Halloween Music & Beer Pairing

Wychwood HobgoblinThere are a number of great beers that seem made for Halloween – Wychwood Hobgoblin, The Lost Abbey’s Witch’s Wit or just about anything from Brasserie Fantôme can work well.  But to really encourage a spooky bring-on-Samhain mood,why not try pairing an autumnal beer with some seasonal music? Thanks to Folk Alley’s Halloween Scream Stream and Spotify, I have a constant rotation of traditional and not-so-traditional Halloween tunes going in the background, and have selected a few music and beverage options below.

Tam Lin – Fairport ConventionTraquair House Ale
I could have chosen any version of Child Ballad 39A – I have something approaching twenty in my own collection (considerably more if you include print), and there is a seemingly endless supply beyond that – but I’m a big fan of this particular one. As you are probably aware, the song tells the story of Janet (also called Margaret in some versions), who must rescue her lover, Tam Lin (insert many variants here as well) from the Queen of the Fairies, who has been keeping him captive at Carterhaugh, a wooded area near Selkirk in Scotland.  Appropriately enough, there is fine beer to be had locally – Traquair House Brewery’s excellent House Ale and Jacobite Ale are both perfect tie-ins.

Witches [sic] Hat – The Incredible String BandMoorhouse’s Pendle Witches Brew
Veering toward the more psychedelic end of the of the psych-folk band’s canon, this 1968 track presumably owes more to chemical experimentation than to the folk tradition, but its trippy lyrics and music are still atmospherically-appropriate for Halloween.  Pair it with Moorhouse’s Pendle Witches Brew for some malty goodness, and raise a glass to the real-life Pendle ‘witches,’ executed in 1612.  Moorhouse’s Black Cat, a mild, is also a fantastic beer.

Lord Of The Ages – Magna Carta / Weyerbacher Old Heathen
Perhaps you have friends who aren’t quite sure what prog rock is.  In response, you might have gone easy on them, offering up some Jethro Tull, but why hold back? This track, released in 1973, has everything: lyrics that might have been borrowed from Tolkien-inspired fan fiction (‘Lord of the Ages rode one night / Out through the gateways of time / Astride a great charger / In a cloak of white samite…’ – you get the idea), a ‘rocking out’ section toward the end, a little chanting and a nearly 10-minute running time.  You may need a strong drink after listening to it, so a Weyerbacher Old Heathen should be just the thing.

Widdicombe Fair – The City Waites / Hambleton’s Nightmare Porter
The most well-known version of the comedic West Country folksong was collected in 1888 by  the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, whose career as an antiquarian, songwriter, correspondent, novelist and folklorist is, perhaps, the classic example of why being a wealthy 19th century churchman was pretty awesome. In the song, a number of stock characters (possibly or possibly not based on real 18th century people from the town of Widecombe in the Moor) borrow a horse to visit the eponymous fair; the mare dies from the effort of hauling a goodly portion of the village around, and returns as a ghost with all aboard. The song, as interpreted by The City Waites, puts the emphasis on the comedy. Although hailing from an entirely different moorland (Yorkshire rather than Devon), Hambleton’s Nightmare Porter still works, and rather nicely too.

Damn These Vampires – The Mountain Goats / Great Lakes Nosferatu
I know, vampires are presently extremely uncool, given their sparkly associations with teenage girls who fear actual boys, but this song recalls a time (not so long ago) when they were still dangerous as well as glamorous (and, frankly, a lot more interesting). Luckily, there is a beer than can help you forget the Twi-hards (or could be employed with caution in a related drinking game, though one suspects that it would be easy to see such a game reach Withnailian proportions) – Great Lakes Nosferatu. This big, red beer is one to look forward to every fall (rather unlike Twilight movies, unless your capacity for ironic viewing is unparalleled).

In the Company of Ravens – Maddy Prior / Black Raven Brewing’s Tamerlane Brown Porter
This spare, haunting tribute to the oft-misunderstood bird, from the Steeleye Span singer’s 1999 solo album, Ravenchild, is a great mood-setter for Halloween, and  Black Raven Brewing’s Tamerlane Brown Porter keeps the spooky theme going with a liquid nod to Edgar Allen Poe.  Appropriately enough, in addition to their porter, the Seattle brewery makes a great IPA called Trickster – also raven-approved in Native American lore.

Happy Halloween! For more on beer and hauntings, check out my story on the Lemp family over at Serious Drinks, or go back a bit further for my pumpkin beer history.

Beer Events: Dogfish Dash 2011

Pre-race hijinks

Another year, another Dogfish Dash – and another PR.

This marked my fourth (and fastest) time competing in the event; it’s easy to stay motivated mid-race when you know that a good finish will ensure a shorter line for great beer (even if the hill at the end of the course seems steeper than it did the first time around). As has become our usual routine, we arrived at the brewpub the afternoon before, shortly before packet pickup was officially set to begin; like last year, they were already handing out packets, but there were not yet long lines. Pro tip: send one member of your party in to put your name on the list while you retrieve your bib, bag, t-shirt and wristband – we do this annually and have never had to wait longer than about half an hour (though of course it’s always much more crowded than on a typical Saturday afternoon in the off season – a major reason we usually try to get down to the beach more often in the fall and early spring). This year’s bags were particularly nice – collapsible, but capacious. The free Chicory Stout posters were a pleasant surprise as well.

Once inside, we enjoyed the Repoterroir – a pentagon-shaped collaboration with ingredients and brewing magic from Dogfish Head, Allagash, The Lost Abbey, Sierra Nevada and Avery. It was especially pleasing to find a ‘special’ but not terribly strong beer on tap – perfect for sampling and carbo-loading! Without going into a full review, the beer really showcases a number of unusual flavours, with the mint and ‘beach’ wood really standing out; it’s a bit of an Everlasting Gobstopper in a pint (and that’s a good thing). This year’s Punkin Ale is very fine indeed as well, and late lunch/early dinner was enjoyed by all.

The next morning, we arrived at the brewery early; parking seemed easier than it had in previous years, so it seems that lessons from previous years have been well-learned. I would suggest a bit more organization at the start for next year; there are pace markers, but they were largely ignored, perhaps because the race was so well-attended – while it was a nice ego boost to be passing some of the slower runners (and walkers) in the early miles, it was a bit traffic-jammy, and might be worth separating out the 5K and 10K in the future – but it’s a minor quibble.

Rehydration (Punkin Ale & 60 Min IPA)

Once things were underway, the race volunteers were fantastic, as in previous years – water (in eco-friendly cups) is plentiful, and the split where we 10Kers leave the 5K folks was well-marked. The 10K course loops around Milton, taking in much Victorian architecture and some interesting old graveyards, before finally coming back through town – and back to the brewery. The water  bottles (like the bags, collapsible) at the finish were great – I’d been thinking of buying one of that variety anyway – so getting one just for running 10K seemed a reasonable exchange! This year, there were two beer tents – one with some of the ‘lighter’ beers (including Lawnmower Light and Shelter Pale Ale and My Antonia, with the other tent offering Indian Brown and Punkin – the 60 Min IPA was available at both. The beer lines definitely seemed longer and slower than in previous years, but that is no doubt simply further evidence of the race’s popularity – hopefully next year there will be more capacity in that regard, but again, it’s another reason to train hard and finish strong! My only other suggestions for future improvements would be to run shuttle buses from the brewpub to ease the parking (and driving) situation, but that’s largely because it would be incredibly convenient for me to walk from the beach house to the brewpub – still, I’m sure it would be helpful for others as well, if something of a logistical challenge.

We took the short version of the brewery tour again after obtaining beer – it seems there’s an entirely new part of the building every year – and there were many wonderful things for sale in the shop. Back outside, we wandered around for a bit, checking out the best of the costumed runners; perhaps next year, I’ll even get around to doing the keg sprints.

Once again, it was a great race, with money going to a great cause…I’d love to do a half-marathon that finishes at the brewery some time. March would be perfect…

An Update: Want to Buy the General Lafayette Inn?

It would be nice to have the lights back onThe fate of the General Lafayette Inn seems to be of ongoing interest to beer drinkers and potential business owners far and wide – our previous post on the topic is constantly receiving heavy search traffic and many return visits.  And if you are one of those looking to re-open the bar, your chance has come at last.

After much legal wrangling, the General Lafayette Inn (and its outbuildings) are featured in a sheriff’s sale scheduled for August 31.  Sovereign Bank is aiming high – the amount they’d like to get is $1,081,376.98 (plus another number just north of $3500 in costs).  One presumes the high sticker price comes from loans they made to open the ill-fated Tied House in Philadelphia proper – it’s hard to imagine the Lafayette Hill location commanding that sort of value, even with the brewing equipment and liquor license – but it’s also possible that a much lower bid might be accepted on the day.  (A slight aside: there used to be a streetcar line from the city that stopped right in front of the General Lafayette – having decent public transit would make its location much, much more attractive – but alas, the prospective buyer will have to make do with the parking lot).

Two parcels make up the current property – the houses behind the main colonial building that were once used for bed & breakfast accommodation are separate from the restaurant and liquor license – it’s also possible that those could be divided, though given the layout, it’s difficult to see how that would be usefully accomplished without some fairly heavy redevelopment which could further detract from (or possibly destroy) the historic context (and, potentially, fabric) of the main building.  As discussed before, the site has great potential, but it needs some careful planning and thoughtful management.

Hopefully someone with a respect for history, knowledge of great beer and some business creativity will be at Courtroom A at the Montgomery Country Courthouse in Norristown by 1 pm on August 31st with a view toward taking on docket #201017050 – local beer fans (and, one might guess, the resident ghosts) will be grateful if the General Lafayette ends up in safe hands.

Update (August 31, 2011): The property was sold for costs – if you know the buyer, we’re all ears…

Update (October 5, 2012): Still on the market

Update (March 13, 2013): A new hope

…Said George Pal to his Bride

Beer! Racing! Together!Finally, two of my favorite activities are coming together, not unlike an existential Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: a festival celebrating local beer is being held at the racetrack. The brains behind Philly Beer Week and TrackPackPA, the quite-entertaining people who have been working hard to raise the profile of Pennsylvania horse racing, are holding the first annual (so it is hoped) TrackPackPA.com PA Craft Beer Fest at Parx (née Philadelphia Park) on September 10th.

In addition to beer from 20 Pennsylvania breweries, there will be local food galore (though, unlike many festivals, you are also welcome to BYO food) as well as music, a little volleyball and, of course, a prime spot along the rail. Given that racetrack food and drink is beyond appalling most of the time, this is a unique opportunity – it is a prime opportunity to enjoy a day at the track without starving (or overpaying for a suspicious hot dog).

If you’ve never played the ponies before, it’s entirely possible that sampling a few of the region’s finest beers could improve your odds. Of course, you are more than welcome to tap seasoned, and, occasionally, lucky, handicappers like this writer for advice; I’m always willing to hand out a live longshot if it involves a (good) drink. And don’t worry about being in unfamiliar surrounds at Parx – it may have been the home of  Smarty Jones (now plying his trade in Uruguay, at least for part of the year) it’s no Saratoga or Churchill Downs, so don’t look for ladies in hats or men in late-season seersucker suits (though you are more than welcome to develop a drinking game based on spotting them). Do expect to see people poring over their copies of the Daily Racing Form before heading to the windows to place bets, and feel free to ask for ideas on the finer points of pedigree analysis or to discover which jockeys are on hot streaks; racetrack people are friendly people.

What could be more fun (and appropriate) than cheering the horse you’ve backed home while enjoying something from Victory? And how many beer festivals give you the opportunity to win back your entrance fee?

It’s a day not to be missed.

Beer Events: Project Venus

Whitney Thompson represents!

Whitney Thompson represents!

While American Craft Beer Week may not get people as motivated around these parts as Philly Beer Week, Victory Brewing Company chose this week to host their first all-women event: Girls Just Wanna Have Suds, featuring the female-brewed collaboration beer, Project Venus.  At the appointed hour, the brewpub’s back room was quite full – there’s obviously demand for gatherings like this one, and the attendees are a largely punctual bunch.

Food and beer pairing stations were set up around the room; an endive and jicama appetizer went with Summer Love (in a slightly different formulation from last year’s offering), a goat cheese appetizer joined with Helios, pistachio-encrusted turkey (strangely, wonderfully compelling) was paired with Headwaters Pale Ale, and mussels played a supporting role to Project Venus, the star attraction. Only one keg of the featured beer made its way from Cambridge to Pennsylvania, but its origin there is worth mentioning. Devised by Megan Parisi of Cambridge Brewing Company, Laura Ulrich of Stone and Whitney Thompson of Victory, the beer marks the first female-driven collaboration brew at a commercial American brewery, although anyone who knows their beer history knows it marks more of a return to How Things Always Were.

The beer was brewed in Cambridge on their fifteen barrel system; it’s a dubbel, but quite unlike your typical Belgian offering. The recipe included blood oranges and saffron, and the resulting ruby-brown beer packs something of a wallop (though not, it must be said, a Hop Wallop) at around 9% ABV. My initial concern was that the beer might be quite sweet, given its base style and the addition of fruit, but the oranges impart a pleasant, slightly tart citrus flavour, while the overall taste remains a rounded maltiness. The finish is rather chocolately, though a relatively dry chocolate in my opinion – certainly not syrupy or overly sweet. Brewer Whitney Thompson described the finish as ‘like a Tootsie Roll’ and that was very apt.

The Project Venus concept is catching on worldwide; in the UK, Sara Barton of Brewster’s Brewery (one of my favo(u)rites) joined up with Sara Carter of Triple fff Brewery, Michelle Kelsall from Off Beat Brewery, Kathy Britton from Oldershaw Brewery and Gráinne Walsh of Metalman Brewing Company in Ireland to create Venus Jade, a hoppy but very sessionable ale. The group aims to create more beers together in the near future. In Canada, Claire Connolly of Big River Brewpub led a team of brewsters to create something a little Belgianesque, with some cherrywood-smoked malts, just in time for Vancouver Beer Week, and other projects are in the works elsewhere. With the Pink Boots Society bringing women in the industry together, it stands to reason that we’ll be seeing many more similar projects in the future.

As female drinkers of craft beer, we’re spoiled for choice in this region – In Pursuit of Ale and West Chester Beer Ladies offer local women a chance to get together to enjoy and learn more about great beer, while Seattle and Portland have recently welcomed Barley’s Angels chapters (Rogue has even ‘recognized‘ them as part of Rogue Nation) – indeed, there are groups as far afield as Buenos Aires and Sydney. Women Enjoying Beer, Girls Pint Out and Ladies of Craft Beer all offer camaraderie and learning opportunities for the distaff drinker.

It almost seems a bit unfair to the male beer drinker that he can’t always join it at some of these events, but I certainly won’t complain. We’re here, we’ve beer – get used to it!

Beer Destinations: The Farmer’s Cabinet

The Farmer's CabinetIt might seem a bit premature to anoint a venue that has been open only a few short weeks a must-visit for craft beer fans, but The Farmer’s Cabinet is simply that good – in fact, it’s really quite amazing, and not just for the beer.

The restaurant and bar is latest venture from the team behind Fork & Barrel and a number of highly-regarded other establishments beyond Philadelphia, and they’ve done it in a distinctive style.  The detailed interior might best be described as having a slightly steampunk, yet rustic, Weimar Republic theme (minus, of course, the smoking and proto-Nazis) – and this is a very Good Thing.  The sense of age is carried through with the lighting (low, but by no means too dark, with many  candles) and music (1920s and ’30s jazz, blues and more).  The staff are dressed in similarly ‘anywhen’ attire, and they are without question the most knowledgeable and well-trained bartenders one is likely to come across – it’s obvious that they are very familiar with even their more obscure products (more on those in a moment) and they are happy to offer small tasting glasses to the indecisive customer.

There are four distinct sections to The Farmer’s Cabinet; the beer bar is near the front, complete with piano, a more domestic cocktail bar, and two dining areas (though dining at the bar is certainly a handy way to ensure frequent refills).  The first dining room, containing long wooden communal tables would not be out of place in a traditional German bierhall, while the other offers more intimate seating toward the rear of the restaurant.  Another advantage of sitting at the bar is access to the delicious free popcorn: it’s both sweet and savoury, but quite unlike kettle corn.  In contrast to many other bars, The Farmer’s Cabinet doesn’t skimp on the water – there are handy carafes that are always kept full.

And so we arrive at the beer – and a more well-curated selection of smaller European breweries would be difficult to imagine.  This is perhaps best illustrated by this anecdote: I love Leipziger Gose – its salty goodness makes it one of my favorite beer styles, and its relative rarity means I typically jump at the chance to have some, especially on tap; the same goes for just about any Berliner Weisse, and there were classic examples of both available. But at The Farmer’s Cabinet, there were so many other intriguing options on offer that I never got around to my beloved German beers.   Instead, we sampled hard-to-find beers from Norway, Denmark, Austria, Italy and England (with two cask ales from Thornbridge) – and while ex-Bullfrog Brewery helmsman Terry Hawbaker will shortly be overseeing on-site nanobrewing operations, the United States was represented in the meantime by Ballast Point.  There is also a unique bottle list, but given the rotating tap list, it’s easy enough to overlook it.  One hopes that the balance currently maintained on the tap list will be maintained – there was a nice mix of lower- to medium-strength beers as well as a few higher-octane brews, which made it easy enough to try a number of different choices without a rapid progression to extreme tipsiness. Each beer on tap is offered in two sizes, which also helps make sampling simple.  The cocktail list is just as well-crafted as the beer menu, but I will leave that to mixed-drink experts to evaluate properly – it made very interesting reading.

The food is just as varied and fantastic – it encompasses everything from house-baked breads (including an outstanding sea salt/olive oil sourdough) to great meats and cheeses, to a variety of small plates, sandwiches and interesting entrees.  One imagines the desserts are equally tremendous, but clearly more strategy will be required to leave room next time. Even the more ‘pedestrian’ fare is worthy of close scrutiny: the burger was a house-blended mix of brisket and bacon.  Let me reiterate that point: the burger had ground bacon mixed into it – it was phenomenal. Everything is made with real ingredients; the farms the meat and produce came from are name-checked on the menu.

None of this comes cheap, but the blow of receiving the check is softened somewhat by its appearance in an old-fashioned cigar box, accompanied by a sea salt caramel.  It’s worth every penny, and The Farmer’s Cabinet deserves to become a true destination.

Handy Recent Craft Beer Writing Roundup

Actually, sometimes they doAnother new WeirdBeerGirl post  is coming shortly, but here’s a quick roundup of recent articles I’ve written elsewhere:

Serious Eats: Drinks
Old American Beer Styles, Lost and Found
Beer History: Craft Beer Survivors and Vanished Brands
Beer History: Swapping Homebrew Recipes with the Founding Fathers

And a few other articles from earlier in the year, for your clicking convenience:

Serious Eats Drinks
Ghosts of Beers Past: Reviving Historical Brews

A (Very) Brief History of Women in Beer

Ladies of Craft Beer
Wanted: A Samantha Brown of Craft Beer
Craft Beer & Kids: It Can Be Done!

All Hail Kegasus? Sure.

Kegasus may make Pimlico bearableFor those of you who don’t know I blog about horse racing, yes, I do that too – and for those of you who don’t know I blog about craft beer, see the previous answer. It’s about time a story brought the two together.

It would be hard to argue that Pimlico has much to recommend it beyond the Preakness; the physical plant is a mess, the food and drink options are terrible and much of the racing beyond the big day is uninspiring. The solution to getting people out to the track seems obvious: why not market a visit to Old Hilltop to people who are too drunk (or will be, soon after their arrival) to notice its failings? Enter Kegasus.

In all seriousness, seeing someone promote part of the Triple Crown with a view toward attracting a crowd that is neither elderly, tradition-bound nor independently wealthy is very refreshing indeed. Of course, for some, this is an annual tradition already; anyone suggesting that bacchanalia in the infield is novel has clearly never even watched the Preakness on television, much less witnessed the carnage in person. Let’s recall that Pimlico experimented with changing their alcohol policy in 2009 – and no one came. Giving Kegasus his head, as it were, allows for a good marketing push leading up to the big day (and ‘his’ social media efforts so far are quite encouraging). It’s true that many of the targeted audience aren’t there for the racing, but having a fun experience at the track makes them more likely to give it another try – they may even have a flutter on the Derby winner, just because it seems the thing to do. Diversity of audiences is a good thing, and it’s something racing desperately needs.

There is one issue still to be addressed, however – the appalling quality of the comestibles and the truly awful beer selection on offer at Pimlico. Granted, these choices are made long in advance and the options will be limited by the contracted caterers and beer distributors, but it would be nice to see the benighted track step up on its one big day a year. Why not get a special dispensation to offer some great local beers by Flying Dog, The Brewer’s Art or Heavy Seas? It’s true a keg of Raging Bitch might be a little too hard-core for some of the fratboy set more used to their Natty Bo, but there’s no reason not to offer some Old Scratch or Pale Ale. I’ve argued many times that racetracks need to step up across the board in this department – when you can get decent, even occasionally good, food and beer at most baseball, football and soccer stadiums, its absence from the track becomes ever more apparent (and distressing to those of us who might like to spend a day there without starving).

So I, for one, welcome our new centaur overlords – let’s hope they can work a little magic to get some real beer to the track in addition to the port-a-potty racers.

A Comparison: Pliny the Elder vs Pliny the Younger

Russian River Brewing CompanyBoth highly sought-after beers from California’s Russian River Brewing Company are a deep golden color, and are loaded with hops (and alcohol), to be sure – but the differences between the two are rather interesting. They do, however, both share one common characteristic: neither one really lets on quite how potent it is, especially when compared to other imperial IPAs.  But first, a little bit of background.  Pliny the Elder, clocking in at 8.0% ABV, is nearly always available, while Pliny the Younger (11.0 ABV) appears but once a year, in February (and in rather limited quantities – which, of course, makes it an Event Beer).

While many beer/history geeks are likely aware that Pliny the Elder (the human, not the beer) helped inspire the scientific name for hops (quite some time before expiring in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum and the often-overlooked Oplontis and Stabiae), it’s very pleasing that Russian River gave a little nod to him – such details are easy to forget, although there’s no chance of forgetting about the hops in either of these beers.  The non-potable Pliny the Younger, namesake and nephew of the Elder, is perhaps best-known for writing about his uncle’s death – but he was a busy man beyond that, palling around with the likes of Tacitus and Suetonius, and traveling extensively. We’ll overlook the fact that both men probably considered beer something for unlettered barbarians – so, back to the beers.

Although it’s less potent, Pliny the Elder comes across as sweeter than the Younger; it’s something it shares with some of the better ‘special’ IPAs out there (e.g. Tröegs Nugget Nectar, Bell’s Hopslam), although it can certainly be said to have set the standard for them.  It has a distinctive malt backbone, with a lot of biscuity flavor – yes, it’s hoppy, but it’s so well-paired with the malts that they just work together beautifully.  Pliny the Younger (a triple IPA) is actually a little more subtle; it’s a much dryer flavor, and it hides its strength well; it almost comes across as something more in the 7%-8% ABV range.  This is especially pleasing when comparing it to other beers of this alcohol content, which can sometimes be overly sweet (beyond intentional sweetness, that is) – the hops are still very much leading the way, but even they seem almost a little toned-down next to the hops in Pliny the ElderPliny the Younger is a deliciously deceptive beer – and ‘subtle’ is the adjective I keep returning to – it’s got every excuse to be over the top, but it keeps it all (almost) under wraps – it’s got plenty of fabulous hop flavor and a refreshing bitterness, but those aspects are not overpowering. It’s a surprisingly different beer from Pliny the Elder – I admit I expected essentially a hoppier/stronger version of that one – but it stands very much on its own.

Both are great, unique beers that live up to the hype in different ways – and both are worth seeking out.

Recent Beer Writing Elsewhere

Beer brewing, Uruk, c. 3100 BCE

While I’ve got a few new reviews coming soon (including a comparison of Russian River’s Plinys Elder and Younger), I’ve been busy elsewhere – here are a few recent projects for other sites:

Serious Eats Drinks:
Ghosts of Beers Past: Reviving Historical Brews
and
A (Very) Brief History of Women in Beer

Ladies of Craft Beer:
Wanted: A Samantha Brown of Craft Beer and
Craft Beer & Kids: It Can Be Done!

More beer history and craft beer culture posts for other sites are coming in the future, but reviews and other general musings will continue here – come back soon!