The Local Tap: Philly Beer Week Opening Tap 2015

Last Friday started as every other Friday. Wake. Shower. Stop at the cigar store. Then work. But this day differs from any other Friday, this is the day we attend the Opening Tap at Philly Beer Week.

We’ve been lucky enough to attend the kickoff event of the 10 celebration of all things beer and Philly since the fine folks at It’s Just The Booze Dancing (check out their snazzy new website) were kind enough to offer us tickets to an event at PBW several years ago only to see that event cancelled which resulted in  Jeanne Hatton asking us if we’d like media passes to Opening Tap.


And every year the day seems to follow the same path – go to work, take a quarter day, cringe every time someone asks me “what time are you leaving?”, check directions and make map so we don’t make any wrong turns this year, sneak out 15 minutes before I’m supposed to leave to fake out the people who will be looking for me 10 minutes before I leave, get home, wait for Tracey, get into car, hold my breath every time I see brake lights on I-95, still make a wrong turn, finally arrive – and from there, it’s all worth while.

Sounds like a lot of fuss for just another beer festival? Then you haven’t been to Opening Tap. As I’ve written in the past, this opening ceremony of the country’s initial beer week shines  not just because of the amazing collection of breweries that show up, but brewers as well. It’s fun to meet (and remeet) all the great people in the industry who make this (and every week) tick in the world of craft beer. As always click on the photos to see them in slideshow mode.

Of course the main event of The Opening Tap is…well, the opening tap. This year a keg of Philly Pharmhouse Brotherly Suds was teed up and tapped for those in attendance. The beer is the 6th incarnation of the Brotherly Suds beer and was collaborative brewed at Flying Fish with input from Victory, Yards, Iron Hill, Stoudts, Weyerbacher, Treogs, Nodding Head, Earth Bread+Brewery and Sly Fox. I’m not sure who tapped the keg this year (I was up high on a balcony and never heard his name) but he certainly had a good trip to the Armory – He skydived with the HOG before the event which would seem extremely out of the ordinary but apparently the HOG has been a skilled skydiver for several years.

Music was performed by the Hoppin’ John Orchestra.

As those of you who have been reading me for years know, I don’t try to keep very good track of the beers I taste at these big festivals but there were quite a few I remember:

Wit or Witout (Saint Benjamin), The Shack IPA (Ship Bottom), Barnacle Bottom Stout (Ship Bottom), Steingrabber Maibock (Barren Hill), G-Spot (Rock Bottom), Samurai Chai IPA (Broken Goblet), Barn Razer (Lancaster), Dreamcatcher (2nd Story Brewing), Imperial Porter with Cocoa Nibs (Shawnee Craft Brewing), Multiple Personality Disorder (Stoudts)  or Puddler’s Row ESB (Conshohocken Brewing), and I totally agree with The Philadelphia Inquirer – River Horse Brewing’s Chocolate Porter was balls out crazy. Nice work guys!


At one point someone wanted to take a break for a beer, so Tracey ended up “in charge” of the awards for a few minutes. In two or three more years, she’ll be tapping the keg. Love that I Love Lamp was one of the award winners.


Of course you’re always going to miss something at opening tap. I missed that Ashley Routson (AKA The Beer Wench) was there for the official launching of her new book. I’m pretty disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to meet her and hope she enjoyed her time in Philly.

And some things you don’t miss … Yeah, I still don’t know what’s going on.


We’d like to thank Michael Greger for once again making this night happen for us! See you all next year!!

The Local Tap – The 55th Annual Colonial Highland Gathering

This past weekend we participated in what has become a yearly tradition here at The Dogs of Beer, we packed everyone up and attended the 55th annual Colonial Highland Gathering in Fair Hill, Md.

Once a year a horde of pipers, drummers, athletes, artisans and Celtic minded people descend on the one time steeplechase track and turn it into a little slice of rolling Scottish Hillsides. The country side resonates with the sounds of drums and bagpipes as bands tune in the field preparing for the Massed Bands as a crowd in the stands cheers for athletes as they compete traditional events such as caber toss, weight throws, and one of my favorites the sheaf toss.

But that’s not all there is to see and do. If you explore the grounds you’ll find such interesting things such as dance competitions, fiddle workshops, spinning and weaving demonstrations, herding dog demonstrations, the piping in of the haggis and “The Clachan”, the clan tents where you can do some research to get your tartan on.

And of course there’s music. But not just the music from the pipe bands as the fair consistently brings in national and local artists to perform everything from traditional to modern Celtic music. This year the main stage was shared by one of my favorites Albannach from Glasgow whose music is driven by thundering tribal drum beats; and the sisters Searson whose set is a pleasant mixture of Celtic inspired songs and lilting fiddle tunes that will make any lover of this genre of music smile.

In select areas around the fair, local performers Charlie Zahm (along with long time collaborator, fiddler Tad Marks) who I’ve been following longer than both of us would probably care to admit, and Carl Peterson spent the day entertaining the crowd with traditional and original Celtic music.

(As always, click on a picture to see them in slideshow mode)

Of course two of the biggest draws to the Gathering are the many pipe and drum bands that come to compete and perform, along with the athletes who spend the hot day tossing heavy things around in the name of friendly compitition.

Sadly there’s never enough time to  do it all, and before I knew it the time had come to say beannachd leat. A good time was had by all.


Buddy Avatar 50A good time was had by ALL?


Oh come on. Let’s not do this.

Buddy Avatar 50Dude, they WOULDN’T LET ME IN!!


Stop taking it personally. They weren’t letting any dogs in this year.

Buddy Avatar 50I think you need to write a strong letter.


That wouldn’t help.

Buddy Avatar 50With lots of forceful sentences with cuss words.


Not going to happen.

Buddy Avatar 50Traitor.


You’re being childish.

Buddy Avatar 50I WAS LOCKED UP WITH A CAT!!! A CAT!!!! Do  you know the only thing good about being locked up with a cat?



Buddy Avatar 50Getting freed from being locked up with a cat!


Say goodbye.

Buddy Avatar 50Big Pussy.


Enough about the cat.

Buddy Avatar 50I wasn’t talking about the cat.


Wait till I get home.

THE FINAL SIP: State Line Liquors brings Oskar Blues’ Old Chub every year. But it’s not Old Chub until I say it’s Old Chub. And it was Old Chub.


The Not So Local Tap – Max’s Belgian Fest 2015

So, that time of  year again, our annual President’s day weekend trip down to Fell’s Point, Baltimore for Max’s annual Belgian Fest.

While the forecast was cold with a chance of freezing, the outlook was still better than last year when we had to call our hotel to add an extra day onto the start of our trip to beat an on coming blizzard. We arrived OK, and so did the blizzard. While the weather was a little (OK more than a little) harsh, I have to admit that spending the day in Fell’s Point on a day when Baltimore was totally closed down, was pretty fun. If you like empty bars and bored bartenders, that is.

But this year all was good precipitation wise, so we bundled up and headed down. Our first stop (as always because it’s right across the street from where we park the car) is Duda’s Tavern. Nothing really fancy about this place, just a nice setting and good beer selection.

Here we met up with fellow Dogs of Beer, Chuck and Kat (AKA Beer Goddess), for a few drinks and dinner planning. After Chuck and I’s social directors spent several minutes phone searching the surrounding area we ended up picking the place that was….well, right across the street.

Bond Street Social, for those who know the area, now occupies the location where a DuClaw Brewpub once called home. To be honest, I’ve pretty much ignored the place since DuClaw moved out, after all there’s just an amazing amount of interesting, cozy places to eat and BBS always looked a little, well too snazzy for us dogs.

But we decided to give it a go – for the oddest of reasons.

Liquid Nitrogen Martinis.

Yeah, don’t look up at the banner. This is still a beer blog. But Chuck and I both work in the chemical field, and well…liquid nitrogen martinis. They were highlighted in several of the places we checked out, and I was wondering if this was some kind of growing trend in the area. So I checked in with my designated local expert on all things Baltimore to see what the story was.

Question answered.

But here’s what I can tell you about the Bond Street Social – don’t go for the liquid nitrogen martinis. Don’t get me wrong, they’re perfectly good martinis, but the liquid nitrogen really doesn’t bring anything to the party. Oh, the smoking glasses elicit “ohs and ahs” when they reach the table, but then the waiter stands over you until the smoking stops so that you don’t accidentally toss a marble size chunk of ice whose temperature can be measure in Kelvins down your throat. Once the smoking ends, you’re left with, very good, but pretty standard martinis. Priced up for the liquid nitrogen show.

But what you need to go to BSS for is the food. What we didn’t know is that the restaurant is set up to focus on shared plates (or tapas), and there’s some excellent things to be found on the menu.

Sharable plates like, “Eggs & Bacon” Deviled Eggs, Mac ’n Cheese Bites, Pulled Duck Confit Arepas, Eggplant “meatballs” and Spicy Buffalo Shrimp. And don’t skip past the Brussel sprouts, even if you’re not normally a fan of these cabbage cousins, the sauce they come in is addicting. We know. We ordered seconds.

After dinner we picked up fellow DCBaWL Dana who had decided to come down and headed over to what I love to call “The Calm Before the Storm”.

If you’ve been to Max’s, I don’t need to describe it to you, but you might be surprised if you walked into the bar the night before Belgian Fest starts – only about 20 people in the place, the side bars closed, the upstairs roped off, and only about 10 beers available on draft.

It’s just a fun departure of the usual experience you’d expect to find at Max’s. It’s also fun to talk to the bartenders, especially Casey and Bob, as they’re starting to prepare for what I can only imagine is one of the closest things to “hell weekend” for a bar and staff that has to manage 140 taps, 5 beer engines, and God knows how many bottles.

But you’d never know it as the guys are always jovial and friendly. Before we knew it, Casey was pouring us off-list Deliriums, and Bob was handing us the master tap list for the weekend. THIS was a thing of beauty.

Soon, it was time to bid farewell to Chuck and Kat, and head off to our final stop of the evening, The Wharf Rat. It’s always great to stop in and see what’s on tap (or cask) and get a much needed late night snack. This year it was Merry Old SOB, 3 Lions Ale, and Iron Man Ale.

Nine thirty the next morning and I’m beginning to understand how those martinis must have felt. But the line waiting to get into Max’s on Friday is always fun. A crowd of beer lovers all together talking and joking to pass the time, quite a few of which I’ve grown to recognize from year to year. It’s like that once a year gathering your family has where you get to see all of your relatives that you haven’t seen since the previous event.

Thankfully, Max’s put out some of those propane heating towers so at least you were able to get a little warmth now and then. And everyone laughed when a guy put his hands close to the flame source to warm them up, only to catch his glove on fire. But not nearly as hard as they laughed at the second guy to do it, because who would be so brainless as to do something stupid that he’d just seen another guy do?

Buddy Avatar 50It was you wasn’t it?


*SIGH* Yeessss.

Just as we were beginning to believe we were going to have to count toes as casualties of the weekend, along with the presumed brain cells, the doors thankfully opened. The complementary taste for the first 100 people in the door was Brasserie Dubuisson Cuvee des Trolls, which I wish I could tell you more about, but that beer disappeared between the open door and our traditional seats at the back bar. Casey and Norris were both behind the bar as usual and ready to facilitate our annual tradition of drinking beers we can’t pronounce.

But luckily we didn’t have to utter a word as the card system was in use again, so all we had to do was stumble through some spelling. Beers like Oud Beersel Bersalis Triple, De Dolle Arabier, Hofbrouweriek Anarkriek, Van Steenberge De Garre Triple, Drie Fonteinen Zwet Be, Struise Tsjeeses Reserva 2012, Troch Hopdraeck and Van Honsebrouck Kasteel Cuvee Chateau.

As well as collaboration beers from Burley Oak/Max’s/Dawson’s Liquors (XI) and RAR/Max’s (3870).

How do you navigate all these – letters? I used to try to game plan, but after years of trying I’ve realized that its just impossible for me not to go all “kid in a candy store”. What I do is run down the style column and look for things that sound good like triples, brown ales and things that just sound out of the ordinary.

We had the place pretty well covered, Tracey, Dana and her friend John, were with me at the downstairs back bar, while Chuck and Kat were upstairs with the State Line Liquors crew. Of course, Chuck came down to visit for a while and towards the end of our stay, we went upstairs to hobnob with his group. A fun time was had by all.

After awhile, it was sadly time to leave. We ended up at The Horse You Came In On for a few drinks and then walked over the Leadbetter’s to watch the very talented Katey Bowers Band.

All in all another awesome trip to Fell’s Point with friends. Thanks to Max’s and their amazing staff for once again putting together an unparalleled collection of beers that are certainly outside of anything that we’d normally get a chance to experience.


The Katie Bowers Band at Leadbetters.


The Not So Local Tap – Lancaster Brewing Company

He paused. As if a moment of silent tribute had to be given before he (or anyone) should walk through the door that was open before him. The door certainly deserved no  such reverence, the single paned, fullview door was like thousands of others he’d passed before. No, it was what lay beyond the door that forced him to take a mental pause. Then finally, thinking that he’d surely shown enough respect, he walked in.

The room was considerably darker than the sun lite parking lot he’d just left. But even as his vision waned, his eyes slow to adjust to the reduced light, his other senses kicked in, telling him everything he needed to know.

The warm, slightly humid air kissed his face, a welcome contrast from the crisp, winter air outside. The sounds, metal against metal, the unmistakable trickling of running water, the hiss of steam, weren’t simply an assemblage or random sounds. No, they gave the room life, filling it with a symphony of organization and purpose.

But it was the smell. The malt. Fresh, and sweet; floating in the air like wisteria on the first nice spring day. It permeated the building, to the extent that he wondered if the structure could ever be rid of it. And it was the smell that took him back. Back to a time when his house often smelled like this.

If I were to write a book, channel my inner Oliver Gray, and have the need to describe a character walking into a brewery, that’s exactly how I’d write it. A man walking into a place that is open, filled with the sights, sounds and smells that hopefully take him back to a time when he too participated in the joys of brewing, whether that time be 20 days ago, or (in my case) 20 years ago. After all, that’s how it should always be when one walks into a brewery. But sadly, it seldom is.

Well, with a little clarification. Sure, sooner or later if you pass through enough internal doors you’ll walk into the brewing area and be greeted by all the sensations described above. But not to often do you walk into the front door of a place and feel as if you’d just stepped into the brew house. It’s like walking into a house that has two doors, the one in the front enters the living room, and one on the side enters the kitchen. Sure, you’ve entered the house in both cases, but only of the entrances is going to give you a more satisfying smell of what’s cooking.

There’s very few times I walk into a brewery/brewpub/etc and feel like I’ve walked into the “kitchen”, but that’s exactly how I felt the moment I stepped in the Lancaster Brewing Company – the smells, sights, and sounds of brewing were very evident with the first step inside the door. If you’d ever stepped into a brewery before (or home brewed) I could walk you into LBC blind folded and you’d be able to immediately recognize the activity happening around you.

And with good reason, The Lancaster Brewing Company’s dinning area sits on what would be considered the ground floor with the basement below housing the brewing equipment.  A large, railed opening in the floor not only allows ample ceiling height for the tall fermentors below, but also affords a mezzanine-eyed view of the brewing area from the floor above, as well as letting the sounds and smells of the labor below permeate throughout the building. No brewing equipment sequestered behind brick or glass walls, for LBC. It’s right there below you, filling the room with all it’s sensorial glory.

There’s something quaint about it. So Lancaster. Although Lancaster is as “city” as any city can be, it’s highly associated by outsiders with the farms and attractions of the Pennsylvania Dutch community that thrive in surrounding same-named Lancaster County.

And the establishment just seems to capture that vibe perfectly. From the rustic, wooden interior; the brick facade that gives the building the appearance of being painted in what I’d call classic ‘covered bridge red’; to even the brew master himself, Bill Moore, who walks around the building, his stout frame and mountain-man enviable beard giving him the appearance of a man who’d be just as comfortable building furniture, or working of farm equipment, if he hadn’t been too busy honing his chops at industry respected breweries such as Independence, Stoudt’s and Sly Fox.

Tracey and I had arrived at LBC for lunch due to some temporal miscalculations. We’d spent the night in York, PA, attending my daughter’s first college play and since we had the entire next day off to get home, we obviously had a couple of breweries lined up as possible lunch stops. Unfortunately, neither place within walking distance of our hotel (Mudhook Brewing Company, Liquid Hero Brewing) opened until 4pm – later than we wanted to stay. So we hit the road, and made a back up plan.

And I’m glad we did, because as you can tell Lancaster Brewing really struck a chord with me, the food was good and the beers tasty as always. We both started with their Winter Warmer Ale (which by luck had just recently made its seasonal debut), a beer that I’ve grown to really enjoy over the years, and one that the brewery uses for a good cause – proceeds from the sales of Winter Warmer help the PA Wolf Sanctuary.

I followed up with their Shoo-Fly Pie Porter which I was very pleased with (love a good porter), while Tracey went for the Milk Stout that she enjoyed, even though it had a touch more coffee in the profile than she would have liked.

Unfortunately, two was the limit for the driver and the navigator (especially since the first one clocked in at 8.9%). So, to soon, we found ourselves on the road home.

I’d highly recommend a stop at LBC if you’re ever in the area. There’s just a sensational, beer lover’s appeal to it. If you do decide to go however, I do offer one piece of advice – go to the website and get the low-down on parking. LCB has it’s own lot, but it’s small – maybe 20 cars small (and it would probably help if your car WAS small), so check out the alternate parking options at the website.

Also keep in mind that brewing was actually going on while we were there, which I’m sure doesn’t happen every day that the restaurant is open. So who knows, maybe on the day you go you will be able to enjoy a nice quiet meal, with none of the clatter or rumbling associated with the activity of brewing and enjoy a fresh beer without the distraction of that sweet smell of mashing malt in the air.

But for your sake – I hope not.

Time for another beer…


Delaware Homebrewing Champion Russell Kalbach Defends His Crown This Saturday At The 5th Delaware Wine And Beer Festival

DWaBF2014I’ve made no apologies about my fondness for the Delaware Wine and Beer Festival (DWBF) since I first attended back in 2012.  As I alluded to in my Odessa Brewfest post, the DWBF functions under an enviable model that many festivals would love to emulate.

First, hosted at the spacious and beautiful Delaware Agricultural Museum & Village the event sports a backdrop that is more rustic than many other festivals out there.  Also, event organizer Cindy Small and her excellent team from, have done more than just pull together your cookie-cutter style festival that you see springing up all over the area lately.  No, the DWBF has narrowed the focus of their festival to everything that is great about the state of Delaware.

Not only does the festival bring together almost all of the breweries and wineries that operate within Delaware State lines, but as their motto “Drink Local, Eat Local, Buy Local” suggests, the DWBF will have food provided by over a dozen of the finest restaurants and eateries in the state.  Add on top of that some of the best Delaware artisans, and you have an amazing compilation of everything good in Delaware.

Yep, Delaware at its finest.  Take for example last year, when homebrewers came from all areas of the state to see if their beer was good enough to earn them the title ofDelaware Homebrew Champion in the DWBF’s first BCJP judged Delaware Homebrew Championship.  And after all the beer had been tasted, and the smoke cleared, one homebrewer emerged victorious – Russell Kalbach from….. Upper Darby, PA?  Really? Did we fact check that?


Ah! OK, that’s fine. Although the DWBF primarly focuses on Delaware, it’s not unusual to find a little out-of-state sprinkled in.  Two years ago, they brought in PA favorites Yards Brewing, and last year a favorite of mine from MD, Tall Tales Brewing was pouring beers.

So its no surprise that the festival would welcome out-of-state brewers interested in seeing if they could make claim to Delaware’s homebrewing title.  Take Joseph Kahn for instance.  Joseph came all the way up from Washington DC and was rewarded when his porter, I Hardly Knew Her won in the Specialty category. But rest assured, Delaware was greatly represented in the winner’s circle.

Lewes brewer Conner Brown’s brown ale was good enough to win the America Ale category, while Matthew Wood of Felton took the American IPA category with his entry, Hop Smack. Chris Kozinki from Wilmington brought down some northern Delaware flavor with his Peach Saison which took first in the Delaware Grown Fruit Beer category. But it was Russell’s French Ale category winning Saison, that the judges liked the best.

“That was the first time I had brewed that particular beer,” Russell told me in an email conversation. “As a gift, my girlfriend has custom bottlecaps made for me, one of which was the image of the French street sign for a motorcycle. So I set out to create a traditional French beer.”

So what was his approach to his championship winning beer? “I create and write all of my own recipes, so I researched traditional French beers and settled on a saison. I was very happy with how it came out, so I decided to enter it in this competition.”

When the conversation turned to previous competition experience, Russell was pretty candid, “This was the first championship I had won. Though I have been brewing for several years, I very rarely enter competitions. I believe this was only my second or third competition. I mostly brew beer to learn, enjoy, and share with friends.”

Pointing out however that he still had a good familiarity with homebrew competitions through interactions with members of his homebrew club despite his actually lack of experience; when asked about the difference between DWBF’s competition and others he responded, “[The Delaware Wine and Beer Festival Homebrew Competition] is different in the fact that there is a people’s choice component, followed by a certified judging component. Most are one or the other. This presents the challenge of brewing a beer that is a crowd pleaser, but also technically sound to meet the criteria of style that will be used in the certified judging.”

Of course, once you’ve brewed a championship winning beer there’s no need to tinker with it anymore, right?  Not according to Russell, “Since then, I’ve brewed it a second time using hops grown in France, which are hard to find. I think that batch came out even better.”

Unfortunately, people who have purchased VIP tickets for this Saturday’s festival will not get a chance to try the improved version, “I have entered the competition again, and I will be at the festival all day. I entered the Delaware-Grown Fruit Beer category. I brewed a Berliner Weisse with a massive quantity of raspberries from Delaware. Berliner Weisse is a traditional German sour ale, very light in body and alcohol. The raspberries provide a great colour and a compliment to the tart taste.”

So with all his preparation and hard work, is there anything else that Russell thinks would make this year’s entry stand out amongst his competitors? “It’s a great beer to drink on a warm day, so I’m praying for nice weather.”

Nice…is relative.

He’ll also have to hope that his beer is better than those of the 44 other entries to this year’s competition, which Cindy Small says is a sharp increase from last year.

The DWBF and the Delaware Homebrew Championship will be held this Saturday, October 11th and the beer categories being judged are American Ale, Belgian/French Ale, Delaware Grown Fruit beer, IPA, and Specialty categories.  Along with the certified judging, VIP ticket holders are invited to the homebrew competition area (located on the south side of the museum) to participate in the people’s choice judging. Winners will be announced at 4pm.

This year’s championship competition prizes total more than $2000, including a “brewternship” with Delaware breweries Fordham and Dominion.

Good luck to everyone who has entered and we’ll see ya’ on Saturday!

[As always the author would like to thank Cindy Small and Charles Gray for their valuable time in helping me write this post.  I would also like to thank Russell Kalbach for taking his time to do the interview.  Good luck on Saturday, Russell!”]

Find out more about Delaware’s Capital Region/Greater Dover/Kent County Tourism, Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Find out more about the Delaware Wine and Beer Festival.

The Final Sip: While at the Delaware Wine and Beer Festival make it a point to talk to the many volunteers that are pouring.  You never know who you may run into.  Lindsey and Eric from Delaware Hop Scene are frequent volunteers and as this photo shows, Delaware Cider Blogger and founder of the #ciderchat on Twitter, Patrick Huff, was busy at the Great Shoals Winery tent last year.


The Local Tap – The Historic Odessa Brewfest 2014

Odessa 2“Build it and they will come.”

If Hollywood ever decided to remake that timeless classic in another vein, I would suggest, “pour it and they will come”, and switch the focus of the film from baseball to a brew festival.

OK, not really, but there is a good amount of truth to my flippant statement.  Over the past several years, brew festivals have been on the rise in our area.  I happened to be cleaning my kitchen a while back and in the corner of a shelf that collects everything I don’t know what to do with at the time, I found evidence to support this; tasting glasses from Kennett Winterfest (only 2 years old) and Wilmingtion Beerfest (only 1 year).   On top of that I learned last week that the Historic towns of New Castle and Delaware City will soon be hosting their second annual “River Towns Ride & Festival“, a co-city event and recreational bike ride which is hosting a beer festival in BOTH towns.

The proliferation of these festivals stems in part from event organizers recognizing that at this particular moment, having (or adding) a beer festival to your event is not only a great way to raise money (most beer festivals are associated with non-profit charity or historical organizations), but also a great way to get people to come out and experience first hand what your local area has to offer.

Points that were not lost on event co-organizer Jeremy Hughes when he and his team began the ground work for the Historic Odessa Brewfest as early as August of last year. “The town of Odessa is beautiful, full of amazing 18th century architect but amazingly unknown to many Delawareans, even ones only 20 minutes away”, he relayed to me.  “So, to attract more people to the town and to help raise money for the Historic Odessa Foundation we wanted to create an event that would do just that.”

But as Jeremy went on to say, even from that early start they wanted their event to be about more than just beer, “We wanted to create a beer festival that would separate itself from other beer festivals.  After attending quite a few of them myself, as well as many other types of festivals and events, I found that a beer festival can’t just be about beer.”

True, and many of them aren’t.  For instance, quality food has become a big part of what makes a great beer festival tick, and Jeremy knew he had an distinct advantage in that regard. “Cantwell’s Tavern provided the food utilizing local purveyors and farms like they always do to make sure the patrons were served high quality eats.”  Indeed, Chef Dan Sheridan started the Tavern’s farm-to-table philosophy from the minute it opened.  And with Cantwell’s located right across the street from the festival grounds and being one of the Historic Houses of Odessa, it was a natural choice. And it doesn’t hurt that your restaurant group owns its own food truck, the Roaming Raven, to help get all that great food out to the people.

(As always click on a photo in each gallery to open that gallery up full sized.)

Of course, the source of the food wasn’t the only advantage Jeremy had, “…we already knew the setting and landscape alone would set us apart.”  Indeed, the event was held at the Historic Homes of Odessa, on a field that surrounds their 1790 barn that on this particular day housed some awesome wines (that for some reason we didn’t get inside to try.  What we’re we doing all day?), along with Fromage a Cheese Boutique who were serving awesome cheese plates (which Tracey enjoyed greatly), as well as serving as a perfect backdrop for historic brewing educator Rich Wagner.

Despite this being their  first year, Odessa hit everything on spot, most likely due to Jeremy’s investigations into other events.  The volunteers were quick and friendly as the gates opened to let the crowd in.  I was a little worried about parking, but when we arrived for the VIP session we had no problem finding a spot close to the entrance.  There was plenty of water to be found in iced buckets around the grounds. The layout was great, and the bands was rocking.  All that was needed was a crowd of beer lovers.  And we and 1400 other festival lovers were happy to oblige.

We were lucky enough to be joined by Dogs of Beer co-founder Chuck and his wife Kat (aka, the Beer Goddess) for the day, which always makes a beer event that much more fun. Of course once we got inside we quickly surveyed the field to make note of where every one was.  Two of my favorite Delaware beers, Twin Lake’s Oktoberfest and Fordham’s Rosie Parks Oyster Stout, had recently been re-released so I was hoping that they’d made their way to the festival.  The beer gods were indeed smiling that day, as I was quick to get a taste of Rosie Parks as soon as we walked into the event, and indeed found Oktoberfest a few minutes later.

I finally got a chance to try 3rd Wave Brewing’s Bombora Double IPA (could be one of my new favorite Delaware beers) while talking with owner Lori Clough about the (enviable) problem of juggling multiple events – 3rd Wave was at five different events that day.  We soon bumped into Ron from Painted Stave Distillery as he was whipping up a batch of lemon drops using their Silver Screen vodka.  Usually I don’t hit the hard stuff that early, but Ron was pretty persuasive (he told me alcohol was going to go to waste if I didn’t drink it. What?  Ron wouldn’t lie to me!).  I also tried their Time Warp Espresso Vodka which normally isn’t my thing, but it’s named Time Warp – so how could I resist! And as always it’s great to see the DOPS team as they make any event better.

As a beer blogger, one of the great things about festivals is speaking to the people in the industry about what they’re doing now, and more importantly what they may be doing in the future. And to that end it was very nice to see Ron Price and his team from Warlock Brewing, the ink barely dry on his newly signed 5 year lease, and talk to him about his plans for his Smyrna based brewery. And when the subject of “their next beer to be canned” came up at the Mispillion tent, there was quite a lot of support for porter. Just sayin’.

But the wave of the future is that brew festivals are not made of beer alone.  A sentiment that Jeremy was quick to echo, “Whatever an event’s main theme is, whether a music festival, beer festival, wine festival, etc., you will always know that there will be a lot of music, beer or wine at said festival. What separates these events from others is all of the other “stuff” that the patrons can enjoy and experience.  It’s all about the experience.”

“…To make sure the festival goers weren’t just surrounded by beer, we made sure to bring in some local distilleries, seeing as craft distillers are now becoming just as popular as craft breweries.   We invited Fromage (a local cheese boutique from Middletown) and, Guy and Lady Barrel Cigar (a hand rolled cigar company out of Dover) that enforced the ‘Local Craft’ atmosphere we were looking for, and finally we topped it off with Paul Schiffelbein, a local [artisan] of handmade wooden cutting boards from Chesapeake City, MD.”

It’s a nice model – great location, great beers/wines/spirits, great local food, and talented local artisans.  It’s  a model that has served The Delaware Wine and Beer Festival greatly for many years, and one that future event holders should take note of.

The music for the event was supplied by local favorites Spokey Speaky and Philbilly, whose reggae and country vibes (respectively) supplied an awesome backdrop to the event. When Tracey had had enough beer fun, she claimed a table and sang along.

So what was the verdict? “I believe we had over 1400 attendees, over 45 breweries and over 50 vendors in general”, Jeremy said.  “In the end, it was exactly what we wanted and I think all of the festival goers experienced exactly what we wanted them too – a fun, ‘comfortable’, local Brew Fest.”

Jim Sturdivant (of www.4×, the company behind the marketing and the Brewbracket contest) agreed, “Based on feedback at the festival and on Facebook, the event has been perceived very positively. People had a great time and are already looking forward to next year.”

When I asked Jeremy what the future holds, he indicated that they’d already started planning for 2015, “The date has been set for next year, the Saturday after Labor day which is the 12th of September.” Which means…

Until next year, Odessa!
See you next year, Odessa!

The Odessa Brewfest is a fund-raising event for the Historic Odessa Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the legacy of the Historic Houses of Odessa for future generations, through commitment to the preservation of Odessa’s unique historic, architectural, and cultural heritage.”

Jeremy Hughes and Jim Sturdivant would like to thank everyone who helped make the first annual Historic Odessa Brewfest a success, including but not limited to:

Marc Ashby (Director of Operations of Ashby Hospitality Group and business partner).
Debbie Buckson (Historic Odessa Foundation).
Jen Cabell (Historic Odessa foundation).
All the breweries, wineries and distilleries that attended.
Cantwell’s Tavern.
The Roaming Raven.
Fromage cheese boutique.
Guy and Lady Barrel Cigar.
Paul Schiffelbein.
The bands Spokey Speak and Philbilly.
Rich Wagner.
And last but not least, “… the volunteers, … and all the beer lovers who came out for a beautiful day in Odessa!”

The author would like to thank Jeremy Hughes and Jim Sturdivant for taking some of their valuable time to talk with me.

Brew Dogs TV Show – Delaware Edition, Let’s Go Racing!

I thought I’d share some thoughts about the Delaware edition of the Brew Dog show because I actually thought the show was pretty cool for the most part, and well, I need content.  So here we go.

I’m going to assume you know Martin and James from Brew Dog in Scotland and I’m going to assume you have seen or know enough about the TV show Brew Dogs to understand the concept of the show.  If not, basically it’s two brewers from Scotland who come over here to the US and trick unsuspecting brewers into letting them do simple shit while brewing a beer, while all the time secretly going home and laughing about how they can’t believe they get people to let them do this stuff.  I’m not lying (I’m lying), it’s like Jack Ass meets Beer Hunter but it has more nudity than Jack Ass, but less than Beer Hunter.  So it’s right in between there somewhere.  Got it?  Good.

The first segment opens with the usual back and forth between James and Martin; blah blah blah, we’re in Delaware, Dogfish Head – you can probably guess.  There’s a short scene with Sam as they discuss beer, brewing, and their plans for this episode with the straight forward goal of brewing the fastest beer in under 10 days.

The plan then gets all convoluted as James decides they should brew the beer while traveling fast and Martin points out that in truth their speed record  is actually 72MPH while brewing on a train, because apparently we didn’t decided if “fastest” meant time or speed before the cameras started rolling.  Sam points out they are just miles from Dover Speedway, which would be a perfect place to break the land-speed-brewing record.  Because you know, why would Dover have a problem with two guys who normally drive on the opposite side of the car racing an over-sized truck with a bunch of brewing equipment around their track?  It’s Sam after all!  And besides, they couldn’t possibly do much more damage than Joey Logano already has.

What do you mean you can't drive?  I thought you were the DD?
What do you mean you can’t drive? I thought you were the DD?

For those of you unfamiliar with the track NASCAR trademarkingly refers to as “The Monster Mile (TM)“, it’s a 1 mile oval with no flat surface.  The straights bank at 9o, while the two turns work their way up to 24o.  So  you can’t just put brewing equipment in a truck and drive it around the track because of that annoying self-leveling thing that liquids insist on doing.  A fact the show’s fabricator seems somewhat perplexed on how to handle, but you know he’s already figured it out.

We then switch to The Green in Historic New Castle where the guys meet up with the 1st Regiment of Delaware, a group of colonial reenactors that are well known in the area.  Seeing a bunch of people in 18th century garb and firing period rifles may be unusual in some places, but in New Castle few people even notice. Just like no one flinches in NYC when they see a guy walking a llama down the street .

I have a photo that looks very similar to this!
I have a photo that looks very similar to this!

James and Martin talk with several members of the Regiment while they compare aged (2008) and un-aged bottles of DFH’s Palo Santo Marron, with some preferring the aged and some preferring the fresh.  After the interviews James and Martin literally get their “colonial on” as they throw on some period clothing, which apparently includes a red knitted Santa hat with the word LIBERTY stitched across it, and drill with the Regiment.

Not sure about the authenticity of James' hat.
Not sure about the authenticity of James’ hat.

The following segment opens immediately with Brew Dogs’ list of Top Five breweries in the state of Delaware, which I’ll address later in this post.  We then head to Hills Market Farms in Felton to get some honey from Ken Outten, President of the Delaware Beekeepers Association, to use in the beer.  I’m sure the guys thought this idea was theirs, but it’s Sam, and unless we’re making an Ancient Ale where the recipe excludes it, you know he’s putting some honey or maple syrup in that fashizzel.  After watching James freak out over bees (not horribly, only about a 3 on the scale of the way Steve on Ghost Hunters girls out over spiders) the guys collect their honey and head on.

In the next segment it’s time to pair some beers with a well known Delaware food favorite.  And since thousands of beach goers and UofD students have proven for years that any beer can be quaffed with Grotto’s pizza, and the only malt Thrasher’s wants you to have with their fries is the vinegar they put on them, we find ourselves outside of Fisher’s Popcorn in Rehoboth Beach,  where Martin proclaims he can pair beer with anything.  Opening originally in 1937  in Ocean City, MD, Fisher’s has become an institution at the Delaware shore having opened shops in Fenwick Island, Bethany and Rehoboth.  The segment starts with owner Will Hall giving them a quick lesson on how Fisher’s Popcorn is made, which leads to James looking like he’s never stirred anything with a wooden paddle before.  Odd for a brewer.

Fisher’s Will Hall shows the guys how to make popcorn.

Will decides to up the challenge on the beer pairing and breaks out Fisher’s new flavor, a caramel and crab spice popcorn, which since much has been made about how crabs go with beer doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch, but maybe it will throw the Highlanders off.  Martin chooses Free Will’s C.O.B a coffe oatmeal brown ale, while James goes with the more local Victory Prima Pils, which wins the contest according to Will.  The guys then attempt a “hop popcorn”, which apparently wasn’t bad and paired well with a DFH 120 Minute IPA.

Back at the track the brewing rig is unveiled, a long bed 350 with a brewing system mounted in the back.  To compensate for the bank of the track, the system is mounted on a gimble system that allows the system to swing, thus maintaining its own level regardless of the level of the truck; think how the seat on a Ferris wheel works.  The truck is adorned with the number 07, which is a number of a truck that runs in the Camping World Truck Series owned by SS Green Light Racing.  Sam feels the need to add a bunch of stuff to the beer (shocking I know) and he brings things like Turnips, palo santo smoked Radishes, star Anise, Cardamom and Kala jeera.  Put the capitalized letters in the ingredients together to get his thought process.  Cleverness abounds.

It’s race day and time to brew this beer, but first it’s time to list the Top Five beer bars and again, I’ll comment on them later in the post.  This is the segment that the race plans are detailed, and I have to admit, it’s pretty neat.  While all the rests, holds, boils and such will be done as they circle the track, all the additions and transfers will be done pit crew style by pulling the truck into pit row for a stop .  They even show the device they’ll use to mash in the grains, which is a converted NASCAR gas can.  These guys really thought this through.  Nicely done.

Top Five craft beer bars.
Top Five craft beer bars.

It’s here that we learn that Martin and James will take turns driving the truck, while Sam sits on the sidelines because apparently, “Sam’s wife wouldn’t let him anywhere near that death trap.”  Sam’s wife is either a killjoy, or a very smart woman. Multiple drivers is unusual in NASCAR unless a driver gets hurt, but since NASCAR.COM lists 9 drivers having helmed the 07 this year, I guess we’re going to over look it today.

Martin takes the wheel and before you can say, “Gentleman, start your engines”, it’s “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity…Let’s go racin’!”

As the guys circle the track, the water comes up to mash temperature and Sam calls for the first pit stop.

A real NASCAR pit crew awaits as Sam calls for a mash in and driver switch.

The Mash in!
The Mash in!

After an hour of incident free racing (unusual for Dover), Sam calls for a second pit stop.  No tires, but a sparge and a prep to transfer the wort.

Sam squanders the chance to win over some Bud drinking NASCAR fans when he refers to himself as the “coach” of the team, instead of the more appropriate “crew chief”.  I’m sure his marketing department will be having a talk with him.

During the pit stop the drivers leave the car for the garage area to do some fast craft beer virgin interviews.

Martin is back in the driver seat (that man just WON’T RETIRE!) and the after a few more laps notices liquid leaking from the truck and pit to address a wort pump problem.

Due to the leakage, the wort is now too thin and Sam’s answer is to just add more honey than originally planned.  Of course.

James takes over but can’t get the line he wants through the curves, so while the wort boils he’s not making nearly the speed he needs to qualify.

Sam calls for another pit where the honey and Sam’s grocery bag are added.  Sam decides to turn the wheel back over to Martin, fearing that James is simply more of a road racer and can’t handle the Monster. Don’t feel bad James, neither can David Ragan.

Martin takes to the track like Kyle Busch and doesn’t take long to hit 74MPH after which it’s another pit stop to cool the wort and pitch the yeast.

Eric Williams Mispillion
Eric Williams Mispillion River

The guys then shame Sam into jumping into the truck with them and head out on the track one last time to see what they can do.  Martin hits it hard, and gradually works the truck up to 91MPH; to which James says their “all out” and Sam yells, “My wife’s going to kill me!”  I’m not sure Sam’s wife is going to like how she is being portrayed in this show.  But apparently she runs the team, like DeLana Harvick. Then sadly, with only several laps to go – they run out of gas.  And the show is over. Nah, just kidding.

Sam riding so totally not shotgun.
Sam riding so totally not shotgun.

A Kreston’s Commercial!!!

Finally, we’re back at the brewery with the beer that Sam referred to at the start of the show as “Super Sonic Saison”, where the rest of the show is the three amigos standing in front of the crowd talking about the beer, joking around, having the crowd say whether-or-not they like the beer (they always like the beer), some what I hope was edited for fun conversations because some of them caused me to raise an eyebrow, and Star Anise somehow being morphed into Sam’s Anus.  And if that isn’t a high note to leave on, I don’t know what is.

The cold out is a nice bit that really shows Sam’s geeky sense of humor as he, James and Martin are putting on their fire suits to get into the truck.  Sam and James are putting on blue suits while James is putting on a red one when Sam comments, “I don’t know if you get this on Scottish TV, but on Star Trek the person that wears red always dies.”  That’s right, he may have missed the chance at converting those NASCAR fans, but he wasn’t about to miss those Trekkies.

Argilla gets a nod in the Top Five.
Argilla gets a nod in the Top Five.

Ok, so that’s enough of a run down of the show, let’s get to the two lists!

TOP FIVE BREWERIES                                                      TOP FIVE BEER BARS

#5       3rd Wave Brewing                                                          Arena’s Deli and Bar
#4       Argilla Brewing                                                               Cantwell’s Tavern
#3       Mispillian River                                                                Two Stones Pub
#2       Fordham/Old Dominion                                               Henlopen City Oyster House
#1       Twin Lakes Brewing                                                        Pickled Pig Pub

As far as the breweries are concerned, I’m cool with this list.  I could take acceptation of the apparent need of everyone outside the DelMarVa area to treat Fordham and Old Dominion like conjoined twins because they share the same space, but in this case it allowed them to highlight six breweries instead of just five, so I won’t complain. It does leave me wondering however if Stewart’s and Iron Hill were considered.  Speaking of which, I’m not sure if it’s common practice, but I love that the host brewery was not on the list.  Not for any other reason than everyone knows Dogfish Head, and as I’ve told many people who live outside our state, we’re much more than just them.

As far as the order goes, I’m good with it although I have a felling that as I have more beers from Mispillian, I might be tempted to swap #2 and #3.  Just my opinion.  Twin Lakes at the top?  Love it.

The team from Twin Lakes!
The team from Twin Lakes!

The bar list I can’t comment about too much because I haven’t been to Arena’s or the Oyster House, but from what I’ve heard, they definitely deserve to be on it.  Cantwell’s is such a nice place that I’m glad to see them on the list, and since the guys that started Two Stones were originally part of the Pickled Pig Pub, it feels like a Delaware craft beer family reunion.  Missing?  Only because they ran out of room in my opinion, Ulysses Gastropub which has an excellent beer selection; and Jessop’s Tavern, which probably wasn’t considered because Justin’s beer focus is more slanted to Belgians.

Wow, that’s a lot of laps, I mean words.  Wave the checkered flag.

[Author’s note:  All images are Copywrite and Owned By Esquire TV and Brew Dogs, and are used under Fair Use]

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.






The Local Tap: Philly Beer Week Opening Tap

If this post had a subtitle it would be, “Wrong Turns, Great Beers, and Mussels”.  You’ll see why.

Walking into the 23st Armory served very quick notice that this was not a venue like last year’s.  Gone were the multi-floor, stylish trappings and educational exhibits at the Independence Visitor Center, replaced by a totally open three story building with an unassuming brick interior.

The floor had obviously just been spray down or power washed, standing water still pooled in spots around the floor.  Yes, a little different.  But perfect.  Big and open works well for a brew fest, allowing one to quickly scan the surroundings as they empty their glass making it ready for the next beer.  And let’s be honest, other than a burning boat or a Siberian forest in 1908 , is there really a bad place for a beer fest?  I didn’t think so.

And this is no ordinary beer fest, this is the Opening Tap Festival for Philly Beer Week.  Through the generosity of others (who I will thank later), and some craft beer God smiling (I’m not worthy), Tracey and I once again made it on the media list for the awesome event.  Ok, I know what you’re thinking, “Ed, it’s just another beer fest.”  True.  Guilty.  Almost.

Opening Tap has one thing going for it that sets it slightly (OK, not so slightly) above the rest – It’s Opening Tap.  I know.  Cryptic.  Opening Tap is the “green flag”, if you will of Philly Beer Week, the first and possibly largest city wide, 10 day event dedicated to all things beer (that’s right, a mere 7 days can’t contain Philly Beer Week) which means that for this particular event, brewers come out and breweries bring some of their best beers, including a few “rare extras” now and then.

I want to highlight that – BREWERS come out.  I know it seems like such a little thing, but as someone who attends a lot of festivals where beers are poured by volunteers, it’s nice to chat with the guy who actually brewed the beer for a few minutes while he fills your cup.

We left home in what we thought was plenty of time, and after making the requisite number of wrong turns once we entered Philly (stupid G-Maps), we found ourselves at the Armory only 15 minutes late for the VIP session.  That’s practically punctual for us when it comes to Philly.

While a blocked off part of a hallway served as last year’s VIP tasting room, this year the whole venue was open to the craft beer lovers who bought the upgraded ticket.  The new open venue certainly made the VIP tasting seem less crowded, and we took the opportunity of having a few minutes of relaxed tasting and conversation with DE craft beer locals Rob Pfeiffer (Head Brewer) of Twin Lakes; and Tom Knorr (Owner) and Megan Moore (Rep NJ, DE, PA), of Delaware prodigal son Evolution Brewing.

Soon the flood gates opened, and the hordes stormed the armory.  A good horde though.  As always, I can’t give you and in depth analysis on all the beers I tasted.  It’s just a task too immense for my simple palette.  However, a short list of beers Tracey and I found ourselves in front reads like this:

Citra Belgian IPA (Barren Hill Tavern),Dreamin’ Double IPA (Manayunk Brewery), NJ350 (Flying Fish) Lowercase IPA (Free Will Brewing), 30 West Helles Lager, Southern Cross Hog (Lancaster Brewing), Kiss Off IPA, Fear Of A Brett Planet (Round Guys), Hop Five IPA (Susquehanna Brewing), LaGrave (Troegs), Lot No. 6 (Evolution), Grog (Nodding Head), Brotherly Suds 5 (Victory,Flying Fish, Yards, Sly Fox, Iron Hill, Nodding Head and Earth Bread + Brewery), Liberty Bell Ringer DIPA (Victory), Purple Monkey Dishwasher, I Love Lamp (Evil Genius), Philly Triple (Dock Street, Brouwerij Dilewyns), Puddler’s Row, Double IPA (Conshohocken Brewing), Smoked Amber (Saint Benjamin). Molasses Porter, Maple Mistress (Saucony Creek).  Beers in bold are ones that impressed us the most.

One of the activities that adds a little pomp and circumstance to Opening Tap is, well the Opening Tap (again? sorry) – in this case referring to the tapping of the keg of Brotherly Suds, the annual collaboration beer brewed especially for Philly Beer Week.  This year brewers Victory,Flying Fish, Yards, Sly Fox, Iron Hill, Nodding Head and Earth Bread + Brewery worked together to bring about Brotherly Suds #5, a golden bock (which did not disappoint in its malty goodness) with a touch of German hop.

The instrument of tapage (tappage?  Whatever..) for this occasion is the HOG, or Hammer Of Glory as it is called on official occasions, which besides Mjolnir and MC, is probably the most well known Hammer (note: always capitalize that) in the Philadelphia area.  And why not, leading up to the Opening Tap the HOG makes an annual media covered trip through and around Philadelphia, with fanfare and fervor only to be rivaled by the Olympic Flame.

And who get’s the honor of wielding the Hammer?  Why none other than the current Mayor of Philadelphia, the honorable Michael Nutter.  Michael?  Hmmm, apparently although advertised Michael couldn’t make it so he sent a suitable replacement.  One that Tracey immediately picked out of the crowd and drew attention to me by pointing and shouting, “Hey look! There’s that guy on TV that you don’t like!”

OK, it’s not that I don’t LIKE former Mayor and PA Governor Ed Rendell.  I honestly don’t know him well enough to like or dislike him.  I just wish he’d shut up when Ray Didinger is talking on Eagles Post Game Live.

After the tapping, it was time to announce the winners of The Inquire’s Brewvintational, an annual beer competition that tries to find the best of this sea of amazing beers.  First up in the new beer category was Nihilist Russian Imperial Stout, from Sly Fox.  We happen to be lucky enough to be standing right in front of the Sly Fox booth when this was announced, and lucky enough to get to taste this awesome beer.  Troeg’s came in second with their LaGrave a very nice Triple Golden Ale, and third was Round Guys with their very drinkable Fear of a Brett Planet,

The other category was Saisons which was lead by Tired Hand Brewing with their HandFarm Four-Grain Saison aged in Chardonnay barrels. Saison Wood from Iron Hill Brewery (Maple Shade) came in second with Solaire,  a Grisette/Saison from Forest & Main Brewing.  Sadly, Tired Hand and Forest & Main were not in attendance that night.

A little personal blog business from me, this was my first event with my new camera.  I’m going to be honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time over thinking anything here, I mostly set the camera on full auto and let it do the thinking for me, so most of these pictures are still just “snap shots” for all intensive purposes, but for the most part I’m already enjoying the upgrade in picture quality I got.

Sadly, the time to go had come.  We always like to leave beer fests a little early, you know, beat the rush traffic with people who have been drinking as long as we have.  Tonight we had a little extra incentive though because the parking garage next to the festival closed exactly at 10pm and the attendant informed us that since the garage wasn’t open during the weekend, if we didn’t get Tracey’s car out by 9:59, we’d be without it for the weekend.  I’m not sure if that was 100% true, but there are certain things you don’t want to roll the dice on, and I’m pretty sure your girlfriend’s car is one of them.  Just sayin’.

Remember how I said, “Wrong Turns, Great Beers and Mussels?” Well, after leaving Philly (accompanied by the requisite amount of wrong turns trying to get back on I-95) we decided to get something to eat.  Suddenly Tracey was in a mood for mussels so that meant a trip to Jessup’s Tavern in Historic New Castle.  Unfortunately by the time we arrived the kitchen had been closed for a while, but Justin was nice enough to set us up with a couple of decent beers to help alleviate our disappointment.  Why is this important?

Well, the next day we woke up to find out that “Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers” co-founder Patrick Huff was putting together a trip to Philly for the Varga Bar block party, and Tracey and I decided to tag along.  The day was awesome, but Tracey still had that hankering for mussels from the night before and made mention that we were only a small walk from Monk’s Belgian Cafe.  What followed was an awesome dinner with a beer list that we were very excited to be ordering off of.

But that, of course, is another post.

I’d like to thank everyone who always makes this event possible.  First of all to all the brewers, representatives and volunteers that make this event the amazing time that it is.  To G-Lo and gang from It’s Just The Booze Dancing, whose generosity got us on the list last year.  To Jennie Hatton for adding us to the list last year and getting us in touch with Michael Greger, who added us to the list this year.



The Local Tap – Brew Dog’s Filming in Old New Castle, a Cautionary Tale

A few weeks ago the Delaware craft beer network (which technically doesn’t exist) was set abuzz by the news that the show Brew Dogs would be in for a week filming an episode for their second season.

For those who are unfamiliar with this show that resides on the channel guide deep, Esquire Channel, it revolves around James Watts and Martin Dickie, owners and brewers for the  renowned (and often thought infamous) BrewDog brewery out of Fraserburgh, Scotland.  The format of the show is fairly simple, James and Martin travel to a well known brewery and there, brew a beer that tries to capture the essence of the area around them.  The show has seen them collect fog for water to brew with Anchor Brewing, brew a beer on a tall ship in Boston harbor (after taking a beer bath with Boston Brewery owner Jim Koch), and brewing the most “American beer” during a 4th of July parade.

This segment of the show is usually  a touch on the wacky side, as both guys run around trying to construct impossible equipment and gather unusual ingredients for their collaboration beer with the chosen brewer.  But other segments are very interesting as they highlight local craft beer bars and interact with craft beer loving (and non-craft beer loving) locals.  One show had them walk into a local bar and ask people there to “borrow” their beers.  The guys then took the beers down the street where a local chief cooked a dish that would pair well with each beer that the guys then returned to the unsuspecting donors to get their thoughts on how well the chief had done.

It should be no surprise to anyone that in the case of Delaware, the Brew Dogs were teaming up with the Dogfish Head brewery in Milton, Delaware.  This not only united the resources and creativity of two powerhouse breweries, but also marked a meeting of the guys with DFH owner Sam Calagione, himself not a stranger to TV beer shows.

The filming I went to watch was the guys visiting The Green in Historic New Castle to hang out and talk beer with the 1st Delaware Regiment.  The 1st Regiment is a living history group that educates people on the role Delaware played in the Revolutionary War.  The group pays tribute to the regiment that Delaware was requested to form for the Continental Army prior to the State’s independence from Pennsylvania.

Colonial reenactors might be an odd sight in some places, but in Historic New Castle the 1st Regiment is a common sight, participating in parades and other town events.  Heck, I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting some of them at beer events or just having a bite to eat at the local tavern.

I arrived about 15 minutes after the supposed start time to find the Regiment members set up and ready to go, but no Brew Dogs is sight.  Not surprising, having lived only blocks from The Green for many years and being a veteran of previous filmings such as Dead Poet’s Society and Oprah Winfrey’s Beloved, I’m well aware that filming is a matter of hurry up, get ready, and then sit around and wait.

But soon the producers and crew began to show up and lay out the shoot and co-ordinate with the Regiment about what was going to happen.  Several of the Regiment were chosen to participate in single shoots were they got to discuss craft beer (and its place in colonial times) with the guys as they tasted what appeared to be DFH’s Palo Santo, although I heard some discussion about aged vs non-aged.

Here’s a gallery of pictures I took during the shoot.  If you click on a picture it will put it in slide show mode and then you can use the arrows to view the rest.  Sorry if they load slow.

The cautionary tale?  Well this happened on a Friday, the following Tuesday I was working on my laptop when I decided to clean out my email.  When I was done I decided to take a quick minute to empty my spam folder and found the following that had been sent to me on April 10th…

Dear Ed,
Master brewers James Watt and Martin Dickie are bringing the craft beer revolution to Delaware to tape Season 2 of their popular show BREW DOGS next week.  Set to air this June on the Esquire Network, BREW DOGS follows these two Scottish rebels as they visit different American beer towns, taste distinctive craft beers, and enlist American brewers to help them create their own outrageous, locally-inspired drafts…
They’re filming in Delaware April 15-18, and I’d love to invite you to the tasting party — the grand finale of the episode — for a behind-the-scenes look at the show.


My reaction was less than subdued.  I just deleted several emails asking me for monetary help, telling me I’d won some UK lottery and (my favorite, from a supposed woman) asking me if I remember her and why haven’t I responded to her emails ; and THIS is the one Yahoo decides needs to go into my spam folder?  Thanks.

Anyway, the email went on to request that recipients release no details of the show (although they were included and I did let it slip on my Facebook page because, you know, at that point I hadn’t read the email yet), but I will say that I’m very interested to see how they navigated the interesting problems that surrounded how they decided to brew.

So let that be a lesson to you boys and girls.  Never trust your email provider, and always check your spam folder.

Time for another beer…