Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vault Brewing Co. Unlocks in Yardley

After more than a year's wortth of trials and tribulations, James and John Cain have finally opened Vault Brewing Company in Yardley, PA. Last Thursday's soft opening spawned a flurry of excitement throughout Bucks County where thirsty throngs have been waiting for the small brewpub's doors to swing open. I for one have been anxiously awaiting Vault's opening because quite frankly, Yardley doesn't have much else to offer. Meridith and I stopped by on Saturday afternoon only to be greeted by a locked door, the damn place didn't open til 5.
Oh well...we would return.

Being opening weekend and all, we knew it would be packed but the place was actually filled to capacity. We ended up having to wait a couple minutes at the door for people to leave before we could head inside. It's no fun to watch other people drink. Once we were allowed in we bellied up to the bar for a couple beers to enjoy while we waited. I won't get into the specifics but their whole table waiting system needs a bit of an overhaul, if you were there this weekend you'll know what I'm talking about.

I went for their Cask IPA which I had a sip of at the Washington Crossing Beer Fest earlier this year, freshly pulled by James himself this one went down very quickly. Solid offering here but not my favorite style to have on cask and could have been  bit more balanced out. Went with their ESB next which was also on cask and should have been my first choice, really liked this one's slightly toasted and creamy body. Mer stuck with their Dry Stout which was on nitro, she loved it and I reaaaally liked it myself...may have snuck an extra couple sips while she went to the bathroom.

As for the grub, we started with the hot abruzzese sausage and French feta platter was delicious and just the thing you want to pick on between sips. Vault has a beautiful copper wood-fired pizza oven which is their only real kitchen implement but they aren't your everyday pizza pies. They have a selection of savory as well as sweet pizzas. I couldn't resist the brown sugar buffalo pie which also had some prosciutto. This thing was out of this world and I'm going to have a hard time branching out when I return. The dough is all made in house with some of the beer if I'm not mistaken. The last beer of the evening was their Belgian Blonde which was really bright, zesty and just a little sweet. With that, I left pretty satisfied with the latest addition to the Bucks County beer scene.

We actually enjoyed ourselves so much that we found ourselves back the next day for some lunch, few things are more enjoyable than some Sunday afternoon brews. The beautiful weather had me hankering for their Bavarian Hefeweizen which didn't quite do it for me but was by no means unpleasant. Their hummus plate and butternut squash pizza were much more memorable, I didn't think I would enjoy any of the sweet pizza options but this proved me wrong. I also snagged a pint of their IPA before we headed out and found it to be a whole lot more impressive than the cask offering, could have sat there for a couple more of this one. We sat in the upper room on Sunday in which they use two of the banks old vaults, one for their wine rack stocked with bottles from Crossing Vineyards and the other locked up with kegs. Nice touch.

I'll be the first to admit that I was a bit skeptical walking into Vault but was very impressed with the whole operation. The whole look and feel of the place is spot on, sleek but laid back while playing up the old bank features. They had great music playing both visits including the band that came in (live jazz is a big selling point for these guys). I was especially impressed with the staff who really couldn't have been nicer or more helpful despite the madhouse crowd. Once the initial excitement wears off and the crowds die down, I can't wait to head to the Vault more often to see how brewer Mark Thomas really comes into his own. Don't let the crowds keep you away though, I say you head right over and see what you think for yourself.

10 South Main Street
Yardley, PA


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Monk Melee II: The Second Coming

So my homebrew club of choice, The ALEiens, is hosting their 2nd Annual Monk Melee Belgian-Style Homebrew Competition on Saturday, December 1st at the good ole Hulmeville Inn. I'm doing my part in organizing the whole shebang again so while we don't have all the details worked out I can tell you I know so far.

This is a BJCP sanctioned competition restricted to the following categories:

BJCP Category 16: Belgian and French Ales
   16A) Witbier
   16B)  Belgian Pale Ale
   16C)  Saison
   16D)  Biere de Garde
   16E)  Belgian Specialty Ale

BJCP Category 17:  Sour Ales
   17A)  Berliner Weiss
   17B)  Flanders Red Ale
   17C)  Oud Bruin/Flanders Brown
   17D)  Straight Lambic
   17E)  Gueuze
   17F)  Fruit Lambic

BJCP Category 18: Belgian Strong Ale
   18A)  Belgian Blonde
   18B)  Belgian Dubbel
   18C)  Belgian Tripel
   18D)  Belgian Golden Strong Ale
   18E)  Belgian Dark Strong Ale

If you've got any beers that fall into these categories, feel free to submit them. We realize that we're not giving you a whole lot of time so that's why I wanted to get some info out ASAP. Drop-off locations are not yet finalized but you can expect the standard local homebrew shops and the like, the guys at Neshaminy Creek will also be accepting submissions. Anyone can submit, you do not need to be an ALEien or part of any homebrew club but you should definitely join one anyway. There will be a fee of $6 for the first entry and $5 for any entries after that, go ahead and submit as many as you want. Bottle specifics and entry forms will be worked out soon. We're looking at the last weekend in November as a likely deadline but I will send out an update once everything is finalized.

Just like last year, the Hulmeville will likely tap a bunch of delicious Belgian beers the day of judging which means you get to come hang out, drink some great beer and await your homebrew's fate. All of the prizes are TBD but you'll be able to grab any winnings that evening after the awards ceremony. Stay tuned for more details as they come out but until then, spread the word and get to brewing!

We are definitely looking for some more sponsors to donate prizes so if you're willing to contribute something please let me know. If you'd like to volunteer to judge or stewart, please contact Jeremy Myers at fishtownhxc@yahoo.com.


Thursday, October 4, 2012


Another Mancation has come and gone. This biannual camping trip is the stuff that legends are made of involving a lot of smoked meats and beer. Last year I took it upon myself to combine these two great things in my Mancation Maple Bacon Porter but the 2012 trip saw yet another coming together of smoked meats and beer this time in the form of my dad's famous BBQ sauce. Every year this sauce is lathered upon racks of ribs, steaks, chicken and even pasta. For some reason I never recommended that he add some beer to the recipe but I got my act together this year and suggested that Dogfish Head's hybrid Indian Brown Ale make its way into the mix. As always the sauce was a finger lickin' hit and was made only better by this latest addition so if you're a fan of the 'cue (is that a thing people say?) then I would highly recommend giving this recipe a shot the next time you fire up the smoker or are planning a big BBQ spread. This is a very rare glimpse into the inner workings of Mancation.
You're welcome.

Mancation Meat Sauce:
2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 finely chopped chipotle peppers
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp mustard
1 tbsp tabasco sauce
2 tsp liquid smoke
4 cloves finely minced garlic
2 bottles of Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale
1 tbsp of Mancation Rub

Combine all ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and bring slowly to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and gently simmer the sauce until dark, thick and delicious.

Mancation Rub:
1 tsp whole cumin seed
1 tsp whole fennel seed
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp whole coriander
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder

Place cumin seed, fennel seed and coriander in coffee grinder and grind fine. Transfer to a small jar and add the rest of the spice then shake. BOOM...you have your rub. If you brine your meat, forget the salt. Oh and don't use the same grinder you use for your coffee.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Philly Beer Week 2012: What's On Tap

Last week, The Four Seasons Philadelphia hosted a Philly Beer Week press conference for the local media, assorted beer bloggers and a handful of industry folks. With less than two weeks to go it is time to start getting both excited and prepared for this year's festivities because, as Beer Week veterans know, PBW is no joke.

Joe Sixpack & the legendary Hammer of Glory
Philly Beer Week Executive Director Don Russel, aka Joe Sixpack, gave us all a preview of what we can expect for this 5th annual affair, the first and largest Beer Week in the country. Seeing how the event was held in the With Love Beer Garden, they were the main focus of discussion. I never made it down to the Four Seasons last year but wouldn't rule it out this year. Given all the hustle and bustle that Beer Week brings this could provide some much needed refuge...and of course beer, a different area brewery will be featured each night with the brewers making appearances as well. It seems like a good spot to meet up with people or even to end your day of Beer Week activities, get all the details over here.
Pretty certain that Sommelier Scott Turnbull got sick of posing.
The highlight of the event, for me, was getting the first sips of this year's Philly Beer Week collaboration beer, Dupont Spéciale Belge. A group of lucky Philadelphians including Tom Peters of Monk's and Chris LapPierre from Iron Hill Maple Shade ventured over to Belgium to brew this exclusive ale at the almighty Brasserie Dupont.

The amber ale really hit the spot standing around under the sun, some great fruitiness mixed with earthy malt flavors and a refreshingly dry finish, I might even venture to say tart but don't want to get you thinking this is sour by any means. There was a lot of discussion of the addition of smoked malts but I couldn't find any trace of them in there. Spéciale Belge will make its official debut at Opening Tap and will be featured throughout the area during the week. A bit of Philly, a bit of Belgium, a whole lot of goodness.
Proud brewer, Chris LaPierre
Despite the fact that Philly Beer Week has become a daunting part of my job at work, I'm still pretty excited. I'm quickly learning just how much work and effort goes into the whole thing, it is quite impressive. Let's all be thankful that we have a city that takes beer so seriously and has such an impressive community of publicans, wholesalers, retailers, publicans and drinkers. 
There a ton of great events lined up with still more being added so get your schedule in order!

June 1 - 10

Also, I have the great pleasure of having a birthday during Beer Week so if happen to run into me, forget the cards...you can just get the tab.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dogfish Head - An Off-Centered Jaunt

For many craft beer enthusiasts, heading to Delaware to visit those crazy kids at Dogfish Head is quite similar to a pilgrimage to Mecca. Given their growing popularity they are often one of the first breweries embraced by people just entering the wonderful world of real beer. Of course that kind of popularity, i.e. success, has brought some backlash from those who consider themselves to be real "hardcore" and what not. These are the types of people who turn against something they once loved only because too many people now share that same affection.

This happens with music, movies and sports but what the hell is this attitude doing in our fun-loving craft beer world? No matter how over-saturated, popular or gimmicky the disenchanted folks find Dogfish Head, they are still innovating, still brewing stellar beers and still know how to show a beer lover a damn good time.

I had been down to the brewery once before with college friends but more recently I headed down to Rehoboth Beach with the girlfriend for the weekend. Actually, we first stopped in Milton to tour the actual brewery which is undergoing some renovation and expansion. As expected, the tasting room was packed this Saturday morning with fellow beer geeks and  of course some people who just wanted something free to do.

We milled about the extensive gift shop while waiting for the tour and I quickly realized that I have no will power when it comes to badass brewery merch, sue me. The tour group gathered to get our first of four samples the first of which was Sah'tea, one of the most unique beers out there in my opinion. We got a sample of My Antonia before going into the brewery and I got that same "Willy Wonka" feeling that I did  the first time I visited. The tours have gotten a bit bigger and the guides use a mobile speaker but they still manage to keep the intimate and off-centered charm that makes Dogfish so appealing.

We ended up in their large cellar where there are pallets of fresh beer awaiting their departure but the real intriguing part of the room is locked up in a massive cage which houses founder/president/mad-man Sam Calagione's stash of vintage Dogfish Head bottles. They have quite a collection here and I was drooling at the thought of what treasures might be sitting patiently in there. I asked our guide what the most interesting vintage he had tasted, he said that a 2-3 year old Sah'tea really surprised him and was definitely his most memorable. The tour wrapped up and we all wandered back to the gift shop where the samples continued with the brand spanking new Urkontinent. Meridith was most fond of this one and I was equally impressed with its complex individuality. While I debated what I would take home with me the samples ended with some good old Indian Brown which finished things up quite nicely.

The brewery is truly something to see for those of us who enjoy looking at shiny steel or get a little thrill at the sight of barrels sitting in a room. The east coast doesn't have too many of these destination-type breweries so it's just cool to see something on this scale. The creative environment that they've established there seems genuinely ingrained in the people that work there and the laid-back yet passionate attitude is infectious.
For those of you just getting into craft beer Dogfish Head lives up to the reputation that you've built up in your mind. For those of you that have lost that loving feeling I would give them a visit, forget about how pissed you were that you couldn't get a bottle of 120 last year, give the guys another chance to court your tastebuds and focus on the thing that brought you there in the first place...the damn beer.

The weekend continued at the brewpub a short drive away but you're not interested in that, are you?

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
6 Cannery Village Blvd.
Milton, DE 19968


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back to Baltimore

I just got back from Baltimore where I spent the last few days sitting through some oh so thrilling training sessions for work. Luckily I had some time to myself so I could check out a couple spots that I missed out on the last time I was in the Land of Pleasant Living.

As it rained the entire day and traffic built up, Sunday's drive was pretty miserable but was made a little more enjoyable thanks to a stop at State Line Liquors in Elkton, MD. I would highly recommend stopping in there if you're ever in the area, they have a wide selection of fine American and Imported beers that aren't available in the Philly area. I could have spent a lot more time and money in there but  used some restraint, only grabbing some Maui brews for a friend and a few others that caught my eye. I also snagged a sweet Hoptimum poster and since I am pretty easy to please, that made my day.

After checking in and taking in my luxurious view, I hopped back in my car and headed over to The Brewer's Art, a storied brewpub in the Mt. Vernon section of the city. After a brief moment of not realizing how to get into the damn place, I found myself in the underground bar that was surprisingly packed for a Sunday night. There is an upstairs that seemed to be a more formal setting for a sit-down meal but I figured the dark cavernous bar would do just fine. After a quick glance at the all house brewed draft list I went right for the Charm City Sour Cherry Ale. This was a welcome treat after the long trip down, it had a wonderful fresh cherry taste with a subtly tart accompaniment that balanced out the sweetness. For no real reason, I was expecting/hoping that this was going be much more sour but it had a much more reserved approach. I made quick work of this one with a very light body and 4.5% ABV and dug into the house cheeseburger which came with some amazing rosemary garlic fries...get them! For my second beer I went with Ozzy, their very very impressive Belgian golden ale. Whiffs of yeast, some lemon zest, and a bit of barnyard hay. The flavor profile fell in line with the style, a bit fruity with lots of spice rounded out by a light caramel sweetness. Now I understand why everyone told me to go to Brewer's Art, a really great atmosphere with some solid beers and delicious food. The fact that all of their house beers were $5 was also a nice surprise. I wish I had been able to try some more of their brews but it was time to get back to the hotel, Game of Thrones was coming on damn't!

I headed to the Inner Harbor Monday evening after a day of training, strolled around a bit and then made my over to Fell's Point to check out the fairly new Heavy Seas Alehouse. First thing I noticed upon entering was the plethora of exposed brick, a nearly fool-proof way of ensuring I enjoy myself. The bartender was one of the friendliest and attentive I've come across, he went through what they had on tap and told me that he had just tapped two casks about an hour ago one of which was a dry-hopped Dubbel Cannon which was enticing enough for me. I still haven't found a "Belgian IPA" that I really love but am still willing to give them a shot now and again. I ordered up some mussels which are half-off on Mondays (score for me) and while I was waiting for them to come out I noticed none other than Heavy Seas owner Hugh Sisson hanging out with some brewery staff at the end of the bar. Obviously I had to step up, introduce myself, and let him know what I thought of the place. He also brought over their Sales Manager who I had emailed back and forth with through work on a couple occasions, always strange but a pleasure to meet someone you've only ever had online interactions with. He was really glowing with pride as he took me on a tour of the surprisingly spacious alehouse. What he seemed most excited about was the soon-to-be-open beer garden that they are currently working on. Picnic tables, barrels for high tops, and a grille are already set up so it shouldn't be too long before they actually open the doors. Hugh seems like a great guy who enjoys a good time, he was really welcoming and appreciative as well. I was quite glad to have the chance to meet him  and would recommend saying hi if you happen to run into him.

I got going on my mussels and then ordered a pint of Peg Leg which was also on cask and the perfect beer for such a dreary day. This was my first time having this particular beer and really enjoyed it, it was really something with strong chocolate and roasted coffee notes throughout with an appropriately thick, dare I say, luscious body. The bartender slid a small snifter of something in front of me to try which ended up being a chocolate liqueur that is made in house with some Peg Leg which was just delectable. While that sort of thing isn't really my bag, I could see it working wonders with a slice of cheesecake. I fell into a conversation with a guy from Bethlehem who was also in town for some business training, we got to talking about  beer and therefore I ended up sticking around for a couple more pints than expected. Nothing else different sounded too appealing so my new found friend and I finished out the night with a couple Loose Cannons. I walked away a big fan of Heavy Sea's new venture into the bar and restaurant business. With so many other great options in that area I was a little worried about what would set them apart but my fears were promptly squashed so add it to the list of must-stops in Baltimore. I also have to say that the entire staff was some of the friendliest and attentive I've had the pleasure of dealing with. Now I realize that all sounds very nice and cuddly but I really did enjoy myself that much there.

Another successful trip to Baltimore for me and there still a couple other spots that I'd like to check out so I guess I'll have to go back.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Organize Your Bottle Collection With CellarHQ

There seems to be an ever growing number of websites devoted to beer out there in cyberspace. I stumbled across a relatively new one the other day that seems like it is actually going to be useful for those of us with a surplus of bottles stashed away.

CellarHQ is a site that allows users to create an account and set up a database of their own personal hoard of bottles. Already the site's pool of breweries and beers that you can add to your cellar is quite impressive but if you can't find the beer you're looking for, adding any new or unlisted beers is quick and simple. For those of us that seek an even more thorough listing, you can input specific details such as bottle size, quantity, and bottling date. There is also a section for notes and soon users will be able to upload accompanying pictures. You can browse other users' cellars as well with fresh updates coming out pretty frequently.

While I haven't ventured into the world of trading, I can imagine a site like this would prove even more useful. I recently took complete inventory of my cellar for the site and found some forgotten gems in the process. The ability to add bottling dates and the like will make this a great resource for aging certain beers and determining what you've got lying around that needs drinking. I for one came to the conclusion that I need to find more time to drink all this beer I've been accumulating.

Signing up is free and easy so if you're in need of some beer organization assistance head on over to http://www.cellarhq.com/ to get started.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The 2012 Happening List

Apparently someone out there is actually reading this!

It was quite a pleasant surprise to find out that someone had gone and nominated me for Bucks Happening's 2012 Happening List. This is a comprehensive 'Best Of' type of list for just about everything going on in Bucks County. Hops & Circumstance is nominated in both the 'Blogger' and 'Twitter' categories...because one outlet for my beer-soaked musings just isn't enough. If you want to throw me a bone in either category just take a second to vote in either category, 'Blogger' or 'Twitter'. Voting is open until February 29th.
I know it's annoying when people say that it's an honor just to be nominated but in this case it's true, I really appreciate whoever went out of their way to do that in the first place.

There's also a solid looking 'Beer Bar' category with a few of my favorite hangouts like the Hulmeville Inn and Isaac Newton's so be sure to send some love their way as well.

Thanks for all the support, cheers!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Adventures in Homebrewing: Monastic Misery

You may have noticed a real lack of homebrewing posts here as of late and I'm here to tell you why.
I screwed up my last batch something awful.

Back in August I brewed what I was expecting to be a Belgian Golden Strong Ale for my homebrew club's Monk Melee competition. This was my first crack at the style but I was confident that I had done enough research to put together something that would satisfy my own tastes and hell, maybe even win something at the competition I helped organize. As you may have surmised from the title of this post, that did not happen.

This batch turned out totally undrinkable and a good chunk of the bottles never even carbonated. I gave it plenty of time to condition just hoping that something would come of it but it was all for naught. Unlike many fellow homebrewers, my first batches came out quite well and I even won some competitions with very few brews under my belt. It took me more than a year to concoct this travesty but hopefully I've learned something here. I received my scorecards from the competition judges (who I'd to apologize to for subjecting them to such misery) and they left me plenty of comments, here is the jist:

-scorched malt
-only a little fruitiness
-burnt rubber and cereal
-no carbonation
-a bit hazy and dark for style
-no head
-sour cider vinegar
-not balanced with hop bitterness
-no peppery spice flavors at all
-very sweet like honey
-full body
-acidic and thin
-very problematic
-not to this style at all
-sanitize everything
-pitch plenty of yeast
-this is not a Belgian golden strong

Who the hell knows what happened here? Obviously the batch was dumped down the drain one very sad winter's eve. I'm fairly confident with my sanitation but you can never be sure, I'm thinking that the real problem was with my yeast and fermentation. I was really surprised just how off the appearance was though, I was not expecting this to turn out nearly as dark as it did.
I've finally gotten around to getting another brew together for (hopefully) this weekend and I'll be sure to be much more aware this time around. I figured I would share just how much can go wrong with a well intended brew if you're not careful.

Anyone else have some sad tales to tell with a failed batch out there? I'm sure there are plenty.