Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Let This Be My Annual Reminder...

A wise old bartender and i were talking last night briefly about people wanting to drink certain types of beer and even just see certain colors in their beer at certain times of the year. He, like a lot of us, can go for any style at any time of year. Now granted i'll say that as food and beer and history and culture all start to inform me of each's relevence to the others i do take satisfaction in continuing cycles, but i'll drink a RIS in July as quickly as a Pils in January if thats what my mood calls for.

So what is it about this then that makes people think that certain beers are only appropriate during certain times of year? Dark beers in the winter? Ok, they should be a bit warmer to be fully enjoyed - so we're warding off the cold. Cold, crisp refreshing beers in the summer to refresh us and battle the heat. I get that, but season by season is it tradition, marketing, or follow the leader that makes us think that these style rules are in play?

Thinking from a homebrewing state of mind i know that different weather is going to allow me to brew different things, but that is more because i am at the mercy of temperature a bit with my set up. Sure i rushed to brew a pumpkin ale during my first fall and had my fruit infused hefe during the first warm brewing months.

Food on the other hand has me completely playing by the season rules. I think things are a bit more universal in this regard though. Availability of a lot of fruits and veggies dictate a lot of menus and fueling up and giving our body what it needs to operate is a bit different of a situation i suppose. I am completely in tune with seasonal eating though. As soon as the temperature drops and the skies get painted with their normal gray you'd better believe i'll be buying can after can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup and crusty day old bread. Pot after pot of chili is going to come out of my loaner slow cooker (thank you Mom). I've got a snappy little French Onion soup recipe these days too.

But with beer i'm just not making the connection. Thinking about this strictly in the sense of me going into a bar and sitting down for a beer, i know that my mood is usually different 7 or 8 times out of 10. This revolves more around what i've been thinking about through the day, whether or not i'm eating, how long of a stop i'm making, etc. I don't just think...cold air, dark beer. I dunno. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this. I know at this point this post qualifies as rambling so my apologies.

Any how, i feel safe to say that Fall is here (even though i was sweating bullets a bit in Virginia last weekend) so i am going to offer up my little early Autumn listening list. Like food, i get dialed into these tunes directly the second the sun starts forgiving my sins and letting my walk around in a sweatshirt again. I come back to these albums every Fall and they never ever seem to let me down.

The Band - s/t (The Brown Album)
Tom Waits - Closing Time
Little Feat - Dixie Chicken
Wilco - Being There
The Moonbabies - The Orange Billboard
Arthur Verocai - s/t
Savath y Salvas - Apropa`t

This is my Fall starter kit. More to follow as we get deeper into the greatest season on the planet.

So why don't i fall in line when it comes to beer? Food, music, they make perfect sense to me in the fall, in the spring, in the winter and summer. I dunno, maybe there's some music blogger out there writing about why he or she knows exactly which beer and food to go for in each season but just can't do the same with music. Wow, i really am actually rambling right now. Fall Joel in the house.
And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Finding leaves in the cat's pajamas

Fall, this is where it all starts to make sense people. This is Jerry's "I always break even" to George's only having prune juice anbd the Ray Coniff singers when its time to seal the deal. Remember those hops i found? A cut and clear sign of the path ahead of me lo these past few days. Somehow i woke up feeling like a million bucks on Sunday morning and when you feel like a million bucks there's only one place you go...Chicago. Impromptu as it gets i spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon in my favorite city and had dinner with Mr. Porteouverte at the Hopleaf. Jackpot.

This is what's great about beer bars. The list of usual suspects when it comes to Belgian and German beers is usually similarly across the board, but so amazingly so. Knowing that Armand Debelder gets the same love in Chi-town as he does in Philly is really pretty darn cool. So one of the things that sets these places apart is regional availability. And for a guy living on the East Coast the tap list at Hop Leaf left more options than me and my 2 1/2 hour drive could responsibly set about tackling:

Surly - Furious
New Belgium - Eric's Ale
Three Floyds - Alpha King, Gorch Fock
Ommegang - Rouge
Gouden Carolous - Hopsinjoor

These beers are on tap. ON TAP!

Sure we get stuff that mid-westerners drool about and west coasters dream about, but man that's a hot little list and that's not even half of it.

Hopleaf had one PA beer on their list. Prima Pils from Victory. Rightfully so.

They have Dragon's Milk in bottles so Mr. P ordered one up for dessert. I love drinking Dragon's Milk with someone for the first time. Even people who know their barrel aged stuff are still taking back by it.

The food at Hopleaf is definitely worth the trip. Beer food (not bar food) in really well done way. He the steak frite and me the pork stew. The classic sausage sampler app with mustard. We won.

So back to work on Monday in the fine town of Grand Rapids, MI. Lunch has to happen somewhere and i am really glad it happened at Hop Cat. The place is beautiful. Great bars just have that feel. The tap list is amazing in there, a combination of awesome local breweries and regional rarities. They're big New Holland supporters. The owners of this wood covered beer haven were out having a good time at Autumnfest, so i was really glad to see their place in person and try Short's Bellaire Brown which was so eloquently described to me just 48 hours prior. It was delicious.

Lunch here was top notch (i'm eating good these days and my belly is living proof) for me: Mac-n-cheese with Andoullie and roasted red peppers. For my fellow Beer Ambassador: A burger with Applewood smoked bacon, jalepenos, and cheddar. The attention to aesthetic detail in the Hop Cat really had me reeling. The ceiling looks like a floor except for the fact that there's art hanging from it. Homage after homage to the great musicians time has given us. The list goes on. It's an amazing place.

The hops led to the hops you see. It's all very clear. This is fall calling, i am at your front door. And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Chill Time 66 East 8th (Before The Storm)

It's one of the biggest days of the year on planet New Holland Brewing Co. Autumnfest has already wiped the sleep out of its eyes and is cleaning up the house for you to come over. 35 taps, Ichabod on cask, Natchez Trace, Robin Moore, and Whitey Morgan will all be playing...hopefully there'll be some Maple Porter from last night going around, chickens by the half will be grilling out back and that's just the begging.

The Niche and Lynn Thompson warmed things up in a big way last night and there’s nothing to do now but watch your clock and show up at 3pm. I’ve got Asian pears and Bialy’s from the farmer’s market and I’m catching a quick nap before jumping into the fray.

On the Keystone side of things, I’m convinced people in Pittsburgh don’t actually go to bed. Everytime I head into that town time has a way of disappearing. I got to hang out in some great bars in town and Chef Jason at The Pines Tavern has an amazing fall dinner menu that you’ve got to check out if you’re remotely close to the PGH. He’s got a new toy on site, so come check out some smoked dishes on the menu. I had grilled pork loin that he smoked and brined, then grilled with New Potatoes, Arrugula, Crumbled Bleu Cheese with Red Onion Marmalade and Pear Butter. Lisa Donaldson, The Pines’ Beer Director has a suggested pairing of Skullsplitter which probably works brilliantly, but I was wrapped up in a bottle of Mad Hatter for my meal with The Poet for dessert. Dragon’s Milk and the just mentioned Oatmeal Stout show up as pairing options for the dinner menu, so head down for some New Holland and some seriously good eats.

Magoo’s on Perry Highway is still holding strong with our Sundog on the menu and their always exciting Nintendo and free tots deal on Thursday nights. Magoo’s always seems to be the launch pad for my Pittsburgh craziness, doubtfully a coincidence. Read more!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Teeted (Is That Wrong?)

Be ready for the realness. Dragon's Milk is on tap at The Drafting Room's Exton headquarters right now. I think they tapped it to celebrate the fact that i am out of town for a while. It's our barrel aged strong ale. A bit of roast, big vanilla notes coming across as it warms. Velvety smooth. The Hollands are there drinking it RIGHT NOW.

Go say hi to the gang there and grab a glass.

In addition...things are happening. What kind of things? Oh i dunno, just me hitting a deer about a first down away from Sly Fox at 4:30 this morning on my way to Pittsburgh. Meeting Drew at Piper's Pub who has got an amazing DIY cask system running in his pub (Black Strap on cask...i beg for your mercy) and i have pictures to follow. Dinner at the Pines and hopefully Magoo's Pub to follow for some Mad Hatter. It's Pittsburgh day for me before the haul to Holland for Autumnfest, the aforementioned rootinist, tootinist, fall festivus out there.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Saddlin' Up

Welp, i'm outta here. For a few days anyway. I'm gonna see the finer seeings in the Iron City before tugging on the reigns and heading to Holland, MI for New Holland's Autmunfest celebration. I may have mentioned it, but i love fall.

If'n you're in western Michigan on Saturday, c'mon down to the brewpub at 66 East 8th Street in Holland from 3pm till the lights go out for bands, food, and 35 New Holland beers. Ichabod is the man of the hour and there'll be casks pouring and taps flowing. Fred Bueltmann vs. John Haggerty in Beer Smackdown II is a must see and samplings of Ben Fris' amazing spirits are a must taste.

If'n you're closer to the ranch, well fella there's plenty a brewin' round these parts as well. Ichabod is still pouring in and out of the city, Brigid's is throwing down this whole week and The Beer Lass will be hosting beer trivia tonight at 8. If you're in the city Thursday check out Ichabod and other pumpkin beers at The Foodery's (2nd and Poplar) tasting. If you're in le' burbs on Thurs The Drafting Room in Exton is tapping a firkin of Flower Power and from what i hear Pliny The Elder is pouring in Wayne, PA. Ron's Schoolhouse has a ton of Fest beers on, and Cask Ale Kev tells me that TJ's Everyday is pulling pints of the Ballast Point Porter.

Enjoy, catch y'all from the road. Read more!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Pickin' and a Grinnin'

Guess i should've known this morning at the farmer's market when Fiddlin' Ted and a bunch of others were playing Midnight Moonlight, that it was gonna be an almost Fall kinda day. Temperature excluded, things are seeming like they're about to get all Autumnal on us. I'm ready to roll.

Anyhow, after picking some veggies and ground cherries at the community garden with my favorite farmers i went to check out the somewhat abandoned hop trellis. A phone call was all it took to find out that it was ok to save some hops from becoming shriveled brown cones like the rest around them had become. They may have time to land in the Yeoman's kettle, but if not i'd like to get them to a good home. I can't brew till November, so get in touch if you'd like a little something to toss around and flame out. I'm guessing Cascades and somethings.

And just because i had the camera out... The Farmer's Lunch.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Let me tell you about this bar....

So we're all at this point where we now seek out bars. One's got a killer bottle list, the next one does amazing events, then next one has the best service, while the next has the best food. It's not an experience unless you bring someone along.

I love these bars, i've had great conversations, revelations, and discoveries in many of them. Some are staffed greatly while others have charm that allows you to drop your normal guard a bit. A lot of time, effort, borrowing of favors, and strategy goes into all of them. Things have to be just right so that every little dude with a keyboard can't tarnish the name of the next best beer bar in town.

So let me tell you about this bar. It's definitely not the cleanest (doggie toys and an incomplete home gym were a major part of the decor on my last visit), its not in a great neighborhood, I don't know that there's a single piece of cutlery in the whole building, and we had a hell of a time figuring out whether or not they were open on Sundays. No website, not much of a reputation, never mentioned in all of the beer bar talks, easy enough to miss unless you are really looking for it.

It's perfect.

The place serves beer and beer only, has a mostly free jukebox, and basically feels like some old clubhouse where you can step into the back room to play darts and feel like you're at a buddy's house after yet another grueling day of high school.

The beer selection is modestly good, they're not keeping up with every quirk and nuance, but they definitely do not disappoint. Tapper, the bar dog was absent on my last trip, but chances are the 'ol dog will be lazing around next trip. The place has the ramshackle feel that i love in a bar, but with way more old school Trappist schwag than i've seen in any of my favorite stops.

I couldn't imagine anyone not feeling comfortable in this place. Bright red leather couches with a coffee table and a deck of Trivial Pursuit cards, older than dirt arcade games, and a lone toaster oven behind the bar. The place is magnificient. Local art work hangs on the walls and a random issue of Playboy is just lying around.

At first i was going to name the bar, maybe even give out the address, but i figure i'll let folks guess...who knows i may find another great bar or two in the guesses. I will say this. I've been there, at most, 5 times in my life and its very close to the top of my list of favorite bars on the planet. Read more!