I told the story behind Registration Ale a few weeks back on DrinkPhilly.com. 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
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
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
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.
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!