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


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mancation 2011 Recap: Part 2

We awoke Sunday morning in great distress with the realization that we aren’t in college anymore, this weekend’s sort of behavior isn’t as regular anymore and our bodies were in revolt. I knew we had some plans for the rest of the day but I was ready to cancel everything but after a bit of rallying, food, and a glass of my Mancation Maple Bacon Porter I felt relatively good considering the circumstances. I always find a beer to be a sure fire way to beat an intimidating hangover.

After taking down our tent and cleaning up our site it was decided that we needed to stop at a bar or even better, a brewery. Luckily Stoudt's was on our way back to to the Turnpike and the obvious choice. I'm sort of proud to say that this wasn't the first time I had arrived at a brewery only to find that they weren't yet open as was the case this day so we wandered around the grounds and the Wonderful Good Market to grab some food. My breakfast sandwich was just what I needed, eggs and Stoudt's own three cheese blend on fresh beer bread. I was content. I totally bypassed the market on my previous visits but will be sure to check back in to sample more of their rather tempting cheeses. After a bit of stalling, the bar finally opened at 11:30...about time.

Being familiar with Stoudt's regular lineup I knew I would order any limited batches they had to offer. The first was the Smoked Helles Lager, it was a weekend of all things smoked so why stop now. Served in a tall tulip, this one was a clear golden straw color with a bright white head that faded quickly. A strong grainy aroma was accompanied by a strong smoke presence but nothing too obnoxious. The toasted biscuit malts and smoke flavors lingered on the tongue but didn't have that "shoveling hot coals into your mouth" thing going on. This was a slightly sweet and light bodied smoked beer, just well balanced and well made.

The only beer on tap that wasn't one of their usual suspects was a Vanilla Almond Porter, not exactly what I was in the mood for but not something I was about it pass up since these limited Stoudt's batches aren't too plentiful here around home. This porter had a lighter brown body and cream colored head with a rich aroma of vanilla coffee. There were some dark chocolate flavors but mainly a roasty coffee profile accented by and dose of vanilla bean to smooth things out. The almond came through only (luckily) slightly, offering a nutty and earthier profile. Medium bodied and real smooth, I definitely thought this a good beer but just not something I'd go for again, for whatever reason it's just not my bag. We wrapped things up, settled up with our oh so patient waitress, and hit the road for home.

Or the Hulmeville Inn. I'm always happy to take out-of-towners to my favorite local bar and they were more than happy to take me up on the offer. Sunday afternoons at the Hulmeville is one of my favorite times to stop by because of the $3 cheesesteaks but also because it's just so damn laid back. I spotted Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Grand Cru on the bottle list and immediately knew that that's what I would be drinking. I had this blend once before on tap and enjoyed it just as much this time around. The combination of oak-aged Bigfoot, Celebration, and the good old Pale Ale sounds a little wacky to me but it really works wonderfully. Citrus hops, rich toffee, spicy, bitter, smooth vanilla/oak, and a pleasant bit of booze make for one awesome beer. I just might have to grab a couple to take home and stow away for a while. This was a one and done visit though, the Mancation had finally come to an end.

Sort of. I had to rush home to clean myself and get ready to head to a fundraising event for my friend Jeff's brother who passed earlier this year which was being held at Yards. Not only was it great to be able to support the National Alliance on Mental Illness but it was also a chance to catch up with some friends that I haven't seen in a while. It was a private event but the Yards tasting room was packed with friends and family, the brewery was a perfect setting for the night. Yards' Smoke Em If You Got Em event was just a couple days before so they still had one of the beers they brewed for it on tap, their McDouglas Scotch Ale. I have strained relationship with this style, I rarely find one that I really love, but will give anything Yards brews a shot. This was one of the tamer interpretations I've had but not in a bad way, it was just a more balanced and approachable version. Sweet and caramel maltiness followed up by a subtle smoke flavor that lingered. I've had some scotch ales that are cloying and over the top which made them unenjoyable but this was definitely a nice change of pace. They offered a couple tours throughout the night and even though I had been on the Yards tour too many times to count I took advantage which I'm glad for because it was one of the best brewery tours I had ever had. It's always nice to actually learn something new despite having heard the same old lines countless times on other tours. Our guide doesn't normally give the tours so I think he was trying extra hard but I hope he starts getting to do some because it was really engaging. Eventually it was time to go but there was no way we were all ready to part so we all met up at the Standard Tap for a night cap.

At this point I was just ready to get my hops on, not really in the mood to commit to something new I went right for a Weyerbacher Harvest Ale. After picking the hops for that beer I feel obligated to get it whenever I see it. I followed that with Manayunk Brewing's California Dreamin Double IPA, a delectable West Coast Style DIPA that never fails to please. They also had Dogfish Head's Black & Red on tap which I had heard was so undrinkable that many bars were returning their kegs to wholesalers, I had to get a sample. This a confusing beer, it pours a deep and dark ruby red color and smells of roasted mint...and it's a stout. I nervously sipped at the sample, a minty bitterness along with a strange raspberry tartness and a bit of an alcohol burn. What the hell was that? It reminded me of carbonated Robitussin, not something I would ever want in my glass. I could definitely why see why bars would be returning this, I bet it's still on tap down at the Standard Tap because I can't really see anyone drinking a whole glass. You can't win em all I guess.

Finally after a very long and exhausting weekend I got back home to retreat into my bed. I do believe that hitting four breweries in one weekend is a personal record so I was quite pleased with that accomplishment as I prepared to enter back into the real world the next morning. The weekend reaffirmed what we all already know which is that beer can be much more than just a drink but instead something much more important. Over the course of 2 days it brought so many different people together and was the catalyst for a slew of great conversations and new memories that won't fade quickly.

Now that I got all deep there I will finally stop typing and move on.