What We Did On Our Summer Vacation – Salem Massachusetts

With previous years revolving around trips to big destinations (Key West, New Orleans) this year we decided (or maybe the decision was made for us) to scale down the vacation and after what seemed like very little back and forth, we decided to spend a week in Salem Massachusetts.

Why? I don’t know, I’ve always been drawn to Salem and its infamous place in history, witchcraft and paranormal subjects have always interested me and to be honest, once we started looking into Salem we found that there are other cool things to do there besides just visit witch shops.  And as you might suspect, one of them was beer.

True, the town is most notably known for the witch trials of 1692 in which 20 falsely accused people were killed, and numerous families were destroyed.  But beyond that, Salem has a rich history that makes it a destination that will delight not only those interested in the witch trails, but those interested in history, literature and architecture.

So with that in mind, I though I’d run down some of the things we found interesting during our trip, both history- and beer-wise alike. If you’re not overly interested in the non-culinary aspects of this historic town, you can scroll down to just below the first gallery of pictures. Let’s start with a quick overview.

While the city of  Salem may cover a little over 18 square miles, its sights are actually close enough that staying in a hotel near Essex Street will put you within walking distance of many of the attractions the city has to offer.  Be advised that many of the shops in Salem will close down at 5pm (maybe later on the weekends) leaving not much of night life.  But the restaurants remain open until late, and as long as you got your tickets earlier, you can enjoy many of the guided tours that travel through the streets of Salem at night.  Also of note, pedestrians have the right of way in all but the biggest of street intersections as long as you stay within the designated crosswalks. If you ever get lost (not likely) you can always just follow the red tour line painted on the sidewalks which will eventually get you to your destination, or if you’re tired of walking, check out the get one/get off trolley that runs consistently around the town.  So what’s there to see in Salem?  We’d recommend:

1) The Salem Harbor Area.  Salem at one time was one of the largest and busiest sea ports in the US.  Thriving off of a very brisk  and lucrative trade with China (there’s even a fountain dedicated to this in the Essex Square), the city grew very prosperous as local traders and ship captains grew to be some of the wealthiest in the nation.  Unfortunately, the harbor is shallow, and grew out of favor with trade merchants as the ships they sailed got bigger causing captains to start favoring bigger ports like New York and Boston.

Here you can take part in a self guided tour of the Old Custom House and see what it was like to work the trade industry in Salem at the height of its prosperity. You should also take a few minutes and walk on the deck of the Friendship, a reconstruction of a 171-foot three-masted East Indiaman trading ship which is still used to train US sailors for duty aboard the US Constitution, which many people don’t know is still a commissioned vessel and the flag ship of the US Navy.

While here, make sure you take the tour of the House of the Seven Gables.  The 1667 mansion was once owned by the Ingersoll family, whose member Susannah was cousin to noted American author Nathaniel Hawthorne.  From stories that Susannah told, Hawthorne wrote his house-titled classic, his third novel which followed his popular Scarlett Letter.

You can now tour the house, which has been reconstructed over the years (at the time Nathaniel visited the house had been remodeled and only had three gables, the removed gables were not restored until 1908) including the work of a later owner to tie the construction into several scenes depicted in Hawthorn’s novel, including a secret staircase that takes you from the first floor to the third through the chimney space.

The grounds are also the current resting place of Hawthorn’s birth place, which was moved from its location on Union Street in 1958.

2) If you’re a museum junkie like Tracey is, carve out a good chunk of time to visit the Peabody Essex Museum (161 Essex Street, right where Essex Street turns into Essex Square) which is considered one of the oldest continuously operating Museums in the US containing one of the largest collections of Asian art in the US, as well as a large gallery of maritime artwork.

The Museum also owns 24 historic structures and gardens, several of which you can tour and is currently exhibiting the Yin Yu Tan house, a two hundred year old Chinese structure that housed the Huang family for eight generations.  The audio tour not only describes the center-open house and the significance of its architecture, but also paints a picture of the Huang family and their traditions throughout the years, include the earliest days of  the communist party, many times through interviews with the family members themselves.

3) And of course there’s the witch stuff.  The witch museum gets some pretty sketchy reviews on yelp, so we decided to avoid it.  Instead we took in the Witches Dungeon Museum which includes a short dramatization of a pre-trail deposition, plus gives you a grim view of the conditions the accused (and often times their families) were subject to as they awaited trail or their execution, sometimes for months.

For a more in-depth look at the trials, attend Cry Innocent, a live dramatization of the pre-trial of Bridget Bishop.  The show commences under the large clock on Essex street, where Bridget is accused and dragged to the town hall to face her charges.  Actors will present their “evidence” in the case, and you will be offered the opportunity to ask questions of the accused and her accusers.  At the end, the verdict rests in your hands, as the audience votes on whether-or-not there’s enough evidence to move Bridget on to trial.  The audience we were a part of that day was feeling generous, as Bridget was found innocent,  unfortunately the real Bridget was not so lucky as she was the first woman accused and hanged during the witch trials.

Tracey taking pictures in The Burying Point, which is the oldest cemetery in Salem. It contains the grave of Justice John Hathorne who proceeded over the witch trials.
Tracey taking pictures in The Burying Point, which is the oldest cemetery in Salem. It contains the grave of Justice John Hathorne who proceeded over the witch trials, and Increase Mather who supported the judges and the trials, but denounced the use of ‘spectral evidence’.

Lastly, we highly recommend the Bewitched after Dark tour.  Tour guide William Jeffery Page will take you through the streets of Salem, giving you a glimpse into the history behind the witch trials.  Using the Salem Witch Trials Memorial and The Burying Point that’s next to it as canvases, Jeff paints an amazing picture, accused by accused, of the trails not as a serious witch hunt, but as a sad story of personal greed and hysteria.  Also take his recommendations on local eateries – but more on that in a minute.

4) Out of the Normal – If you’re looking for unusual experiences in Salem, we recommend a tour through Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery.  This walk-though wax figure type museum is dedicated to horror movie monsters throughout the ages.  It only takes about 20-30 minutes to walk through if you read all the information plaques (and if you’re a horror movie fan like me, you will) but if this is your kind of thing, it’s well worth the $8 admission price.  Be sure to take a minute and check out all the autographed photos from horror movie stars that decorate the walls.

And if you ever wanted to play “Ghost Hunters”, sign up with the team of Paranormal Salem and go on your very own ghost hunt. They will supply and teach you how to use equipment you’ve seen many ghost hunting teams use on TV including; EMF detectors, infrared thermometers, audio recorders, divining rods, pendulums, K2 meters, etc.  Our tour took us to the Witches Memorial where we learned that Tracey is a machine with divining rods, and finished in the basement of Salem’s original firehouse.

 

So now that we covered some of the things to do, let’s get to what you’re really interested in. Food and Beer!  Quick overview, many of the bars we encountered were very “New England” oriented as far as their beer selection, which was fine by us as we don’t see some of the beers we encountered in Salem down here in Delaware.  Also, many places don’t utilize the amazing tool that is ‘the beer list’, a concept that we felt was kind of strange, but I’ll touch on that in a later post. Oh, and Allagash White is on draft just about everywhere, something that made Tracey very happy (until she got bewitched by fruit beers).  Here’s what we’d recommend:

1) Murphy’s Pub (300 Derby Street) – Murphy’s was suggested to us by Jeff on the Bewitched after Dark tour. Described as a place where the locals go, we of course had to check it out.  Especially on Tuesday, which Jeff informed us was $2 burger night.  Yeah, no typo.  $2.  Of course, they charge you an extra $1 for cheese and an extra $1 for bacon, but that still gets you a delicious 8oz bacon cheese burger with lettuce, onion, tomato, and a side of fries for $4.  Suck it, McDonald’s.  The beer list is extensive enough to please out-of-town craft beer lovers, including several local favorites.  Oh, want to really live the good life?  Ask for their $10 lobster special, which you won’t find on the menu, a 1-1.25oz lobster for only $10, or double it up of $18.  Matt our bartender told us that many people don’t believe him when he mentions the special.  “OK, order the $8 mozzarella sticks.  See if I care”, he tells them.  I recommend the Monkey Fist IPA by Shipyard.

2) The Lobster Shanty (25 Front Street) – What looks on the outside like an unassuming, long shed that someone just plopped down on a sidewalk on Front Street, conceals a true gem, although certainly not a hidden one.  The Lobster Shanty was featured on Food Network’s Drive-ins, Dinners and Drives because of their lobster rolls and lobstertini, a dirty martini served with a lobster claw. So of course…we got none of those.  Instead I was drawn to the Cioppino (very good) off the extensive menu which was awesome paired with the Left of the Dial IPA from Notch Brewing.  We recommend sitting outside if for no other reason then to catch the live entertainment that plays on the walkway in front of the Shanty (note: they seem to stop at 7, probably due to noise ordinances) and if you sit to the left as you walk into the seating area you can hear the cooks through the kitchen window talk about the meal they are preparing for you.

blah blah blah
Other people have their way of studying craft beer trends and staying up to date on craft beer news.  And we have ours.

3) The Flying Saucer Pizza Company (118 Washington Street) – Get your inner geek and pizza craving on at this interesting location.  The Flying Saucer Pizza Company boosts a fine selection of beers as well as numerous pizza options. The decor is pure geekdom, as we found ourselves eating our pizza as we were being watched by Locutus of Borg.  No lie.  Be warned, if you order a “small” pizza, these are not single size personal pizzas but 10-12 inch pies.  We ordered the Mustafar (red sauce, Saucer cheese blend, ghost pepper salami, spinach, Portobello, shaved Parmesan), and the Camilla (pesto, Saucer cheese blend, Cajun chicken, caramelized onion, roasted red peppers).  The ghost pepper salami on the Mustafar isn’t overly spicy, but it was hot enough that you should have one of the 14 New England beers they serve on draft ready. We enjoyed Black IPA from Rapscallion Beer, a Route 2 Saison from Riverwalk Brewing Company and a Stray Dog Lager from Brewmaster Jack.  As much as I liked the Mustafar, I found myself being drawn to the Camilla, which is a strong indication of how good this pizza was considering I was all about that ghost pepper salami. If you want to test your mind as well as your palette, go on one of the nights when they host geek trivia.

4) The Beer Works (278 Derby Street) – For the full on craft beer experience, The Beer Works is your stop.  A chain of breweries throughout New England, The Beer Works boosts a good food menu and about 20 beers on draft.  Specials include tasting flights and monthly beers.  If you like what you taste,  you can pick up their products in 6-packs, 4-packs, sampler 12-packs, as well 64oz growlers.  I enjoyed the Salem Pale Ale as well as the Double Pale ale, while Tracey fell in love with the Bunker Hill Blueberry ale, served with real blueberries in the glass.

5) Of course if you’re a beer lover and you’re traveling, you’ll probably want to take some sudsy souvenirs back with you. To that end we recommend Pomplemouse (189 Essex Street) a kitchen/spice/wine shop that has coolers of local beer situated in the back. While not a huge selection by liquor store standards, the offerings are still sufficient to pick up a couple of 6-packs and bombers to bring home. Your other stop is The Bunghole (204 Derby Street).  Housed in an historic building down by the Salem pier area, the Bunghole is your average corner liquor store, but still has a nice selection of beers to help fill your cooler for the way home.

Salem is an awesome destination which is much more than a collection of witch shops.  You’ll find many things to do as you explore its rich history.  And the beer is pretty damn good as well.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
THE FINAL SIP: While you’re there, pick up a “I Got It In The Bunghole” t-shirt and wear it with pride.

 

Philly Beer Week 2014 – Varga Bar, Tria, Monks and Nodding Head Brewery

When we last saw our intrepid craft beer bloggers, they had survived another Philly Beer Week Open Tap.  And for most years that would have been enough for us, but the next day I woke up to find that Co-Admin Patrick Huff of the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers was getting together an event to travel into Philly for Varga Bar’s Craft Beer Block Party.  It sounded like a fun crowd was going and, quickly getting the nod from Tracey, we decided to tag along for the day.

This was our first time at Varga Bar, a well known craft beer haven on Spruce Street, and we were  not disappointed. True the “block party” was a little smaller than I had anticipated, it filling only a little more than the length of the bar’s outside facade. The street area contained some tents and tables (and a dunking booth, only the second beer event I’ve ever been to that had one) but for the most part served as an area for people to mingle and converse.

The energy was nice, with people eagerly heading to the beer tent that was selling the likes of 21 First Amendment, Sly Fox, Otter Creek, Sam Adams, Abita and Round Guy’s “The Inquire’s Brewvintational” third place new beer winner, Fear of a Brett Planet – all in cans (No bottle snobs here please); or to the bar itself, which although crowded, was pouring awesome drafts (heavy on New Belgium) of beers we don’t normally see in Delaware like Avery’s “White Rascal” Witbier and Left Hand “Nitro” Milk Stout, which was REALLY good. We made several trips inside to partake of their offerings.

As always click on any picture to see them full size in gallery mode.

After a few hours we were ready to move on and Patrick was keen to walk down to the Tria Cafe.  We only stayed for a couple of beers but figured some snacks wouldn’t be a bad idea after a few hours of drinking so Robert and Patrick ordered a plate of figs and cheese; and Dana ordered some rosemary potato chips.  There are several potato based provisions that I hold in high esteem; the garlic fries at Brewer’s Art and the Pommes Frites at Monks (more on those later) just to name a few, but you can add Tria’s rosemary chips to the list.  Serious snackage.

But this isn’t The Dogs of Chips, so lets talk about the Dock Street Summer Session, The Deschute Black Butte Porter and the Doctor Fritz Briem’s 1809 Berliner Weisse, that all got passed around.  Or better yet,  lets just look at more pictures! Oh, and a nod to the most courteous staff I’ve encountered in a long time.  Really, these guys were just great!

Remember the subtitle for my previous post, “Wrong Turns, Great Beers and Mussels”, well here we go. We left Tria with the intention of finding another place to call our temporary craft beer home when Tracey pointed out that we were only about five blocks from Monks Cafe and, reminding me that we had been denied mussels the night before, suggested we stop there for dinner. Unfortunately this wasn’t just Monks, it was Monks during Philly Beer Week and we had to admit that getting a table might be damn near impossible.

Luckily, while we did encounter an hour and a half wait (time we killed at the Fox and the Hound), we finally did get a table and after some seat shuffling, and menu scanning, Dana enthusiastically stated, “Hey Ed, they have Damnation on draft!” (I was wearing my Damnation shirt).  My eyes quickly found the beer but quickly got pulled to the beer below it, “They have Pliny the Elder on draft!”.  And after a few more seconds Dana responded, “They have Blind Pig at the back bar!”

While it doesn’t require anything to make a meal of mussels better, two Russian River beers I’ve never had (Damnation, Pliny), and one that I had and really enjoyed (Blind Pig) would certainly do just that.  Once we got confirmation from the waiter that the beers were still available, we sent him away with a request of two each of the Damnation and Pliny, plus a couple of orders of pommes frites. – sadly to the bewilderment of Rob, who somehow had been forgotten in the ensuing commotion of ordering.

And I told you we’d get to the pommes frites, or Belgian fries, a classic (and some say original) take on the well known French fry.  Monks makes an awesome pomme frites (sadly not served in the classic newspaper cone, but still) that is served with a culinary condiment that is probably made from ingredients that represent the most vile and unhealthy things found in creation – you know, things like mayonnaise, lard, Justin Beiber melodies and the tears of unloved puppies, yet stills manages to taste really good on a finger full of fried potatoes. So in other words, good eats!

I wish I could give you a mouth watering description of this mussels/frites/Russian River beers feeding frenzy, but unfortunately at that time we were all too focused on our hunger and talking about the beers.  We destroyed three orders of frites, two pots of mussels, and multiple beers in what just may have been a record time. If Monks kept track of those sorts of things. Which they should. But they don’t.

But I will say this about the fabled beers of Russian River, they are VERY good.  I personally favored Damnation, an awesome golden strong ale which thrilled me to no end; and not just because of the shirt, although I’ll admit that being able to say “yes” to the continued question, “Did you like Damnation”, is a great relief.  Next I’d go with the Blind Pig, which I’ve had thanks to a bottle gift from tDoB co-founder Chuck.  Chuck and the Beer Goddess were both very adamant that Blind Pig was a better beer than the fabled Pliny the Elder.  And I’d agree with them – but damn is it close!  The Elder is nothing to sneeze at.  A finely made DIPA to be sure.  I’d love to try this line up again at the beginning of a day of drinking instead of more towards the end. Probably would appreciate them more, if that’s even possible.

After a meal of great food and beer it was, of course, time to call it a night and head home, which of course means that instead of walking to the car, we walked over to Samson Street’s Nodding Head Brewery.  I’ve always enjoyed going to Nodding Head, even back when the space housed the Samuel Adams Brewhouse.  Unfortunately they didn’t have the beer on draft that bears one of my favorite names, Monkey Knife Fight, but they did have their Grog, an English brown ale (so good), and their Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse.

Now it really was time to go home.  Tracey and I would like to thank DCBaWL members Patrick for putting the event together, a huge thanks to Rob for being the driver for the day (and getting us in and out of Philly with no wrong turns) and Dana, for well, just being Dana.  Without this event, the Opening Tap would have been the only time we spent at Philly Beer Week, and thanks to it, we know we want to spend more time in Philly for next year’s.

The Menus at Varga Bar
The Final Sip: Last year at Philly Beer Week I touched the Hammer of Glory and it end up “disappearing” for several hours the next day.  This year I attended Varga Bar’s block party and later that night, a fire broke out in the basement and the bar and the apartments in the building had to be evacuated (no damage was done, no beer was lost, and the bar was open again several days later).  Maybe PBW2015 will send me three or four sampler cases to just stay home next year.

 

 

 

 

 

Kennett Brewfest 2012

Last Saturday was the 15th annual Kennett Brewfest.  The event, which started in conjunction with the Kennett Mushroom Festival and was held in what was little more that an alleyway type street between two buildings, has turned into one of the premiere beer events in the area.  Ninety plus brewers and representatives turned out to pour for a crowd of 3000+ people at the current location at Genesis Health Ventures.

The brewfest started at 12 noon for those of us who were lucky enough to get Connoisseur Tickets.  The Connoisseur tasting has only been part of the festival for 10 years, but in that time it’s practically turned into an event all its own.  More than thirty of the brewers that were there that day started early as they poured specialty, unique and small batch offerings, many of which were not going to be available at the main tasting.  Brewer Hill Farmstead, whose beers normally don’t make it any further than their gift shop as far as distribution, showed up to pour two of their beers, Vera Mae (a saison made with spelt and wild flower honey) and Ephraim (a nice imperial pale ale) for this event only as they were not participating in the main tasting.

(Clockwise from bottom) A look down Connoisseur’s row; the line around the back of the complex waiting to get into the regular tasting; looking down the back row of the tasting.

I walked in with a game plan as usual, although I was wondering how I was going to balance all the Tweeting, Untappd, picture taking and note taking I wanted to do.  Very quickly I decided to discard all the social media and focus on the beers and the people around me.  Several members The Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers were there, and Dogs of Beer Co-Founder Chuck was along, marking the first time the two of us had been together for a beer festival in quite a while.  So Tracey and I were looking forward to hanging out with friends and enjoying what we assumed would be an awesome display of beers.

And the tasting didn’t disappoint.  After first stopping at Hill Farmstead we walked around the tents trying beers like Dark Horse’s Fore Smoked Stout, Ommegang’s Scythe and Sickle Harvest Ale, Round Guys’ Old Grumplestilskin, Evil Genius’ Trick or Treat Chocolate Pumpkin Porter, Jester King’s Petit Prince, Troegs’ Scratch #76-2012 special HOPS, and Maine Beer’s Peeper Pale ale just to name a few.  In our travels we also stopped in to check out some favorites of ours such as, Allagash’s Curieux, Stillwater’s As Follows, and Flying Fish’s Exit 4.

The Boulder Beer tent pouring during the Connoisseur’s Tasting.
(L) Twin Lakes in the house. (R) The server for Twin Lakes lets me have a peak of the Festival from her perspective.

If the Kentucky Derby is the fastest 2 minutes in sports, then the Connoisseur tasting at the Kennett Brewfest is the fastest 90 minutes in beer tasting.  Before we knew it, they were asking us to pull back for the 30 minute break between it and the opening of the regular tasting.

The regular tasting is just head spinning and I’m not even going to try and recap what we had (I still have a list of beers to check-in at Untappd), but I did succeed in making it over to Left Hand Brewing and Voodoo Brewing.  We did take some time during the regular event to stop by and say hi to the guys over at Argilla Brewing (their first Kennett Brewfest) and then go over and chat for awhile with the folks from Twin Lakes (Brewfest pros).  It was great to see the state represented so strongly (Dogfish Head and Old Dominion were also in attendance) and to see people frequenting their tents.

When you go to beer festivals do you see “the pretzel people” as well, or is just a regional thing near us?
The Fegleys Brew Works station.
Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers (clockwise from bottom) It didn’t take Brian and Rob long to find the bacon on a stick; The Dogs of Beer talking beer; Pat and Dana stop for a picture.
(L) Where ever you go, it always seems that Guinness is served with a smile. (R) Me talking to the guy from Evil Genius.
(Clockwise from bottom) Steve and Pete from Argilla Brewing setting up; Chuck and I talking to the folks at the Twin Lakes tent; Argilla Brewing head brewer Steve Powell takes a picture with a guy who by that time was probably feeling pretty darn good.
The servers at the Old Dominion Brewing tent.
(Clockwise from bottom) Voodoo Brewing’s station; a nice selection from the guys at Voodoo; a toast to another great Kennett Brewfest!

The Kennett Brewfest seems to grow every year, but when I asked Mary Hutchins of “Historic Kennett Square” what she thought of this trend she indicated that for the immediate future, they were happy with where they are as an event.  “At this point we have reached our maximum with the number of brewers and attendees.  So, we will work at keeping the model the same for the next few years.  On Saturday we had 92 brewers, the most we have ever had and we think the number worked well”, she said.

Another change for the festival this year was the date.  The event is usually held the first weekend in October, but to the surprise of some it fell on the last weekend in September this year.  “I always try to avoid the GABF just because I know some brewery staff that attend Kennett would be in Colorado instead and I want them here”, said event founder Jeff Norman when I asked him about the change. “This year they are the weekend of Oct 13 (they are usually the end of Sept). Oct 6 is the Kennett High School Homecoming football Game so that was not an appropriate mix as they are right across the street.  I believe our preference for next year will be Oct 5, 2013. We will coordinate with the school.”

A lot of people come together every year to make possible the Kennett Brewfest which benefits “Historic Kennett Square” a 501-C3 non-profit organization committed to making Kennett Square a social, cultural and economic center; and Jeff was quick to thank them all, “The Borough of Kennett Square; the Kennett Square Public Works Dept; the Kennett Square Police Dept.; Genesis Health Ventures who provides the site for the fest; the Board Members of Historic Kennett Square; the Brewfest Executive Committee , a group of people who put in a huge amount of volunteered time;  Waywood Beverage for staging and delivering about 80% of the beer for the day;  our sponsors; our day of event volunteers; the musical acts and food vendors; of course the breweries that keep coming back year after year; and finally folks like you and our other patrons that support our organization through this festival.”

I’d like to echo Jeff’s appreciation for all those who come together make this event happen, and thank Mary and him for taking some of their valuable time to talk to me.

See you next year!!

A Day in New Hope, PA

A couple of week ago Tracey and I decided to take a day trip up to New Hope PA.  We both love spending the day in New Hope.  It has a nice collection of artisan shops, specialty food shops and of course Triumph Brewery.  We’ve taken several day trips to New Hope and also did an over night a few years back so we could have dinner at Marsha Browns, a local restaurant converted from an old church that specializes in steaks and creole cuisine.

This time upon arriving we went directly for the cluster of shops where Triumph is located and sat for a leisurely lunch.  If you ever get the chance, I encourage you stop by as this is a very nice looking facility.  You can even bring a friend!  Triumph New Hope’s outside patio is dog friendly.

And of course, the beers are really good as well.  That day they had a cream ale on tap that was probably one of the best ones I’ve ever tasted, and the scotch ale was also really good.  We thought about stopping back at the end of the day to pick up a growler, but sadly the cream ale was on nitro, so it’s wasn’t available in a growler.

A row of sculpture looking taps at Triumph
The board  that day at Triumph Brewery
Lunch at Triumph

Once we had a nice lunch we decide to walk through town and hit some of the diverse shops, as well enjoy some of the other aspects of the town.

Tracey tries some infused olive oil at the “Olive-n-Grape” (note how she instinctively goes for the hot stuff)
Oils for sale at “The Witch Shop”
The waterfall at the Playhouse.

Of course, a day in New Hope  wouldn’t be complete for us without stopping at John and Pete’s for an order (or two) of their maple chipotle wings.  For the back story on these babies, check out my blog post on my attempt to duplicate them.

Maple chipotle wings at John and Pete’s

After dinner we decided to relax a bit so we found a little spot down by the river and Tracey made sure the local wild life was taken care of.

Tracey taking time to make sure the ducks have been well fed.

Random factoid – the river you’re looking at is the Delaware River, famous of the George Washington crossing.  In fact, Washington made his historic crossing just a few miles down the road from New Hope.  Growing up I was always in awe of the story of the Delaware crossing because I lived in Pennsville NJ, just south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.  At that point the river is about 1.5 miles across, and when I was young that was the river I imagined Washington crossing on that cold Christmas night.  As you can see from the above photo, the reality of the distance is a little different.  There’s actually a bridge that you can walk across to get to Lambertville, NJ located on the other side of the river.

One of our final stops is always Suzie Hot Sauce, a shop that specializes in, well I think you can guess.  We always loved this store as it was stuffed full of hot and BBQ sauces from all over the world.  But sadly, it’s under new ownership.  The man in the store that day (I believe he’s the new owner) said that he was in the middle of switching suppliers, which is why the shelves were so bare, and that he’d be fully stocked again soon.  But it wasn’t that the shelves were empty, it was that there weren’t as many of them as there used to be.  It really looked like they were currently running with 1/3 of the stock they used to.  After a few minutes of trying to look interested, we left empty handed (a first!).

Sad.

If you ever get the chance, I encourage you to stop by New Hope PA, and it’s sister city Lambertville, NJ.  It’s a fun little place full of good food, neat shops, and great beer.  And the most fun thing about New Hope is…

You never know what you’re going to see.

Max’s 2012 Belgian Beer Fest

Lisa, Me and Tracey. Notice all the glasses in front of Tracey! And look at me being good with the water (Ok, I don't know where the water came from)

Finally getting around to posting a few words about Max’s Belgian Beer Fest (it was a month ago, man). Don’t know what Max’s Belgian Beer Fest is?  Over 100 Belgian and Belgian style inspired beers on draft.  Over 200 bottles.  Five hand pumped casks.  Three days.  Open to close.  No entrance fee.  Do I need to say more? Good!  See you there next year.  Let’s continue.

As usual Tracey and I arrived Thursday night to enjoy our customary “calm before the storm” night on Fell’s Point. A nice tapas dinner at Adela’s (we’d recommend it although some of the serving sizes would work better for four people than two), and a little bar hopping.

The next morning it begins.  Doors open at 11, but you have to get there a little early because the line to get in can get long.  I woke up and found out via Twitter that the first guy got in line at 6:45.  Yeah, that’s a little TO early.  For most people, standing in line waiting for the doors to open would seem like hell.  But to me after doing it for 5 years it’s actually become a nice time to catch up with fellow beer lovers (DOB Co-founder Chuck was on hand with his group) and make some new friends.  After all it’s a group of beer lovers, it’s pretty easy.

Brian Strumke (right) from Stillwater with his 9L bottle of As Follows.

Not long after securing our place in line we were greeted with a nice surprise.  Some of the staff members came out before opening and handed out a packet to everyone in line.  Each packet contained a draft and bottle list for the three bars, a postcard and a pen.  I almost tossed the card, until the guy explained to me what it was.  On the back was six lines, and next to each line were three boxes you could check; one for sampler, one for glass, one for bottle.  Write the beers you want, check the box for the size you want and hand them to the bartender.  For those of you who might be wondering why this is great, let me paint you a picture of beer ordering in the past.  You’re in a crowded bar, very  crowded, Pamplona running of the bulls crowded and you need to get a beer.  So you wait patiently 5 people deep from the bar until you finally get a bartender’s attention.  “What do you want?” he screams over the drone.  You shout out the beer you want across the masses.  He nods, turns and in a minute brings you your beer.  Easy right?  Yeah, maybe if you’re ordering a Bud but try it with a T’gaverhopke Koerseklakske!  Ummmmm, can I have a few more of those cards, please?

Once the doors opened we were greeted with a second surprise.  Stillwater Artisanal Brewing was there at the door handing out samples of their As Follows poured from a 9L bottle.  With beer in hand we made our way back to our usual spot, the back bar.  It’s actually to the side as you walk in, but whatever.  Surprise three…it’s gone.  Wait..not gone, moved.  We hadn’t really noticed when we were in line, but Max’s got a hold of the small tobacco store next to it and pushed the bar one room back from where it was.  So we got our place at the back bar and let the fun begin….almost….

The only problem with Max’s overall game plan was they didn’t label which bar list was for the upstairs bar and which one was for the back bar (the length of the one for the main bar makes that one obvious even for someone like me).  Add on top of that the fact that there was some overlap between the beers on the two lists and it made for a few rounds of confusion on our bartender Norris’ part.  But once he finally got us all on the same page (see what I did there?) it was indeed time to begin, and the cards worked great – especially at the main bar.

Now for those who have been playing along at home, you know that I do not take detailed notes at beer festivals.  That goes double for a beer festival where I’m not familiar with the beers, don’t have a shot at pronouncing their names and probably won’t see many of them again until next year at Max’s.  Running down my notes and checking out my Untappd feed I can tell you that I enjoyed beers with weird names like: Canaster Winter Scotch by Kleinbrouwerij de Glazen Toren, Zeezuiper by Scheldebrouwerij, Belle-Fleur india pale ale by Brouwerij De Dochter van de Korenaar, Tsjeeses Reserva by De Struise Brouwers, DeGlazen Toren Jan De Lichte, Oud Beersel Framboise, and Noel de Silenrieux.  The only two that I had that I knew were Draak 9000 Quad and Delirium Tremens.  As a side note, Delirium is the beer I always get first when I’m in Max’s while I figure out what my first beer is going to be.  And no, I didn’t type that wrong.

After spending a good portion of the afternoon in Max’s it was time to get out of the crowd and enjoy Fell’s Point.  Bars like Cat’s Eye, Leadbetters, and The Horse You Came In On awaited.  Random fact: the header photograph for this blog was taken by Tracey that day outside the Cat’s Eye.  I’m standing on a set of stairs just outside of a dutch door that you can’t enter the bar through.  I’m enjoying the sights and sounds (and an Acid Marado Maduro cigar) of Fells Point while  my beer is perched on a ledge on the inside of the door for easy convenience.

So if  crowds and unpronounceable beer names don’t scare you, come down to Baltimore next  year for President’s Day weekend and join us.  We’ll be there Friday morning at the back bar.  If you’d like to get a better idea of what to expect, you can check out pictures from this year’s event on Max’s facebook page where the two photos above came from.

Time for another beer…one I can pronounce…

The new card system.

The Not So Local Tap : Avenue Pub, New Orleans

Down in the Big Easy for some vacation and fun. And of course it wouldn’t be either without checking out the local beer scene. Every time I did a search for anything beer related one place keep popping up – The Avenue Pub.

Located a bit outside the French Quarter, the Avenue Pub still has the outside appearance of what you’d expect from a French Quarter bar. The building has an old time rustic look with a second floor balcony reminiscent of those in the FQ. And for the most part the feel of the place is the same once you step inside – almost.

Avenue Pub sports 50 taps. Most of them downstairs with 9 or so up on the balcony. It’s one of those places that takes you a few minutes to figure out how things work, but once you do it’s all good.

The draft list is very good, with a balanced selection of local beers and craft beers from around the US. I couldn’t get a great sense for the norm in that area however, because the day we walked in a good portion of the taps were taken up by a Swedish beer tasting. Yeah, that’s right, we traveled to New Orleans and walked into a Swedish beer tasting. But that just confirms what I suspected, that the Avenue Pub is doing beer right.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, just look around and go to the big sign that reads “Order Food Here”. The menu is chalked full of southern classics and a few items with a twist to them. When your food is ready, they shout your name to come and get it. Napkins and cutlery? You didn’t see the two tubs and the roll of paper towels by the door when you walked in? Like I said, the place takes a minute to figure out.

As for the beers, you’ll have to check out my Untappd or Twitter feed for those long complicated Swedish ones. I’m currently typing this from a deck chair on a ship sailing for Jamaica, so I’m not taking the time to look them up. Of the NOLA brewing beers we tried, the Blonde was really good but I thought their 7th Street Wheat could have had a little more flavor, but was still good. But I really enjoyed their Channel Stout with its dry roasty finish, in a “to go” cup as we walked back to the hotel. Because after all, this is New Orleans!

I’d highly recommend a stop to the Avenue pub if you’re staying in New Orleans. If you’re staying near the French Quarter it’s a bit of a trip, but the St Charles Street Trolley car will take you down to it.

Time for amother beer.

The Bar at the Avenue Pub

The Bar at the Avenue Pub

To Die For Fries - Waffle Fries with a Cheddar Beshamel Sauce with Jalepenos.

To Die For Fries – Waffle Fries with a Cheddar Beshamel Sauce with Jalepenos.

Some Dogs Get Loose in New York City

Back in 1991 my buddy Dave and I were both married to women who worked in the banking industry.  That meant that most often they were working on Black Friday because federal regulations state that banks can’t be closed for four days in a row.  We decided we should do something cool together since we were both off and they were working.  I suggested going to NYC as I knew a few bars up there and after having a great time in the city the 10+ year tradition of the Black Friday Pub Run was born.

Several years later I met Chuck who also was going to NYC regularly.  So we pooled our resources, shared beer places we’d discovered and not to long after that, the Dogs of Beer were born.  Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance in recent years to head up to the city together.  We’d both gone many times with other people but we hadn’t done a proper pub run.  Well a couple of weeks ago we decided that this wrong needed to be corrected so we picked a date and went.

My ex-father-in-law Lou was more then up for the trip.  Sadly he was the only one of the original dogs that could go.  Chuck’s wife (THE Beer Goddess – sorry all you woman out  there but she’s the original) had to decline the trip but luckily Tracey was able to go.  After all, it never hurts to have a woman around to say, “uh guys, I don’t think that’s a good idea!”.  So on November 5th we piled into the truck and headed across the Delaware Memorial Bridge and up the New Jersey Turnpike.

Burger and Stout at Molly's

The first stop on most pub runs in NYC is usually lunch at Molly’s ( 287 Third Avenue).  We stumbled onto Molly’s around 1994, a small little Irish Shebeen (speak easy) with a working fireplace (which Lou got yelled at for one year because he was unaware that if you sat next to it you were expected to tend it), saw dust on the floor, a staff with the requisite Irish accents, a bar cat and the best burgers we’ve ever found in NYC.  Sadly the cat is gone, but the burgers are still there.  So a round of burgers (except Lou, he had fish and chips) and a round of O’hara’s stout and we’re ready to begin the day.  Our waitress sneered at us for only having one round (apparently that’s really against Irish custom), but we had beer to drink dammit and the last thing we wanted to do was sit around and waste time drinking beer!

So out the door and a short walk north brought us to the Rattle-n-Hum (14 East 33rd Street).  I have to thank all my twitter peeps for this one.  I had not heard of the bar before, but everyone in NYC I follow on Twitter seemed to be going in and out of this place like it had a revolving door.  Well it doesn’t, but what it DOES have is 40 taps of some of the best beer goodness you’ll find in Manhattan.  Tracey and I stopped in back in August and fell in love with the place.  Not only because of the beer, but the atmosphere as well.  From the rock music, to the tap handles on the ceiling, to the giant map of America on the wall that has flags sticking in it marking breweries – this place just feels great to be in.  On this stop we enjoyed beers ranging from Conundrum by Kuhnhenn brewery on cask, to Crotch Sniffing Bastard by Laughing Dog Brewing, to Breakfast stout by Founders Brewing Company.  Another great thing about Rattle-N-Hum is there’s always something going on there.  This day the guys from Surly Brewing were in the house as well as Joshua M. Bernstein author of the new book Brewed Awakening.  If the Rattle-n-Hum isn’t on your list of NYC beer spots – add it!

The Sigh Says it All

After we left R-n-H we walked up a couple of blocks to the Galway Hooker (7 E. 36th Street).  This Murray Hill bar is named after an Irish sailing ship and it popped up one day when I was researching bars in the area.  It was a nice place – maybe a bit to nice for a bunch of dogs and the bartender made the mistake of telling Chuck that Captain Lawrence Golden Liquid was a slightly sweet IPA, which it isn’t.   Chuck isn’t a big fan of “cruel jokes” (Dogs of Beer slang for beers that aren’t what they’re promoted to be) so the bartender got negative points right off the bat.  Tracey had an nice Ithaca Brewing Nut Brown that she enjoyed very much and I quite liked my Captain Lawrence Ale.  But we weren’t staying long enough for a second round as more beer was just down the street.

So we traversed the grueling 60 ft down 36th Street and strolled into The Gingerman(11 East 36th Street).  We started going to The Gingerman back in 1996 and have enjoyed stopping there ever since.  The bar is roomy with an area of tables in the front and booths lining the wall across from the bar.  The huge back room lounge full of high back chairs and couches is still there, a left over remnant of when you could smoke cigars inside.  We were sad to hear that they had already kicked both the Founders’ Canadian and Kentucky breakfast stouts as a side-by-side comparison of them would have been interesting.  Luckily they had Cigar City’s Maduro Brown Ale as I’ve been looking to try a beer from these guys for quite some time – I was not disappointed.  A glass of regular Breakfast stout got passed around while Tracey sipped her Captain Lawrence Pumpkin beer.

Beers at Blind Tiger

Finishing up we hopped on a Subway and arrived down in the Village.  The Village has seen a large turn over in bars over the years.  Some have come and gone, and some (Chumbly’s) have gone but keep promising to return.  But we were here for a bar that’s come, gone, moved and come again – Blind Tiger (281 Bleecker Street).  When the dogs first started frequenting Blind Tiger, it was located at 518 Hudson Street, a small little place over on the west side of the village.  But on one trip we found it closed, and panicked.  Luckily, we found out that it was only moving over to Bleeker Street and after a few start up pains it’s back to its original glory and maybe better.  First, they now have food which the old place didn’t have.  Also, the shutter style windows allows them to open the place up on nice days so you don’t feel to closed in.  I agree with Chuck however that if there’s one complaint with Blind Tiger it’s with their lack of beer menus.  Instead you’re dependent on two small chalkboards for the list of beers they have and sometimes when the bar is dark and crowded they can be a little tough to read.  But tonight I could read it well enough to find another Cigar City beer, Jai Alai (awesome!) and afterwards  a Weizen Bam Beire by Jolly Pumpkin.

After Blind Tiger we decided to go to a place that we have not stepped into in over 10 years – The Peculier Pub (145 Bleecker Street).  Everyone who has developed wander lust in search of beer has THAT place.  The place that got them started.  I guess you could say mine is the Peculier Pub.  It was the bar Dave and I were looking for all those years ago when we started the Black Friday pub run.  Back in 1991 when we found it, NYC didn’t have a beer bar on almost every corner like it does now.  The craft beer explosion was just starting and most of what we were seeking out as far as “different” beers were imports from different countries.  Peculier Pub had a beer list that could only have been described back then as massive.  A sheet of paper with three columns of bottled beers, on both sides.  However the service was inconsistent and the quality of the beer was always in question due to storage so we abandoned the place eventually.  Well, I’m proud to report that it has definitely changed for the better.  The place is brighter and cheerier than it was and has improved with the addition of taps.  We were hungry so we ordered some pub food which was good and went well with my Founders Centennial IPA.  It won’t be 10 years until we stop in again.

The Dogs (L-R) Tracey, Lou and Chuck - enjoying Deliriums at Vol De Nuit

From Peculier we went to Vol De Nuit (148 W. 4th St.) which demonstrates one of the things I love about NYC.  I’ve been aware of this Belgian bar for years because it was listed in the NYC Beer Guide but never thought to stop in.  So imagine my surprise one year when I finally did decide to try it only to realize that I’d been walking right past it for all those years.  Vol De Nuit’s entrance may be unremarkable with a small, barely noticeable sign above the doorway but what’s on the inside is not.  Just on the other side the unassuming doors the entrance opens up into what looks like a small courtyard with tables and a small bar.  Walk through the courtyard and up a set of wide wooden steps and you’re in the main barroom – a dark, wooden room with one bar, and 8 Belgian beers on draft.  You can easily find beers like Leffe, Corsendonk and Lindemans here.Tonight it was Delirium Tremens for everyone!

The next stop was at the Jekyll and Hyde pub.  There was a time when the eerie pubs ruled the village.  Along with the original Jekyll and Hyde pub and The Slaughtered Lamb there were the now defunked Night Gallery and Jack the Ripper’s.  All had awesome beer lists and a decor which went with their names.  And although the Jekyll and Hyde pub has lost a step or two over the years (come on guys, open the upstairs once in awhile!) it’s still a fun place to stop in and have a beer, especially with people who’ve never been there.  Things like bar stools that slowly go up and down and bathrooms hidden in the walls make for a lot of fun with unsuspecting people.  The beer list isn’t what it used to be, but you can still find some good stuff here.  And if you love horror type attractions, you’ll get a kick out of the decor and the animatronic show.

By this time it was getting late.  We walked by The Slaughtered Lamb and Barrow Street Ale House only to find them more packed then we wanted to deal with.  It was time for the dogs to get back to their own yard.  Over the years I’ve come to love NYC for all things it has to offer, beer and non-beer alike.  It is truly one of my favorite cities in the world and to be able to every now and then go up and spend the day is a treat.  I hope after reading this that I’ve inspired you to do the same.  So go!  Investigate! Discover!  Just promise me that if you do find that next awesome beer bar, or some up till now undiscovered gem that you’ll let me know. The dogs are always up for another pub run….

Time for another beer.