A Beer-Prognosticating Groundhog? Hawaiian Shirts On A Snowy February Morn? Just Another Day At The Grey Lodge Pub.

by Jack Curtin
Atlantic Ale Trail
CELEBRATOR BEER NEWS
April/May 2005

Fickle, feckless February, the month with an annoying Little Man Complex, kicked off locally with the fourth annual Groundhog Day Hawaiian Shirt Beer Breakfast & Lucky Cat Night Seasonal Beer Prognostication event (whew!) at the Grey Lodge Pub, a long title for yet another inventive and improbable beer celebration dreamed up by Mike "Scoats" Scotese, the clever publican who is Philadelphia's proven purveyor of the weird.

Grey Lodge celebrated Punxsutawney Phil, the world's most famous groundhog, and his annual weather prognostication by opening the doors at 7 AM for a Hawaiian Shirt Beer Breakfast featuring free buckwheat pancakes and prizes for the, um, most compelling of the Hawaiian shirts customers don for the day. In the spirit of the day, I drove there over snow-covered roads clad in Hawaiian shirt and swim trunks which I had purchased and worn 20 years ago in Kauai (it impressed the hell out of me that they still fit; others noted how sad it was that I had 20-year old garb in my closet). Climbing up the icy rear fire escape in chilling winds so I could preview the pub's cozy new and about-to-open second floor bar and kitchen inspired me to accompany my pancakes with warming Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and Brewer's Art Canard (a Belgian strong ale who's name is extraordinarily clever once you figure it out), while most in attendance opted for the appropriately breakfast-named Flying Fish Coffee Porter and Sly Fox Oatmeal Stout.

At the evening session, which I missed, the Grey Lodge's own Wissinoming Winnie assumed prognostication responsibilities to determine if the pub's beer lineup would feature six more weeks of winter beers or, as turned out to be the case, spring seasonals would arrive on the taps early. Adding to the palpable excitement, I am told, was the tapping of a keg of sought-after Dogfish Head Burton Baton Ale.

New Philadelphia beer festival. February didn't seem so depressing when mid-month brought us something Philadelphia has been seriously missing, a big downtown beer festival. The first annual Blues & Brews Brewing Exposition and Talent Show (B.E.A.T.S.) drew 450 beer lovers to World Café Live, a relatively new music club named after the popular radio show of that name on PBS station WXPN. The non-profit station, owned and operated by the University of Pennsylvania, joined with the for-profit Real Entertainment Group to create a three-tiered venue which proved to be ideal for an 18-brewery gathering. The "Talent Show" part of the title meant that representatives from several of the participating breweries performed on the World Café Live stage over the course of the afternoon.

Event coordinator Suzanne Woods started late and put the thing together on the fly, without benefit of much publicity, but still managed to nearly sell the place out. Woods is a homebrewer who previously held a similar coordinating job with Boston Beer Company. In addition to presenting B.E.A.T.S. annually, she'd like to hold a summer festival and put a couple of beer dinners on the schedule. Hard to argue with any of that.

Things change in Harrisburg. In the state capitol, Troegs Brewery did a major upgrade to its 25-barrel brewhouse in March, integrating a new mash kettle and new work kettle into the existing three-vessel system. The restructuring essentially automates the brewing process and provides a variety of benefits designed to improve the quality and insure the consistency of the beers. "BrauKon, the German brewery fabricator, shrunk down the components of a high end, larger system to meet our needs," explained John Trogner, who founded the Harrisburg brewery in 1996 with his brother Chris. With everything in place, Troegs can do ten brews a day if need be and, based on a five-day schedule, could produce 40,000 barrels annually. "We're a long way from needing that," laughed Trogner. Still, a new brewer will be added to the staff to assist current workhorse Chris Brugger.

In another part of town, the huge three-story Appalachian Brewery completely revamped its second floor, converting the long-time sports pub there to a sparkling new Belgian beer bar called The Abbey at ABC. "The bar has 14 taps and a 50-bottle selection of the best Belgian beers, plus a really cool digital music system," said Artie Tafoya, Appalachian's brewmaster and director of operations. The Abbey is directly modeled on the popular SteelGaarden in the basement of Bethlehem Brew Works in Bethlehem, he acknowledged. "We followed their plan almost to a tee."

Dogfish Head to expand, launch chain and build East's largest bocce facility. Sam Calagione and Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery have been all over the business pages. A low interest $1.85 million loan from the Delaware Competitiveness Fund, a partnership between the state and Citizens Bank of Delaware, will help Dogfish add new brewing tanks, an automated bottling line and a closed-loop wastewater system at its Milton brewery over the next two years, as well as up to 25 new employees. Calagione said that the current brewery fell short of meeting demand by 25 percent in 2004.

Hardly had that news been absorbed when Dogfish announced a licensing partnership with four restauranteurs to create up to six Dogfish Head Brewhouses in the Greater Washington, DC area, with the first site scheduled to open in Silver Spring, Md. in June. "These are not brewpubs," Calagione stressed. "We've licensed them our beer and spirits brands, our menu, our decor and permission to use our logo and image and sell our merchandise. We will make Dogfish beers and spirits for them. There will be 12 taps at each location, including at least one beer which will be available only at those restaurants and our current brewpub in Rehoboth Beach and, when it opens in 2006, the one in Milton."

Finally, in a more whimsical endeavor, Dogfish Head is constructing the East's largest indoor tournament bocce court area as part of its developing Milton complex. "Hey, I'm Italian," Calagione shrugged, "and I like a game you can play while holding a pint glass in your free hand." The first two courts will be completed and ready for testing by attendees at the Craft Brewers Conference in April who venture southward.

Harpoon 100 Barrel Series, Clipper City Heavy Seas. Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant's West Chester pub invited Harpoon Brewery down for one of their popular Brewer's Reserve nights recently and the appearance of Harpoon Smoked Porter, the current release in the New England brewery's very successful 100 Barrel Series, reminded me that I've left this project, three years old come May, unmentioned far too long. I talked to director of brewing operations Al Marzi, who told me the small batch beers are a result of "wanting to let our brewers exercise their muscles and giving the sales and marketing people something new in addition to our four year-round and four seasonal beers. We figure 100 barrels is just about right for beers we probably wouldn't want to do on a large scale." The one-offs are released in draft and 22oz bottles and have proven very popular. A wheat wine should be out by the time this sees print; the summer release was still undetermined when we talked, but an imperial stout is on deck for fall.

Speaking of exercising brewing muscles, Clipper City Brewing's Hugh Sisson says that its Heavy Seas seasonals, a series of more adventuresome beers which was introduced by the Maryland brewery in October 2003, is something that "frankly, we should have done a lot sooner. I was much too cautious in retrospect. But unlike many of our competitors, we don't have a brewpub in which to do these higher end beers and needed to first establish a business which could support the company." The series is midway through its second go-round at present, with Small Craft Warning Uber Pils having been so successful that it has just become a year-round release. Other beers in the program are Winter Storm Ale, Red Sky at Night Saison and Peg Leg Stout (an imperial, at 8%) and, said Sisson, "we'll probably add a fourth seasonal next February and continue trimming our sails-pun intended-to see where the market takes us."

Copyright (c) 2005 Jack Curtin


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