Monday, December 12, 2011

Mad Mex Willow Grove: Now Open For Your Drinking Pleasure

There a few things that I can't get enough of. Obviously a tasty brew is one of those things but Mexican food also makes that prestigious list. Naturally with an affinity for such things I was a happy to hear that Mad Mex would be opening a new restaurant in Willow Grove which is much closer to my house than University City, their next closest location.

The only Mad Mex I had ever been to was the one in State College while visiting Mer but I knew that they all prided themselves in having an extensive draft list. It seems a bit strange but I can even remember being shocked and excited by seeing Great Lakes Nosferatu on special the first time I had been there for dinner, not something I had expected from any sort of chain-type restaurant.

The lady and I had the opportunity to check out the new spot over the weekend while we got some Christmas shopping done. Much like the State College location, the decor and atmosphere have a great 'Day of the Dead' theme. The place seemed busy but we were seated right away without a wait, wasn't expecting that from a new restaurant on a Saturday during the holiday shopping season. Once we got seated in our really-excessively-large-for-two-people-but-I'm-not-complaining booth I grabbed the beer menu which featured a great deal, $5 Sierra Nevada Celebration 22 oz drafts! Not something I would normally pass up but when there are 23 other beers beers on tap I can't in good conscious go with something so familiar.

The rest of the 'Mad Draftos' consisted of a variety of microbrews, primarily of the hoppier variety, including a few surprises like Avery's 16.8% Belgian Strong Dark Ale, The Beast. I wasn't feeling that ambitious so I went with Stone's 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale which was a Belgian Strong Ale brewed with chilies and cinnamon which seemed fitting given the food. This was supposed come in a smaller 12 oz glass but I was pleased to see our waiter bring me out a full shaker full, nice move guy. There was unique dichotomy between the Belgian yeast esters and the pepper flavors but somehow they worked together in what I thought was a fine beer. I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did and it paired quite nicely with my meal.

With such an impressive draft list I had a hard time choosing a follow up but the lure of Firestone Walker's Double Jack proved once again unavoidable. I hope everyone out there understands my adoration for this beer, it is one of if not THE best Imperial IPA around if you ask me. The beer is a thing of beauty for hop-heads but it is incredibly well balanced and smooth considering. Get it, drink it, love it.

While the beer selection is what really made the evening stand out for me, our meal didn't disappoint either. I'm no foodie and usually end up sounding like even more of an idiot when I start talking about food so I'll spare you. I do have to say that if you like your queso super spicy than this is the place to get it, lot's of heat in there. The whole experience was really quite pleasant, our waiter was great, the food came out at just the right time, and the music was fantastic...what more can you ask for? Thanks to Monica and Jordan for setting the whole thing up, I really appreciate it and will definitely be back for some more!

Mad Mex is one of the few chains that have full embraced the world of craft beer and offers something for every kind of drinker. Options for a good beer for suburbanites like myself can sometimes be quite hard to find so I'm going to go out to a restaurant like this I want there to be some interesting beers on tap and not just your typical macro choices. I can't always have my way and go to a real beer bar for dinner so alternatives like this are a must. In this day and age I think it is just embarrassing when a restaurant has a lazy beer selection but luckily, more and more are grasping the fact that we want some variety. Mad Mex Willow Grove is just the latest to do so, here's to many more.

Mad Mex Willow Grove
2862 W Moreland Rd
Willow GrovePA 19090


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Victory Brewing Co.'s Dark Wednesday

Sure Thanksgiving was last week but the real holiday came the day before on Dark Wednesday in Downingtown, PA where I joined hundreds of other thirsty folks for the 2nd (and possibly final) release of Victory Brewing Company's Dark Intrigue which is the bourbon barrel aged incarnation of their already delectable Storm King Stout. The first batch was released last year and having thoroughly enjoyed the two bottles I was lucky to grab there was no way I was going to miss the event so I could grab myself a case.

The brewery's retail shop would not open until 11:30 am but Mer and I set out alarm clock a bit earlier so we could get in line around 9 am. Obviously I have the greatest girlfriend in the world, she came along even under the threat of thunderstorms. The parking lot was nearly filled when we arrived and as we walked up to the brewery we saw a pretty substantial line that had already formed. We wound up being numbers 132 and 133 in line, a comfortable spot with 300 cases to be sold.

I have to say that Victory handled the event magnificently. A few minutes after arriving we received wristbands with our numbers on them which would hold our place in line as well as serve as our tickets for the raffle prizes which were handed out every 10 minutes. If there is one way to keep hundreds of bored beer geeks happy, other than beer, it would have to be beer swag. One Village Coffee was also on site providing free coffee and snacks to the masses. These are the same awesome people that Victory teamed up with to brew their Victory Village, an equally awesome coffee-brown ale that actually inspired my own Ugly Mug.

The sense of comradery and enthusiasm amidst the crowd was not unlike that of a line for a midnight movie premiere. Luckily, the kind of douchery that can taint such events was totally absent. We made friends with the guy in front of us who left his New York home at 5 am to be there. I figured he had fallen in love with it last year but was pretty shocked to hear that he hadn't ever had it but heard such good things that he needed to make the trip. Not only was he getting a whole case but once he realized that Mer was just along for the ride he asked if she would grab him a case as well. So he went home with two cases without even knowing if he would enjoy it. Quite a leap of faith and quite the commitment, cheers sir.

A few sporadic showers soaked the crowd but by the skies had cleared by 11:30 when the doors opened and the first people in line (who arrived at 4:30 am...yes...4:30 am) got their hands on their beloved cases. We didn't reach the door until 12:30 or so. Seeing the receipt for $190 was a little staggering, I never thought I'd drop that kind of money on a case of beer but it just felt like the right thing to do. Needless to say I was a little excited. I picked up my case and made the very very careful trip back to car to lock it away. We headed back inside for some much needed nourishment and beer.

Dark Intrigue was also available on tap so my first choice was a no brainer since no bottles were allowed to be opened. After one sip I was quickly reminded why I had just waited in line for nearly 4 hours for some beer, it is just delicious. Not only do you get the roasty chocolate character of the Storm King but there is that umph of bourbon and vanilla that make it oh so delectable. You'll definitely get a boozy burn on the finish but it is full bodied enough to back it up and deliver a rich, creamy, and still pretty hoppy stout. I'm obviously a big fan of this one and can't wait to stow a few bottles away to see what happens.

After another 45 minute wait we were more than ready to sit down for lunch. My smoked BBQ pork sandwich hit the spot like none other while Mer enjoyed her mighty cheesesteak, the leftovers were lovingly offered to me so I can assure you that it was in fact mighty. Our booth was at the end of the bar where the line for growler fills was positioned, this was the main focus of our meal. I could not believe how long people were waiting to fill their growlers. People were coming in with 3 or 4 growlers and were waiting at least 45 minutes to get them filled. They weren't doing Dark Intrigue fills so I'm not sure what all the fuss was about but it was impressive and/or crazy.

This was my first big beer release event, us East Coasters don't seem to get the chance to line up for this stuff all that often. I have to give it up to Victory for handling it so well, with that many anxious people milling about it could have gone either way but the whole event went quite smoothly. Some of my bottles are reserved for friends but I look forward to enjoying some over the holidays and of course stashing a some away for a few years. If this is distributed in your area it should just be hitting the shelves so I would definitely recommend seeking out a bottle or two and "discover the dark intrigue" for yourself.

Victory Brewing Company
420 Acorn Lane
Downingtown, PA 19335


Monday, November 28, 2011

Brewery Tour: Brooklyn Brewery

My college buddy and favorite drinking partner, Doug, recently moved into an apartment in Park Slope with his girlfriend Sarah and while I’d be much happier with them residing in Philly, that’s not going to stop me from paying them a visit. We had a packed schedule for our Saturday so after a brief neighborhood tour we shot over to Williamsburg to check out the Brooklyn Brewery.

We were a bit surprised to find a line stretching down the sidewalk along the brewery. Perhaps there was some sort of event going on that we didn't know about? Nope, just a packed house for Saturday tours. Eventually we got inside to find yet another line that we had to wait in to get ourselves some tokens good for beers at the bar which had ANOTHER even longer line in front of it but luckily it moved surprisingly fast. We finally made it to the bar and were quite eager to order our drinks, I went with the Radius which is Brooklyn's Belgian Pale that clocks in at 4.8% ABV. This was a light and effervescent ale, biscuity body with those signature citrus and pepper Belgian notes. I hadn't seen or heard of it before and I'm always up for trying a brewery's more limited offerings.

The bar is situated in a large drinking hall where they welcome you to bring in your own food and hang out for the afternoon. While I love having a full-blown restaurant attached to a brewery, this idea is equally appealing to me. Every table was filled with people who had brought in pizzas and what not, I spotted one couple who was simply enjoying a box a Triscuits with their beers. If I was a local I could definitely see myself hanging out there quite often. Not wanting to sacrifice the three tokens it would cost to get a glass of The Companion, I filled up with their IPA before the tour got underway.

Somehow, our massive tour group got organized as we were lead through the original brewhouse and into a much larger space which housed many a fermenter and their bottling line. Our tour guide explained that this was all part of a recent expansion. The original brewhouse is really too small to fit any sizable group so guides have a handy-dandy diagram illustrating all of the equipment and brewing process. Our guide decided to go rogue and basically skipped that whole part that can become a bit tiresome when you've been on a few brewery tours.

Instead he delved into the history of Brooklyn Brewery, something I realized I didn't know much about. The brewery was founded in 1987 by former Associated Press correspondent Steve Hindy who spent a lot of time in Middle Eastern countries where alcohol production, possession, and consumption was essentially forbidden. Steve found that these restrictions led many people to homebrewing and he learned the basics from this underground scene which he had sort of fallen in love with. Once he returned home he realized that Brooklyn was deprived of a local brewery so he, along with his friend Tom Potter, quit his job put together Brooklyn Brewery. One of the cooler brewery origin stories if you ask me.

The lively discussion carried on with a number of other amusing anecdotes like how graphic designer, Milton Glaser (who created the I Love New York campaign) was hired to develop the brewery's logo and branding but wanted to be paid in beer. Or how the local mafia was a little miffed at Hindy and Potter who weren't paying their dues when the opened the brewery.

I also hadn't realized that Brooklyn contracts out the brewing for their 12 oz bottle packaging, that all takes place in Utica. And while there are a number of states that don't get any Brooklyn beers, you'd be able to get yourself some Brooklyn Lager over in Europe and Asia. Perhaps I'm just ignorant but this was all news to me.

I don't think I've been on another tour that offered so much insight into the brewery's history, the stuff I usually find the most interesting. The word "tour" can be a bit misleading here though, our entire time in the brewery was spent surrounding our guide who stood atop a rickety step ladder. The brewery didn't seem to be laid out in a tourable manner and like I said, there were quite a few of us to corral so I don't blame them. Despite the lack of movement, I'd still say this is one of the more unique and informative tours being offered. Just don't expect to learn that much about the brewing process.

The ladies wanted to head across the street to some over-priced thrift store after the tour which was something I just couldn't handle after being filled with that bit of brewery joy so Doug and I headed over to nearby Mugs Alehouse. Browsing the typical tap list I caught one gem at the last minute, Dogfish Head's 120 Minute which had escaped me this year back home was just sitting there waiting for me to order. I knew we had a long day of drinking ahead of us but we couldn't resist the lure of such a brew especially since you would rarely see it on tap down here without any fanfare.

I could definitely fill another post with the rest of the weekends adventures which included a mini Brooklyn bar tour and a few liquid surprises (2007 Weyerbacher Blasphemy anyone?). I'm always thrown off in NYC when the bars don't close at 2 am which always makes for an interesting morning after, nothing that a little brunch can't take care of though.

79 North Eleventh Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It is coming...

Dark Wednesday is upon us!
Will you be there?

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
Victory Brewing Company
420 Acorn Lane  Downingtown, PA 19335
11:30 am


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beer in the Land of Pleasant Living

Feeling like we don't seem to get that much time together these days, the girlfriend and I took a long weekend in Baltimore to relax, do some sightseeing, and check out the beer scene in Land of Pleasant Living. The last time either of us had been down there was for a field trip during our senior year of high school so we though it was a good choice, far away enough from home for it to be a trip but close enough to get there quickly.

We checked into our Inner Harbor hotel early Friday afternoon and immediately made our way down the National Aquarium because that's what you do when you're doing the whole tourist-thing in Baltimore. After a couple hours of wandering around in the dark, checking out the creatures of the sea, and trying to block out the hoards of hyper-active children running around the place a beer was simply necessary. We decided to just grab quick bite to eat on our way back to the hotel at a small and unasuming place called Peter's Pour House which was one of a few bars we found on Water Street. The place had the dive vibe going for it with a few rowdy regulars who seemed to have gotten their weekend started even earlier than us. I was quite excited to see Natty Boh on tap everywhere down there, we used to get cases of the stuff for $8.99 at Temple so it has a special place in my heart. The rest of the taps were your standard domestics except for a Flying Dog and New Belgium Fat Tire, the legendary amber ale out of Colorado that I had never had before. After years of build up and hype the beer was bound to fall flat for me the way it did. It was by no means a bad beer, lots of sweet caramel malts with a sublte citrus hop finish to round things out, but it's not something would really stand out to me if it weren't for its reputation. I was still excited to check this one off my beer-bucket list so I ordered another before we headed out.

Walking back to our hotel we made the miraculous discovery that our hotel was located directly next to the Pratt Street Ale House which happened to be home of Oliver Breweries, Baltimore's oldest running brewpub. You can imagine my delight. The weather was perfect for walking around but once we sat down the chilly wind picked up and it quickly became clear that this was going to be a one-and-done since we grabbed a table outside. With the chill in their, big dark beers were in order. I went with the S.O.B., a smoked Belgian porter brewed with Stillwater and The Brewer's Art. Despite the reptuation of brewers involved I wasn't all that thrilled with this unique brew. I just didn't find the Belgian yeast character to go well with the porter body at all, lot's of conflicting flavors that ended up being pretty sweet with little to no noticeable smoke. Meridith ordered herself The Bishop's Indulgence, a Russian imperial stout brewed with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. This was beer I was looking for, lot's of sweet milky chocolate notes and bit of roasted coffee flavors to mix things up. The vanilla bean smoothed things out and made for a phenomenal stout that was definitely BIG without being overbearing, there was a whole lot going on but remained well balanced. Needless to say I snuck a few sips out of her glass before we finished up.

For dinner we headed over to Fell's Point which seems to be the "super-hip" part of town with too many bars to count. After many a recommendation, I knew I wanted to hit up Max's Taphouse but by the time we got there it was already packed with the Friday night crowd so we grabbed some food around the corner at Sláinte. The place had a really welcoming atmosphere and I enjoyed myself thoroughly but their draft  list left something to be desired. After a surprisingly great dinner for an Irish place we found ourself back at Max's Taphouse, a place that just has to be seen to be believed.

Boasting a ludicrous 102 beers on tap, 5 of which offered on the hand pump, Max's could be a bit intimidating to someone unprepared. By the time we got back the crowd had grown even more but I bellied my way to the bar to retrieve a draft list, this was going to take a minute to decide. My eyes wandered immediately to the list of New Belgium brews available and decided on their Clutch Dark Sour Ale. Mer really had no choice once she saw DuClaw's H.E.R.O. Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. Clutch turned out to be all sorts of interesting, a strange blend of rich mocha flavors with a sneakingly sour finish. I didn't quite know what to make of the roasty/sour combo but it didn't turn me off completely and I was glad I ordered it. Next up was Liefmans' Oud Bruin, the true sour I was craving after being teased with the Clutch. Pleasant tart cherries and sweet brown sugar flavors but with a wonderfully oaky body that rocked my world, went down real easy so the 5% ABV was quite welcome. Mer went with another sour, the  Hopfenstark Berlin Alexanderplatz Epilogue which was a mouth puckering raspberry berliner weisse. I tried to order Dupont's holiday saison, Les Bons Voeux, but ended up kicking the keg half-way through the pour. Luckily the bartender let me have the glass for free but I hadn't though far enough ahead to know what I what I wanted as a replacement.

After brief consideration I couldn't help but order another undeniably unique sour from New Belgium, this time going with Kick which is brewed with cranberries and pumpkin. Quite acidic and funky, the cranberries definitely stood out the most along with some subtle holiday spice. The pumpkin was pretty mild, I don't know if I would have noticed if I hadn't been looking for it. I remember being surprised that it wasn't too sweet despite how much fruitiness was going on. I'd call this experiment a success. Of course there were countless other beers that I wanted to try but it had been a long day and I was feeling pretty good at that point. For some reason, the girlfriend let me go up to the bar alone to get out tab but left to my own devices I was powerless to resist the lure of New Belgium's Ranger IPA and snuck that one in before closing out. I don't know if it was just because my tongue wasn't ready for the shock of hops that night but I thought this beer was somewhat to fairly awesome! I in no way needed that last pint but I'm glad I went with my instincts despite having a rude awakening the next day.

Going against vacation protocol, I set an alarm to wake my sure-to-be-hungover-sorry-ass up in the morning because we did have a schedule to keep, Heavy Seas was expecting us for the 11 am tour which you can read all about right here. Before driving off to the tour we did get some breakfast at the hotel bar/restaurant and I normally wouldn't comment on it but it was the worst meal in recent memory. They didn't have any grapefruit which I woke up hankering for so I was immediately pissy about that. That breakfast held the title for the worst meal until later in the day when we made the rookie-tourist mistake of having lunch at the "historic" Lexington Market. Bad idea.

The rest of the day consisted of a whole lot of walking, wandering in and out of the shops and bars that make up the more...errr...civilized downtown areas. We found ourselves back in Fell's Point for dinner at Riptides By The Bay where I experienced two firsts, some Atlantic oysters and a pint of Goose Island's IPA. I was more enthused about the idea of having my first Goose Island beer than the beer itself but the food made up for that. We thought about heading back to Max's for a good nighter but I was not about to pay the cover for just one beer so we decided to minimize risk and stick to something we knew, Sláinte. Mer saw their Guinness Chocolate Creme Brulee on the menu the night before so she had her dessert with an appropriate pint of Guinness while, in a strange move by myself, ordered some whiskey. Who knows.

Not quite ready to call it a night, we got our cab to drop us off at Pratt Street Ale House before going back to our room for a real good nighter...or two. The lady went with The Bishop's Indulgence once again while I tried out their Smoke Break Porter on cask which was apparently quite tasty, it disappeared from my glass far too quickly. Seeing how Mer was still working on her's I really had no choice but to order something else so I asked for a pint of their Draft Punk which I believe was a wet hopped IPA of sorts. At this point in the night I wasn't exactly keeping notes.

Before heading home on Sunday we were planning on having lunch at The Brewer's Art but failed to realize that they open late and thus we missed on of the Baltimore landmarks that I had heard so much about. This just gives me another reason to plan a trip back down though. On our way home we stopped at State Line Liquors to pick up a hefty selection of bottles that don't make their way to Pennsylvania including some Maui Brewing Company cans!

I know this has been an obnoxiously long winded post but that is just a testament to Baltimore and their surprising (to me at least) beer scene. We never encountered any of the sort of snobbiness that often plagues this sort of travel and that alone made it a success. If you find yourself down in Baltimore be sure to look past all the great beers that come into the city and make certain that you partake in some of the fantastic beers that are being made right there.

I'll shut up now.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Brewery Tour: Heavy Seas Beer

A good vacation can always be made better with a visit to the local brewery.
The girlfriend and I just spent a long weekend in Baltimore which us the chance to check out Clipper City Brewing Company in nearby Halethrope, better known as Heavy Seas Beer.

Like many other midsize breweries, the Heavy Seas brewery can be found in an oh so picturesque industrial park. If you're not careful you might miss it. I was grateful to be on the 11 am tour because if there's anything learned over the years it is that a little bit of morning beer goes a long way in helping fight off an ominous hangover like the one I was harboring. I started off with their Red Sky At Night, a very fine saison that really hit the spot.

For $5 you get yourself the tour, a Heavy Seas "Brewery Tour" shaker, and five tokens, each good for a very generous sample. The tasting room/gift shop is pretty spacious and was staffed by some rather friendly folks who were more than happy to over-pour for us. The awkward gathering of people before a brewery tour is something I get a kick out of and we had a real winning group with us on Saturday. There was however a baby on board for our tour and while I forsee myself getting my own kid into a brewery at as young an age as possible, this one just wasn't cutting it as far as I was concerned. The mom thought it was real amusing...I do not believe anyone else did. I filled up with their Märzen before the tour got started, who's multiple GABF awards adorn the tasting room wall.

Anyways, the brewery had just undergone a big expansion, knocking a hole in the tasting room way and taking over a large warehouse space where they're storing all of their packaging and some barrels. When I saw some barrels I mean a lot. These wooden wonders hold their Mutiny Fleet beers that are always a bit on the stronger side and much more complex than the rest of their lineup. I'm a sucker for looking at barrels so I was quite pleased to see them all stacked up here, ranging from bourbon to chardonnay.

Our guide, throwing us a curve ball, started the tour here where most other breweries would end theirs. One of the more impressive aspects of Heavy Seas in their involvement with an organizations called Chimes. Chimes is an international agency that seems to do some great work, providing people with various disabilities employment where they otherwise would be without. In the case of Heavy Seas, Chimes members work on their packaging by organizing the empty bottles into their designated six-packs and separating their different beers in the Heavy Seas Sunken Sampler. This is just one way the brewery gives back to their local community.

From here we continued to move backwards in the standard tour progression, climbing over a rickety step ladder into the cramped bottling line area adorned with pirate flag and all. We then got a glimpse into the large walk-in cooler where they not only store their giant sacks of hops but I also spotted some homebrew which I assumed were entries for their annual Letter of Marque competition. We didn't get to actually go into the cooler which I always enjoy in a brewery tour but...oh well.

Our guide emphasized the hard work that goes into kegging, something that seems to be skimmed over during a lot of other tours. Employees at Heavy Seas get promoted from the bottling line to the kegging line where they apparently bulk up in the upper arm region quite quickly. I forget the exact figure but the number of kegs they move through their cleaning and filling station was staggering and made me appreciate having their beers on draft even more.

We also got to check out the large horizontal fermenters that are reserved just for Loose Cannon, their flagship IPA. I hadn't realized before just how hopped up this beer is getting the normal hops in the kettle, a little more in through their hopback, and then finally being dry-hopped with 60 lbs per batch in the ferementers. It was obvious that they love this beer and are proud of having a stand-out east coast IPA.

At this point everyone's glasses were pretty dry so we wrapped things up and headed back to the tasting room. The last time I had gotten their Small Craft Warning out at it a bar and it was a bit rank so I was weary in getting a sample but luckily this batch was much fresher and satisfying. They call this beer their "uber-pils" which is...well...cute. I wish breweries would just stick to the traditional style names unless they are truely making up something completely new. I know it's just semantics but I like it when I know what I'm getting into with a beer. At least it's a solid brew and after having it at the brewery I won't be afraid to order it back home.

Even with the strange chronology, this was one of the more engaging tours I've been on. I didn't know all that much about Heavy Seas going in but have much more appreciation for their work now. After a couple more samples and schmoozing we were ready to get back into the city for some more sightseeing and of course a little more imbibing. This was a vacation afterall. I'll have a full post on the rest of Baltimore's impressive beer scene soon. If you find yourself in Charm City on a Saturday with some free time, take a drive to visit the crew at Heavy Seas for a tour. Despite their whole pirate brand, they're actually rather friendly...but they'll give you plenty beer so I guess that's still on theme.

4615 Hollins Ferry Rd., Suite B
Halethrope, MD 21227


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Storm PumpKing Jack-O-Lantern

Nothing gets me in the Autumnal spirit like spending a couple hours carving a pumpkin.

I recently entered Victory Brewing Company's "Inspired By Victory Pumpkin Carving Contest" with my own Storm King/Dark Intrigue jack-o-lantern. And while it is already starting to rot on the front porch, initially I think it looked pretty sweet. Victory has their own panel of judges who will be picking the winners but are encouraging everyone to comment on their favorite entry. There are eleven entries up on the site now so head over to the gallery to check them all out, some are pretty impressive. The judges will be taking the comments into consideration. The commenting period will end on Monday October 24th with the winners announced on Halloween. Mine is Entry #6 which they've called "Storm PumpKing" and if you think it is worthy of the prize, I would appreciate any and all comments. You can check it out right here.


Brews For Boobies 2011 Recap

I wouldn't normally consider myself a pub crawl kinda guy unless it was one of my own making. But when the crawl is hosted by Philly Beer Scene, makes stops at some of the city's best bars, and is for a good cause...well I suppose that's a horse of a different color.
For the second year in a row now I ventured into Center City for the Brews For Boobies crawl for breast cancer with a big group of friends from all over the area, we even had two drinkers join us from Connecticut. Our own group, about 25 people, was probably half of the entire Center City crawl.  
Everyone met up at the first bar, Cavanaugh's Rittenhouse, where the oh so tasteful t-shirts were distributed and $3 pints were flowing. A lot of us hadn't seen each other in a while and this was a great way to start the day. The first stop on last year's crawl was at Monk's which we were all a bit upset to see absent from this year's itinerary but not to worry, we were able to sneak in a few beers there the next day.
Arguably Philly's best brewpub, Nodding Head, was our next stop. Nearly everyone we were with was anxious to get some of their Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse since it would soon be gone until next Spring and like great beacons of light, multiple pitchers were brought out and quickly disposed of. I was going to say that that stuff goes down way too easily but that would make it sound like I was complaining. They also had wet hopped Chinook DIPA on tap, I only had a couple sips from someone else's glass but I'll be damned if that wasn't one of the freshest-tasting beers I've ever had. I also enjoyed a plate of their Thai wings which were equally delicious, they know what they're doing in all aspects. And I can't forget that I got to talk to my best friend Fae who is currently in Senegal in the Peace Corps, she was on last year's crawl and couldn't pass up at least being there this year even if it was only on the phone.

After being impressed with our own ability to successfully split the check for so many people we trampsed over to Misconduct Tavern where I took advantage of the $3 Sly Fox Saison Vos drafts. The bar was already packed without the crawl coming in so we commandeered the outdoor seating for some good old fashioned people watching. Luckily the weather was perfect for a 12 hour tour through the city and sidewalk drinking, sunny and warm. Once we snapped a group shot it was time to move on to Jose Pistola's, one of my favorite spots for dinner downtown. I was trying to be smart about my beer choices not wanting to be totally out of it before sundown but couldn't resist Port Mongo on tap. If you are a lover of hops and haven't had yourself a glass of this you should stop reading right now and seek out a bottle.

I was excited for the next stop, the relatively young Perch Pub on Broad, because I had heard great things but hadn't been there yet myself. Heading up the stairs to the bar I was surprised by how big the place was, I just wasn't expecting that much space up there. The hostess led us to the back room with the pool table which was suspiciously vacant, I'm not sure why everyone else decided to cram around the crowded bar. They have a pretty varied tap list and most of them were half off for the crawl, I went with Victory's Braumeister Harvest Pils and was thoroughly impressed. Big hoppy presence, probably too much for traditionalists, sweet pale malts, grapefruit, and lemon grass flavors with strong carbonation made for one awesome pilsner. Their Prima Pils is untouchable as far as I'm concerned but this is a great addition to the Victory family and offers some stiff competion. I do believe I snuck in a Dogfish 90 Minute while playing some pool but that can't be confirmed. I fully plan on getting back to Perch Pub, seems like a fun place to enjoy some very reasonably priced drinks and food right in the heart of the city.

While an hour and a half may sound like a long time it really started to fly and before we knew it we had to move on. The next scheduled stop was Farmer's Cabinet but the group consensus was that we wanted to get a little rowdier than that would allow so we made a detour for McGillin's. I had been excited to try some of Terry Hawbaker's house-made beers but just wasn't in the mood, the appeal of taking over a jukebox and taking a couple shots was too strong. While I never think of McGillin's as one of my go to bars I always end up having a great time upstairs, if you're in the right mood it can be the perfect spot for a big group. There are usually some less than desirable patrons milling about and of course last year I did get kicked out of the place during Brews For Boobies but besides that...I can't really complain.

I'm pretty sure that the whole bar was grateful for our jukebox choices and we ended up having so much fun with everyone that we totally missed our stop at Varga Bar which I wasn't too thrilled about but we caught up with the rest of the crawl at Fergie's. At this point the size of the crawl had withered down substantially but our group was determined to make it to the end. Things got a little fuzzy this late in the day so the easy going Stoudt's Oktoberfest I had was probably a smart choice. There was some blues band playing about 3 feet from our table and we couldn't hear anything anyone was saying, looking back we probably should have just stayed at McGillin's because people started to check out here. I guess this is to be expected after 12 hours of drinking though.

We all  made it through another great Brews For Boobies and are already looking forward to the 2012 crawl which is already set for October 6th! They are planning on expanding to even more cities next year, Doylestown is already confirmed and more may be added along the way so keep an out for your city. I think we will switch it up next year and probably hop on the Old City crawl which was tempting this year.
If you couldn't make it to this year's crawl but still want to support the cause, I encourage you to head over to the National Breast Cancer Foundation's website to make a donation of your own. While we had a blast on the crawl, no one can forget that the point of it all is to raise some money to help find a cure.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Institute's 3rd Annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival Recap

I've made my love of pumpkin beers known before on this blog. The hatred that some people have for the style is beyond me because despite whatever hype may surround certain pumpkins there are some that are just good beers. Period.
This is why I made sure to hit up The Institute's 3rd Annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival this past Saturday. I was at the first event a couple years with some friends from Temple and we had a great time sampling all sorts of different pumpkin brews. I missed last year's but since my girlfriend and I both had a free afternoon we headed down to check it out. Little did we know that the place was going to be mobbed, not at all the experience I had two years ago. We pulled up to the bar to find the street blocked off to accomodate a block's worth of outdoor seating and a line out the door. Not ideal for the relaxed afternoon of imbibement I had in mind.

After finally making my way to the bar I got the lady, who wasn't in the mood to experiment, a glass of Weyerbacher's Imperial Pumpkin Ale (both of ours favorite pumpkin beer) and myself a bourbon-barrel aged version of Fegley's Devious Pumpkin Ale. I had never before seen a barrel aged pumpkin beer and knew I likely wouldn't again soon so that was a pretty easy decision despite the other 18 options that were on tap. This was a good looking brew, a deep and cloudy copper orange color with a thin tan head. You definitely got the bourbon on the nose with a bit of fall spices in there. I quickly realized this was a sipper as well, real boozey character but not totally consumed by the whiskey flavors. The pumpkin still had a presence with a mellow vanilla flavor that helped undercut the alcohol that became stronger as it warmed up. I could see loving this one on a cold Autumn night on the porch if only they would bottle this sucker, definitely something to seek out but I'm not sure how much is available since the only other place I've seen it on tap is at the Allentown Brew Works brewpub.

Seeing how the downstairs bar was unbearably crowded we headed upstairs and were shocked to find two spots at the bar. After about 10 seconds we realized why no one had taken the stools, there was a constant leak from the roof dripping water right at the corner of the bar. Oh well, I took one for the team and got a light shower while we enjoyed our beers. I took precaution though and kept a coaster on my glass in between sips.

Next up was Bavarian Barbarian's Grumpy Pumpkin Imperial Porter out of Williamsport, PA. I have to admit that this is not the most appetizing looking pour, it basically looked like muddy pond sludge with little to no head.. Luckily it smelled like heaven, deep roasted malts, coffee, cinnamon, and sweet pumpkin pie. The beer was full bodied and tasted like a rich pumpkin coffee. The pumpkin worked wonders with the darker malts and didn't lend too much of sweetness that often turns me off of some pumpkin beers. I loved this beer and was not satisfied with my small pout but what are you gonna do? This was definitely the most surprising and my favorite of the afternoon.
Despite the tasty brews, the crowd and the leaking roof made for an uncomfortable visit so we decided to get somewhere a little more relaxed. I felt really bad for our incredibly patient bartender who was dealing with some outlandish hipster characters all day long but managed to stay relatively friendly. I couldn't believe how many people came up to him after waiting in line and had no idea what they wanted. I did regret missing the crew from Yards who was going to be filling a giant pumpkin with their General Washington's Tavern Porter but I managed to live without it.

I gotta say that I think the event is pretty cool in theory but needs work on the execution now that it has gotten so popular. Setting up a couple jockey boxes outside to cut back on the lines inside would help a lot. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to buy tickets for beers outside so people aren't fumbling around at the bar. These are just my grumpy old man suggestions for what was an otherwise enjoyable event.

We skipped over Broad Street and posted up at the Kite & Key for some dinner and yes, a few more beers. This is one of my favorite spots in the city but for some reason I had never ordered the pulled pork sandwich, I will never make that mistake again. The aged provolone and roasted long hot peppers made for quite possibly the greatest pulled pork sandwich I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. With Bell's Two Hearted AND Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour both on tap I could have stayed there all night but all things must pass and it was time to head home.
Now that I'm living back home in the burbs it's even more of a treat to hit up two underrated bars down in the city love the fact that there are so many options for the thirsty masses in the City of Brotherly Love.

549 North 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
1836 Callowhill Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130