The Blue Tusk is a place to go for some of the best beers from around the world. All About Beer included it in the 125 Places To Have A Beer Before You Die. It was also listed in the 2010 Beer Traveler issue, 150 Beer Bars.Read More
They wanted dinner but I wanted to take them on a ride into history on the oldest continuously operating ferry in U.S. history. What we discovered was good food with lots of character and the beginnings of a new beer phenomenon.Read More
I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.Read More
As beer years go, 2017 was a great one. There were many highlights for me during the year — new breweries visited, beery friends discovered, events and travels. Let me share some of my journal notes with you.Read More
Oud bruin is an “old ale” tradition, indigenous to East Flanders, typified by the products of the Liefman brewery, which has roots back to the 1600s. Historically brewed as a “provision beer” that would develop some sourness as it aged.Read More
Now that I've discovered that they not only can keep liquid from escaping into my suitcase but also from allowing liquid — melted ice — into the bag and ruining the labels, I keep them handy and ready at a moments notice.Read More
This episode of The Session again takes us all around the world — Burma, Bend OR, San Francisco via Portland OR, Belgium, San Jose CA, into many ventures and experiences of the Bottle Shop: Good, Bad & The Ugly.Read More
As I read and study and practice all things beer, I've come to have a more keen awareness of bottle shops. Not only the one where I work but those that I've added to my network of stops along the way.Read More
THE SESSION #128— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.
Deep Beer will be hosting The Session #128 — Beer Blogging Friday for October 2017. The theme chosen is Bottle Shops: Good, Bad & The Ugly. I find bottle shops interesting and would like to learn other perspectives on these places many of us purchase our favorite quaffs. We love our beer and have a variety of options in acquiring it. Some home brew, others like to visit their local pubs, beer tourism and beer destinations have become a trend, but the ever popular bottle shop is often the best and most reliable means for finding our next beer.
Of course, not all bottle shops are the same.
Themes to Consider
Below, I offer a few topics for your consideration and to perhaps spark your imagination, but of course, you can choose your own.
- What defines a great bottle shop —selection, knowledgeable staff, location, prices, other factors
- Iconic bottle shops — Like to share your favorite shops, surprising stories of discovery
- Discovering great bottle shops — have successful methods for finding great bottle shops
- Being a great bottle shop — If you own or work in a shop, do you have tips for success or precautions against failure
- Hacking the bottle shop — secrets to getting what you want or How to Win Friends and Influence People
- Bottle shop travel preparation — do you have a reconnaissance plan when you travel for finding good beer away from home or other beer travel tips
- Other topics of bottle shop curiosity — you choose
Our deadline is October 6. Put a link to your post on our bottle shop theme in a comment to this announcement and shortly after our Friday rendezvous I will write a wrap up summary of all of the articles. I'm looking forward to reading your posts. Cheers!
First, I want to thank all of this month's contributors. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your bottle shop adventures. This episode of The Session again takes us all around the world — Burma, Bend OR, San Francisco via Portland OR, Belgium, San Jose CA, into many ventures and experiences of the Bottle Shop: Good, Bad & The Ugly.
THE SESSION #125— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.
This month's theme is SMaSH Beers and is hosted by Mark Linders at Bend Beer Librarian. The question posted by Mark is SMaSH beers (single malt, single hop).
Really, There is a SMASH Beer
I enjoy the topics that people come up with for these BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY themes. Sometimes the strike a familiar cord and I can't wait to jump in and begin sharing my thoughts on whatever the topic chosen. Then other times, I have to admit, I simply let the theme go, like a gentle breeze that was here and it's gone. Then there are even some times I'll begin writing with some clever — I think it's clever — take on the chosen topic, never to finish it. I hate that, but it happens all to often.
But SMASH beer? I thought I'd heard of everything under the beery sun but that... is it a term, a style, a joke? Mark obviously is a home brewer and SMASH beers seem to be a style that is popular among that group. So I had to do a bit of research beyond what Mark had provided in is introduction.
Rate Beer knows that SMASH is a real thing! They list 50 beers under the label of SMASH beers.
I can say I haven't had any of these beers noted as SMaSH beers. Nor do I think I could find any at my local beery shops. That isn't to say that I haven't had a single malt, single hop beer, it's just that it wasn't identified as such. Honestly, I've seen brewers promote the fact that they were multi-malt and multi-hop more often. Southern Tier is an excellent example.
Draft Magazine declares the perfect SMASH six-pack in their Sixer: SMaSH beers piece. Of these six, three were ID of SMASH and three did not. So perhaps I have had a SMASH beer and didn't know it.
Reviewing my list of unique beers tasted on my Untappd account, I didn't find anything referencing a SMASH beer. Entering "smash" into the Search and scrolling through that list, I didn't I'd any that I've had nor would have easy access to.
So, my conclusion is this:
- I didn't know SMaSH beer was a style — formal or otherwise — but I do now it is
- I do know that when I see one, I will very intentionally try it
- And perhaps I will update my notes for this writing when I have this new expanded thinking of SMASH
THE SESSION #122— BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.
This month's theme is Views on Imported Beer and is hosted by Christopher Barnes at I Think About Beer. The question posted by Christopher is based on the writer's location, either North America or otherwise:
- For American and Canadians: What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?
- For Non North Americans: How are American beers (imported into YOUR country) viewed? What is their place in your market?
In The Beginning
It seems like so long ago now, probably because it was, when I first began exploring the world of beer. It wasn't anything like a study, but a casual curiosity. A good beer was Michelob, a special beer was Becks. I felt the need to stand out from my peers, so mine was the dark one. Imports were premium beers — for those who wanted to treat themselves to the finer things. I still remember my beer epiphany, the moment I had a really good beer. I've written about this before, but I do like to think about it again. A bar in Baltimore, a bit of time before a weekend conference, a bartender perhaps wanting to upsell me. Nonetheless, I was interested in learning more. So he suggested this English beer, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale. Smitten, I was. After that, nothing was the same. It was difficult to find this beer, but I did. It was more expensive than my normal beer. So it was on special occasions I would bring home a 500 ml. bottle. That must have been around 1991.
I began working in a local fine wine, beer and spirits shop that was opening just a few minutes from my house just over nine years ago. It was a move to help pay some schooling bills and thought to be a temporary job. I gave it two or three years. Right! That was nine years ago. Why am I still there? Well two things really, I enjoy the people and two, I enjoy learning about the stuff. All of it, wine, spirits and especially the beer. And the good beer (some call it craft) business certainly has changed over this time.
The more I learn about beer, the more I realize I don't know. There are many people who are willing to teach. And, I'll have to say, I've done a lot of study on my own. Grin!
So, good beer began with me as imported. Then the American scene has grown up, again. And we don't have to look across the pond to find good beer, there is plenty to be found on our own shores. And for that matter, right in our own backyard. It continues to surprise me the number of small town breweries are popping up. And they are producing some really good beer.
Do Americans Need Imported Beer
Do we still need to seek our "good beer" fix from imports? Of course not. But I still often do. That is, because the American beer scene has started a new beer revolution, that has caused me to learn more about the beer I'm drinking. And if you haven't noticed, many of those great American beers have Old World names, referring to the classic European styles from our brewing legacies. Oatmeal stout, kolsch, altbier, gose, guese. Check out the Beer Judge Certification Programs list of beer styles. How many were founded in Europe and are now taking on an American swagger.
Last year we celebrated the 500 year anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, aka the German Purity Law of 1516. Some of the interviews of contemporary German brewers described were how hand-tied they felt from the restrictions of that law and the need to brew to those simple list of ingredients to remain in the German brewery associations. They wanted to break out and explore the world of ingredients like many of the new American brewers. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head stated in an April 2016 The Daily Meal article that, "The reinheitsgebot is nothing more than modern art censorship."
Now that the good beer movement has introduced and attracted partakers to what well made beer is like, many are willing to venture beyond the IPA and discover the classic styles, whether from to old-country or domestic versions. Pilsner is making a comeback in America. Of course it is, it is a great beer.
So yes, imported beer does matter. It is a great teacher of history, technique, ingredients and geography. For example, as much as you hear about terroir is important to wine, the same holds true with beer. Try an American made pilsner, then have one from Germany or a Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic. Same style, far different beer experience.
I recently taught a beer tasting class where the focus was on four iconic beers, three of which were imports. The purpose being that many of the beers we enjoy today have a lineage back to Europe. In order to fully appreciate the beer being produced and offered in pubs and bottle shop today, it is best to understand from where they came.
The era of industrial American light lager not only reduced the choices of what beer drinkers were offered, it turned many off to beer, period. With the establishment — or re-establishment — of an American good-beer industry and culture, beer drinkers are exploring and expanding their tastes. And while Americans are being introduced to classic styles after our IPA binge, brewers are leading the way with their versions of the classics, take the list of gose that has been introduced and become so popular during the last few years. The concern that foreign brewers are keenly aware, are the Americans are doing such a good job of it!
Business and personal travels took me to Pennsylvania, specifically Reading and Lancaster. I had been to Lancaster on other adventures but Reading was new. Providence had provided and I would have time to explore some of the local beer. I am glad to say I have some very favorable reports to log.
This is the first time I've spent any time in Reading PA, at least enough to explore the local beer scene. I use an iPhone app called BreweryMap (it also has a web version) to quickly learn the landscape for the local breweries. I have found this application very useful when visiting a new location. Bring up the app and it will show you all the breweries in the vicinity. Move the search area around, touch the "search this area" tab at the top of the screen and pins will pop up showing you local breweries. Touch the information icon and up pops the list of useful information such as current beers, telephone number, website and even address useful for finding your way to the brewery. I also find the favorite beer-geek-tool — Untappd — very useful for this as well and did use it to find local venues and recent beers being served there. I'm assuming that if you're reading this you already know about Untappd.
Spirits in Lancaster
This large room serves as tasting rooms for both Thistle Finch Distillery and Wacker Brewery in Lancaster PA
Good fortune, Chatty Monks popped up at the top of the list, had excellent Beer Advocate ratings and was within an easy drive or healthy walk from my hotel. I engaged a couple colleagues to join me and we were off. While not a big place, the beer — as you would expect by the name — very much had a Belgian-style focus. They had a quite decent menu with a range of styles. Being it was my first time here, I chose a flight of three five-ounce pours — Revelation Dark Ale, Belgian Blonde, and Belgian Dubbel. All were quite good and true to style. So good, I ventured on for a full pint of the Endoplasmic Reticulum IPA at 7% ABV and 77 IBUs — venturing away from their solid Belgian-styles. Again very good with some very interesting hop notes on the finish.
Besides the beer, the other qualities that would bring me back to Chatty Monks was their staff. They were very engaging and friendly, quick to offer a sample when questioned about a particular beer. Not always do I go for the background music of a place (see Adroit Theory article), being a product of the Beatles era and nearly set in my ways, but it suited my boomer tastes just fine with eclectic selections ranging from Led Zeppelin to Gary Clark Jr. The food was definitely above average pub food and I would be quick to recommend the tuna tacos.
West Reading Tavern
After a full day of sitting and listening to a variety of presentations, my butt could stand little more. I had a couple of hours before the evening banquet and Untappd told me of two places nearby with excellent beer. I had time for just one and it was right next door to Chatty Monks. A brisk 20-minute walk later I was at West Reading Tavern. Untappd reported that they had Hardywood Gingerbread Stout on draft (94 pts on Beer Advocate). I knew this brewery, having had several of their beer at Savor 2016 and also picked up some bottles in Harrisonburg VA on another trip. The beer I'd once had was the bourbon barrel version and was obviously more complex than the regular edition, but it was a great beer in its own right. It was a nice neighborhood bar with locals bouncing in and out. With a friendly and engaging bar staff. I finished my 10-ounce tulip and I was soon trekking my way back to the hotel for the evening banquet. The other place I'd hoped to get to, but did not, was Mike's Tavern. Untappd informed me that they had Rodenback Alexander (98 pts on Beer Advocate), a Flanders red ale that has been on my wish list. A bar too far and one I will have to leave till my next time in Reading.
I had visited the Lancaster Brewing brewery and restaurant a couple of years ago. At the time, their flagship beer was their milk stout — big, creamy and a touch sweet. This is fitting being that they are in the heart of Amish country. The brewery facility and the restaurant are located in the historic Edward McGovern Tobacco Warehouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, in Lancaster, PA. A great place for a 21-century brewery.
This trip we had lunch and a beer at their tap room. Their beer selections seem to have grown and become more complex since I visited last. My tastes have become more complex since then as well, instead of having their signature milk stout I opted for their Imperial Jo Milk Stout, (I'd been in that mood lately) logging in at 8% ABV. It was a good beer, I enjoyed it, but unfortunately I only had time for one.
The room was bright and clean as were the faces that served us. If in Lancaster, this deserves a stop and a beer.
Wacker Brewing & Thistle Finch Distillery
Again, going to the trusty BreweryMap app, I discovered that Wacker Brewing was within easy walking distance from our venue. We had some time and the desire to explore the town, so off we were toward Wacker. An interesting note, for me anyway, is that my paternal grandfather's nickname was Wacker. I don't any more than that, it just was. I didn't know it until we later did a tour of the building, but this was once a tobacco warehouse, too — like the Lancaster Brewing building. Sturdy of build and character. As usual, I did the flight which was comprised of all six of their offerings (see beer menu pic below).
In the same building as Wacker Brewing was Thistle Finch Distillery. A somewhat symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, they even shared the tasting room with separate bars across from each other. We were about to leave when we noticed the distillery tour about to start. We walked all of twenty feet and joined the tour. It was during the tour we learned that Lancaster at one time had a bustling tobacco industry. As smoking preferences shifted from cigars to cigarettes, the Lancaster tobacco business fell out of favor, too. Now, many of the those fine warehouses have been converted to other uses, such as breweries. They offer a variety of rye whiskies, a gin and vodka. Well, we didn't pick up any other fine spirits, I did grab a couple of the Bittermilk Bitters that were offered for sale there. I'm experimenting with the addition of bitters to certain beers and found these had some interesting ingredients such wormwood and being aged in bourbon barrels. I knew these were unique to the area so I didn't want to pass up the opportunity.
The beer tasting flight is composed of all six of these beers on tap
Rye whiskey is their signature spirit but they also produce gin and vodka
While walking around Lancaster, enjoying the beautiful day and town, it came time to think about lunch. We passed by Checkers Bistro, walked in to check the menu and atmosphere. We were impressed. The menu was upscale, both food and drink. We opted for the Checkers Apple Salad, which must be one of their signature menu items, and I had the Peking Duck Tacos with Chinese Barbecue Duck, Wonton Taco, Guacamole. I mention this because the food was excellent.
The beer menu was not extensive, but balanced in styles, chosen to pair with their foods, and offered choices from local breweries and across the country. Being attracted to big beers, I asked for the Bourbon Barrel-aged Vanilla Bean Stout by Avery Brewing Co. Bottom line, excellent food, beer, staff and decor.
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
Next was lunch at Iron Hill Brewery in Lancaster. My first visit to an Iron Hill Brewery was in 2014. Little did I realize at the time, but there are a series of these scattered across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and one in Delaware. I counted 12. There were several sporting events taking place in Lancaster during our stay and when we were looking for lunch, so were they all. The place was packed, but amazingly it didn't take long to be served.
Still on a stout rampage, I asked for the Iron Hill Brewing Russian Imperial Stout. Really exceptional. According to their poster near the entrance, this is their most awarded beer. The food was very good, all around. As I'd mentioned, we had visited another Iron Hill venue three years ago and I don't remember being as impressed by their beer then. I was this time.
Ultimately, I had an wonderful beer and spirit laden adventure in a couple of beautiful Pennsylvania towns. Beer has come a long way, with craft breweries and artisanal distilleries popping up in many towns across the country. And the liquids are good and getting better as these shops mature and get better at their craft. Hand crafted beer, spirits, even bitters — life is good.