by Jack Curtin
Atlantic Ale Trail
February - March 2007

Our esteemed editor-or, as I like to call him, "the decider"-noted in his December missive to the staff that this issue marks the 19th anniversary for Celebrator Beer News. Since my first CBN story appeared in the spring of 2000, I've been around for only about one-third of that run (a stretch I am sure historians will one day refer to as "The Golden Age") and I stand in awe of the accomplishment along with the rest of you. It's all good. And I do vaguely remember nineteen-year olds. They were fun.

Elsewhere in these pages, the ineffable Dalldorf will surely wax poetic or rhapsodize eloquent, depending on how much he's had to drink, to explain The Meaning of It All. Personally, I heartily endorse the summation offered by last issue's cover boy, Don Younger, to a car packed with publicans, writers and other reprobates as we drove from the Toranado to CBN's 15th anniversary party in San Francisco four years ago. Leaning over from the shotgun seat with his ever-present cigarette in hand (there may well have been a beer in the other) he rasped cheerfully to those of us in the back, "Well, boys, we fooled 'em for another year."

Anniversaries are cool, of course. And while nineteen is an impressive number, we mostly tend to make our real fusses over the divisible-by-five dates, do we not? At some point we determined as a species that turning 29 is no big deal-but 30? Man, 30…or 40...or 50, those are monumental occurrences. Neatly enough (since it allows me to employ this awkward yet sneakily effective segue), we have one of those very monumentals coming up here in Pennsylvania in a few months. After a spate of just about everybody hitting the ten-year mark the last couple of years, a condition that was pretty much a nationwide thing reflecting the big breakout of the mid-'90s, we go big time in May when the Commonwealth's first ever microbrewery will hit the 20-year milestone.

That pioneer entity, Stoudt's Brewing Company, was founded by Carol and Ed Stoudt in 1987, in bucolic Adamstown some 60 miles west of Philadelphia, just as the last of the city's big national breweries, Schmidt's, gave up the ghost. The new venture was, not surprisingly, a most welcome enterprise. Until everything began to change at near light speed in the late '90s, Stoudt's classic German lagers were a godsend on a barren landscape. Heck, I began going out of my way with unseemly regularity to take lunch at a small pub a few towns over from where I lived solely because they had a dedicated Stoudt's tap.

The Stoudt's Great Eastern Invitational Microbrewery Festival, held on three different weekends in the summer and early fall, was introduced in 1991 and further enhanced the brewery's growing reputation, which by then had gone national, even though Stoudt's beers in those early days rarely made it beyond state borders. That was partially due to the fact that Carol was one of the very few women involved in brewing and even more so to the fact that its beers were racking up GABF medals in numbers matched by few others (20 of them, plus an Honorable Mention, between 1988-99, including five each for the Gold Lager and Pilsener).

It has to be acknowledged that Stoudt had lost some of its cachet as the new century dawned. Not that they did anything wrong-the beers were still top-notch, especially the draught and the 765ml bottles done at the brewery (the 12oz line was contracted out)-but suddenly those familiar beers no longer seemed…well, exciting. Although they may not agree, I've always felt that the folks in Adamstown were somewhat blindsided when the Victorys, Iron Hills, Dogfish Heads et al burst onto the scene in the late '90s and other brewpubs sprung up right there in the central Pennsylvania market they had so recently owned outright-Appalachian, Lancaster, Selin's Grove and more. The bar for attention-getting, creative brews had been raised considerably and it took them a while to adjust.

In 2004, like a champion who's taken the other guy's best shot and survived, Stoudt's came roaring back into the center of the ring with renewed vigor and ramped-up beers. All packaging was moved in-house and everything went 12oz. Stoudt's Tripel and Fat Dog Stout (both now 9% abv) and a new Double IPA (10% abv) became the brewery's Big Beer series. Redesigned labels helped focus attention again on the rest of the line. A few brands were cancelled and the award-winning Pils and very good Weizen (only available in the 765ml size before) were added to the standard and seasonal lines respectively, making both stronger. Finally, in late 2006, those always popular big bottles showed up again, albeit on a very limited basis, with the introduction of whiskey-barreled aged renditions of Fat Dog and a new, absolutely delicious, Old Abominable Barley Wine Ale.

Everything old was new again and at just the right moment. Because there's just something about turning 20, y'know?

Another fine dinner with Mr. Peters & Mr. Carey.
Rolling right along with our anniversary theme, I note that Monk's Café, the world-class downtown Philadelphia bistro created by Tom Peters and Fergus Carey in 1997, will also mark one of those major anniversaries this year. Because they have to have already happened before I can do so, I try not to make a habit of writing too often about the always amazing beer gatherings at Monk's, except for those of historic import, such as the all-Lambic Michael Jackson-hosted dinner a few years back. I mean, why make people unhappy reading about what they missed? Now and again, though, I just have to lay down the facts, if only as a reminder of just how good we got it around here. It sure beats pinching myself.

The final beer dinner of 2006 in December featured Sam Calagione pimping his new book, Extreme Brewing, and the beers of Dogfish Head. I wrote on my website the next day that, in addition to the usual exquisite meal, "the DFH beers poured were the best overall Dogfish selection I can remember enjoying in a long time, maybe ever." Chateau Jiahu, the circa 7000 BC vintage recreation I was trying for the first time, and Baltic de Belgium 1999, out of the Monk's cellar, were outstanding. On a night when Worldwide Stout 2005 was also part of the lineup, along with Golden Showers Imperial Pilsner, Raison d'Etre 2006 and Raison d'Extra 2005, along Big Brown Woody, a brew concocted by resident distiller Mike Gerhart at the Rehoboth Beach pub, that's really saying something.

The first Monk's dinner of this year will take place just about the time this issue rolls off the presses and will celebrate the beers of Russian River and brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo, who will be in the house. I have this feeling that will be a right fine evening as well. Just call it a hunch.

Lace on the glass.
A brand new beer festival has been added to the calendar, the Philly Craft Beer Fest, to be held on March 3 at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, It's an ambitious undertaking, with a minimum of 45 breweries and 120 beers promised for two sessions at which promoters are talking 1500 attendees each. Local beer geeks are either going to have to make a hard choice or go for the Daily Double: the popular Main Line Brew Fest will be held for the ninth straight year that same afternoon.

Finally, some sad news: Scott "The Dude" Morrison, the award-winning brewer about whom we wrote in this space last time around, was abruptly fired by McKenzie Brew House owner Bill Mangan on December 12. Morrison, who is planning to get married and has just bought a house, says he had no idea it was coming. It had been an open secret for some time that he and ownership have been at odds for quite a while, with Mangan having little interest in catering to the craft beer crowd or supporting Morrison's hand-bottled offerings of some of his bigger brews. It was a relationship doomed to end badly, but the pre-Christmas timing made it all the worse.

Copyright (c) 2007 Jack Curtin

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