Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Birthday

Today is a day for celebration in the BeerGeek household, and one of our most important holidays of the year.  My wife, Desiree, turns another year more lovely today.

We're marking the occasion by opening up two bottles from the Belgian beergrimmage we took back in August - which I lazily never wrote about, so I'll rectify that now.

My favorite beer of the trip came with dinner on our first night in Brugges, at the Erasmus Hotel where we stayed. Desiree ordered a Drie Fountainen Oude Gueuze, and I ordered a 2006 Destruise Pannepot from the vintage list. Pannepot is the excellent upstart brewery Destruise's take on the Trappist quadrupel style, and though brewed secularly, has as much of a holy aura as the originals. The cellared version was complex, slightly boozy yet smooth, and alive with notes of dried fruits, licorice, and heavy malts.

We later visited Destruise Brouwers in Oostvleteren, during a bike ride that took us to the St. Sixtus Abbey at Westvleteren, Trappist home of one of the most sought after quads on the planet. Though we knew that Destruise was not open for business on Tuesdays, we knocked on the door anyway, and were greeted quite hospitably by Urbain and his staff.

We scored a great haul, including Black Albert Batch Zero and Cuvee Delphine, some of the greatest Imperial Stouts I've had the pleasure of tasting, as well a few different variations of Pannepot. Over the years, Urbain had tried a few different versions of the quad, and even changed the name from Pannepeut (Old Monk's Ale) to the current name (Fisherman's Ale) as the recipe changed, and we were lucky enough to grab a few of each.

Tonight, we're drinking the oak aged variation, Pannepot Reserva, from 2008, and Destruise's 10% abv Christmas beer, Tsjeeses. I knew as I hauled a backpack full of bottles from Oostvleteren back to Popperinge by bike that my score would be destined for a special occasion. Couldn't be anymore special than this.

Happy birthday, Des!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Blind Pumpkin Beer Tasting

Last night, I held a blind pumpkin beer tasting event for my wife's family featuring 11 locally available pumpkin beers. I used the Beer Advocate weighting for rating the beers, based on appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, and drinkability (though I kept in average percentages rather than a 5.0 scale, simply because I didn't feel like doing any more math.)

Here are the aggregated results for the five tasters, as well as my own ratings, and some general thoughts for each selection.

Average / Steve's score / Notes

Wolavers Will Steven's Pumpkin Ale
86.6% / 78% / More pumpkin than spice, though lots of cloves in the finish. The overall favorite, and organic too.

Arcadia Jaw Jacker
85.6% / 82% / Not actually a pumpkin beer, just pumpkin spices, but had a full body with great drinkability.

BrewWorks Devious
81.8% / 88% / My personal favorite, though not exactly 'blind' since it was in a bigger bottle than the rest. Dark, thick, strong, and full.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale 2010
76.6% / 80% / One of the best balanced, a little bit boozy.

Dogfish Head Punkin
74.2% / 75% / Very clear appearance, lots of pumpkin, less spice.

Saranac Pumpkin Ale
73.2% / 82% / A bit sweet in spots, but otherwise nicely balanced and more 'beery' than some of the others.

Post Road Pumpkin Ale
72.6% / 83% / Very spicy aroma, one of the best all-around balanced flavor and body.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale
69% / 70% / A good spicy aroma, but lacked any kind of substance or body in the flavor department.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale 2009
67% / 64% / Really developed a lot of ammonia-like phenols over a year, I won't be aging this beer anymore.

Southhampton Pumpkin
58% / 66% / Flavor comes primarily from spices but little else going on in this beer.

Shipyard Pumpkin Head
54.6% / 59% / Another one that used pumpkin spices, but no actual pumpkin, but this really came off as a spiced adjunct lager - like Miller Lite with some cinnamon added.

Just for fun, afterward we opened a few other goodies. Two bottles of Mest-up DIPA (HomebrewerFlip's Pliny the Elder clone), a 2007 De Struise Pannepot, and a Cantillon Iris, both fresh from our Belgian Beergrimage.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Beergrimmage Booty Part Deux

Finally got around to picking up my Beer Planet shipment from our friends, Scotty and Angela, in DC. A decent haul, with a yellow cap thrown in for good measure. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Beergrimmage Booty Part 1

Here's what we brought home from Belgium, purchased at the Beir Tempel in Brussels and smuggled using bubble wrap in our luggage. 24/24 intact! Recognize anything?

We also purchased another case at Beer Planet, also in Brussels. We had this shipped and should be getting it soon. Should have had it all shipped...this would have been more cost effective, but we wanted to diversify our risk a little bit.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Beergrimage

After my wife, Desiree, completes the PA and NJ bar exam, we'll be celebrating by taking a trip to the old world - specifically, Germany and Belgium. The goal - visit as many breweries as possible (well, that's just my goal, as a couple we have a few others.)
After a few relaxing days in the German countryside of Oberwesel, we'll migrate west to Belgium, one of the most celebrated beer regions in the world. We'll spend a few days in the beautiful and historic Bruges, and visit Brouwerij Halve de Maan, brewers of the Bruges Zot Belgian Pale Ale. 
Next on the itinerary is the village Poperinge, where Brouwerij Van Eecke and St. Bernardus await us in nearby Watou. Poperinge also serves as the launching pad for our beergrimage within the beergrimage - a trip to one of the most celebrated breweries on the planet: The Abbey of St. Sixtus in Westvleteren. I've blogged about beer hype a few times before, and the Westvleteren 12 quadrupel is the perfect storm of rarity and (alleged - I'll let you know) deliciousness to be oft named the best beer in the world. The Trappist monks at Westvleteren are not as interested in building a commercial empire as some of their brethren in monasteries like Chimay and Orval (not that there's anything wrong with that) and consequently, the demand for their beer far outstrips the supply.
After this glorious visit, we'll move onto Brussels, aka Lambic land, where the highly acclaimed Cantillon brews lambics and geuezes. A brief trip south of the city will land us in Beersel, where Drie Fountainen blends some of geuezes of tremendous repute.
Our last beer-related stop will be to Beer Mania, a Belgian beer retailer, where I'll be able to send a case or two of some of the best Belgian beers home to some of my friends outside of the Commonwealth.
Our 10 day journey begins on August 2, and I'll be posting photos and anecdotes shortly afterward.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I told the story behind Registration Ale a few weeks back on This weekend, I benefitted from the prudent patience of Jeff from TJ's Restaurant and Drinkery in Paoli, who had the foresight to save his keg of Registration for an event a week after Philly Beer Week. Not only did I get to have this lovely hop bomb of an IPA again, I actually ended up with a growler to take home (as did most of the other Beer Advocate types who showed up for the event.)
Here's why this matters: The geekiest of us beer folk are always on the look out for those special one-off beers that I referred to in my last post. In fact, Russian River's Pliny the Younger is almost synonymous for "I ain't gettin' any younger while I'm waiting in this line outside the bar for the Pliny event." By the time you get through all of the barriers to entry to getting PtY, it psychologically results in you thinking it was the best beer you ever had, even if they served you a Bud Light Lime. I should know, I waited an hour outside Tria on a very nasty day  for it.
But with the confluence of events that led up to the TJ's event, the lines just didn't show up for Registration the way they do for PtY, even though Registration is rarer and possibly just as vaunted. Maybe its name isn't as big, maybe the Philly area beer geeks were tapped out from Beer Week, maybe all of the Main Line snobs were on vacation. Whatever it was, I genuinely lost sleep when I heard through Twitter that the Registration got tapped a night early, thinking that I would lose my chance to have it one more time, only to find the keg still running strong the next morning (hey, it was 5 o'clock somewhere).
Incidentally, this one was made specifically for Philly, so even the beer folk who live right next to the Russian River brewery in Santa Clara, California, were out of luck for this one. That's a limited release, my friends.
The point is that the score was so profound that some of my lucky fellow beer geeks are now using their Registration growlers as barter for some serious whales from around the world.
Personally, I don't like the hassle, so I'm just going to enjoy Registration for the next week, a little at a time.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Beer and Hype

There are some beers out there that have such a following that it's almost unfair to judge the beer itself against the hype it generates. These are usually rarities of one stripe or another: brewery only releases, limited or single batches, local distribution only, or at the very least, the seasonal. Seasonal favorites generate some serious anticipation. Midwinter brings such celebrated ales as Troegs Nugget Nectar and Bell's HopSlam, but these are generally not hard to find as long as you're looking at the right time. On the other hand, Russian River's Pliny the Younger (available only in kegs on a very limited basis in the Philly area) creates such a mad rush that taverns build events around its tapping, resulting in lines at the door and one-per-customer limits. Beer fans drive or fly from all over the country to Three Floyds Brewery in Indiana to pick up the wax covered bottles of their one-day release, Dark Lord.
While a bit more ubiquitous than PtY or Dark Lord, perhaps no beer's seasonal release is as anticipated as Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS as it reads on the bottle). This bourbon barrel aged Imperial stout is one of the most coveted and praised beer in the craft community, and when a tweet or a Facebook post goes up informing the masses of a new batch hitting shelves in one bottle shop or another, it's often gone in a matter of hours.
I finally got my hands on a few bottles the other night at Capone's in East Norriton at $9 a pop for a 12 oz, and I was pretty excited about the score, to say the least. I still restrained or a couple evenings before cracking the first bottle with a few friends. This was a seriously complex elixir, with notes of smoke, bourbon, oak, licorice, coffee, chocolate, cream, and anise, a damn good stout. By the intimidating measuring stick created by all of the hype (and price point) for this beer, it fared rather well. This was something of a pleasant surprise to me, after being a bit disappointed by the coffee overkill of Founder's Breakfast Stout (not the Kentucky variety).
So while this kind of hype is easy to criticize as an overblown emotional reaction to viral and word-of-mouth marketing, I think it can add an element of fun to craft beer conoiseurship. There's something satisfying about hunting and killing the white whales of the craft beer ocean...even if the meat isn't always as tasty as one hoped. Dark Lord, Canadian Breakfast Stout, and Midnight Sun TREAT, I'm coming for you.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

International Great Beer Expo

I crashed the International Great Beer Expo with

Check out :56 for an appearance by my lovely wife, Desiree.

See the full article here.

First Trip to Capone's

A nice haul from my first trip to Capone's in East Norriton, the gems being the two bottles of KBS, the Mephistopheles, and a nice gueze for Desiree. The selection is excellent there, but without a doubt you pay for it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

McShea's Restaurant and Bar

We mistakenly stumbled upon McShea’s (242 Haverford Avenue, Narberth, PA) a few years ago. We were trying to get to the Greeks, and before we made it to that side of the road from the Narberth train station (R5), decided to try out the little nondescript bar with an Irish flag flapping above the door.
Since that accidental discovery a few years ago, McShea’s has become a favorite – a weekly destination. We go (and so should you!) for a few reasons:
First, THE BEER! 12 beers on tap, over 60 bottles. Sure, some of them are BMC macro shit, but most of them are beers you won’t find at your usual bar – at least in this number. And sure, there are a few better places for beer on the Main Line (Guillifty’s in Rosemont, but their food sucks), but McShea’s has a great selection, location, and atmosphere. And not too expensive - $4.50 - $5 for something like Golden Monkey, Bass, Stella, or Philadelphia Brewing Co beers; up to about $7 for something like Ommegang’s Three Philosophers, Chimay Blue, or Dogfish head 90 Minute IPA. The beers don’t rotate as much as I’d like, but at least the standards are good. Plus, if you are coming with someone who’s not a beer drinker, there are gateway crafts. (OK, I haven’t actually had anything except beer while at McShea’s, but they do have my wife's absolute favorite gin, which most bars don’t have – Hendricks, and the wines seem decent. Plus, there is such a variety of beer that you could probably find something for your non-beer loving friend.)
Second, the Beer Box Challenge. Drink the 50 beers listed, and you get (get excited!!) your name on a brass plaque on the wall and your own mug to drink from while at the bar. Again, some of the beers in the Box suck (e.g. three different Michelob beers, c’mon! Michelob, Michelob Light, Michelob Ultra – ugh!), but they’re pretty good at letting you substitute a seasonal or other beer not on the Challenge for one of those I’d-rather-just-drink-water beers.
Third, the food is pretty good. You still go here for the beer, not the food, but the food is better than your usual bar food – pub food like fish and chips and seafood stew, but also some surprises like sushi, a hummus plate, mushroom quesadillas, etc.
And finally, the atmosphere – it’s a cozy, small bar area, but crowded or not, it feels warm. The bartenders are always accommodating, and you get the feeling that if they weren’t on shift they’d be right next to you with a nice pint. Also, this isn’t a place that you have to worry about looking up from your conversation or MegaTouch game to find that the place has been swarmed with undergrads. The age range is probably late twenties up to fifties. The exception to that is dinner time – a good number of kids, but they’re mostly confined to the restaurant area. No matter the time, just make sure to find a seat in the bar area, even if you have to stand around and wait – the atmosphere of the restaurant area is unimpressive, and even though this is no dive, I get the impression of sitting in a diner with wood floors covered in sawdust and picnic tables (to be clear, there isn’t actually any sawdust or picnic tables).
If you are in the Main Line area – go here! Also look for Quizzo on Tuesdays and Guest Bartender night on Wednesdays. A few drawbacks, but overall it’s a Main Line gem for beer.

The Iron Brewer Competition

June 11, 2010

Philly Beer Week isn’t just for metropolitan venues and professional brewers; with the thousand-plus events occurring in the ten-day span, it's no surprise to find beer week festivities overflowing into the suburbs. And at Iron Hill of West Chester, the Iron Brewer event highlighted the local talents of the home brewers extraordinaire of West Chester’s BUZZ club. If you’ve ever watched the Food Network, you know the basic idea: the ‘Commissioner,’ in this case Iron Hill’s Larry Horwitz, provided each competitor a ‘secret ingredient’ in March to serve as a base from which to craft their masterpiece. Twenty participants pitted their zymurgical prowess against one another to come up with the best beer from an identical pilsner malt wort with up to five pounds of additional fermentables.
By all accounts, each of the entrants put up a fierce battle, but a clear winner emerged in David Houseman’s Groundhog Baltic Porter. Fermented with an ale yeast under lagering conditions, Groundhog is a thick, black abyss with hints of raisins, prunes, and a trace of butternut squash.
On the night that Dave was awarded the coveted Iron Brewer trophy, Iron Hill West Chester offered the porter both on draft and firkin, which Dave and Larry brewed after the competition. The firkin version was even tastier than the draft, but even Larry agreed the best iteration was Dave's original. We were lucky to taste the bona fide home brew version, which brought a slightly hot alcohol character to the flavor and more intense nut and fruit notes.
Dave named the winning beer, along with all his other homebrews, after the groundhog that lives in his backyard. One of his favorites was Groundhog IPA.
It was interesting to taste the unusual pairing of a pilsner malt with an ale yeast, but original Baltic porters did use ale yeast at cooler lagering temperatures. When asked what type of beer he was expecting to win the competition, Larry approvingly replied “something just like this,” as he hoisted a pint of the hearty porter.
Congratulations, David, and thanks for a great beer!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010