solely for lager, and the brief notes about these plants serve to highlight the shift in the nation’s taste from ale to lager. Both buildings were sold by the tail end of the 19th century, but it’s a very interesting illustration of Yuengling’s expansion and quite purposeful contraction at that point.

Also of note was a caption about Minna Dohrman Yuengling, wife to Frederick and mother to Frank; there was a passing mention that she essentially co-managed the brewery with Frank after Frederick’s death in 1899, but I would love to know more about her and her role in the business. Even the more detailed Yuengling: A History of America’s Oldest Brewery, by Mark A. Noon, doesn’t give much more away – it sounds as thought there may be some rather juicy meeting minutes locked away somewhere. The late 19th and early 20th centuries seem an especially busy period in Yuengling’s history; I was somewhat surprised to see a poster from c. 1900 (page 33, for those reading along) that included the tag ‘America’s Oldest Brewery’ – it was particularly interesting as the text indicates that it wasn’t widely used in signage until the 1950s (p. 67), though it’s possible the earlier poster had a very different audience.

There are many other hints and clues scattered throughout the book that suggest there is much more to discover; my only complaint is that all the photos and prints are black and white (as is standard for the Images of America series); particularly for the early advertising, it would be nice to see some in full color.

But all told, it’s a pleasant introduction to Yuengling, and a useful reminder that change is a constant in the beer industry. If you’re still at a loose end for a holiday or new year present, why not pick up a copy?

Barren Hill Tavern – Opening Tap List

Finally, it's back!While in general I like to avoid just putting up the press release, time and the occasion sometimes warrant it.  It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally time for Barren Hill Tavern and Brewery to open its doors to the public. The former General Lafayette Inn lives again at last, and with a little luck, the ghosts are still hanging around as well.  Here’s what’s on tap, and both the house-brewed beers and guests sound fantastic – here’s the list directly from the horse’s mouth:

Barren Hill Beers for Opening Night -

Belgian Golden – Inspired by Duvel, the classic Belgian Golden. A beer that is well balanced as the hops, malt & the spicy yeast show themselves with each sip. Belgian Pilsner Malt & Slovak Stryian Golding hops7.2% ABV Medium Hop Bitterness.
16oz -Chalice or Pint $5.5 growler 64oz $18

Biere De Octobre – A French Country Biere de Garde, typically produced in Nord & Pas de Calais. A malty, earthy beer that is dominated by the malt sweetness up front, but dry in the finish. French Malt, French Strisselpalt & Aramis hops. Basically our take on an October fest – Biere de Guarde brewed with lager yeast.
6.75% ABV Low Hop bitterness 16oz pint $5 growler 64oz $15

German Pale Ale (pre prohibition) – An American Pale ale style with German hops. What we’d imagine the German brewers in Philadelphia were producing in the late 1800s. Smooth hoppiness, as we used Hallertau, Opal, & Brewer’s Gold hops from Germany. For a twist, we aged the beer on American Cherry.
4.8% ABV Medium Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5 growler $15

Pilsner IPA – a hybrid style also known as an Imperial Pilsner. We made a traditional German Pilsner, with a bit more malt & a generous amount of hops. We used German Pearle & Hersburker hops. Instead of being intensely bitter, we added a ton of hops towards the end of the boil for flavor. Then we added a pound per barrel of Hersbucker hops for aroma.
6.4% ABV Medium Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5 Growler $15

Belgian IPA Single Hop Series – Galaxy – a true hybrid – Belgian Yeast, Australian hops & American Barley. There is a lot going on in the glass, as you have the spicy Belgian yeast & intense Galaxy hops fighting for attention. This is the first in a series of single hopped Belgian IPA’s. The Galaxy hops show a strong tropical fruit flavor of mango & passion fruit.
7.1% ABV High Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5.5 growler $18

Berliner Double Weisse – a rarely brewed style a few years ago, it’s now a favorite of many. A traditional sour, but refreshing German Wheat beer. Most Berliner beers are about 2.8 to 3.0% ABV, we decided to double it. Clean bright sourness & great wheat flavors.
5.8% ABV Low Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5 growler $15

Down Under Triple - Belgian Triple, Brewed exclusively with New Zealand Pacific jade hops, which bring out a citrus and black pepper flavor. Belgian Yeast brings a distinct Banana aroma. Deceivingly light bodied.
9.9% ABV Medium Hop Bitterness 10.5oz tulip $5 growler $18

Edel-Helles – A German Helles, a perilously drinkable beer for those who prefer something on the “lighter” side. Edel in German is defined as noble, and the hops are Noble Hersbrucker hops from Germany.
4.8ABV Low hop bitterness 16oz pint $5 growler $15

Burton IPA – Burton is famous for the water, and we’ve recreated the beer and the water. All English malts, and East Kent Golding hops. English IPA’s are not quite as hop forward as American IPA’s, as many would consider this a pale ale.
6.2 ABV Medium hop bitterness 16oz pint $5 growler $15

Baltic Porter – A Finnish Porter, that’s fermented with Lager yeast, instead of Ale. This fermentation gives the beer a remarkably smooth character, and is aged for 8 weeks. A bit stronger than most porters, some would call it an Imperial Porter.
8 ABV low/Medium Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5.5 growler $18

Black Rye Double IPA – A double IPA with a few twists, the rye malt brings a distinct spicy character, and the American Hops bring a bold citrus/ woodsy character.
9.2 ABV High Hop Bitterness 10.5oz tulip

Imperial Vanilla Stout – Perfect for the onset of the colder nights, we use 12 different malts to create a complex, strong malt forward beer. Real Vanilla beans used from Madagascar, Indonesia, and Mexico.
9.7 ABV low/Medium Hop Bitterness 10.5oz tulip $5 growler $18

Other Beers on Tap for Official Opening:
Julius Echter Hefeweisse – a Hefeweisse that is a cloudy golden color with notes of citrus, banana, cloves & bubblegum.
5.1% Germany 23oz $6.50 growler $18 Wheat glass

Wurzburger Premium Pilsner – Clear golden color, toasted grainy malt body with notes of citrus and subtle grassy hops crisp finish.
4.9% Germany 16oz $5.50 growler $18 Pint

Ommegang Witte – Belgian wheat with notes of tart lemon, orange, cloves & coriander with a crisp refreshing finish.
5.1% NY 16oz $5.50 growler $17 Pint

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA Limited – golden amber, with subtle malt sweetness, notes of light fruits, big juicy citrus hops, with pine hop finish.
7% CA tulip

Bruery Tart of Darkness – limited – stout aged in barrels with brett & wild yeast, roasted chocolate malt dark fruits with funky tart.
7% CA 10.5oz $9.5 6oz $5.5 Growler $50 -tulip or flight glass

Yards ESA – a English style ESB that is a dark amber color with a strong malt background to balance the pine hop bitterness. 6.3% Philly, PA 16oz $4.50 Growler $15 Pint

Freigeist Sauer Porter – a dark beer brewed with salt & brett – funky &tart with dark fruits, chocolate & salt – This was my favorite beer at the Alvinne beer festival in Belgium.
6% Germany Tulip

Unibroue Ephemere Cherry – limited – slightly cloudy amber color, notes of yeast, spice & tart cherries.
5.5% Canada 10.5oz $5.5 Growler 25 Tulip

Free Will Saison De Rose – seasonal collaboration brewed for the Rena Rowan Breast Center – a pink saison brewed with pink grapefruit, hibiscus, ginger & pink peppercorn.
5% PA 16oz $5 Growler $ 17 Pint Brewed with Free Will, Erin Wallace (bar owner), Tara Nurin (beer writer), Carolyn Smagalski (beer writer), Marnie Old (wine author)

Williamsburg AleWerks Pumpkin – seasonal – amber colored, creamy roasted pumpkin body notes of cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves.
8% VA

Suede Imperial Porter -limited collab with 10 Barrel, Bluejacket & Stone – Imperial Porter brewed with avocado honey, jasmine & calendula flowers 9.6% CA 10.5oz tulip

Allagash Confluence – limited – Belgian Pale ale brewed with brett & dry hopped, fruity malt body notes of funk, spice & citrus hops.
7% ME 10.5oz tulip

I’m really looking forward to my @untappd check-ins from @BarrenHillTav – got my weekend plans sorted!

Beer Events: Dogfish Dash 2013

and a taller boy!

2013: A bigger brewery every year

While I don’t necessarily improve my time year after year, the Dogfish Dash does, indeed, get better and better. Thinking back to my first (and the second overall) Dogfish Dash back in 2008, it’s worth marveling at how the race has evolved. Back then, it seemed there were only a few hundred runners, and one only had to decide to register a few weeks in advance. The route went from the brewpub in Rehoboth Beach onto a small part of the (excellent) Junction & Breakwater Trail (and I am forever grateful for that introduction to the trail, which I now run every time I go to the beach), then turned around and finished back at the bar. Getting a beer involved some judicious-but-friendly use of elbows to get to the bar, but at least packet pickup had been relatively easy.

In 2009, the race moved to Dogfish Head HQ in Milton, and the move to the brewery meant more runners, but also more room on race day. While the hillier course took some getting used to, having the support of Miltonians all along the route was a nice touch. There were a few kinks to be worked out – food and beer lines were long – but even with a fair amount of construction, the brewery tour was still good fun. 2010 was not dissimilar, although as the race grew in popularity, it seemed to get more crowded, with a bottleneck going over the otherwise-aesthetically-pleasing footbridge in Milton.

2011′s Dogfish Dash was much the same, although I was much faster and set a new PR for 10K; my belief is that the long beer lines the year before boosted my time, and although I did not have long to wait on that occasion, going back for a second beer seemed out of the question after that point. It seems that the brewery tour is vastly different every year – it seems to double in size every time we visit. I was very slow in 2012, but this year, I bounced back a bit; in fact I set a new PR, just beating my 2011 record (after finally realizing that I’m not as slow as I think, and that I need to start further forward in most races).

In days of yore: 2008 Dogfish Dash

In days of yore: 2008

But it wasn’t just my own time that had gotten better – once again, there was simply more brewery to enjoy, and the beer and food lines ran with Disneyesque efficiency. The slight alteration to the race route meant that that getting over the bridge was no problem, and that no doubt contributed to my better time. Rather than the anemic bagels and dodgy-looking bananas one often finds at the end of a race, this time there were great food options: quite tasty mix-your-own cereal, and much-appreciated breakfast burritos for runners. I would suggest that they paired perfectly with my Indian Brown Ale (or the Namaste I had later) – in any case, it was most welcome.

My only suggestion to improve the race going forward would be to create a separate division for walkers (not unlike the family-friendly 3K option offered as part of the Y12K), thereby freeing up more spaces for runners – given how quickly registration filled up this year (well under an hour), it might be one way to ease the pressure – and to still raise more money for The Nature Conservancy – but I don’t know if there would be space at the site or enough volunteers to go around to support a much larger event. That said, everything ran smoothly with larger numbers this year, so perhaps it’s worth considering.

All told, the Dogfish Dash continues to be my favorite race of the year – anyone want to send me to England to try the Adnams Southwold 10K for comparison?

The General Lafayette Inn to Barren Hill Tavern Transition is Official!

Barren Hill Tavern & BreweryIt was already good news to hear that the brains behind Devil’s Den and Old Eagle Tavern – owner Erin Wallace and her team – were aiming to revive the too-long-vacant General Lafayette Inn & Brewery.  But today, the reports got even better – not only is the ownership of the site done and dusted, but a head brewer has been announced: Scott ‘The Dude’ Morrison will take the reins at the Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery.

Philly-area beer nerds will recall Morrison’s excellent, fancy-award-winning, beers from McKenzie’s (where he was famously under-appreciated, to put the case mildly) and more recently at Dock Street, as well as various points beyond. In the new venture at Barren Hill, he’ll have six taplines dedicated to house-made beers to oversee; there will be thirty, all told. It’s worth putting in some quotes from the press release:

“I’m totally excited to be making new and interesting beer at Barren Hill. The collaboration with Erin [Wallace] and her team has been awesome so far. The beer will be fresh, allowing us to create new and interesting styles that aren’t readily available in the Philly market,” says [Scott] Morrison.

Morrison has gained much of his career accolades from his Belgian Ales, but the six lines at Barren Hill will be diverse and eclectic.

“Scott asked me what direction I wanted to take Barren Hill, and I gave him creative license. This project is exciting because of its endless possibilities,” Wallace says. “We’re looking forward to bringing contemporary cuisine and brewing styles to this historic and storied location.”

The house-made, rare, interesting beers will not only be available at Barren Hill Tavern, but will also be available at South Philadelphia’s Devil’s Den and Manayunk’s Old Eagle Tavern. Settlement was finalized today so the Barren Hill crew is getting started on minor renovations and recipe development. The brewpub is expected to open late Summer 2013.

So, there it is – we’ve got not only the renovation of a quirky historic building to look forward to (one that carries on the legacy of its original construction and an earlier name, no less), but an ever-changing lineup of great beer and, thanks to chef Paul Trowbridge, good food as well.  It may be the first time the old building will have been able to boast a consistent menu in both regards!

Hopefully the new Barren Hill Tavern will feature on something akin to the Craft Beer Express from time to time, since public transit to the area is not stellar, but a cleanup and better food will go a long way toward encouraging designated drivers.

Keep an eye out for an official opening date later this year – and go like them on Facebook!

Finally, Some General Lafayette Inn News

It would be nice to have the lights back onAt long last, there’s some official news about the General Lafayette Inn; it is to be reborn as the Barren Hill Tavern, under the able ownership of the crew behind Devil’s Den. There will be house-brewed beers again (huzzah!) and one hopes that it will once more become a regular host for beer-centric events – ideally with better food this time around.

While some may grumble at the name change, it’s a return to a previous moniker; it only gained the Lafayette-related title in 1946. Given that Lafayette himself knew the area as Barren Hill makes it even more appropriate, and surely there will be ample opportunity for self-appointed paranormal investigators to return to ask the Marquis himself his opinion of the bar. If only the streetcar that once ran from Philadelphia and stopped outside the bar could also be reinstated, alleviating the need for a designated driver, it would be ideal – but perhaps the guesthouse will be revived as well.

That small detail aside, there is plenty of scope for the new owners to create a real destination, as well as a great neighborhood spot. I’m happy to raise a glass to the new incarnation, and, of course, I’m available to consult on any confusing historical/archival/archaeological questions that may arise…

Previously in this wholly unintentional series –

February 7, 2011: The General Lafayette Inn: Resurrection Required
August 16, 2011: An Update: Want to Buy the General Lafayette Inn?
October 4, 2012: Got $1.25 Million for the General Lafayette Inn?

Best Beers and Suchlike of 2012

Ampleforth Abbey Beer: tasty goodnessI was lucky enough to try a lot of new and interesting things this year, and having an amazing brewery open up just a short walk away has been especially lovely (but more on Tired Hands in a moment). My highlights this year cover a range of styles, but as always, I have a soft spot for something I can actually have more than one of without quickly reaching stumbledom.

I got in a bit more travel than usual in 2012, and highlights of my trips included discovering The House of the Trembling Madness in York – a quirky medieval building I would happily move into – as well as more modern good-beer-bars like the Holborn Whippet in London. Closer to home, I finally visited Tröegs Brewing Company’s new(ish) Hershey brewery and was pleasantly surprised at the excellent food on offer in addition to the known quantity of the beer. I managed two beer runs – The ODDyssey Half-Marathon, which included a welcome Sly Fox Dunkel at the end, and my usual Dogfish Dash 10K, although I was slower than last year (but the beer lines were faster, so it evens out).

Finally, the pleasure of once again having good beer within walking distance cannot be overstated, and the variety and innovation on offer at Tired Hands Brewing Company is nothing short of amazing. I have yet to have even an ‘average’ beer there, and the fresh-baked bread and other local nibbles are equally wonderful – the setting is glorious as well. I could easily make a ten-best list of their beers alone, but that would hardly be fair to anyone else; long may they continue their fine work.

And so, in no particular order, my ten favorite beers of the year:

Rosie Parks Oyster Stout, Fordham Brewing Company, 5.5% ABV, Dover, DE
This was a very pleasant surprise; I thought it would be something quite good, although not earth-shattering, but it went well beyond my expectations. There was definitely a briney, sea-breeze feeling about it, and it paired very well indeed with the roasty (but not overdone) malts. This would quickly become a go-to if I could find it nearer to home…no such luck yet. Given the recent kerfuffle over what does and does not ‘count’ as a craft brewer (if you worry about that sort of thing), this is an ideal beer to prove that what really matters is whether or not it’s a good beer, not who may be a partial owner of the brewery.

Trauger Pilsner, Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company, 4.8% ABV, Croydon, PA
It can be easy for some beer snobs to dismiss pilsners, given what passes for the style in mass production, but this is a really wonderful beer, one that is well worth seeking out. It’s crisp and refreshing, but has a lovely rounded flavor (I realize we’re getting into slightly pretentious territory here, but bear with me) with a very distinctive maltiness. I hope to see this in wider distribution in 2013 – it would be an ideal summer beer.

Once Upon A Time X Ale – November 22nd, 1838, Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, 7.4% ABV, Somewhere in MA
This was another in the occasional series of collaborations between Pretty Things and beer historian Ron Pattinson, this time demonstrating that ‘mild’ did not necessarily mean low in alcohol. It was particularly interesting to compare it to the 1945 version (from the records of the same London brewery), which clocked in at only 2.8%, though I rather enjoyed that version, too. Deep gold and lots of hops may not be our modern idea of a mild, but then, that’s what primary sources are for. I look forward to more in this series.

Ampleforth Abbey Beer, Ampleforth Abbey, 7% ABV, Ampleforth, UK
I’d been ‘off’ non-Belgian dubbels for a while; I’d had too many that weren’t quite right – some were too sweet, others were just a bit too ‘homebrewey’ for my taste. But this changed my mind completely – it was everything a good dubbel should be, and then some. This featured lots of malt, complex flavor and just the right amount of sweetness; clearly, British monks are onto something good, just as their Belgian counterparts have been for centuries. This was truly a highlight of my UK trip, and I would love to see someone begin importing it to the US.

Ruby Mild, Rudgate Brewery, 4.4% ABV, York, UK
I do love a good mild – and unlike the Pretty Things version above, this was very much the modern version. I may not often agree with CAMRA, but they awarded this beer a gold medal in the mild category this year, and it was very much deserved. I did not have the chance to try others from the brewery, but I would very much like to – if anyone would like to send me off to write about Yorkshire beers, please just get in touch

Sunshine & Lollihops, Daniel Thwaites Brewery, 4.6% ABV, Blackburn, UK
Another low-key, but thoroughly tasty beer, and very summery – gentle floral hops set against a slightly sweet malt backbone. This is a beer brewed for Nicholson’s Pubs, which was in itself another nice surprise – why had I spent years going to Wetherspoons pubs (though some are fine), when Nicholson’s are better on food, beer and child-friendliness? I’m not normally one for chain pubs or restaurants in general, but some ownership groups get things right.

Farmer’s Glory, Wadworth & Co., 4.7% ABV, Devizes, UK
It’s somewhat amusing by American standards to see a beer like this listed as a ‘strong’ bitter, but there is something to be said for subtlety. Yet again, there’s nothing particularly unusual here, just a well-crafted, very refreshing beer with a solid malt flavor. While we do have some beers like this in the US, I admit I do miss having more of this sort to choose from, especially on cask.

Blonde, Black Isle Brewery, 5% ABV, Munlochy, UK
Lest we think that (BrewDog aside) all British beer is ‘normal,’ Black Isle breaks the mold. This small organic brewery in Scotland is making beers that defy simple categorization, and this beer does that admirably. What looked like an unassuming blonde ale (or lager, depending on your interpretation) was remarkably complex – crisp, but a little sweet; refreshing, but full of interesting malt flavors and a hard-to-place (but very pleasant) finish. Interesting indeed.

Scratch 68 – Zwickel Licker, Tröegs Brewing Company, 5.4% ABV, Hershey, PA
A collaboration between Tröegs and your favorite session beer fan and mine, Lew Bryson, this was one of my favorites in their always-interesting experimental beer series. This beer went up against a saison designed with equally-beloved local beer scribe Jack Curtin, and I enjoyed that as well, but had to give the edge to Lew’s brew. I love a good zwickel beer, and this fit the bill perfectly; I’d love to see it come back as a summer regular.

Good Good Things, Tired Hands Brewing Company, 6.2% ABV, Ardmore, PA
It was incredibly difficult to choose just one from Tired Hands, my new local – as mentioned above, everything has been outstanding, from a kvass made with house-baked bread called Slava Oner to the potent Westy13; in between I’ve really enjoyed things like Deuce, a brown ale with a kick, and Ghost, Goblin and Vampire – Halloween beers the way they should be done. But Good Good Things stood out; it’s a bit like a cross between a Berliner Weisse and a very hoppy IPA; on paper, that may sound bizarre, but in practice, it’s tremendous. Wildly refreshing and very complex at the same time, this is just one of example of how they are doing ‘creative’ right at Tired Hands. I expect to see even more on next year’s list.

So, that’s 2012 in a nutshell (though there’s always more to read)…happy new year to all!

Got $1.25 Million for the General Lafayette Inn?

It would be nice to have the lights back onYes, your favorite defunct colonial brewpub, the General Lafayette Inn, is still on the market, but at least now there’s a real estate listing to encourage potential buyers.  It took a bit of digging to find it, though an ad in the print version of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News pointed the way to the firm attempting to offload the historic-but-lacking-public-transit restaurant.

The listing includes the liquor license, and mentions annual income from a cell tower (or ‘Cell Tower’ as it is given on the site; there is unnecessary capitalization for ‘Micro Brewery’ as well; perhaps it’s quaintly Germanic) – one wonders if that is a more recent addition to the property, since the signal was not what might be fairly termed reliable in the past.  Indeed, had Untappd been available at the last Winterfest, it is difficult to imagine maintaining a consistent ability to check in the many and varied beers formerly available at the annual winter beer event.  There is no mention of the alleged ghosts, though the bed & breakfast outbuildings are pictured.

It has been over a year since the last General Lafayette Inn update, and we are edging ever closer to two years since the unfortunate demise of its last incarnation; for a property with such an interesting history and potential, it seems to have become something of an afterthought.

Pop-up Halloween brewpub, anyone?

Update: March 7, 2013 – news at last!

A Very Brief British Beer Round-up

I could move in here.

The House of the Trembling Madness

While on our recent trip to the UK we did the usual touristy things – took in a play the Globe as groundlings, went dowsing at Avebury, flew the TARDIS (well, one of us did, and yes, it was bigger on the inside) – we also kept a watchful eye out for interesting (mostly) cask ales that do not usually travel to our shores.

Places and beers we particularly enjoyed include:

The Wilmington Arms
69 Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell, London
We went for a very jet-lagged lunch, and it was practically empty, but we were very pleased to find great service, a nice selection of cask ales, all of which we were invited to sample before choosing, and a fantastic jukebox (which was not unlike playing one of my larger Spotify playlists – I cannot complain). The food was good as well.
Best beer enjoyed there: Elgood’s Cambridge Bitter

The Fox and Anchor
115 Charterhouse Street, Islington, London
This was expensive even by London standards, but it was very laid-back and quiet for dinner, with outstanding food. We had a number of beers from smaller brewers in somewhat twee-but-fun tankards) and some other smaller producers. It was nice to find a London pub (well, gastropub) that didn’t take itself too seriously, and – equally if not more importantly – did not feel that accommodating a well-behaved child was somehow below them (redacted West End pubs, this means you).
Best beer enjoyed here: Colchester Red Diesel

Holborn Whippet
25-29 Sicilian Avenue, Holborn, London
Certainly a destination for the beer nerd set, but not in a snobbish or pedantic way. In addition to a fantastic taplist, it boats friendly barstaff and quite reasonable prices, given its location. There was a nice mix of unusual and harder-to-find beers, like the refreshing unique Black Isle Blond, along with more traditional fare, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Best beer enjoyed here: Buxton Brewery Moor Top

Nicholson’s Pubs
The Cross Keys
34 Goodramgate, York
The Punch Bowl
7 Stonegate, York
Somehow I never ran across this chain when I lived in the UK (why was I going to Wetherspoons instead?), but they will certainly be on my radar going forward – not only did they have an excellent selection of guest ales on cask at each of the locations we tried, but they had very reasonable prices, fine food options and were very child-friendly. They also have their own combination pub crawl/ghost walk in York, which is essentially my ideal night out.  We will certainly be seeking them out around the UK on future visits.
Best beer enjoyed here: Thwaites Sunshine and Lollihops

The House of the Trembling Madness
48 Stonegate, York
Another must-visit for beer geeks of all stripes, this bottle shop-cum-medieval pub lives up to its hype. Everything on tap and on cask was outstanding, and the bottled selection was well worth exploring. It would have been easy to spend a whole day here, given the variety and the pleasant surroundings – we started off with Rudgate’s Ruby Mild and Durham Brewery’s Evensong, and moved on to some very ‘American’ IPAs from London’s Kernal Brewery (and quite tasty they were, too). The food is also tremendous and featured some of the best breads and cheeses I’ve had (and I am a bread and cheese nerd, in addition to being a beer nerd). Given that I could happily live on good beer and good bread, this ticked every possible box. Also, if you are 7, the fact that the decor includes swords is a bonus point.
Best beer enjoyed here: Ampleforth Abbey Dubbel

Other travel notes: Thwaites brought back Lancaster Bomber, and it’s still great! One thing I never noticed when actually living in the UK is that tattoo parlors close well before the pubs do – surely a more symbiotic relationship would improve business?

You Should Try This: The New York Distilling Company

The still at the New York Distilling Company

Over the holidays, we had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the New York Distilling Company, and it’s well worth a trip into the hipster wilds of Williamsburg to get to know this new microdistillery.  For those who have not been paying attention, microdistilling is the Next Big Thing, and if they’re all nearly this good, I believe it – but more on that later.  The distillery is the brainchild of Tom Potter (of ex-Brooklyn Brewery fame) and his son Bill; we got the full Potter Family treatment on our visit, as our good friends are their former neighbours (this is one of many, many reasons I often miss living in Brooklyn, but I digress).  Even the many and various children we had with us enjoyed the tour (again, many thanks to Gail Flanery for keeping them occupied!), even if they didn’t get to sample the wares at the end like we lucky adults did.

You enter through The Shanty, an industrial-cozy bar (yes, such a thing exists) with gin-inspired light fixtures and a view into the distillery, which at present is essentially a large, industrial space that would certainly be familiar, though not identical, to anyone who has been on a brewery tour.  The difference, of course, is the sparkling new still, custom-made in Germany.  Eventually, rye whiskey will begin here, but in the meantime, there are two varieties of really rather wonderful gin being produced: Perry’s Tot and Dorothy Parker.  The former, were it made in Plymouth, would carry that town’s name, while the latter is a more ‘American’ gin, with a few unusual botanicals like hibiscus in the mix (and isn’t it nice to see a drink named after a woman famous for her wit, rather than her other attributes?).  After touring the distilling operation, we repaired back to the bar, where we got to sample both to fine effect, both alone and in some of the unique cocktails developed by the team there. While I’m normally just a beer drinker, gin is one of the few spirits I do enjoy from time to time, and it was certainly a pleasing experience to taste two that really had a definite (and very distinct) flavor and character (especially on the ‘botanicals’ front).

Future plans include some collaborations with the Brooklyn Brewery (at least insofar as using some of their barrels for aging projects), and the long-term goal, as mentioned above, is whiskey. The gin is certainly much more than a stopgap measure, and while The Shanty is no 30-tap beer bar, it does reserve the beer taps for the good stuff; on our visit, there was a Brooklyn Brewery special release as well as a one-off from a smaller Long Island brewery.

You should most definitely get on the small batch distilling train now, so you can say you liked everything before it went mainstream – and if you’re a cocktail bar, you should be ordering the gin now – it’s tremendous.