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