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 – The Pickled Pig Pub

The wall at The Pickled Pig with the BYOCB. Note the picture of guy in the raft floating in a pickle vat.

Back in July I posted a poll on the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers page asking the group where they’d like to go for our next event.  My only caveat for this poll was that it had to be some place the group had never been before.  I gave the group a handful of opinions and encourage people to add any I’d forgotten.  The winner of the poll was the Dogfish Head Brew Pub.

In hindsight, this was probably not the most well thought out poll result we could have had.  For us living in Northern Delaware, the trek down to DFH is a long one.  As a matter of fact, according to Google Maps it’s ~16 miles farther from my front door to DFH than to Max’s Taphouse in Baltimore.  Add to that the summer beach traffic, and this had all the possibilities of being a total mess.

However, the appeal of getting the group to DFH, along with the anticipation of possibility meeting up with some of our down state members was too great.  So on a hot summer Saturday, we hopped into the car and prepared to brave the traffic.  Of course, Tracey and I had a plan to maximize our journey.  We left early, determined to make our lunch stop a place we’d heard a lot about, The Pickled Pig Pub.

Although I’d never set foot in the place, it’s easy for me to consider “Da’ Pig”, my sister bar in the south, if you will.  Co-owner and former Pickled Pig chef Michael Stiglitz was making quite a name for himself at the restaurant and indeed, in the industry in general, when he left the Pig kitchen to start some beer bar wanna-be, northern Delaware establishment called Two Stone’s Pub.

Now I have to admit, when I walked into The Pickled Pig, I was a little set back.  I’m not going to lie; this place doesn’t look like anything overly amazing.  The thin long dinning room screams “beach, strip mall establishment”, and the bar is a bit on the small side.  Ah but my friends, grab a seat and let the staff show you that there’s way more to this book than just the cover.

Pickled Pig’s Deep Fried Pickles

The menu has a wide array of flavors, including mussels, pub pretzels, salads and sandwiches, plus a couple items I recognized from the menu at Two Stone’s, “hog” wings, and the Foie Gras Burger.  It also contained an item Tracey can’t resist – deep fried pickles.  And these are not little pickle circles either, no they’re big sliced spears deep fried in a light batter that’s so good you probably could sell it on its own.

For lunch Tracey ordered the pulled pork sandwich that had an amazing flavor to it, and I had a “chipotle burger”, a sausage patty topped with a spicy slaw that was very tasty.  And although we agreed that we had enjoyed our meal, be both agreed that we’d have to come back down in the future for the Chef’s Cheese Board.

If the Pig is known for its rotating taps, it should also be known for its rotating cheese board.  Approximately 13 cheese are highlighted regularly all of which are available separately for ~$5 each (there are even suggested drink pairings), a $15 “Build Your Own” option, or you can get a sample of every cheese on the board, plus meats, jam and a toasted French baguette for $40.  That’s something we can really get into!

The beer?  Oh yeah, they have beer! Fourteen rotating taps plus a very nice bottle selection that represents a nice cross section of the craft beer scene.  Local breweries such as Twin Lakes, Evolution and Old Dominion are represented, along with some foreign exports.  For those people who have issues with gluten, there was a gluten free option from New Planet, and for those who have issues with good beer, there were products from Bud, Miller and Coors.  Ha!  Just teasing you non-craft beer drinkers!

Does anyone ever order a 4oz taster of Miller Lite?

The day we were there some of the taps were off, as they were still trying to recoup from National IPA Day, but there were still good things to find.  Tracey started off with a Paulaner Hefeweisen which she enjoyed very much.  I started with an Evolution Brewing Lot 3, which was solid as always.  I then went for a Heavy Sea’s Loose Cannon, but finished it up back in state with an Old Dominion Double D.

Kegs ready to go at The Pickled Pig. I hope no one ever loses that key!

I’ll leave the Dogfish Head side of the trip for a later post.  Once I got over the initial confusion that the appearance of the Pickled Pig wasn’t what I was expecting, I found it to be just what people have been saying, an excellent haven for lovers of great food and beer.  And as such, I believe it absolutely deserves to be highlighted in its own post.

We’ll definitely be back.  Time for another beer.

Some Reflections on National IPA Day

So yesterday was National IPA Day (#IPADay, if you were following on Twitter), a day which was devised to celebrate one of the iconic beer styles in world.  Social media was exploding with anticipation, and in some arenas loathing, as the day crept closer.  I have to admit, I got a little kick surfing through Twitter conversations watching people espouse, debate, and indeed for some, decry, a day that by its very inception was meant to unite craft beer drinkers.

I found it interesting that although the day had it’s detractors (including one Twitter notable who was trying to shout down the day with the fact that it was also National Ice Cream Sandwich Day, calling IPA day “vacuous and shallow self-promotion”) some of the things that I found myself shaking my head at the most were its supporters, who for the most part, didn’t seem to be able to agree on what the actual purpose of IPA Day was.  Let’s look a few points of view I found floating around the Twittersphere.

“IPA Day is a chance for people who don’t normally drink IPAs to enjoy the style.”

In some cases I suppose this could be true, but to be honest I believe the truth of this statement is solidly going to land on why a person doesn’t “normally drink” IPAs.  While it’s true that a person who occasionally drinks an IPA might be more prone to have one on IPA Day, I believe that for the people who don’t drink them because they don’t like them, this day isn’t going to push them over to the hoppy dark side.

A person who doesn’t like hoppy beers, if given the option, will not try an IPA just because it’s IPA Day.  He’s going to order what he normally orders and be done with it.  If someone walked into the bar I was at last night, where all 24 taps and the cask were IPAs, he only had four options.  One, have an IPA.  Two, order a bottled beer of something he liked.  Three, stay but don’t drink beer.  Four, leave.  The choice would depend very much on the person (with possibly a little help from a friendly bartender), but note that three out of four of those options involve NOT drinking an IPA.  So the what is the possibility that someone who doesn’t like IPAs would order one?  The magic eight ball says, “not likely”.

As a matter of fact for some, IPA Day can be an overall deterrent.  Tracey doesn’t particularly like hoppy beers, so she just opted out at last night’s DCBaWL event.  And to flip it, if someone does occasionally like IPAs is it a style that really needs its own day to afford someone the opportunity to have one, after all, it’s not like you DON’T run into IPAs everyday.  National Rauch Bock Day.  Give me a call when that comes around.

“IPA Day is a chance to raise awareness in the non-craft beer community”

I’ll be honest up front, I’m not sure how much awareness days like this spread OUTSIDE the craft beer world.  I’m sure that non-beer people who follow me on Twitter saw my Tweets, but in this age of quick information I’m sure most of them just went on to something they knew and were more interested in (like when the new Doctor Who season is starting?), instead of taking the the time to find out what the hell I was talking about.  No, I believe for most “Joe Six Pack” types, yesterday came and went smoothly with out the letters IPA creeping into their awareness.

This opinion of mine is supported a bit by the fact that some people inside the craft beer world didn’t know it was IPA Day.  I saw a couple of parties walk into the bar last night (you don’t walk into this place and drink bud, miller or coors) and wonder why it was so packed, a quick look of surprise dancing across their face when they were told it was IPA Day.  In fact, I’m going to stop by Stateline on the way home today.  I’ll take an informal poll of its employes and see how many of them knew it was National IPA Day yesterday.  I’ll post the results in the comment section below.

“Encourage non-craft beer drinkers to take a break from their normal beverage routine and join the collective toast on August 2nd.  Set the goal of converting at least one person, if not the whole world of drinkers, into an IPA lover!” – This is directly from the IPAday.org website.

This would seem like a worth while and noble goal but, and this is just my own personal opinion, while I applaud the notion of introducing people to “good beer”, I always caution people that this a process that involves baby steps, rarely sledge hammer type Epiphanies.  And sadly, the current trend in the American craft beer market is actually working against this goal as very few (if  any) of the high alcohol hop bombs that were on tap last night would I consider to be good candidates to hand a bud drinker in the hopes that I could convert them.  Better to leave that for National Amber, Golden, or Pilsner Day.

Something like Miller Lite? Let me see……

“IPA day is a chance for craft beer lovers to celebrate a classic style”

While some might argue (and some did) why we need such a day , this is the reasoning that makes the most sense to me.  Last night I was surrounded by fellow members of the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers (as well has a hoard of other craft beer devotees – the place was PACKED), trying IPAs we’d never had before, revisiting some we truly love and discussing ones we’d had in the past that we enjoyed – and admittedly, some we did not.

Do we really need a National IPA Day to do that?  No.  But we have one, so why not take advantage of it.  With that, regardless of some of my mixed feelings about the day, I’d like to tip my hat to Ashley Routson (@TheBeerWench) and Ryan Ross (@RyanARoss) the co-founders of National IPA day for all their hard work and effort.  And thanks Two Stones Pub for celebrating it with their usual awesomeness (The Stone Ruination, Double Dry Hopped was insane!).

Time for another beer….one lightly hopped.

The Local Tap – Tröegs Tap Take Over at Two Stones Pub

The Board at Two Stones Pub for the Troegs’ tap take over.

On July 17th, a few members of the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers met at Two Stones Pub for a Tröegs Brewing tap take over.

I started with Perpetual IPA.  In this case the “I” stands for “Imperial”, as the alcohol comes in at 7.5% ABV and the beer utilizes an impressive list of hops throughout the brewing process: Bravo, Chinook, Mt. Hood, Nugget, Citra, Cascade,  and Amarillo.

It’s a big beer, but well balanced.  I was debating on another but decided to go with a Dreamweaver Wheat  instead.  This beer, brewed in open top fermenters, hits all the check boxes; spice, clove, pepper and bananas.   Open top fermentation allows the brewery to skim off and collect the foam, or krausen, from the top of the wort during the fermentation process.  This krausen, containing yeast and wort proteins, is then used to start the fermentation of the next batch of Dreamweaver Wheat.  The brewery states on their website that this gives the beer stronger pepper and clove notes than traditional closed fermentation.  Seems to work!  Very refreshing.

Perpetual IPA. Cask on the left, keg on the right.

Two Stones Pub Co-owner Ben then asked if I wanted the first pour of Perpetual IPA on cask (who wouldn’t?), so after a toast between me, him and Troeg’s rep; I turned my focus to the cask ale in front of me and and a taster glass of the keg version for comparison.  I enjoyed the smooth creaminess from the cask version, although bartender Anna preferred the crispness of the keg.

Next up was Dead Reckoning  Porter.  I’m very fond of porters and this is a nice one.  From a pure “style” stand point, the light hop that peaks out behind the cocoa/chocolate malt might not be to everyone’s liking, but I didn’t mind it that much.

The final three beers were from Tröegs’ Scratch Beer Series.  This series is Tröegs’ way of doing small batch experiments with new processes and ingredients; and the beers are quiet often only available in Tröegs’ tasting room.  The beers are often simply refer to by style, but the series is also numbered with a code, xx-yyyy; with xx being the number of the batch in the series (starting at 1 and now sitting at 72) and yyyy being the year the beer was made.  The beer that started out as #4-2007, at first simply labeled “barleywine”, is now doing duty for the brewery as their Flying Mouflan.

The first was More Helles, Less Bock (#69-2012) a Helles/Bock/Maibock amalgamation that showed a complex nose and flavor; laced with malt, bread and maybe some honey.  This illustrates one of the sad things about hunting around for great beers, sometimes when you find one, you have to accept the fact that it will probably (sometimes definitely) be the last chance you have to enjoy it.  Really, really good.

The true “Clash of the Titans”

The final two beers have the distinction of being created as a result of a friendly(?) challenge by Tröegs to two legends in the craft beer world (and indeed, the PA/DE/NJ craft beer scene); Jack Curtin, beer columnist and the man behind Liquid Diet; and Lew Bryson, beer author and the man responsible for Seen Through the Glass , The Session Beer Project , and fellow survivor of the REC.FOOD.DRINK.BEER usenet group.   Each was challenged to brew a beer as part of Tröeg’s Scratch Beer Series, which was to be presented head-to-head as part of this year’s Philly beer week.  And of course, bragging rights were on the line.

First up was Jack Curtin’s Beire de Grouch (#66-2012), a Beire de Garde made with fresh cracked black pepper.  The French/Belgian influence was all over this beer with earthy notes amongst malt and yeast.  But the pepper was the real star here.  Both in the aroma and in the taste where it was just enough to give a warm pepper finish without over powering the rest of the flavors.  Awesome balance.  Great beer.

Finally, it was time for Lew’s beer,  Zwickel Licker (#68-2012) (note, the beer is WAY more fun to order when you are surrounded by women who have a great sense of humor) an unfiltered Dortmunder.  The beer is a pocket german lager with good amounts of malt, and a hop finish that’s crisp and clean.   There would be worst things in the world than sitting around a grill and drinking this all day long.

The winner?  Sadly, I’ve been informed by my editor that since I was not contacted to serve as an official judge in what was obviously a very serious competition, I can’t say.  But he has agreed  to put up a picture.

The Winner!!

Thanks to Two Stones Pub for another great tap take over.  Thanks to Tröegs for the great beers.  And thanks to Tröegs’ rep for the beer swag (pint glasses, key chains, etc).  Shout out to new DCBaWL member Mike for stopping by.  Always great to meet new members, especially when they’re a fellow Doctor Who fan.

Time for another beer…..

Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers (#DCBaWL) West Coast vs East Coast BBQ

The Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers group met for our first BBQ picnic get together.  The theme was “West Coast vs East Coast” and we had an excellent turn out of beer and indeed, beer lovers.   Patrick, Kristen, Dana, Ann, Brian, Rob, the other Rob, Randy, Ida, and of course Tracey and I; met at Patrick and Kristen’s house ready to sample what the two coasts had to offer.

Dana’s growler of Victory Ranch. We were staring at this like NASCAR drivers at a green flag. Its opening marked the beginning of the event. Thanks Dana!

Outside of the WvsE theme, no restrictions were given to the type of beer we could bring, so the day turned into a “20 man over the top battle royal” type event, each beer fighting to be the last one standing amongst the collection of libations brought.

I arrived with a pseudo cooler of surprises, 8 beers, 4 each from the respective coasts.  The event turned into a great day of food, fun and spirited talk about beer and the craft industry in general.  We also touched on past beer events we had attended, both inside and outside the DCBaWL as well as what lay ahead on the beer/wine calendar.

A list of (what I can remember) beers that participated were:

EAST COAST:  Victory Brewing’s Ranch IPA, Allagash’s Hugh Malone, Sixpoint’s Sweet Action, Smuttynose’s Really Old Brown Dog, DFH’s Festina Peche and Palo Santo, DuClaw’s Mysterium, Southern Tier’s Unearthly, RJ Rocker’s Fish Paralyzer and Son of a Peach, Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid, Shmaltz Coney Island Sword Swallower

WEST COAST:  Oskar Blues’ G’Night, Moylan’s Hopsickle, Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut, Stone’s Oaked Arrogant Bastard, Napa Smith’s Organic IPA, Anchor’s Liberty Ale, 21st Amendment’s Old Chub (?)

(L-R) Rob, Patrick and Tracey enjoying the day, and the beer.

And a slew of others I’ve forgotten and didn’t check-in to my Untappd account (you need to keep up with that, Ed!), so if anyone can remember any more we had, leave them in the comment section and I’ll add them to the list!

Brian throw in what we thought was a ringer with Goose Island’s 312 Wheat until it was pointed out that it is now brewed by Baldwinsville, N.Y after being bought by Anheuser-Busch. Sneaky.

Brian contemplating his next beer.

So who won?  Well, in truth, the people who showed up were the real winners.  We had great food and great beer which made for a wonderful afternoon/evening.  Beyond that I will say that Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut seemed to garner the most interest, delivering both the maple and bacon as advertised.  There also seemed to be a general agreement that Sixpoint’s Sweet Action was lacking.  Nod to the West?

I’d like to thank all the members and friends who showed up to participate and for all the great beers everyone brought.  I’d also like to thank everyone for the food, which was simply delicious all the way around.  And big shout out to Kristen and Patrick Huff for hosting the event.  Sadly, it was agreed that this would probably be our only “picnic” type get together this summer as our schedule is getting pretty full with other events (not that that’s a bad thing!) and members have pretty tight summer calendars.

If you couldn’t make this event, check out our Facebook page here for an up coming event and sign up!  If you’re reading this and you’re not a member of the DCBaWL and you love good beer and wine, than click on the link and join.  It’s a great group of like mind people.

Thanks again to everyone for making this event rock!

Looks like we’re having a good time.
Cheers, everyone! Until next time.

The Local Tap – Allagash Tap Take Over at Two Stones Pub

The Board at Two Stones

Last week the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers group met at Two Stones Pub, Newark for an Allagash (WEB:FACEBOOK:TWITTER) tap take over.  Thirteen different beers were on tap that night plus some special bottles floating around.  It was great to meet three new members of the DCBaWL as well as spending some talking to craft beer friends both old and new.

I’m not going to try and hide our fondness for Allagash, I think they make solid beers.  Their Four is always a go to beer for me, and Tracey is happy anywhere that has their White on the beer menu.  But tonight was about getting the chance to taste some beers that we normally don’t get to see (and some we may never see again).

I started the evening with a mug of the White.  One, because it was the only Allagash beer they were serving in mugs and I needed to wash the taste of work out of my mouth, and two, so I could send Tracey a picture of it to encourage her to ditch work ASAP and come get some.

After that, time to switch to tasters and try some beers.  First up was a side by side of Thing 1 and Thing 2 an attempt to brew two beers from the same base wort.  Thing 1 is styled as a Belgian table beer at about 5% ABV.  From the wort of Thing 1, 7 bbls were diverted to another tank to which regular sugar, dark candi sugar were added and some dark grains were added to steep.  Both beers were good but I liked Thing 2 better, having a little more depth in the flavor.  We’re off to a good start.

Saison Mihm

Next in line for some side to side was Victor and Victoria.  Both beers are part of Allagash’s Tribute Series with moneys from both beers going to two different charities.  While both beers are described as “Belgian Strong ales brewed with grapes”, they’re actually quite different.  Victoria is brewed with a Belgian yeast and has over 200lbs of Chardonney grapes added to the mash, while Victor has over 100lbs of cabernet franc grapes added and is fermented with a wine yeast.  Between the two I had to give the nod to Victoria as I found Victor to have a slight “Welch’s grape juice” note that is not a favorite of mine.  Tracey waved me off however, stating that she liked the flavor of Victor and finding more complex than Victoria’s.

Next we decided it was time to take a break from the taste comparisons, so I ordered a Saison Mihm a beer brewed with honey, juniper berries, and lemongrass.  I’m always dubious of beers brewed with juniper beers because I don’t like when the beer gets to “ginny”.  But Mihm was nice, with a nice sweetness, none of the flavors over powering the other, and a bright finish.  It would have be interesting to try this side by side against Four to see if it could displace it as my favorite beer.

Can you tell which on is Bourbon barrel aged.

Back to side by sides we go as we compared their Belgian stout Black, against its bourbon aged twin.  Most of you know my feelings on bourbon beers by now, but I actually felt confident going into this tasting since Allagash makes one of my fav bourbon beers, Curieux.  Indeed, I liked the bourbon Black as I didn’t find it over powering, but the normal Black is pretty good as well.  Tough call here.  Might be a draw.

After that I needed something to bitch-slap my palette so I went with Old HLT.  What do you do with a large stainless steal tank sitting in the corner doing nothing?  Why you put 30 barrels of beer in it along with 2000lbs of cherries and let it sit for 2 years, what else?  This was very nice, with tart cherries and earthiness.

Next was Yakazu, a Belgian triple dry hopped with Cascade and Sorachi Ace.  Definite tropical fruit notes mingle with the Sorachi Ace in the style of the triple.  Nice beer.

Sometime during all this, co-owner Ben opened a bottle of Prince Tuesday and slid me a taste.  The beer is a collaboration beer between Allagash/Maine Beer/Rising Tide and brewed with Maine Rye.  It was a nice tasting beer and I wish I could have had a little more.  Apparently it was only distributed in Maine, so thanks to whoever brought the bottle.

Pretty much beered out at that point, I grabbed a glass of the Four and walked around touching base with some craft beer and twitter peeps.  The Allagash tap take over ranks up there is the best Two Stones have done, which is a testament to the quality of beers Allagash is producing.  Troeg’s is on tap for next month, and they’re going to have a tough act to follow.

Time for another beer…

The Local Tap – Argilla Brewing, Visit #2

The Board at Argilla

Last Friday the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers group met at the newest, and smallest, brewpub in Delaware – Argilla Brewing (Web : Facebook : Twitter).  Steve Powell opened the brewery in March as part of Pietro’s pizza’s new location on Kirkwood Highway.  This was Tracey and I’s second visit to the brewery, just about a month from our first visit.

It was really good!

First, let’s get a few comments about the food out of the way.  On our first stop here we found the pizza good, although our in-house pizza reviewer (my daughter) thought it was light on toppings.  Not the case this time!  Our “Kennett” pizza ( fresh mushrooms, onions and roasted red peppers) came out hot, crisp and covered with toppings.  The combo was excellent with a nice tasting sauce and plenty of cheese.  The chipolte stout BBQ wings we ordered had a great flavor and mild heat.   But I’m going to be honest, any comment I make on the food is irrelevant.  Why?  Because by 7:30 the place was packed.  I’m mean seriously packed.   Obviously someone out there thinks this place is plating up killer food and apparently I’m the last one in Delaware to find out.  So let’s get to the beer (which after all is what I pay myself to do).

The first thing on the board that grabbed my attention was a Belgian bitter (5.8% ABV).  The beer was well balanced with both the Belgian and bitter influences apparent.  To be honest I didn’t take a lot of notes on it as I was content at the moment to just sit there and enjoy it.

Argilla’s 1.5 barrel brew system

The next beer was Gleason’s Cream Ale (4.5% ABV) which I had on my first visit.  As I said then, I’m usually not a fan of nitro for anything other than stouts, but it really does marry well with a Cream Ale.  The reduced carbonation gives the beer a mouth feel deserved of the description “cream”.  This is a beer you could drink a lot of, which I believe is what the guys at Argilla were shooting for.

Next was the Amber (5.0% ABV), which had the malt profile you’d want in an Amber with just enough bitter on the back end to balance it out.  Argilla toasts some of the grains in their pizza ovens for this beer, giving a nice tie in between the beer and food sides of the the business.  It rocked with the pizza.  Although I really enjoy the Cream Ale, I’d have to say that this is my favorite beer Argilla is producing right now.

Future beer in the waiting.

Finally I had the Citizen Pale Ale which, with notes of grapefruit and spice that make me think of cascade or columbus hops, is about as defining example of an American style pale ale as one could ask for. Another solid beer.

A quick poll around the group came to the same conclusion.  Everyone seemed be enjoying the beers, finding more than one on the board that they liked.  Argilla does have commercial guest taps (again solid beers in the 5-6% range, nothing huge) for those who prefer them.  But as I glanced around the bar it seem that the majority of  people were drinking those produced in house.  Another nice testament to a brewery.

It’s become to easy in the current craft beer market with it’s trend towards 8+% ABV beers with a myriad of flavors running around in your glass to forget that there is a lot of room between the 5%ABV megaswill and a well crafted 6.0% beer for a brewer to focus on, and indeed shine (and I’m as guilty as the next person in that regard).  At the moment, that’s where Argilla seems comfortable playing.  Their beers are clean, on point as far as style and accessible, which is all anyone can ask.  These are beers that will fit in well with a meal out with friends or family, without being to heavy or distracting.

This is the part where I’m supposed to encourage you give them a try, but by the look of the crowd on Friday it appears that you already have.  I will encourage you then to keep supporting Argilla Brewing, they’re representing the craft beer scene in Delaware well.

[NOTE – Steve Powell contacted me after learning we were coming.  Sadly he wasn’t going to be there that night but offered that his manager would be more than happy to take us back and show us their brewing set up.  But since the place was so busy, I decided not to pull anyone away from doing their jobs.  But I thank Steve for the consideration.  Hopefully next time!]

The Local Tap – Cantwell’s Tavern

Cantwell's Tavern

On Saturday the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine group was supposed to meet for a tour of the Old Dominion Brewery in Dover.  Unfortunately, Tracey and I got caught in a traffic jam due to an accident that ended up actually shutting down the road we were on.  Forced to turn around, and knowing we’d missed our tour we decided instead to take advantage of the situation and (finally) stop in at Cantwell’s Tavern in Odessa, Delaware.

Cantwell’s Tavern (Web, Facebook, Twitter) opened in December 2011 promising delicious farm-to-table food which included house made sausages, bacon, bread and sauces; as well as an upscale tap list.  As soon as we heard about it we put it on our list of places to try, but sadly the couple of times we tried to dial it into our schedule something else popped up.  But thanks to a well placed traffic jam (well, I probable shouldn’t say that; we really did want to go on the brewery tour) we were finally sitting in the barroom of this 19th century style tavern.

Cantwell’s resides in the historic Brick Hotel that was established in 1822.  The barroom and dinning room have been given a look that suits this time period (having once lived in Historic New Castle I really love this type of décor), from simply dressed dinning room tables to a bar with old time swing-down ceiling gates.  The barroom is accented in period pieces and populated with simple high-top wooden tables and stools along with a few booths in one corner.

Lunch! Yummy!

We claimed a booth and eagerly scanned the tap selection.  I was surprised to see Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum on the list and thought I’d get a sneak peak of it before I did a review on the bottle that’s in my fridge.  But sadly the keg had already kicked, but Evolution’s Lot 6 had replaced it so I ordered one.  Tracey didn’t find anything on the draft list that spoke to her, so she turned her attention to the ample bottle list and found one of her favorites, Allagash White.

Beer decided, we turned to the menu.  We immediately realized that this was not going to be easy.  The menu was full of excellent sounding choices keying on terms like “grass feed Angus beef” and “house made bacon and sausage”.  I was pleased to see andouille sausage sprinkled through out the menu and the grilled BBQ wings definitely caught my eye.

In the end though it was the steamed mussels that won out.  You can order them cooked three different ways and it was nice to see that each contain a signature base liquid; one used beer, the second wine, the third cider.  Having never had a cider based mussel dish before, I selected the chipolte cider mussels.  Tracey ordered a side dish of the deviled eggs, and Carolina pulled pork sandwich.

The eggs must have been good because Tracey finished them quickly.  She thought the pulled pork was a little on the sweet side, but loved the flavor.  I thought the sweetness was ok, and thought the pork was well done.  The mussels were on point (to quote Mr Fiere), plump and perfectly cooked.  The broth had a slight smokiness from the chipolte but didn’t mask the subtle flavors of the cider. The real kicker however was the tangy cheese that was sprinkled on the dish. It perfectly paired with the mussels to bring the dish to another level.  And it all went perfect with my second beer choice, Allagash Four.

Finishing up, I ordered a Taylor’s Grog to end the meal.  Taylor’s is a specialty beer brewed by the guys out at Twin Lakes Brewing.  It’s sort of a marker beer because if you see it on tap, you know you’re in a bar that’s owned by the same group that owns McGlynn’s, The Deerpark, and of course Cantwell’s.

Cantwell’s beer list consists of twelve taps and as I mentioned before an extensive bottle list.  The taps run north to south, with macros like Miller and Yuengling mixed in with local boys DFH (90 Minute IPA, Red and White) and Evolution(Lot #3, Lot #6).  The rest of the taps are rounded out with breweries like Allagash, Stone, Troegs, Goose Island and Yards.  The taps rotate, so check the website frequently.

The Bar at Cantwell's

If the rest of the menu is as solid, then Cantwell’s is indeed doing it right.  As for the beer, no complaints here, a nice mixture of macro and micro that should guarantee that anyone who goes there should be able to find a beer they enjoy.  Cantwell’s runs daily specials, so check out their website.  They had mugs hanging which leads me to believe they have a mug club, but I didn’t ask.  They also appear to be running some interesting events like the Stouts and Stogies dinner coming up.  Three food courses and 1 cigar, each paired with a different stout; Yards Love Stout, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout and Schlafly Reserve Bourbon Aged Imperial Stout (a recent tweet or facebook post suggests that this is the one that’s being paired with the cigar).

Believe me, it won’t take another traffic jam to get us back to Cantwell’s Tavern!

The Local Tap – Flying Fish Tap Take Over at Two Stones Pub

Last Thursday members of the “Delaware Craft Beer and Wine” facebook group meet at Two Stones Pub for a tap take over from NJ brewers Flying Fish.  The group turn out was good, with some frequent attendees making an appearance as well as some new faces.  The crowd was lively and the place was ready to try some beers from Flying Fish.

The Chalk Board at Two Stones.

Flying Fish from Camden NJ, caught my eye awhile ago by virtue of their “Exit” series.  An ambitious multi-year project, the brewery hopes to brew a beer for each exit of the NJ turnpike.  Each beer being its own distinct style based on something interesting from  the area around the exit.  I really wanted to try all these as they came out, but sadly I’ve been lax in keeping my eyes open for them.  Being an “Exit 1” born and raised NJ boy, I of course had to try their Exit 1 Bayshore Oyster Stout which I remember enjoying.

Cheers!

But tonight was all about their recent release, Exit 8 – their Chestnut Brown Ale.  This was its Delaware premiere.  Our state got two kegs, and guess who got’em? From the brewery:

To celebrate Exit 8, one of our big farming areas, we’ve brewed a beer that
uses a lost local ingredient: chestnuts–and a popular current one: local honey.
This full-bodied hybrid Belgian-style brown ale brings forward a nutty character
from the chestnuts, accented by the flavors of honey, roasted barley and oat
flakes. There’s a nice spiciness from the Mt. Rainier hops while Chinooks add a
touch of pine. Fuggles and Columbus round out the hop profile.

While we sipped it, much discussion ensued.  I thought the beer was ok, but a little off to be a brown (maybe that’s where the term hybrid comes into play).  I got hints of honey and spice in it, as well as something that probably was the chestnuts.   It didn’t blow me away, but there was definitely enough there to warrant a focused revisit when I get my hands on a bottle (I’ll be fair to the brewery and post a better review when I do).  As a matter of fact, I found most of the beers from Flying Fish solid but nothing extraordinary.

I went into the take over believing that Exit 4, their American Triple, is far and away the best beer they make.  And nothing I had that night (Extra Pale, Farmhouse, ESB and Exit 8) changed that opinion.  Exit 4 is simply awesome, with it citrus notes and hint of cloves.  It won a Gold Medal at the 2009 at the GABF, and Flying Fish was smart enough to make it a year round offering.  And luckily, it was on draft that night.  Great stuff.

Another awesome event from the guys at Two Stones.  I can’t wait to see who they’ve got coming in next.

Time for another beer.

The Local Tap – Ulysses American Gastropub

This past Saturday Patrick’s (Beer Delaware) Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers Meet Up group got together at Ulysses American Gastropub (24 rotating taps, Map, Twitter, Facebook) in Wilmington.  It’s fairly new in the beer scene, having been opened by the same group that owns Six Paupers in Hockessin.   For those who are not familiar with the term gastropub, let me break it down for you:  Gastro = high quality farm to table food.  Pub = beer and flat screen TVs.  Sounds like our kind of place.

Ulysses looks really good with a good-sized square bar and a row of tables in the front that are surrounded by high back chairs and love seat/couch type upholstered benches.  The dining room is in the back and is pretty open except for a large screen that splits part of the room.  A good number of TVs dot the walls, making it easy to catch whatever is on regardless of where you’re seated in the front barroom.

When we arrived the place was crazy packed,  and a few in the group were running late so we found a crack in the crowd through which to order some beers and I went to put in a table reservation since it was apparent that “occupy the bar” wasn’t  going to be happening any time soon.  It’s here that I’d like to say a few words about the staff.  They were great.  When I put in my table request I firmly expect to be laughed at.  I was asking for a table for 6 in a packed dining room that had about 4 parties waiting in line for tables – with only an hour’s notice.  But instead, the host looked at the table plan, politely took my name and said that he’d see what he could do.  When I came back 50 minutes later and informed him that we’d be 7, not 6, he simply said no problem, if I could give him an extra 15-20 minutes.  Gladly. Once seated our waitress was greeted by 7 people who got a little out of sync with the ordering.  But she took it all in stride, doing a great job with the appetizers and food while juggling beer requests.

I heard nothing bad about the food from anyone in the group.  Tracey and I had eaten before hand so she got a house salad with an apple/walnut vinaigrette that she said was very good.  I had spotted on the bottom of the beer menu a suggestion to try something that they call “roulette wings”.  The waitress informed me that they were just as they sounded.  There are 8 wings on the plate, 7 of them have the normal house wing spice on them, and the eighth is wicked hot.  Sold.  And let me tell you, I’m not a sissy when it comes to spicy food but yeah, it was hot.  Four to six guys (or girls) sitting around a table playing roulette with orders of these wings would be a hoot.

As for the reason we came, this place is definitely doing the beer right.  The beer menu is an easy read in that it’s laid out in a table type format.  Each beer’s ABV is listed as well as the serving size and price.  On the night we came they had such beers on draft as Dogfish Head Namaste, 21st Ammendment Lower the Boom, McNeil’s Dark Angel, Troegs Nuggat Nectar, Elysian Idiot Sauvin along with beers from local boys Evolution, 16 Mile and Twin Lakes.  What made me laugh (in a good way, I think it rocks) was that tucked into all that beer goodness was PBR for $3 a 16oz serving.  While they are serving some pretty killer beers, there’s also clearly a beer on the list for everyone.     Ulysses also sports a pretty good bottle list, as well as some specialty beer “cocktails” which, beyond black and tans aren’t usually my thing.  But some of them did sound interesting like the Dirty Orchard a mix of Strongbow Cider, Bulleit Rye, and Ulysses’ house spice mix.

Sadly, Ulysses is directly on the other side of Wilmington from us and we don’t get to that area of Marsh road very often so I don’t think we’ll be stopping in as much as we would like.   If I did live close by however, I’d definitely frequent it with its combination of great food and killer beer selection – once I found a night that it does not get so crowded (what can I say, I’m a sit at the bar type guy).  I could easily see this as a “two craft beers, then an order of roulette wings with a PBR” regular stop.

Also sadly, I don’t have any pictures from that night.  My Blackberry and me were at odds because once again I couldn’t get a GPS location for my Untappd check-ins (god forbid I would want to do that in a bar with a roof over it!) and wasn’t having any better luck the one time I walked outside to try.   So I put it in my pocket and forgot about it.  My cell phone’s retaliation for this dissing was to shut down all network connections the other night during a time when the track ball was not working in the “down” direction.  This left me no way to get down to the button to turn the connections back on.  My retaliation for this rebellion was to trade the ungrateful thing in for a new HTC 4G Rezound.  Problem solved.

Time for another beer…. and to figure out how to get the Untappd App loaded on my phone…