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Beer From Far Away(ish)!

It has been a while! I’ve been drinking the beers of the nation on a whirlwind tour of several dozen breweries over a dozen states from Pennsylvania to Oregon to Kansas. I met a ton of great people on both sides of the bar and tasted an obscene amount of amazing beer. Over the next few weeks I’ll be detailing some of my favorite breweries I visited as I go through the stash I brought home with me.

To give you a taste (….ha) I want to talk about Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, Colorado. I spent quite a bit of time here so this is going to be home to the bulk of the places I talk about. Left Hand is well known nationwide, if not for all of their quality brews then definitely for their Milk Stout. Theirs was one of the first milk stouts I ever tried and still my favorite.

The pub at their brewing facility feels like a cross between a base camp cabin in the Rockies and an Old West saloon with cleaner glasses. The staff are friendly and welcoming, as most everyone you’ll meet in the greater Boulder area is. We had to try to full sampler of 12 beers and there were some heavy hitters in there. There was Sawtooth (on nitro!), Polestar Pilsner, Black Jack Porter, Stranger Pale, 400 lb Monkey, and Dead Guy Ale to begin with.

That’s a big array of tasty beer, but at the end there was 4 oz of Wake Up Dead, an imperial stout aged in barrels for over twelve months before being unleashed. It’s a smooth and delicious flavor with hints of fruit and toffee followed by a nice kick to remind you it’s borne of bourbon barrels (and sports a 10.2% abv.) This was by far the most interesting flavor sampled here and the one I went home with a growler full of. They bottle this one with limited distribution, so if you can get your hands on one I’d fully recommend you cherish it and drink up!

-Don

A Day in Beer Country

The weather in the northeast has indicated that spring (or is it summer?) has indeed arrived, and that calls for a trip to the rolling hills of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. Among the silos, barns, myriad farm animals, and horse-and-buggy-laden streets you’ll find a surprisingly rich beer culture that hides in plain sight. It only makes sense when you think about it; the abundance of farms provide the perfect recipe for a brewing paradise. We did a whirlwind tour of three fantastic brewing companies in the Lancaster region and there’s good ‘n’ plenty to say about them! (I’ll try to keep the Amish jokes to a minimum.. just kidding.)

Just outside of the part of downtown Lancaster City that really feels like downtown you’ll find a brick building on the corner with a staircase inviting patrons to “Step Up to Better Beer.” And that we did. Lancaster Brewing Company took over the operation here in 2001, reigniting a centuries-old tradition of quality Lancaster beer. The bar feels like you’re sitting in an old tavern- just with better lighting. Our friendly bartender was quick to get us a full sampler of their offerings and we dove in. We sampled a total of fifteen beers, so I won’t go into detail on all of them.

Of their standard taps, the Milk Stout has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and, contrary to many beers, I find that I enjoyed this one better in a bottle than from the tap. Strawberry Wheat has a fantastic strawberry nose followed by a refreshing light taste with subtle hints of fruit flavor. Hop Hog IPA is a solid pale ale with strong hop character and really enjoyable when mixed with the Milk Stout to create what they call Hog’s Milk. I appreciate all of the creativity this brewery employs. The Celtic Rose is a great example of how to make a beer that everyone else makes and do it very well. It’s just a little sweet with a medium mouthfeel and a clean finish. Went great with our sandwiches.

Their Gold Star Pilsner was a favorite among our group as far as great summer day beers go. That is one that you can relax with after a long day of working outside. Pitting lager versus lager we sampled the Lancaster Lager and the Fest Beer Amber Lager. The results were mixed among our group, but the majority of us prefer the Fest Beer. It has a rich mouthfeel and a complex, sweet flavor. It’s just a full-bodied beer that I really enjoyed. Nothing against the Lancaster Lager, which also had a vote from our camp. Sometimes things should be more simple!

The Amish Four Grain was definitely my favorite of the first wave of samples. It is extremely well-balanced, while having many subtle complexities that are difficult to distinguish in a five-ounce glass. The rye and malty taste mixed with a smooth hop character make for a great pale ale. This was the one I wanted more of.

We moved on to seasonals next, starting with Billy’s Bock Beer, a full-bodied and malty bock. The Double Chocolate Milk Stout  is just what is sounds like– AMAZING! It maintains a lightness while being so full of flavor that you might forget it’s alcoholic! It has a rich flavor and a smooth finish. You’ll want another one. The Cream Ale was the only beer that didn’t stand out to me. It had a nice creamy mouthfeel that would be a great drink on a warm evening. Perhaps it was all of the other flavor that I had just encountered that left my taste buds ill-equipped for this one. There were a couple other novelties on our sample tray including the Strawberry Rose, a mix of Strawberry Wheat and Celtic Rose, of course. It maintains the light wheat flavor with a slight kick added. Finally, the Chocolate Covered Strawberry is the wheat mixed with Milk Stout, creating an amazing blend of aromas and a taste that everyone should try. The art of mixing beers is not an easy one, but this one seems like a no-brainer. It’s light and silky but so full of flavor that you need to stop for a moment to savor it. Fantastic work, LBC!

Don’t worry! I didn’t forget the one everyone knows about! Rumspringa is only available in cans, but I couldn’t not sample that! It’s got a great aroma and it tastes of malt up front before settling into a honey-sweetness before finishing with a nice balanced mild hop flavor. There’s a reason everyone has heard about this beer- because once you try it you tell everyone about it. It’s called a Golden Bock, but also branded as rebellious, hence the name referring to the Amish rite of passage. It’s not quite heroin, but we aren’t quite Amish teenagers on a bender so this works!

Between the great atmosphere of the bar and the fantastic selection available this brewery is on my must-visit list anytime I’m in the area. Check it out if you’re ever nearby!

That was only one brewery?! I guess it’s time to go around the corner into Lancaster proper to The TapRoom, which features Spring House Brewing Company beers from the Conestoga, PA brewing location as well as small-batch beers brewed on-site. This bar is smaller and decorated with amazingly fun images painted all over the walls. It is certainly a departure from LBC and it’s clear they like to have fun here.

Our flight began with a Pineapple Pale Ale, which was a fitting start to an unique adventure in beer tasting. There was a great pineapple scent and the taste up front before plenty of hops took over and then returned to the sweet pineapple flavor on the finish. This just whet our palate for what was coming. Their Seven Gates pale ale is the flagship beer and leaves nothing to be desired in a daily beer. The hop flavor is light, leaving a smooth and tasty ale. Big Gruesome Peanut Butter Stout. Yeah, you read that right. And if you’re imagining something tasting like something you can barely imagine.. you’d be right. It is out of this world fantastic! It’s so creamy and sweet with that delicious peanut butter flavor, it is irresistible. I want a candle that smells like this beer. Really. Go get one.

How can I go on? Okay, well the Diabolical Dr. Wit is a suitable follow-up. It has an awesome orange and coriander nose followed by a light and fruity flavor that was easy to drink. Their Beyond the Gates double IPA was a really good, hoppy beer without overwhelming the flavor. Pecan Sandie Porter was another one that I was dying to try and wasn’t disappointed. It’s quite sweet with mild bitter flavor and a milky aftertaste. I could probably only drink one pint of that.

The last beer we tried was a secret, so shhhh! Actually, speak up and ask for it! The Two Front Teeth holiday ale is limited and delicious so try it while you can. The taste is full and malty with a delectably sweet cherry flavor that stays with you for a while until you realize you need some more. This one and the PB Stout are worth the growler money. For true.

Our final stop on the Lancaster beer tour is the Rumspringa Brewing Company in Bird-in-Hand, PA. The brewery is located upstairs above the affiliated Mount Hope Wine Gallery. They also offer samples of some very tasty wine and mead, so I suggest stopping in before or after. The empty bar upstairs probably had to do with us dropping in just before closing, but that gave us the full attention of our bartender, who talked to us about the beer culture in the area and was very enthusiastic about their brews.

This place had the least on tap, but they are a nanobrewery and we probably had too much already anyway. We started with the Harvest Gold kolsch and I really loved this one. I’m a sucker for a good kolsch, and I think this is what my day had been missing. It was a little heavier than I expected, but still maintained that flavorful wheat taste. The Red Caboose Ale was a standard amber ale that was enjoyable. I always think there’s something to be said for being able to recreate a classic style well. Two in the Bush IPA is a strong, hoppy one that you really have to be ready for. Maybe the recent rash of sweet flavors in the wine downstairs had me off guard, but I was not expecting the punch this one threw! Wild Oats Stout has a great roasted coffee nose and a full flavor of roasted smoothness throughout. Finally we tried their featured beer, Helles Bock, which was a nice, smooth, and sweet lager that was very drinkable and a nice finish for the day.

‘Twas a great day of tasting and talking to people about beer! This area is full of great breweries, some of which we did not even visit. If you travel just a bit farther in any direction there are handfuls of breweries that we all know like Stoudts, Troegs, and Weyerbacher. Another time! The friendly people in all of these places is a good enough reason to come back, but once you pair that with the amazing brews on tap you’ll want to stick around. If nothing else, don’t forget your growlers at home! Have your own Rumspringa and enjoy a day of bountiful beer harvest! Prosit and drink up!

-Don

Grilled Cheese and Craft Beer (Warning: Head May Explode)

Last week, World Cafe Live hosted another of their soon-to-be-famous Grilled Cheese and Craft Beer events. It’s exactly what it sounds like: awesome! Five courses specifically paired with one another for optimum deliciousness. I’m sorry that I waited so long to finally get to one. I’ll be going much more often now.

World Cafe has two locations (Philly and Wilmington, DE) which both frequently hold these events. On this occasion I went to the Philly location, where they closed the upstairs dining area for the event an hour before it started so we could get seated and have a beer. It got going a little late and our mouths were watering by the time our enthusiastic waiter came around with our first beer. Sara Street took the stage to sing some beautiful tunes for us and we got into it.

Stoudts Fat Dog – Drinks like a stout, finishes like an IPA. Pours dark with a foamy head that slowly fades away after a few drinks, leaving you with a beer mustache. Hint of alcohol on the nose and a clean taste that finishes bitter and fades to a tasty oatmeal aftertaste.

This beer was paired with our first grilled cheese. I expected a sandwich, but this was an open faced english muffin topped with aged cheddar, fig chutney, and just a bit of chocolate. It was fantastic. Who doesn’t love fig chutney? (Or any chut-a-ney, for that matter.) The fig complemented the cheese very well and the beer was a perfect bitter taste to wash it all down.

Stone IPA – Stone has a great reputation, yet I don’t think I’ve ever tried their IPA before today. My loss. It pours a beautiful dark amber color and the fragrance of delicious hops wafts out of the glass as it is poured. The mouthfeel is surprisingly smooth and clean with an understated bitterness from front to back. Big hop flavor.

As you may have guessed, an IPA would be paired with something sweet. Manouri cheese with kumquats, pomegranate seeds, and lemon thyme on a puff pastry. Do I need to go beyond the description? It’s light and fluffy with a strong lemon zing. Really light while the pomegranate seeds add a needed bit of juiciness to the mix. The hoppiness pairs very well with it.

Thomas Creek Deep Water Dopplebock – Dark beer with virtually no head except for the ring that hugs the edge of the glass. Starts with a chocolate nose and heavy mouthfeel. I noticed some nut flavor, but the creamy roasted chocolate and coffee finish is the best.

The drunken goat cheese came with a tasty grilled piece of rye with a sweet cheery sauce and a goat cheese that was almost unnoticeable under the other flavors. The pecans were great and a good complement to the cherry sauce. The dark beer works well again. I didn’t expect so much sweetness!

Fish 102 Barleywine – The Mighty Fish Brewers call this their “crown jewel” and I’m going to go out on a limb and assume their crown is made of hops. Ten different hops in this one! It has a great dark red color and a BIG clean hoppy smell. It reminds me of a red but much more complex. It’s super well-balanced and plenty hoppy. The aftertaste was nice but it seemed to keep changing. Gotta try this one!

Finally something not sweet! This was a proper sandwich on a sourdough panini bread. Sage derby with clove-roasted ham and pickled red onion.. oh my god. Amazing. Best sandwich of all time. The ham was crazy good, sweetening it slightly with a mouth-watering smoked flavor. The sourdough bread was toasty and delicious but the red onion put it over the top. Hops go well here.

Spire Mountain Dark & Dry – Our last drink was a cider for dessert. At least it was a dark cider! It came fresh with a strong, alluring apple scent. It tastes just like a sweet apple; rich and slightly thicker with the molasses. Red apple aftertaste makes it a great dessert drink.

This was paired with a spiced apple and sour cream cake with bourbon caramel sauce. It tastes just like the description. Really tasty but really sweet. I’m not big on desserts, so you may disagree with this: I’d rather have ended with the ham and sourdough. That was the pinnacle as far as I’m concerned.

We decided that we’d really like to have the job of pairing beer and food. Anyone hiring?? This was a really fun experience and I’d recommend it to craft beer-lovers and food-lovers alike. It’s a really unique experience and the staff was supremely friendly and helpful. They do these pretty frequently so if you have the chance to get out to one make sure you’re hungry! On top of great food and beer, Sara Street provided us great music to set the atmosphere.

My favorite has to be the Stone IPA as far as beer goes. It’s nice that this is my favorite since I know I can find it nearby. The best sandwich was clearly the ham and sage on sourdough. I’m salivating just thinking about it. I want to go to there now. The next event is March 20 in Philly so get your tickets now and drink up!

-Don

Back to DuClaw

Some of you may remember my long, long post on DuClaw’s 14 beers on tap a few months ago. I love that place, but they’re just a little too far for me to get there frequently. Since I was in the area yesterday I stopped by for happy hour. They have an epic happy hour from 3-7pm weekdays and all day Tuesday with two dollars off drafts. That is quite a deal. Why are you so far from me??

DuClaw releases a new beer each month, including seasonal rotations, new brews in the eXile series, and H.E.R.O. Challenge beers. I’ve surely missed some gems since I was there in October, but there were four new beers for me to try. I, of course, tried them all and once again had the Tuna Melt. I’d like to sample more from their menu, but I had just hiked about ten miles and had my mind on that sandwich for the last three.

Hellrazer IPA – Surprise! I started with an IPA. It’s a nice amber color with a light hoppy smell. The taste is crisp and has a clean hop taste. Light to medium body and doesn’t go overboard on the hops. Great aftertaste and it went great with the tuna melt.

Old Flame – This guy pours a great dark orange color with a small head. I couldn’t wait to get into it after the big malt smell. It starts smooth and super malty with a blend of light fruit flavor. Amazing caramel aftertaste that lingers. Definitely a contender for my favorite.

X5 Imperial Pale Ale – The latest in the eXile series, I was excited to try this one. It’s got a big yeast nose followed by the same in flavor. I was told that this batch is over six months old, so that big taste really comes through. The mouthfeel was great; very yeasty. It goes down really easy with a mild bitter aftertaste. This one might take the number one spot if I’m honest.

Black Jack Stout – The last new beer on tap was opaque with a nice low, dark head. It starts with a roasted aroma and a smooth, dark roasted taste. The aftertaste was interesting, tasting of burnt espresso beans. I went back and forth deciding whether or not I liked that.

That was all for the new beers and I had a long drive home so I couldn’t get the most out of happy hour. The bartender, Patty, kept me entertained with Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and conversation as I sat alone. It was a good visit that reminded me I need to get down there more often. The release of the Naked Fish chocolate raspberry stout might require another trip very soon. Keep an eye on this place and drink up!

-Don

On the Way to Cape May (Brewing Company)

On my way to Cape May… I couldn’t help stopping at the little operation known as Cape May Brewing Company. “Cape May has a brewery?!” you might say? It’s actually in Rio Grande and it’s quite new, having opened just this past summer, and they’re doing exceptionally well. In a little strip of businesses in the airport complex sits a door that looks like all the others; but inside was a bustle of beer lovers standing shoulder to shoulder in queue for the next sample. I had no idea the operation was so small, but even more surprising was the overwhelming number of people crammed into said small space. The friendly staff didn’t seem overwhelmed at all, greeting everyone with a smile and taking the time to have a conversation or answer a question whenever someone asked. We took our turn in line, picked up a pint glass and Kaysi poured us our first sample.

Hefeweizen – A light start, the wheat beer had an amazing golden orange hazy color with a slight head. A bit of a sweet nose followed by a light, summery flavor. Thicker than I expected, this one does well to be a winter beer that reminds us that spring will be here again soon.

Honey Porter – That just sounds great, right? It is. Dark color, light body. It’s got a great light mouthfeel with heavy taste of espresso. The honey taste on the finish complements the bitterness and roasted espresso flavors.

That’s what I love about our size and our setup; we’re able to do a lot of different beer.” – Ryan Krill

While I was sampling, I had a chance to talk to Ryan Krill, co-owner of the brewery, for a few questions about the company and local beer. They began on a custom, hand-built 1/3 barrel pilot brew system and have upgraded to a 1.5 barrel system, brewing anywhere from a barrel to a barrel and a half a week. Chris Henke, who built the control panel and brewing system, brews about three times a week, providing the product that has been selling out weekly. They are very strict about cleanliness, of course, as they want to provide the best product possible. They work with local suppliers, being sure that everything is fresh with a local flavor.

They are currently expanding to triple the size of their current brewery to allow for bigger brewing tanks, more storage, and a dedicated visitor/tasting area. With the turnout on a cold day in January so big it seems like that expansion can’t come soon enough. The summer will certainly bring out the tourists to the shore, and even they deserve some good beer for a change! At the moment there are no plans for bottling, so you’ll have to get yourself down to the Cape and fill up a growler if you want to take some home. They are also on tap at Cabana’s Beach Bar & Grill, Lucky Bones Backwater Grill, and Sea Salt at the Ocean Club Hotel, all in Cape May. Goodnight Irene’s Pub in Wildwood just started serving their beer last week.

Once I finished talking to Ryan I went back to the tap and talked to Bob Krill for a few minutes about their two IPAs on tap. One is brewed with Centennial hops and the other with Cascade hops. Just another way of experimenting and striving to make something great!

India Pale Ale Cascade – Their flagship beer, this is always on tap– and it should be. This was a solid, strong IPA. It has a great hop flavor that isn’t extremely bitter and it finishes clean. This was my favorite of the day.

India Pale Ale Centennial – The centennial hops seem to have a more citrusy nose, slightly floral. This version is more bitter but very refreshing with a citrus, almost lemon-y finish.

Four beers never seems like enough, especially at a place like this. The atmosphere and the staff were awesome– that alone was worth the trip. The beer was a bonus! They are open every Saturday afternoon for tastings and tours, so you better get yourself down there before the shoobees show up! (Shoobees should go too, though..) They’re always changing the taps so be ready to try something new. I can’t wait to get back! Drink up!

-Don

Natali Vineyards –

So I recently did a guest post for Sassy Vine about our trip to Natali Vineyards. All the info is below, but I want everyone to go over to Sassy Vine and read this post as well as hers about our day out! There’s plenty more to read after that including wine reviews, interviews, and a sangria recipe you all must try. Go there!

Hey guys! It is time to come back from my hiatus! This is the first of hopefully many guest posts from a good friend of mine, Don Macavoy. The photographer and beer aficionado took time out to visit a vineyard and give some insight on our trip. Be sure to visit his blog (linked blow), “like” Natali Vineyards’ Facebook page [and vote for his photos so we can get a private party!] and come back for my post. Enjoy!

Hello! My name’s Don and I usually write on my site Beer Me That Blog! As you may have guessed, I write about beer. This is a slight departure from my polestar, but I’m going to give it a go. I’ve been a fan of wine for quite some time and have even been known to drop in on a vineyard or three while I’m out traveling. That being said, I’m far from an expert on these matters, but I’m hoping to approach this from the perspective that I’m sure many others out there share with me: that of the amateur.

This past weekend found me at Natali Vineyards‘ South Jersey Wine and Food Festival on Route 47 in Cape May Court House, NJ. It was cold, but that didn’t stop the masses from piling into a few tents to sample some of South Jersey’s signature food and wine. We picked up some tickets and our keepsake wine glass and wasted no time getting it filled. I had a chance to try everything they had to offer except the Cedar Hammock Red and 100% Beach Plum Wine (damn!) which they had run out of when we arrived. I took notes and tried to keep things simple; just bear with my terminology? Here goes:

Nonna’s Cucina – Touted as their newest wine, this one tasted bitter to me– but not the way I’m used to. I’m accustomed to hoppy beers, but this was something totally different. It has the nice-smelling fruity qualities at first replaced by a bitterness and a somewhat sweet aftertaste.

Sauvignon Blanc – Really nice sweet smell to this one that is really dry but tasty on the tongue. I noticed a hint of mango when I was looking for it.

Dolcetto – They say the casual wine drinker will enjoy this one as much as the old pro. I can say it’s true for the former, as I really enjoyed it. I’m usually turned off by dry reds, but this one got my attention as it is exquisitely smooth. Try this one.

Meadow’s Edge Red – This is the secret family recipe according to my cheat sheet. It’s known as “Nono’s cellar wine.” It has an amazingly sweet nose which set me up for a bit of disappointment when it tasted so dry and bitter. The bitterness didn’t linger, but I don’t think this one’s for me.

Cabernet Sauvignon – Perhaps this is the easy pick for a tenderfoot such as myself, but I LOVE this one! There is a deliciously beautiful balance to it and a muted but fantastic flavor. Black currants make me happy. Well done!

Shiraz – Though this one was smooth, the dark bitter fruity flavor mixed with the spices somehow did not go over well with my palate. Can’t win ’em all.

Merlot – This one smells of fresh summer fruits and has a really good, dry taste. Again, as someone who is iffy on reds, I really enjoyed this. It tasted extremely fresh with a nice aftertaste.

100% Strawberry Wine – They are not kidding around when they say it’s 100%. From the smell to the first sip I could swear they liquified a strawberry.. and then added a ton of sugar. The smell is fantastic, I just want to leave it sitting around or make it candle from it. The taste is what you’d expect and does not disappoint as dessert wines go. Small sips! Make it last longer!

100% Blueberry Wine – Another great smelling wine that culminates in a supremely fresh New Jersey blueberry taste. Still gotta take this one slow.

100% Banana Wine – I love bananas and this wine is super sweet and a great substitute if you’re low on the fruit itself! Just kidding.. it’s delicious, but very strong! They suggest drinking it with some peanut butter and now I can’t stop thinking about that.

Captain Vinho’s Pirate Red Port – I saved the best for last.. good thing there was still some left! It’s got that great whiskey nose like a bourbon barrel ale and it follows up with that same kind of sweet whiskey flavor. Really sweet and complex taste with a surprisingly clean finish. I’ll have another. Yarr?

That’s all for the wines! It was a fantastic array of Natali’s Fall offerings. This is all opinion-based of course, but my two favorite were clearly the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Pirate Red Port. Lots of good ones to choose from for whatever you might like. The staff were super friendly and made themselves available to answer any questions and make suggestions.

The rest of the festival was a nice atmosphere as well. There were heaters in the tents keeping us nice and toasty.. you know, until the wine took over that job. There were local vendors with fresh sausage bread and I sampled some delicious honey from Busy Bees. From a self-guided tour of the fields to the live music inside the tent where it was much warmer, everyone was having a great time. Thanks for the good time, Natali! See you again soon.

I enjoyed the opportunity to write outside of my comfort zone and look forward to doing it again sometime soon. Check me out at Beer Me That Blog! if you’re interested in beer or want to step out of your own comfort zone! Until next time, drink up!

-Don

Tavern Craft

PB’s Tavern in Glassboro, NJ has become a great bar for craft beer over the past year and they rep the locals hard. The bar is close to Rowan University’s campus and is a great alternative to the college bars around the corner. For those interested: they do have quite a few TVs in the bar area showing sports games at any given time. As always, this comes paired with the macho sports fan drinking a Miller Lite and yelling at the little people on the screens. Fair warning. Thankfully, there were only a handful of them there the other night (despite playoff things happening) and we could mostly enjoy the event.

Every Saturday night in January, PB’s is featuring a local brewery with samples of their beer and a representative to talk to you as you taste. This past Saturday, Ron from Yards Brewing Company out of Philly was down to showcase the wonderful brews that Yards has to offer. Ron is very approachable and more than happy to tell you whatever you’d like to know about the beer he has with him. The bar provided him with five beers to sample and then it was just a waiting game to see who would test the waters first. After the first few people made their way up it was a slow but steady stream of eager drinkers for the rest of the night. Let’s talk about what was in those little plastic shot glasses. Are they still “glasses”? Shot cups doesn’t sound right. Anyway:

Brawler – This one is a gem. The taste is full with sweet malts and a great caramel finish. It drinks pretty light, but it tastes much thicker with the fruit and caramel. This one has been a favorite of mine for some time now. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, the time has come. This is a great winter brew.

India Pale Ale – The IPA is crisp, but surprisingly not as hoppy as I expected. It’s got some fruity notes and tastes very fresh, even a bit creamy. A good beer to drink during a conversation, as it’s good in a sip or a mouthful.

Extra Special Ale – Powerful malt smell followed by a similar taste. The dark caramel malt taste hits at first along with some hops in the background before a bitter finish that sticks with you for a while.

Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale – Part of Yards’ Ales of the Revolution, TJ has a nice sweet malt taste to start with tasty hops that lead to a somewhat fruity and lightly carbonated finish. I’d rate it second of the two I’ve tried from the series.

Philadelphia Pale Ale – Named one of the best pale ales in the country by The New York Times, this beer is fantastic! It has a beautiful light flavor but it’s heavy on the hops. It’s super refreshing with a clean, clean finish. I could just keep drinking these and, being that it’s still a low ABV, I could do just that!

That’s all for the samples this time, folks, but never fear! I’m going to visit the Yards Brewery this week and I’ll have plenty more to say about this brilliant brewery very soon. Until then, don’t forget to check out the other breweries being featured at PB’s Tavern’s craft beer nights every Saturday in January. Lots of good local beer to be sampled! See you there! Until then, drink up!

-Don

Tun of Fun

I had a chance to spend the evening at Tun Tavern last night for my birthday and had a great meal and, of course, plenty of great beer! Tun is located just of the Atlantic City Expressway across the street from the AC  Convention Center so it couldn’t be easier to get to. There’s even free parking directly across the street with validation! We came in to the high-ceilinged dining room/bar area and warmed ourselves up with a look around before taking our seats at the bar. We sat at the end near the taps and just alongside the large brewing tank that sits behind glass at the corner of the building. The piping was so close that it seemed I could take my pint glass over for a refill. Tun has a rich history starting with the first brew house in Philadelphia and Atlantic City’s first brew pub. It is also credited with being the site where the US Marine Corps was founded. Let’s talk about the beers:

There are five standards and one seasonal on tap at all times as well as some special offerings that may switch up more frequently. We had a nice selection last night and we decided to run the gamut before committing to any single pint. They offer a sampler of five beers and our friendly barkeep gave us a taste of the other two Tun flavors on tap.

Tun Light Golden Ale – This one is aptly named, but don’t be fooled– this is no “Lite” beer. Its full flavor reminds me of a crisp pilsener. The Light was very refreshing and very fresh-tasting, which may have something to do with that big machine in the next room!

Irish Red – A nice fresh red ale, this beer starts very malty but light. It has a nice bite on the finish and it drinks very quickly.

Devil Dog Pale Ale – Here are my hops! Devil Dog is full of them and they are delicious. There is a floral hop aroma followed by the floral/pine hop taste that I love! I drank a few of these and it never got old.

 Leather-Neck Stout – Now we’re getting to the dark stuff.. and the Leather Neck is Dark! It has a very dark-roasted flavor of chocolate, caramel, and coffee. It’s a bit light for a stout, but the flavor takes over your mouth! A great brew for its namesake Marines or the average wimpy beer drinker like myself.

All-American IPA – The name just made me curious, but on first taste I was hooked on this one as well. Light and very hoppy, there was an interesting blend and great citrus hop taste with bitterness on the finish. It’s got a very clean taste. This one is touted as being hopped with fresh Jersey-grown hops as well so you get a local taste of freshness!

Maple Black Walnut Brown Ale – I knew from the moment I saw the name of this beer that I would love it. There’s a delicious maple taste that doesn’t go overboard. A good medium-bodied brown with a full flavor. It drinks slowly and gets better as it warms a bit. Lots of subtle tastes in this one; nutty and delicious. I only had one of these, but it was a good one. It’s a limited release so get there soon!

Santa’s Little Helper Barleywine – I was warned about this one and rightly so– it’s strong and sweet! I’m not too familiar with barleywines, but this one had a very rich flavor with fruity notes. It has a distinctive alcohol taste that is complemented by the sweetness. I only had the sample, as I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have handled a full glass last night! Maybe next time. It was just tapped for the winter so get out and try one yourself!

Along with the great beer selection, my girlfriend and I both had a delicious meal (the Mushroom Ravioli is fantastic) and a great time. Tun is a wonderful place to go on a date or just for a few drinks– the bar and restaurant provide a nice setting for either. It’s always nice to spend a night sampling a brewery’s offerings and not a bad way to spend a birthday if I say so myself! There was quite a variety in the selection and they all tasted very fresh, which is another perk of drinking at the source. And if you can’t get back as often as you’d like you can pick up a growler of your favorite brew. I’ll be coming back soon, Tun Tavern! Until I see you again, drink up!

-Don

Winter Samplers or The Best Part of The Season is Here!

Happy holidays! What’s the best part about the cold weather and myriad gatherings with friends and family? The winter beers, of course! I have done a labor-intensive study of a few of the winter sampler packs available right now (you’re welcome) and made some comparisons that might help you better choose one for your next party.  I know what it’s like standing in the liquor store staring at the shelves full of craft beers and just not being able to decide what to buy.. because I want to get them all. Sampler packs are a great way to get a feel for a brewing company and find your tastes along the way. Let’s get into it.

I chose these samplers based on availability in my area and their selection of winter-style varieties. I went with the Samuel Adams Winter Classics, Magic Hat Winterland, Leinenkugel’s Winter Sampler Pack, Saranac’s 12 Beers of Winter, and Long Trail’s Survival Pack. Sixty beers later, I think I’ve been able to make an educated decision on the pros and cons of each of the samplers. Final rankings after the descriptions. I’d like to note: I drank all of these beer from the bottle, as most of us do when we have sampler/party packs, for this review. To fully appreciate these beers I would pour them into a glass first.

Samuel Adams Winter Classics pack gives you a great set of beer appropriate for cold weather. Boston winters get frigid so they should know how to do it right!

Boston Lager – The quintessential lager and flagship beer of Samuel Adams, this is a classic that you’ve probably had many times if you’re a beer lover. A year-round drink.

Winter Lager – Another classic, this seasonal lager is quite similar to the Boston, perhaps a bit heavier with a malty, slightly spiced finish. A good winter standard.

Holiday Porter – An interesting porter that smells slightly of coffee and has a roasted chocolate taste. Malty and slightly bitter on the finish. Quite hoppy for a porter.

Chocolate Bock – Want a chocolate milk? Have a beer instead. This one is rich. Starts off with a delicious chocolate flavor and continues with it like drinking cocoa! It’s so rich and sweet yet light-bodied.

Black and Brew – My first experience with this beer– and it was a good one! A great coffee smell followed by a rich coffee flavor. It’s not as overpowering as some coffee stouts can be. Nice espresso/chocolate finish and aftertaste.

Old Fezziwig Ale – Complex and delicious, this ale drinks smooth and nicely blends chocolate and caramel malts. It’s hard to pick out the flavors with so much going on. Great roasted flavor and chocolate malt aftertaste.

Leinenkugel’s Winter Sampler Pack comes with a variety of beers that you might not initially think of as cold-weather beer. I quickly changed my mind. Don’t judge a beer by its label.

Fireside Nut Brown – Great nutty aroma followed by an amazingly smoky nut brown ale taste. You can really taste the nuts and the malts in this one. This is a fireside beer, for sure. Inside or out.

Classic Amber – This one is an average amber ale. Slightly carbonated and pretty refreshing. It might balance out the darker selections, but I’m not sold on it.

Creamy Dark – Bold flavor right from the start. It is smooth and creamy but not as thick as you might expect. A pretty decent beer.

Honey Weiss – This was the surprise standout for me. I thought, “Honey Weiss in a winter pack? Doesn’t sound right.” I was wrong. Its deep honey flavor is soothing, thick, and warm. It’s light enough to be refreshing but heavy enough for any cold night. I need a six pack of this.

Magic Hat Winterland offers up a nice selection of Vermont’s finest beer that will make you want winter to last a bit longer.

#9 – If you’ve ever had Magic Hat, you’ve probably had #9 and you know what it’s about. Apricot. The refreshing flagship beer tastes heavy of the fruit, making it a unique beer that fits in all of their variety packs.

Ravell – With a nice vanilla aroma I was slightly disappointed at first but came to enjoy it more as it warmed. The vanilla notes are complemented by tastes of toffee. It’s a bit sweet, but I enjoy vanilla.

Encore – The seasonal offering of the “IPA on Tour!” series is wonderfully refreshing and lightly hopped. I love this one.

Howl – The “Black-as-night Lager” is a fantastic beer for a cold night. Deliciously rich, somewhat creamy, and smooth. A little bitter on the finish. Tastes like I’ll have another.

Saranac 12 Beers of Winter is a collection of interestingly-named beers spanning the taste spectrum that scream Winter!

Chocolate Lager – One of the reasons I was looking forward to this pack, it has a mild chocolate flavor with some hops to boot. Maybe my hopes were too high. I liked it but it wasn’t love.

Lake Effect Lager – This one is malty and tastes of chocolate slightly. It’s pretty rich and a nice winter lager.

Vanilla Stout – Another one that compelled me to buy this sampler, I was pretty happy with the light vanilla flavor with hints of roasted coffee. It finishes strangely bitter, though, which is the only downside.

Bohemian Pilsener – This is a fairly standard clean, slightly hoppy pilsener. Good for any month.

India Copper Ale – I liked this one. It has a nice spicy, malted flavor with some tasty floral/piney hops to back it up.

Big Moose Ale – Smells of floral hops and the taste is malty followed by a good hop character. Pretty decent pale ale.

Long Trail’s Survival Pack is technically their Fall sampler, but it’s been a warmer-than-average winter here on the east coast, so let’s go with it.

Long Trail Ale – Their flagship beer is crisp, refreshing, and very drinkable with slightly bitter hops. A solid beer.

IPA – This was a nice light IPA with a clean hop taste. Citrus hops and sweet flavor.

Blackbeary Wheat – Can’t resist that name. A very good toned-down blackberry flavor and an overall tasty wheat beer.

Harvest – Slightly thick, sweet ale with a great hearty maple syrup flavor. I really enjoyed this one.

That’s all for the descriptions so let’s get to the standings! These were difficult to rank, but I’d recommend you take my notes into consideration and choose the ones that sound best to you!

#5 Saranac 12 Beers of Winter
Overall, this sampler just set me up for disappointment. I enjoyed a few of the beers like the pilsener and Big Moose, but in the end I was just underwhelmed.

#4 Long Trail Survival Pack
This was a tough call for the #4 spot, but overall the other three were just better. It’s not you, it’s me. I really loved the Harvest and Blackbeary Wheat flavors, so try this sampler if you can!

#3 Leinenkugel’s Winter Sampler Pack
The Fireside Nut Brown and Honey Weiss are the big standouts in this pack. They will keep you warm in any weather and the other two are fine beers as well. A good holiday party sampler for all types of beer drinkers.

#2 Magic Hat Winterland
Magic Hat has a fantastic array of beers here. It’s got enough variety while sticking to a darker flavor for the winter months. Always creative beer from this brewery as well as the added fun of awesome packaging and messages under each bottle cap!

#1 Sam Adams Winter Classics
Well, they call them classics for a reason. I wasn’t predicting this outcome, but when I look at them all together I really love this collection of brews. The Black and Brew was a fantastic new addition to this pack and I look forward to more of that. The Fezziwig alone is reason enough to pick this one up. With the Chocolate Bock to tell your friends about and the two lager standards this one is a no-brainer in hindsight. The only downside is you only get two of each!

That was a lot of fun! Can’t wait for next season to start sampling again. I hope everyone has an amazing holiday season and you get a chance to try plenty of new beer! Be safe and drink up!

-Don

Sassy Comes off the Vine…

and into the bar! Shannon from the Sassy Vine blog joined us at The Abbaye the other night for Weyerbacher’s U-Buy-the-Glass night and we had a great time. She graciously offered to guest-blog for one night for us! Enjoy the sass!

U Buy the Glass night at the Abbaye in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia was the perfect accompaniment to the rainy evening that laid before us.

We sat down, got our beers and ordered the mac and cheese– some of the best mac and cheese I’ve ever encountered.

Now, the beers. I only drank two; sadly I don’t like IPAs (in this case the Hops Infusion,) which happened to be one of the beers on tap from Weyerbacher. I don’t like the overt bitterness the personality the beers contain, so I went with the other two.

The first one I tried was Verboten. Light, fresh and finishes crisp. It was reminiscent of Blue Moon and that undertone of citrus. I really enjoyed it. I drank it all night, and easily. It made socializing fun. Weyerbacher gained a consumer from this tapped beer. I really liked it.

The second was the Old Heathen. Heavy and coffee-like. It wasn’t good for the surrounding social setting, but it was the perfect night-cap beer. Flavorful and warm, it made me want to curl up by the fire with a good book and maybe some chocolate cake. It honestly was a good beer, but after one I was more than satisfied.

Visit the Abbaye’s Facebook page for upcoming events. The next U Buy the Glass night isn’t listed, but you can count us in for the next time and visit my page, Sassy Vine.