Beer on the Road: Reading & Lancaster

 

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.

Beer Reconnoiter

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.

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Spirits in Lancaster

This large room serves as tasting rooms for both Thistle Finch Distillery and Wacker Brewery in Lancaster PA

Reading PA

Chatty Monks

 Brian & Matt - ready for some beer at Chatty Monks

Brian & Matt - ready for some beer at Chatty Monks

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. 

 Chatty Monk beer menu

Chatty Monk beer menu

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.

Lancaster

Lancaster Brewing

 Lancaster Brewing been menu

Lancaster Brewing been menu

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

 A Wacker Brewing flight

A Wacker Brewing flight

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.

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Wacker Brewing

The beer tasting flight is composed of all six of these beers on tap

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Thistle Finch

Rye whiskey is their signature spirit but they also produce gin and vodka

Checkers Bistro

 Checkers Bistro and Avery Vanilla Bean Bourbon Barrel Stout

Checkers Bistro and Avery Vanilla Bean Bourbon Barrel Stout

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

 Iron Hill Brewing

Iron Hill Brewing

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 11

Schneider Weisse Adventinus Weizenbock Tap 6

While this beer doesn't have Christmas or Winter in its name, this is a classic winter wheat beer. This is such a great Christmas-season beer because this style traditionally was a seasonal beer, brewed in the cool season, up until Spring, then put away until the cool season later in the year. Plus, it perfectly fits the Christmas beer profile, full of flavor, ruby color and higher ABV. 

The Beer

The Schneider Weisse website is in Germany (there is the option for translations to English). 

...full-bodied, dark ruby-colored... warming, balanced and soft. The oldest weizdock in Bavaria - since 1907! Its powerful body in combination with its malty sweetness offers real depth - a brilliant combination, perfectly tasty. Fits well to hearty, dark roasts and sweet desserts.

Schneider Weisse Tap 6 Unser Aventinus scores a 96 points (world class) on Beer Advocate.

The Weizenbock Beer Style

The German's are proud of their language and its proper usage, so they off the correct pronunciation as ”veye-tssen-bock"

German Beer Institute states, "Comparable to the barley-based regular Bockbier (see there) a Weizenbock is the strong version of an unfiltered Weissbier or Hefeweizen. It is usually made with 60 to 70% wheat malt (German law requires that a Weizenbier, regardless of strength, be made from at least 50% wheat). The other 30 to 40% tend to be so-called Pils, Vienna or Munich malts. These are pale to amber, and sometimes slightly caramelized barley malts that give the beer a full-bodied mouthfeel, a rich and satisfying malty finish, and—depending on the barley malt's color—a more or less opaque appearance. While regular Bockbiers are lagers, Weizenbocks are all ales. They are fermented with a special yeast that gives the brew a slightly spicy, clove-like flavor." 

Beer Advocate offers a great description for this beer style. 

A more powerful Dunkel Weizen (of "bock strength"), with a pronounced estery alcohol character, perhaps some spiciness from this, and bolder and more complex malt characters of dark fruits.

All About Beer

Few beers combine so exquisitely several different stylistic profiles as does weizenbock. Bavarian hefeweizen and dunkelweizen are known primarily for their natural haze, yeasty texture and extraordinary palette of top-fermentation products. Weizenbock expresses all the banana, clove and vanilla aromas and flavors of its less formidable brethren. These are tempered by a firm background of malt.

TAP6 Unser Aventinus is brewed in Kelheim, Bavaria, part of the Schneider Weisse portfolio. Its has the claim as Germany’s original “wheat doppelbock.” The foggy mahogany hue is topped with a creamy beige head. The aroma bustles with banana, raisin, chocolate, cherry and licorice. This is followed by earthy flavors and dessert-like spiced banana bread, molasses and malt. 

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 10

Schlafly Christmas Ale

All the senses will be filled with this Christmas beer. Spices, high ABV, gorgeous mahogany color. Schlafly is Missouri's oldest and largest craft brewery, right in the heart of St Louis and beyond.

The Schlafly Tap Room first opened its doors in 1991 and proudly holds the distinction of being the first new brewpub in Missouri since Prohibition.

CHRISTMAS ALE is a warming winter ale that blends the spices of the season with sweet caramel malt.  Orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom and cloves are added for spiciness.  We use honey in the fermentation process, which raises the ABV without producing too much heat from the alcohol content.

Many breweries produce richer, higher alcohol beers for the winter holiday season, bolder than their year-round offerings.   The inspiration for this beer came from spiced holiday beverages such as wassail and mulled wines. Around the holidays, the sweet and spicy aromas, not to mention the booze, in such libations tend to smooth the rougher edges of enjoying each other’s company and spreading goodwill.

Available: November-December

ABV:   8.0%   |   IBU:   30   

APPEARANCE: Deep copper, bright
PROCESS: Spiced with orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom and cloves
HOPS: Magnum (PL)
GRAINS : Pale, Caramel, Munich, Chocolate, Honey
YEAST: American Ale
SRM: 30

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 9

The Bruery 9 Ladies Dancing

This is one of the classic Christmas-season beers that should be on every beer lovers short list. Each year has been a different day from the song —The Twelve Days of Christmas — with a beer-take on that particular verse. As stated in The Bruery’s own description, this ninth edition is based on the Italian dessert ladyfingers.

THE BRUERY 9 LADIES DANCING — This beery homage to the classic Christmas song, 12 Days of Christmas began in 2008. Then, A Partridge in a Pear Tree was just the first in the 12 Days/Years of Christmas Series. That beer has since been retired as have many others in this series. So, if you want to try this beer, first hurry, because supplies are dwendling, and also, it won't be reproduced next year... And perhaps not for another 12 years.

Here’s a pick me up for the latest verse in our Twelve Days of Christmas series. Inspired by flavors and ingredients found in tiramisu, including ladyfingers, 9 Ladies Dancing mimics the Italian dessert by whipping together flavor combinations and layers of its own. This includes notes of vanilla, chocolate and coffee – clearly the leading ladies in this rich, dessert-like beer.

Food Pairing: Sartori Espresso BellaVitano cheese, roast turkey with bacon-cranberry chutney, spiced parsnip and sweet potato mash. The cotillion plus one. A bite of tiramisu.

TWITTER#12BeersOfChristmas

 

 

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 8

Flying Dog Naughty and Nice

The first reference to this pair of yin yang beers was from 2015 Christmas season. The names make reference to your Christmas list and whether what gifts Santa will be bringing youth is year. He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find our who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus… la , la, la… You know the rest.

In 2015, the Naughty beer was Belgian-Style Dark Ale brewed with cinnamon, star anise, orange peel and habanero peppers for a bold mix of heat, citrus and spice.  Any, yes, it was hot. 

For 2016, Flying Dog has come back with their Naughty as a Egg Nog Ale “with subtle sweetness and a palate full of holiday spice and bourbon, this beer can standalone as your dessert course all season long.”

The 2015 Nice was a Golden Ale that paid tribute to the Belgian brewers. It had a fruity nose and was a bit sweet and crisp. From feedback, many chose to be Nice rather than Naughty in 2015.

The 2016 Nice edition has changed directions again to quite friendly quaff, a Holiday Milk Stout.  

The beauty with of this pair is you win either way, you can be naughty and nice and enjoy the results.

Naughty

With subtle sweetness and a palate full of holiday spice and bourbon, this beer can standalone as your dessert course all season long. adding cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla beans into an ale that even Belsnickel could find enjoyment in. This 8.4% ABV treat is also a great pregame beer for any Naughty holiday activities, so let the vicious cycle continue.

ALCOHOL BY VOLUME: 8.4%

AVAILABILITY: Mid-November

HOP BITTERNESS: 25 IBU

SPECIALTY MALTS: Oats

HOPS: Perle

YEAST: Chico

Nice

Slight sweetness from the lactose follows behind a rich chocolate malt profile. Give this nicety a whirl with creamy cheeses like brie and camembert or with dark chocolate desserts.

ALCOHOL BY VOLUME: 7.3%

AVAILABILITY: Mid-November

HOP BITTERNESS: 20 IBU

SPECIALTY MALTS: Roasted Barley, Chocolate, Caramel, Oats

HOPS: Perle

YEAST: Chico

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 7

St Bernardus Christmas Ale

While not one of the official Trappist breweries, St Bernardus, none the less, is a great abbey-style brewery with many favorite beers in their offerings. Their famous Abt 12 is rated 98 points and the Christmas Ale is not far from it at 93 points on Beer Advocate. Like many winter seasonal beers, this is a high alcohol content at 10% ABV beer so caution is given.

Shortly after the Second World War, the Trappist Monastery St.Sixtus in Westvleteren was looking for somebody to commercialise their beer because they did not want to do that themselves anymore.

They gave a license to the cheesefactory, and Brewery St.Bernard was founded. The brew master from Westvleteren, Mathieu Szafranski (from Polish origin) became a partner in the brewery and brought along the recipes, the know-how and the St.Sixtus yeast strain.

We started selling the trappist beers under the brand names Trappist Westvleteren, St.Sixtus or even later Sixtus.

During a period of 46 years we brewed and commercialised the beers, while the monks continued to brew for themselves and for sales to 3 pubs in the neighbourhood, amongst which In De Vrede, just next to the monastery.

In 1992 the license came to an end and since then we are brewing the same beers, with the same recipes, but under a different brand name: St.Bernardus.
— St Bernardus website

ST BERNARDUS CHRISTMAS ALE is a dark seasonal brewed in the classic 'Quadrupel' style of Belgium's best Abbey Ales. (10,0 % ABV) Similar to all the beers from our brewery, it greets the drinker with the signature aroma of the St.Bernardus house yeast strain (in use since 1946!) Rivaling the complexity of the St.Bernardus Abt 12, St.Bernardus Christmas Ale offers a spicy, mint-like flavor profile exuding the tastes of warming alcohol, fermented molasses, apricots, licorice and marzipan that are highlighted by the perfect balance of brewing sugars. The perfect companion to enjoy a cold winter evening, with or without the company of your friends!

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 6

Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo

While this beer has been on many of my lists, it must be included as a Christmas beer as well. The spruce flavors and aroma is nothing short of drinking in a Christmas tree.

While DFH describes it as “sessional”, at 7.5% ABV I'm not sure that qualifies by definition, but it certainly does by drinkability. Spruce in a beer may not be for everyone, but I still remember my first full drink and finishing my first bottle and thinking, “That was not enough, I want another one”. And by my definition, that does qualify as a sessionable beer.

DOGFISH HEAD PENNSYLVANIA TUXEDO — A spruce-infused pale ale, Pennsylvania Tuxedo pays homage to the flannel-suited hunters and gatherers who dwell deep in the backcountry of north-central PA. A dry yet doughy malt backbone lets the hops and spruce shine while still balancing out the bitterness, making this one an easy sipper.

Brewed in collaboration with family-run outdoor clothing company Woolrich, Pennsylvania Tuxedo is a sessionable concoction with a grassy citrus kick complemented by the resinous conifer notes of fresh green spruce tips. We went into the forests of north-central Pennsylvania and Georgetown, DE, to pick these fresh tips ourselves.

ABV: 8.5
IBU: 50
Release: November
Original Release Date: 2014
STYLE: Pale Ale

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 5

Sierra Nevada Celebration

While many beers associated with Winter or Christmas time are big in alcohol and spice, Celebration moves in another direction and is actually an American IPA or as the label states, “Fresh Hop Ale”.

The start of Celebration season is a festive event. We can’t start brewing until the first fresh hops have arrived, but once they have the season is officially under way! First brewed in 1981, Celebration Ale is one of the earliest examples of an American-style IPA and one of the few hop-forward holiday beers. Famous for its intense citrus and pine aromas, Celebration is bold and intense, featuring Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops—honoring everything we have at Sierra Nevada.

FRESH HOPS are the freshest dried hops to come from the fields, typically within seven days of harvest. Over 90% of the world’s hop harvest happens between August 31 and October 31, and these hops are used throughout the calendar year. Can hops possibly be the same on November 1, one day after harvest, as they are on July 25, nearly one year after growing in the fields? The answer is no. We think of hops like dry kitchen spices—the flavor of thyme or rosemary right after the jar is opened is far more intense than it is six months later. The same can be said for hops. There are ways to control the way hops age and to reformulate and readjust as some of the aromas fade, but there’s nothing like the magic of the first bales of hops as fresh as can be.

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 4

Stone Enjoy By 12.25.16

Stone has served as the epitome of west coast IPAs, big, bold and very hoppy. Over the past few years, a new IPA style has gathered much of the beer drinkers imagination, commonly know as New England IPA.

The one key characteristic of this new take on IPA is that is it unfiltered—meaning you'll find yeast and other particulates flowing around in your beer. Brewers like to borrow from each other and we beer drinkers are the beneficiaries.

The Stone Enjoy By series are released a few times a year. They want the buyer/drinker to focus on the fact that IPAs, as a rule, are meant to be enjoyed as fresh as possible. Therefore, Stone puts it right on the label, Enjoy By… In this case, Christmas.

STONE BREWING ENJOY BY 12.25.16 — In most cases, skipping a step is a bad thing. Not this time. This version of Stone Enjoy By IPA omits the part where we filter out the extra yeast, hop sediment and proteins that build up in beer as a natural result of the brewing process. Though it may sound like it, this missed step was no misstep. By letting this IPA go unfiltered, its peach and tropical fruit hop flavors are amplified while its golden-hued color takes on a hazy appearance. Like its filtered counterpart, this IPA is brewed specifically NOT to last, and is shipped immediately to ensure hopheads get their hands on it as soon as possible.

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 3

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome Ale

Winter Warmers are traditional seasonal beer and Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome is a classic. Beer Advocate has this to say about this beer style. 

The History of Winter Welcome

Throughout history, beer of somewhat higher alcohol and richness has been enjoyed for the winter holidays, when old friends get together to enjoy the season. Wassail, a festival to celebrate winter and the beer that goes with it, predates the Christian era. Winter Welcome is vintage-dated with a special label each year, and was first shipped to the US in 1990 - it was the first imported winter seasonal beer. Serve in a traditional Sam Smith tulip or nonik glass for the holidays.

TASTING NOTES

Taste: Honey-amber colored, creamy head of small bubbles, floral aroma and delicious caramel malt flavor with great finesse. Fine hop aroma finish and a fruity note from fermentation in open-topped stone "Yorkshire Squares."

Food Pairing: Roast goose, smoked turkey with oyster dressing, rack of lamb, candied yams, Smithfield hams, fresh pears and apples, Christmas cake. Serve in crystal tumblers, or traditional Yorkshire tulip or nonik pint glasses.

These malty sweet offerings tend to be a favorite winter seasonal. Big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon.

BeerAdvocate offers a description on this traditional seasonal beer style. Many English versions contain no spices, though some brewers of spiced winter seasonal ales will slap "Winter Warmer" on the label. Those that are spiced, tend to follow the "wassail" tradition of blending robust ales with mixed spices, before hops became the chief "spice" in beer. American varieties many have a larger presences of hops both in bitterness and flavor.

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 2

Anchor Christmas Ale

This is probably the most iconic Christmas beer. Really, this has been a tradition for 42 years. Each year a different beer, each year a different tree. That is TRADITION! And as a professional forester, trees have a special place in my life… as does beer of course.

2016 Anchor Christmas Ale. New tree. New recipe. Same traditions. 

A deliciously smooth winter warmer with notes of seasonal spices and a malty backbone, our 2016 Christmas Ale marks the 42nd annual release of this celebrated Anchor tradition.

It is sold only from early November to mid–January. The Ale's recipe is different every year—as is the tree on the label—but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. With a heavily guarded, secret recipe, Christmas Ale is a highly anticipated seasonal delight, complex and full in flavor with a velvety texture and alluring, yet subtle, spiced aroma.

The tree for 2016 is the “1,000 Mile Tree” or the lone pine found during westbound construction of the transcontinental railroad. Discovered in 1869, it was a lone pine amidst a vast and desolate landscape. The tree on this year’s label was hand-drawn by Bay Area artist James Stitt, who has been creating Anchor’s Christmas Ale labels since 1975. His charming illustration of the 1,000 Mile Tree includes a person at the top of the tree with a mug of beer, honoring an old legend that railway passengers sometimes attempted to climb the tree.

The 2016 Christmas Ale is a deep mahogany brown with a creamy, tan head and boasts aromas of fruitcake, molasses, and fresh cut wood. The beer tastes of a roasted caramel malt, with notes of spiced chocolate and nuts. And it has a rich, smooth, and velvety mouthfeel. Every year the Anchor brewers look forward to formulating a new Christmas Ale recipe and tasting the fruits of their labors. We are always excited to please beer fans with its ever-changing recipe and label. Cheers from the Anchor brewers!

Twelve Beers of Christmas: Day 1

Troegs Mad Elf

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" (Wikipedia) is an English Christmas carol that enumerates in the manner of a cumulative song a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (the twelve days after Christmas). The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin. 

THE SET-UP

You may have seen a few of these juxapositions of the ye olde Christmas song singing out twelve days and twelve gifts of Christmas. Since beer is one of my favorite gifts to get and gift, I have been compelled to offer up my list—in of course, twelve offerings.

DAY ONE — Troegs Mad Elf

... perhaps not exactly a turtle dove but a great beer and a classic Christmas beer. Mad Elf, what more needs to be said. Another much anticipated seasonal favorite. Big flavors with Pennsylvania Honey and West Coast Cherries. Again, as with many winter seasonal beers, this one is big on ABV at 11%. Warning, if you want to enjoy this one you best buy early and be disciplined since it may not be available by Christmas quaffing comes around.

The holidays at Tröegs start with our inner Mad Elf momentarily taking over the brew deck. So blame “him” for this cheerful ruby red creation reminiscent of ripened cherries, raw honey and cocoa with notes of cinnamon, clove and allspice.

SPECIFICATIONS

ABV 11% | 15 IBU
Malt: Chocolate, Munich, Pilsner
Hops: Hallertau, Saaz
Yeast: Spicy Belgian
Color: Ruby Red

Beer or Shakes

I was listening to an audiobook — in the flow — when suddenly the author described the condition of an author of the 1927 era who had suffered from delirium tremens. Whoa! — sound of a needle dragging across a vinyl record. Stop! Now I know that beer but not the “condition”. 

A quick trip to Wikipedia was required and thus resulted in my continuing education. That condition the author had described — delirium tremens — is what I've always known as the DTs. 

So what is the connection? Is there one? Of course there is!

About the Condition

The DTs is the shaking withdrawal one experiences after stopping a drinking binge.  I have been there once, but that story is for another time. And one of its nicknames is elephants. A sad joke or cleaver beer name — you decide. Here is some further information if you should want to know. 

The name delirium tremens was first used in 1813; however, the symptoms were well described since the 1700s. The word "delirium" is Latin for "going off the furrow," a plowing metaphor. It is also called shaking frenzy and Saunders-Sutton syndrome. Nicknames also include barrel-fever, blue horrors, bottleache, bats, drunken horrors, elephants, gallon distemper, quart mania, pink spiders, among others.

About the Beer

As mentioned, I've only known Delirium Tremens as a superb Belgian beer. Or so I thought. It's label is distinguished by bright blue background with dancing pink elephants. Someone once mentioned to me they'd never bought the beer because they thought it was a "girly" beer because of those pink elephants. Just to assure you in case you are unsure, it is an excellent beer choice for all boys and girls. 

Huyghe Brewery is the Dutch brewery founded in 1906 by Leon Huyghe in city of Melle in East Flanders, Belgium. Its "flagship" beer is the Delirium Tremens, a golden ale often rated as one of the best beers in the world. The brewery does produce other fine beers that you can find on good beer store shelves, the dark Delirium Nocturnum, the seasonal Delirium Christmas, the Delirium Red fruit beer and Deliria, but Delirium Tremens is the most common.

Perhaps the beginning of its global fame, Delirium Tremens was named as "Best Beer in the World" in 2008 at the World Beer Championships in Chicago, Illinois. Plus, Stuart Kallen gives it the number one spot in his book, The 50 Greatest Beers in the World.

The fine people at Beer Tourism offer a nice write up of this beer, its genesis and ingredients. 

The Delirium Tremens was born in 1988 at the request of an Italian client. This beer is an outsider. Its white bottle is reminiscent of Cologne pottery ware.
On the label you will see pink elephants, crocodiles and dragons depicting the various stages of inebriation you might expect to go through after a few glasses. The name was invented by a tax inspector, of all people, as he became aware of slowly-approaching intoxication. Delirium Tremens hits the spot as far as many beer lovers are concerned. Its production alone represents almost a third of the brewery’s total volume.

Conclusion

So, try some pink elephant beer and I assure you that you won't regret it. And my hope is that you never suffer the other Delirium Tremens. 

Beer on the Road: New Orleans

New Orleans Beer Notes

In August 2015, I was able to tag along with my wife during a business trip to New Orleans, LA. NOLA is one of those special places with a legend, a reputation and mystery. Talking with friends about the upcoming trip I was told there are three things that characterize NOLA: great food, great music and debauchery. Hum, sounds about right. But I learned there was so much more.

I got my first glimpse of NOLA beer scene at the Brewers Association SAVOR event in Washington DC. SAVOR: an American Craft Beer and Food Event, is the most classy beer event I've ever attended. It attracts some of the best beers in the country, all coming together to showcase there beers paired with foods. Plus, the salons (themed talks) it is a night to cherish and remember. You can later download the talks for later learning. This is where I was first introduced to NOLA beers.

 NOLA Brewing Co at SAVOR 2015

NOLA Brewing Co at SAVOR 2015

Getting Around the Big Easy

I arrived in New Orleans with a general idea of some beer places I wanted to experience. Really for the most part, my calendar was fluid. Our hotel was within easy walking distance to the French Quarter, but the August weather of NOLA is brutal, with temps near 95°F everyday with about the same degree of humidity. I've wanted to try out Uber for some time and the program had just come to NO a few months earlier. Some may have had issues with this private-driver taxi service, but every ride I had during my time there was only an excellent, comfortable and convenient experience. On one day I had taken four Uber rides to get from one beer establishment to another and then on to dinner that evening.

Crescent City Brewhouse

New Orleans has many nicknames, one of which is the Crescent City. This moniker alludes to the course of the Lower Mississippi River as it moves around and through the city. And thus, this oldest of NO brewers takes its name from this.

In 1991, the Crescent City Brewhouse opened on the site, bringing New Orleans and Louisiana its first brewpub. This represented a revival of the brewing industry that once flourished in the immediate area, and the first brewery to open in more than 72 years.
— http://www.crescentcitybrewhouse.com/history.html

Crescent City Brewhouse is located in the heart of the French Quarter at 527 Decatur St, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130-1027. Decatur Street is a-buzz of activity that demands your attention. Music, street performers, shops, food and the river close by. This is where you find the legendary Cafe Du Monde, the iconic New Orleans cafe known for café au laits, chicory coffee & beignets. As you walk in front of the Crescent City Brewhouse, its the jazz that first gets your attention. Its when you get close enough you realize their is a band playing.  

The setting is irresistible and I must go inside. I need a cool beer and some lunch. The cool jazz band is playing comfortably in the front, friendly inviting in those off the street as they did me. This is an excellent cool background to a cool brew. The Creole Queen paddlewheel sits in the distance view.  The Mississippi River is right there.

I ordered the grilled oysters for lunch. Being from the Chesapeake Bay area, I always try the local oyster fare to test against ours. To get the most of the CCB beers i ordered their monthly special brown ale. Everything was poured into the Hefeweizen-style vase glass, which I've always found to be a very sexy glass. It paired well with the grilled oysters which I found very nice. 

To get the best range of their beers I ordered a four-sample paddle. I found the Pilsner pleasant and refreshing. The Hefeweizen, as I've come to expect is a great summer drink but not as characteristically full as German offerings. The Red Stallion is their signature beer. Its a Vienna lager in style, malty sweet. The last brew was the Black Forest, a black lager which I found to be a bit thin but tasty. 

NOLA Brewing

I leave Crescent City Brewing quite satisfied but yet very hungry, wanting to take in as much of this city as I can with the time I have here. My wife is at her conference and I get to play beer geek for the day. I must not squander this opportunity been given to me. Uber please!

NOLA Brewing is a bit of a ride from downtown, really only about a 13 minute ride but too far to walk on a sultry NO summer day. As usual, my Uber is quick to arrive and quick to get me there. He pulls up, I get out in front of the taproom, and zoom he is gone. NO beer, round two.

The taproom is nice but unassuming. People are enjoying their beer and the place is busy. Another paddle was in order and they had a lot of great sounding beers to choose from. 

 NOLA Brewing taproom

NOLA Brewing taproom

The Coffee Birth sounded interesting—a coffee infused IPA. It certainly lived up to expectations, full of coffee notes which made drinking this light amber-colored beer a bit confusing.  Of course, who could pass up a Buffalo Stout, a buffalo trace barrel aged. Full of bourbon and as black as night. Real nice! Hopitoulas IPA, their mainstream IPA. Lower Line Sour was tart and refreshing without being overpoweringly sour. A great beer for this place and time.

 NOLA sampler

NOLA sampler

Rouses Market

I enjoy trying local beers when traveling. Sometimes is may be difficult to find the right bottle shop to be able to bring back local beer prizes. Rouses Market on Poydras St, was an easy walk from our hotel and has a good selection of local beers. NOLA, Parish Brewing, Abita, Bayou Tech (another brewery discovered at SAVOR). Not only did they have great foods to order but was a nice grocery store, too. They are located at 701 Baronne St, New Orleans, LA  70113-1005. Definitely recommended for beers to drink while staying in NO or for taking home.

The Trillist

A good source for information on the NO beer scene was the iPhone app and local resource website, The Trillist, they had many good New Orleans recommendations for local food and drink.

Final Thoughts

There are so many great beer places in New Orleans it is humanly impossible to drink your way through the city in a week. So, therefore I have an excellent reason to come back. Besides all that is Bourbon St and the Red Dress Run, I loved the food, the drink, the culture very much. I will be back!

There's a Tree in My Beer

 Dogfish Head's Pennsylvania Tuxedo brewed with spruce tips

Dogfish Head's Pennsylvania Tuxedo brewed with spruce tips

When you think of winter beers several things may come to mind. For me, its the special seasonal releases like the Anchor Steam Christmas Ale (a 41-year tradition this year) or Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome — always a seasonal favorite. Of course there are many others that likely bring back memories or invoke pleasant sensations. And then there are the traditional seasonal ingredients added to many winter beers — fruits, spices, honey. And the ABV often gets a bump, too. Like all beer seasonal releases, it brings a beery anticipation. Now, there are countless reviews available on winter releases—I particularly enjoyed Tom Bedell's 12 Beers of Christmas, where for the last three years he has "taken on the agreeable task of writing about a dozen holiday beers or winter warmers, one a day (or late into the night)".  But I want to take you to another place. Let's take an unfamiliar path through the forest and see what is waiting for us there.

I want to discuss just one beer and probably not one you think of as a Winter beer. But wait! What is more Winter-like than the Christmas tree. And for many of us the tree of choice is a spruce tree. See where I'm going with this?

I've read about the American colonists using spruce tips in brewing their beer. As someone within an interest in tree things, this caught my fancy. Then in December 2014, I found a local beer in Madison WI that was a spruce tip beer. I tried it to satisfy my curiosity. Yup, no doubt, it had a tree quality about it. Done! It was interesting but I didn't need another one. Then a few months later I saw the Yards’ Tavern Spruce on the bottle shop shelf. Again, tried it, curiosity was satisfied but I didn't need another.  

Then I saw the Dogfish Head Pennsylvania Tuxedo. Anyone that has had more than one of DFH beers knows that they live up to their motto of "Off-Centered-Beers-For-Off-Centered-People". You are use to getting wild and crazy ingredients from the four corners of the world in you beer. Hey, its DFH, sometimes its great and sometimes — well lets say its just not my style. So, another spruce tip beer? Why not?

"It's like biting into a Christmas tree!"

I grabbed a four-pack, got home and poured one. Oooh, this is interesting. It's like biting into a Christmas tree, but without the tinsel. I loved the flash of tree-like quality, but this time it was well balanced and quite enjoyable. One is not enough, I want another. I raved to my beer geek buddies about this and they (mostly) had the same reaction. This was the first beer in some time that my reaction was "one is not enough,"

The DFH Background

Here is what the Dogfish has to say about their beer. "A spruce-infused 8.5% ABV Pale Ale. Brewed in collaboration with Family Run outerwear company in Woolrich, our two like-mined companies came together to make this beer with Pacific Northwest hop varieties to make a sessionable concoction with a grassy citrus kick complimented by the resinous conifer qualities of fresh green Spruce Tips.

"Brewed in collaboration with family-run outdoor clothing company Woolrich, Pennsylvania Tuxedo is a sessionable concoction with a grassy citrus kick complemented by the resinous conifer notes of fresh green spruce tips. We went into the forests of north-central Pennsylvania and Georgetown, Del., to pick these fresh tips ourselves. A dry yet doughy malt backbone lets the hops and spruce shine while still balancing out the bitterness, making this one an easy sipper."

Expert Opinion

For some reason I expected the beer boards at BeerAdvocate and Untappd to be as crazy about this beer as much as I was. I guess I'm old enough and just wise enough to really know better. If you pay any attention to the beer rating sites, you know reviews can be all over the place and often coming from (frankly) unqualified tasters. If you realize that these are merely someones opinion and thats all, then you can relax and enjoy your beer. Beer reviews are a mixed lot as mentioned in the All About Beer article of July 2015, Beer Reviews All About Beer The Agony and Ecstasy of Beer Reviews.

Someone with an educated opinion will try a beer and ask “does it taste how it’s supposed to” before reviewing. A novice drinker will rate solely based on how they like it. I see a lot of reviews on Untappd where people will give a beer a low rating and in the comment say it’s because they don’t like the style.

There are no beer experts, just beer drinkers with opinions
— Jason Alstrom, a founder of BeerAdvocate.com

The collective gave it 84 pts at BeerAdvocate while The Bros gave it a 90pt rating. I agree with The Bros. Untappd has is posted at 4-Stars, which is higher than when I first posted my review there. I was a bit concerned but it seems this beer has caught on. I attributed the early lower scores to the fact that spruce was not the taste for many of the hop-heads.

The beer rating article mentioned early may explain some of this thinking, "Someone with an educated opinion will try a beer and ask “does it taste how it’s supposed to” before reviewing. A novice drinker will rate solely based on how they like it. I see a lot of reviews on Untappd where people will give a beer a low rating and in the comment say it’s because they don’t like the style."

As for tasting an unusual ingredient such as hops, it says, "we’re seeing more and more brewers color outside of the lines — my feeling is that they should be as free as chefs to do so." Now isn't that the reason we are enjoying so many excellent beers today, brewers are taking some chances and getting excellent responses and kudos from the craft beer community.

Spruce As A Beer Ingredient

If you'd like to learn more about spruce as an ingredient in beer, here are two excellent sources.

The Oxford Companion to Beer is always an great source for information on beer history, styles and ingredients. About spruce in beer from Garrett Oliver's beer compendium... 

"The green shoots at the tips of the branches of evergreens, can be harvested in spring and used as a flavoring in beer. To the taste they are far less resinous than the more mature needles and twigs (although these can be used as well, to harsher effect) and even somewhat citrusy. When boiled in water they can provide either simple flavoring to the brewing liquor or, if further concentrated, an essence to be added to the ferment, as appears in recipes for spruce and pine ales dating as far back as the 17th century. It is reported that in 1769 when Captain James Cook landed in New Zealand, it was with beer on board made with a mash of spruce tips, a beverage with an added antiscorbutic element. Like many beers brewed with ingredients alternative to imported British malt and hops, evergreen-flavored beers were common in colonial American brewing, often combining with molasses as the primary fermentable."  Oliver, Garrett; Colicchio, Tom (2011-09-09). The Oxford Companion to Beer (Oxford University Press.

The Drunken Botanist is another fun information source on where our the ingredients for all kinds of "spiritual" drinks. If you are the person that likes to get a bit deeper on topics of your passion, then this is a handy reference to keep close. Ben Franklin has been associated with this special beer ingredient and the Yard's Spruce Tavern does have his face on its packaging. 

"Recipes for spruce beer were abundant in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century journals. Benjamin Franklin is widely credited with creating a recipe for the beer— but it wasn’t his invention. While he was ambassador to France, he copied several recipes from a cookbook called The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, written by a woman named Hannah Glasse in 1747. He never meant to take credit for her recipe; he simply copied it for his personal use. Nonetheless, it was found among his papers, and the story that one of the Founding Fathers created a recipe for spruce beer was too good to resist. Modern re-creations of the recipe credit him alone, not Hannah Glasse." Stewart, Amy (2013-03-19). The Drunken Botanist. Algonquin Books.

Summary

While the DFH Pennsylvania Tuxedo may not be the first beer you think of as a winter seasonal beer, its special ingredient of spruce tips does make a compelling connection. I think, and hope, this becomes a regular seasonal release for Dogfish Head. While I still have a couple in my fridge, I know they won't last long.

Beer on the Road: Albany

Beer Reconnoitering

When I travel to a new town I try to do some research ahead so I have at least a few places I want to visit. One of the best sources is BeerAdvocate website, searching "Places" by city. I typically have a few goals, one is to bring back some bottles of beers that don't ship to my area. BA says that the best places in Albany to solve this issue was Oliver's Beverage Center.

Oliver's Beverage Center

By the time I arrived at Oliver's I had only 15 minutes before closing, so I needed to be efficient. I was not disappointed, they had all the good stuff on display as I walked in, but I was looking deeper. Having been reading about aging beers I focused on some barleywines and imperial stouts by recognized great breweries such as Sierra Nevada. I also was able to pick up a few from local breweries I didn't know but styles I've enjoyed. Plus, the bottles just looked good with the cork-and-cage. Stay tuned for a future writing on the success of my choices.

The Merry Monk

 The Merry Monk, Albany NY

The Merry Monk, Albany NY

An establishment with the name of all-things-Belgian-beer it has to be good. Plus, the BA for The Merry Monk told me it was a place to have my first meal and beer. The pub food was beyond the classic choices. I ordered the hand-made salmon burger with roasted brussels sprouts and was not disappointed. 

The beer was excellent, many local belgian-styles like Ommegang. Oh I'll have a Ghent Bhent from Chatham Brewing from Chatham NY. A flight is always a favorite method to maximize tasting opportunities. Ommegang Rare Vos and Abbey Ale, Burly Monk by another local Common Roots Brewing in Glenn Falls NY and finally the night cap was a Vicaris Winter Ale by Brouwerji Dielewyns in Belgium. Simply beautiful. And to boot, my hotel was within a fine-minute walk.

Olde English Pub

 Olde English Pub, Albany NY

Olde English Pub, Albany NY

Of course the best way to find great beer in an unfamiliar town is from a trusted fellow beer geek living in the area. 

So at our hosts recommendation we went to the Olde English pub, which is nicely tucked away into an old house that's been converted to an English style pub. Dark and warm, a friendly old pub with a painting of Churchill over the mantle watching your every move kind of charming. They had wonderful array of English beers, many that I've not had before, and some old favorites such as the Samuel Smith collection. I had a new beer that I knew of but not tried, Morland's Old Speckled Hen. The beer of the evening was Fuller's London Porter. Deep, roasty, full of malt-forward flavors. I'm too use to the American hoppy versions of the style, but the English varieties are a welcome diversion that I want to try more of.

The Albany Pump Station & Evans Brewing

 Albany Pump Station & Evans Brewing Co, Albany NY

Albany Pump Station & Evans Brewing Co, Albany NY

Then we walker around the corner to Evans Brewing and Albany Pumping Station. This was a huge old warehouse brick building that was once the old pump house that would pump water from the Hudson River to the top of the hill where it could be distributed for use in the city of Albany. It now serves as the location for Evans Brewing and have done an incredible job turning into a beautiful eatery and brewpub. The group settled on the Kick-ass Brown which according to the banners draped on the walls had won a Gold metal at the Great American Beer Festival.

The Ruck in Troy

 The Ruck, Troy NY

The Ruck, Troy NY

The thing about being a beer geek is that we have a way of finding each other. It's perhaps a bird-of-a-feather kinda thing. But its a beautiful thing with much merit. Life lesson: if you have not declared your beer geek status, go now, shout it out loud where ever you are. So I'd mentioned to a colleague with family in Vermont that I was hoping to find some Hill Farmstead beer, but understand that they don't leave the state. The night before he had dinner with his sister living in Albany and she knew of this place — well you can guess the rest. The Ruck in Troy NY, was just ten minutes up the road was serving Hill's plus they had vertical tastings of both 2013 and 2015 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barleywine 2014 and 2015. Yes!

It was all I'd hoped for. If I lived in Troy we would be best friends. They were pouring the Hill's Double Galaxy DIPA plus the Conduct of Life pale ale. I had to experience both Hill's and the BCS vertical, but the Bigfoot samples were a bridge too far. Hey, I have a liver to think about. I wish I had more time to spend here and take in more of their incredible beer selections. It was obvious they take beer seriously. But alas, I had to meet friends for dinner and I was already late. If I'm ever back in their neighborhood, I will be sure that there is more time for The Ruck.

The Pearl St Pub

 Pearl St Pub, Albany NY

Pearl St Pub, Albany NY

Dinner was a capricious decision and as we walked down Pearl St the Pearl St Pub caught our fancy. Well the salmon BLT was thick but the beer choices was thin. The Davidson Brothers brown ale was a good beer, but to be fair, it didn't have a chance just having the Bourbon County Stouts. 

So I left Albany with many great beer memories but still so many beery places that must be left until next time.