Monday, September 27, 2010

A Taste of Germany in Bucks County

This past Saturday night, the ladyfriend and myself wanted to go out for a couple drinks but were in the mood for something different. She has basically limited the number of times we can go to the Hulmeville in one week so I struggled to find a place that would even hold a candle. Luckily I remembered that I had heard great things about The Newportville Inn and as an added bonus it is only 10 minutes away from my house. Neither of us had ever been to this bar so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect but as we pulled up I grew giddy with anticipation.

The Newportville Inn offers two outdoor seating areas, one attached the building itself and up a little path you will find their delightful biergarten. We both agreed that this was where we were destined to sit. The tables in the biergarten are covered by some gigantic umbrellas featuring the best of the German breweries, there is a bubbling fountain at the center, and some mood setting candles around the edges. This was definitely my kind of place for a cool Saturday evening.

Eventually we got hold of a draft list which confirmed this bar's legitimacy, they offer the standard stuff with a slew of German brews and a couple local favorites thrown in for good measure. I sat there proudly as my girlfriend ordered a tall glass of Warsteiner Pilsner, I struggled to make a decision but ended up with a the 200th Anniversary Oktoberfest Jubilee, a collaboration brew between Munich's six main breweries. These two beers paired perfectly with the festive atmosphere. We ordered some food too, which was great but I'm not a food guy so I'll just bypass that part of the night.
All of a sudden I hear the exciting sounds of an accordion and look up from my glass to see a young man in lederhosen playing for the outdoor patrons. He strolled around for a bit playing what I assume to be some accordion "standards" but he eventually sat down in the garten to play some fantastic bar-favorites. Never in my life did I think I would hear the likes of 'Piano Man', 'Space Odyssey', 'Sweet Home Alabama', or 'Stairway' on the accordion but that is exactly what happened. Much to our delight he played a lengthy set of such crowd pleasers with everyone outside singing along and even making some requests. As if the beer and atmosphere weren't good enough, this guy came along and made the night a rousing success.

We sat outside for a good while as the rest of our company left their tables and our live entertainment packed up his accordion. It is such a pleasure to find a new place that you love and I cannot wait to get back to the Newportville, especially with their Oktoberfest activities going on for the next month. Apparently they will be having a pig roast every Friday outside and more authentic German entertainment every weekend. They also sell their own growlers which always gives a bar extra points in my book. With a very friendly staff and simply a great vibe, The Newportville Inn became, in just one night, one of my new favorite area bars. Now seems to be the perfect time of year to sit in their biergarten and bask in the glory of German beer.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Adventures in Homebrewing: Pumpkin Brew Day

Yesterday I dived head first into solo brewing and it was what one might call a fiasco. I took over the kitchen, cranked up my iPod, poured a brew, and got to work...which took me most of the day. Everything went as smoothly as one could have expected from an amateur like myself.

That is of course everything except for my yeast rehydration. I have read that just pitching the dry yeast is the way to go but have also read that rehydrating is a much better practice. Since we rehydrated when we brewed at Temple I figured that I should continue doing so but am regretting that decision today. My yeast was not as active during the rehydration as usual but I pitched it anyways and as of right now I'm getting no signs of fermentation in the carboy. I've talked to Joe Bair at Princeton Homebrew and a number of people on who keep encouraging me to sit on it and see what happens. Worst case scenario, I'm going to have to repitch the yeast and hope for the best. This whole dilemma has really left a bad taste in my mouth and I may have an alcer from all the stress.

The rest of the process, however, was a joy. Brewing a pumpkin ale is a messy ordeal but it sure made the house smell good. I couldn't find an appropriate steeping bag for the puree so I used the next best thing, a pair of nylon stockings. I brought the pumpkin to a boil and then used that water to steep the grains in, this seemed to be the most common method. I had nearly forgotten about my pecans but they made it into the boil just in time.

Unfortunately my yeast situation has me pretty worried and has put a black cloud over the whole thing. I've been trying to keep Charlie Papazian's "Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew." mantra in mind but that is easier said than done. Hopefully the yeast will wake up soon and ease my worries. Of course I would have a much better gauge on the situation if I had taken a damn hydrometer reading but that was another thing that slipped my mind.
Now I just have to wait and see.

UPDATE: As a last resort I ended up repitching some more yeast into my sad looking carboy and lo and behold it has been going nuts for the past 24 hours. After I came home from work I peaked under the blanket and saw the reassuring signs of fermentation, bubbles and krausen galore! I know you were all quite worried about my brew but fear not, things are looking up!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Weyerbacher News

Weyerbacher Brewing Company out of Easton, PA has a lot on their plate in the near future. Now that AutumnFest and Imperial Pumpkin Ale (dare I say, the best pumpkin beer out there?) are out on shelves it is time to move on.

Next up is their Harvest Ale, brewed with hops from their very own farm. Last year's batch was delicious so I'm expected this year to be just as tasty. You can watch a video of the harvest on their YouTube page here. Apparently you can find a very limited number of six-packs out in select markets now with distribution expanding soon.

There are also some exciting things lined up for their Brewer's Select Series. Brewmaster Chris Wilson recently announced,
"While we have thoroughly enjoyed brewing batch after batch after batch of Imperial Pumpkin Ale, we are happy to get our creative juices flowing again with the Brewer's Select Series.  Things are a bit compacted with Mike being released a little late due to production of Pumpkin, Fest, etc. and with November needing to be released in, well, November (just seems right).  That means that within a few weeks you'll get the pleasure to try two new Brewer's Select beers!  Things could change, but here is the plan for now. Mike will be a Belgian Dubbel  and November will be a Coffee-Infused Brown Ale for the holidays."
The last few Brewer's Select brews have been very impressive so I can't wait to see what else these guys have up their sleeves. I am especially interested in November since every other coffee beer is either a porter or stout. Count on Weyerbacher for going out on a limb for their loyal drinkers.
I'd also like to wish the Weyerbacher crew good luck out at The Great American Beer Festival! They brought Double Simcoe, XV, Merry Monks, Lima, Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Verboten, and Tiny along with them this year, hopefully they'll bring some medals back this way.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Adventures in Homebrewing: Pumpkin Ale Recipe Finalized

I finally got my ingredients together for my upcoming and currently untitled pumpkin ale today. I went to see Joe at Princeton Homebrew with my recipe which he said seemed like it would work. Seeing how I had never put together my own recipe I was pleasantly surprised he didn't suggest any changes. After a little reading and mixing of some of my favorite pumpkin recipes I ended up with this:

0.5 lb Crystal Malt 60L
0.5 lb Carapils Malt 20L
6.6 lb Muntons Amber
2 oz Hallertauer (bittering)
1 oz Fuggles (finishing)
1 pack Nottingham Brewer's Dry Yeast
4-5 lb pumpkin puree
2 whole cinnamon sticks
0.5 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
0.5 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup roasted pecans

The pecans were the one thing that came out of left field and I am a little nervous about that addition but I figured that experimenting is what this all about. I'm planning on brewing this early next week and giving it plenty of time to mellow out before Thanksgiving which will give me a bunch of relatives to test it on.

And like I said, this brew is currently unnamed. I have a few ideas floating around but welcome any suggestions!


Friday, September 10, 2010

Brewery Tour: Stoudt's Brewing Company

On a brisk Sunday morning, my girlfriend and I hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a road that would lead us to Pennsylvania's first microbrewery post-prohibition, Stoudt's Brewing Company in Lancaster County. I had passed the Stoudt's billboard countless times on trips out to State College but really had no idea what to expect from the visit.

We were greeted by the matriarch of Pennsylvania craft beer, Carol Stoudt, who told us that her husband, founder and president Ed Stoudt, would be starting the tour soon. I imagine I felt much like Charlie Bucket did getting a tour from Willy Wonka himself. Ed gave a passionate and lengthy tour through the brewery that had much of the standard brewery schtick but with just a little more panache than most other tours. He explained Stoudt's storied history that dates back to 1962 when he opened his first restaurant that eventually led to the opening of the brewery in 1987. The facility itself, according to Ed, will most likely undergo only one more expansion to reach 13,000 barrels (they're at 10,000 as of now) before they max out. The man and his company are at a comfortable and marginally profitable place right now and have no desire to become "too big."

The hall to the Biergarten where you can even get married.
Ed is a very simple man. He says he doesn't like to drink big beers because he likes to drink a lot of beer. He doesn't drink imports because he doesn't believe the methods of importing the beers is able to maintain the beer's original quality. He believes every American home should have a beer meister in place of a dishwasher. He also hates corn in beer, something he reiterated...over and over. All in all he was probably the best brewery tour guide I've ever had. It was refreshing to listen to a man who has been in the game that long and is still just as energetic and enthusiastic about his product as he was when he began. Ed said that he was in a stupid business and wouldn't recommend it to anyone but somehow I came away from his tour more inspired than ever. Of course I majored in film in college so I guess I have a thing for stupid businesses.

Stoudt's doesn't just offer guests a tour and a great meal next door, they also have a massive antiques mall, bakery, and the rather odd village of Stoudtburg located right behind the antiques complex. The Black Angus Restaurant & Pub at Stoudt's has a great looking menu and obviously offers up the entire Stoudt's beer lineup with one hand pump, unfortunately the cask had kicked by the time our orders were taken. My girlfriend ordered the crab calzone with their Heifer-in-Wheat while I went with the pulled pork with melted cheddar and a Double IPA to wash it down. Unfortunately our waitress was having some trouble that day and brought out two Triples instead. Luckily she let me keep mine so I can't complain about the service too much. I did see a waiter bring a man a bottle of Coors Light which seemed sacrilegious, I'm not sure why Stoudt's even gives patrons the option.

Yes, you can live here

Since I had already, at some point or another, had tried all of their other brews on tap we wandered over to Stoudtburg while I enjoyed by buzz and digested. Stoudtburg is a very odd little complex of European style homes and shops that feels like it belongs in Disneyland. The place was a ghost town on this particular Sunday afternoon so it just creeped me out more than anything but I'm sure my mother would have found it delightfully quaint.

It was nice to be able to spend an entire afternoon at a brewery and I wish more area breweries offered a little more to visiting guests. Stoudt's has apparently become a very popular tourist attraction for the area so they must be doing something right. The entire property has an appealing "homey" quality about it, almost as if your grandparents decided to open a brewery. Surrounded by Lancaster County markets and farms, Stoudt's is a particularly perfect place to visit this upcoming Fall with their Oktoberfest starting at the end of the month. So if you ever find yourself with nothing to do on a weekend afternoon, remember that Stoudt's is one of the few breweries that is actually open on Sundays and Ed's tour starts promptly at 1pm.

Stoudt's Brewing Co. is located at
2800 North Reading Road 
Adamstown, PA 19501


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Adventures in Homebrewing: Setting Up Shop

Today I took a break from the job hunt and drove across the river to Joe Bair's Princeton Homebrew Shop in Trenton, NJ. He set me up with all of the equipment I'll need to brew my first solo batch which I plan on doing in the very near future. He was incredibly helpful and willing to listen to all of the questions an amateur like myself had for him. Joe has the appearance of a mad scientist who went on a few wild tangents while he was putting my order together. He told me about one of his first brewing experiences in San Diego with his buddy Mark Burford, who is now Blue Point Brewing Co.'s Head Brewmaster, in the back of a shag carpeted van. There wasn't nearly as much information available on brewing your own stuff in the 70's so the two of them ran into a few problems including having their hot wort, carboy, and shag carpet fuse together as one. Joe assured me that I wouldn't run into any such problems as long as I wasn't an illiterate idiot. I hope he is right.

I decided to upgrade from the plastic 'Ale Pail' kit The Hardwick Brewing Co. used at Temple University and picked up a couple glass carboys. Joe did convince me to grab a plastic bucket to have at home just in case I ever needed it so I ended up with a little more equipment than expected. That being said, I didn't spend nearly as much money as I thought I would so if you are ever in need of some cheaper homebrewing goods, Princeton Homebrew is the place to go. Joe's store has everything you'll need when it comes to brewing and he's willing to share his wisdom with anyone willing to listen, as long as they're okay with a few digressions on his part.

I can't wait to put this stuff to good use soon.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Primary Fermentation

First there was Live Journal, followed by MySpace, Facebook, and most recently Twitter. None of these sites seem to have quenched my thirst for sharing my ever insightful thoughts with the public.

As my post-grad summer draws to a close I've decided to enter the blogosphere with Hop & Circumstance, a simple and unpretentious look at all things beer. I consider myself a mere padawan when it comes to the mysteries of the brew that we all love but as an amateur homebrewer and a dedicated drinker, I hope to spread the good word here.

I'll cover everything from what I had that night at the bar, my adventures in homebrewing, the latest brewery news, some beer history, beer travelogues, and whatever else stems from a good pour.

So cheers to you good people of ales and lagers! I hope you enjoy this booze-filled odyssey as much as I will.