Beer Events: Dogfish Dash

Why we runThis year’s Dogfish Dash was bigger than ever – more than 1000 runners descended upon Milton, DE for the race (and for the free food and drink afterward). I was taking part for the third consecutive year, and had a great time once again (placing 277 out of 537 in the 10K run – reasonably solidly mid-pack – and 22 out of 66 in my division was a decent number as well). This was the second time the race course toured ‘downtown’ Milton, and there were even more locals out to cheer runners on this year. As another bonus, the route affords a fine opportunity to explore the town’s historic architecture, beginning and ending with the thoroughly modern brewery, and taking in everything from 18th century storehouses to Victorian Masonic halls along the way. The Dogfish Dash raised $26,000 for the Nature Conservancy – it was another successful Beer and Benevolence event.

The brewery seems to grow with each installment – this year, the new entrance, massive fermentation tanks and the Steampunk Treehouse were among the novel attractions. The store and tasting room finally seem to have enough room (for now), and while the brewery tour was somewhat abbreviated compared to years past (presumably a function of both the large crowds and the ongoing construction), a good time was had by all.

One of the best features of the race is the planning that goes into the pre- and post-race fun – race packet pickup the day before keeps the brewpub full (your packet includes a coupon for a meal – and it seems to fill the place up earlier and earlier each year around pickup time), and it’s an ideal opportunity to sample some brewpub-only rarities – the latest incarnation of Chicha was very interesting indeed (look for a review later). And there’s no cutting corners on the beer on tap after the race – yes, there’s Lawnmower Light for those who aren’t looking for a 7%ish beer at 8.30 am, but it’s lovely to rehydrate with a 60 Min IPA, Indian Brown Ale and/or Punkin Ale as well; the addition of the seasonal beer was particularly welcome.

What could be a better motivation to run than knowing there’s a Punkin Ale waiting for you at the finish?

Beer Culture: Post-GABF Thoughts

No, I wasn’t there, but I did enjoy watching the awards stream, and it was quite pleasing to see some favorite breweries and beers (both local and those from further afield) hailed.  Stoudt’s has been turning out incredibly well-crafted German-style beers since long before it was trendy to do so (and I would argue that high-quality German-style beers still suffer by association with their watery macro cousins – it’s hard for some to believe that a great lager exists, while it’s easy to accept an amazing Russian Imperial Stout, simply because there hasn’t been a craptacular macro version – yet).  Their Heifer-in-Wheat took home a gold, while I celebrated their victory with their excellent OktoberfestTroegs Flying Mouflan (an aptly-named beer of supreme woolliness) also took a top prize in the Barleywine category, and it was another well-deserved one.

But some locals were left out of the medals, though it’s hard to find a better bitter than Victory’s Uncle Teddy’s, or a better mild than Yards Brawler – it makes me even more curious to try the winners in those categories.  On the whole, the left coast had quite an impressive showing – Port Brewing and Firestone Walker (fine breweries, both) seemed to be collecting every other award.  It was quite interesting to see an ‘American-Style India Black Ale’ category (though I have yet to hear anyone refer to one as such), and once again, I’m now intensely curious about the Gold and Silver medal winners – there’s something better than Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale? A quick glance at the map, however, suggested that Turmoil from Barley Brown’s Brew Pub will be unlikely to make its way out of the mountains, much less to Philadelphia – though one may hope it magically appears somewhere.

There are, of course, many fabulous beers that would be quite deserving of a medal if only they were entered (and given the economy, it’s easy to understand why smaller breweries aren’t flying their beer and staff halfway across the country for some hardware) – just about everything Earth Bread & Brewery makes would merit a mention, and Nodding Head’s Philly Beer Week one-off Agave Berliner Weisse could easily fit in a few categories.  So, it’s an (almost) open thread – what local (wherever local is to you) brewery or beer do you find worthy of a medal, despite either not entering or being overlooked?

Beer Review: Erie Brewing Company Derailed

That would be the purple beer on the rightAs a very general rule, I dislike fruit beers.  Of course, there are some exceptions – Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche is a refreshingly unusual take on the Berliner Weisse style, and  Walking Man’s Black Cherry Stout is one of the few fruit/stout combinations I’ve found effective (and I’m happy to report it’s very effective indeed).   Despite those high points, I tend to avoid trying a beer that sounds like it’s going to be overtly fruity – but after a long day of spent outside doing Things Soccer-y, Derailed sounded like an interesting option.  Essentially a black cherry version of Erie Brewing Company’s gold-medal-winning Railbender Ale, it arrived quite purple indeed (it’s pictured next to the Abbey of Christ in the Desert Monk’s Ale, for your comparative pleasure).

The cherry aroma was certainly evident, and I wondered how well it would blend or compliment the solid malt flavor that Railbender is known for.  The answer is that the flavors work together surprisingly well – the cherry taste is refreshing and tart, so there is no overabundance of fruit and malt combining in a sort of sickly-sweet sugar bomb.  The malt is still very much the driving force behind this beer, which keeps it from verging into black cherry soda territory (something for which I have a terrible weakness – as both a beer and black cherry soda connoisseur, I can confirm there is little crossover here).  It was an ideal beer for the occasion – one that could slake thirst after a warm day, but with enough malt backbone to offset a cool evening.  It’s a little too peculiar to become a go-to beer for most circumstances, but it’s definitely worth a try; odd beers can be good beers.

After all, how can anyone dislike a beer that has its own origin myth?

Beer Places: Pinocchio’s, Media, PA

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kidMedia is a bit off the beaten track even for local Philly-area beer geeks – yes, there’s an Iron Hill brewpub that typically features some solid offerings, but on the whole, the town gives off a suburban, 1950s vibe that does not scream ‘beer destination.’  But Pinocchio’s is changing that, first, by adding an ever-more-interesting craft beer tap lineup in the restaurant, and more recently by opening Pinocchio’s Beer Garden – which, despite the name, is actually a bottle shop with service and selection that rivals that of not only Capone’s in Norristown, but also some of my favorites in cities that have (largely) less bizarre beer laws – it compares very favorably with Bierkraft in Brooklyn or Seattle’s Bottleworks.  And it’s more than just a bottle shop – they do growler fills as well.  The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable, and they make some great recommendations.  And there’s not just great beer – hard-to-find craft ciders are also available in their own case.

Pinocchio’s has, perhaps, been unfairly overlooked at times; it doesn’t have the high-end finishes and occasionally hipsterish vibe that many newer craft beer places tend to have (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – to all appearances, it’s just the sort of local family restaurant one might find anywhere in suburban America (or, at least, the sort you might have found before it was knocked down and turned into an Applebee’s).  In that respect, it’s not unlike Capone’s on a slightly less beer-geeky scale (at present) – it’s still serving plenty of long-time customers, and it’s great for kids, who get to play with dough while they wait for their food (and no, I’m not sure why that’s fascinating either, but it works well, so I won’t complain).  My one quibble is that the food could be a little better, although it’s certainly many notches above a typical chain restaurant, but the prices on both food and beer are amazingly reasonable.  And the comparisons with Capone’s could grow – this weekend’s tap list is outstanding, and growler fills are available on everything except the Sculpin and Nemesis:

  1. Russian River Blind Pig
  2. Ballast Point Sculpin
  3. Avery Maharajah
  4. Bear Republic Racer 5
  5. Bell’s Two-Hearted
  6. Anchor Humming Ale
  7. Boulder Mojo Risin’ DIPA
  8. Tommyknocker Hop Strike!
  9. Rogue Morimoto Imperial Pils
  10. Founders Nemesis 2010
  11. Flying Dog Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter
  12. Harpoon Triticus
  13. Lost Abbey Avant Garde
  14. Victory/Dogfish Head/Stone Saison du Buff
  15. The Bruery Autumn Maple
  16. Ayinger Octoberfest
  17. Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
  18. Bell’s Oberon
  19. Yards Love Stout
  20. Saint Somewhere Saison Athene

It would not be surprising to see people standing in line outside for rare beer events in the future – and there’s even not-too-inconvenient public transit nearby.   I highly recommend the HopStrike! – you may well find me there this weekend post-Union game…

Beer Review: Left Hand/Terrapin Oxymoron

Left Hand/Terrapin OxymoronColorado’s Left Hand Brewing and Terrapin Beer of Athens, GA may not be terribly close to one another geographically, but they share a creative impulse to go beyond ‘official’ beer styles.  In this, their third collaboration as part of their Midnight Project series, they’ve done something unusual indeed – Oxymoron is an IPA, but it’s been brewed with primarily German ingredients.  The result is quite intriguing – it’s got a lot of hoppy bitterness, but with something of a softer, more rounded flavor profile.  There’s a notable absence of the piney aroma so associated with typical American IPAs, and the malt backbone has a pleasing ‘graininess’ about it.  It’s almost a little too drinkable for a 7.2% ABV beer (although, really, nothing compares to Heavy Seas Hang Ten in that regard – you’d never guess its ABV is in the double digits until you start pondering the fact that it’s a weizen dopplebock – and it’s probably too late at that point, you’ve gone and had a second one.  Of course, that’s assuming that wasn’t just me).

All told, it’s very tasty indeed – a worthy addition to this experimental series (and kudos to Pinocchio’s for putting Oxymoron on tap almost as soon as it was released in kegs — it may look like the least likely place to get great craft beer, but the selection just keeps getting better and better).

Bring on more!

Beer Review: Dogfish Head Bitches Brew

Dogfish Head Bitches BrewYesterday was the release of Dogfish Head’s latest one-off creation, Bitches Brew. The beer was previewed at SAVOR in Washington, DC, earlier this summer, and its official debut this week even garnered an NPR feature. Brewed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the seminal Miles Davis album, it’s as unique as Dogfish Head’s other specialty brews. As a blend of three parts imperial stout to one part African mead, I was anticipating something very sweet indeed – and I was pleasantly surprised to find something much more complex and interesting. Of course, that’s not to say that a sweeter beer cannot be fantastically interesting – the wondrous Theobroma, also from Dogfish Head’s stables, certainly ticks both boxes – but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, which is always good fun.

Perhaps some of the surprise is that the beer hides its ‘imperial’ nature quite well – at first sniff or taste, you might be unsure as to whether or not these are the droids you’re looking for. There is not an obvious alcohol scent or burn as is common in beers of this strength (around 9% ABV); it’s remarkably easy-drinking, so it’s a fine thing that Tria was serving it (with some appropriate background music) in smaller glasses. I was also anticipating a bit more viscosity from the mead, but was again happy to find my presumption was incorrect – there was definitely a mellowing effect on the flavor coming from the honey, but it did not ‘weigh down’ the mouthfeel in any unpleasant way (you may have figured out that I don’t usually like meads).

All told, it’s a very smooth, silky drink, with plenty of great roasted flavor, but not too bitter or wine-y – perfect for after dinner (although we did things backwards and had it as a sort of starter – the vagaries of SEPTA’s scheduling force one to do odd things at times).   I’d be quite curious to try it again when it’s considerably cooler outside – if it’s on at the brewpub later this month, I may use it to help carbo-load before the Dogfish Dash 10K this year. You never know what might prove to be performance-enhancing…