by Jack Curtin
(Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, June/July 2008)

Seven Delaware Valley breweries were awarded medals in the 2008 Brewers Association World Beer Cup competition when the results were announced at the close of the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego on April 19, and two of them are within the purview of this column.

Iron Hill Media earned a Silver Medal for its Wee Heavy Strong Scotch Ale, a concoction by head brewer Bob Barrar (who collects beer medals like other guys do souvenir glasses) and assistant Vince Dessrosiers. Iron Hill also took a second medal for its Wilmington, Del. pub, which will be covered elsewhere in this issue but, since that winning brew, Vienna Red Lager, is now part of the standard rotation at all IH pubs and it is one of my favorite new beers of the year, let me say for the record that I figure it is going to win more than its share of awards in the months to come. I wouldn't be surprised if it joins the bevy of local lagers which regularly score at the GABF.

The other Eastern Pennsylvania World Cup medal was scored by Allentown/Bethlehem Brew Works, a Bronze for Framboise.

Special Victory Brews for
Craft Beer Conference

Victory Brewing (see our coverage of the reopening of their renovated restaurant and bar on May 7 elsewhere in this issue) may not have won any World Cup medals, but the Downingtown brewery's presence was definitely felt in San Diego. Victory was the brewery part of a collaborative effort with the German Hop Growers Association, which supplied the hops, and brewmaster Eric Toft of Private Landbrauerei Schonram, who formulated the recipe, in creating three special beer an explicitly for the CBC to showcase German hops. The beers were Select Pils, was made with a mix of Hallertau and Spalt Select Hops; Tettnanger Pils, a single hop varietal using hops grown by a German farmer who Victory founders Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet visited while touring Germany in 2007 with 23 thirsty Victory fans,and Sapphire Belgian Strong Ale, brewed with a Hallertau grown variety hop named Safir and a Trappist yeast strain.

A limited amount of draught of all three beers has been available in the local market. All three were on tap at the reopened Victory restaurant on May 7, for example, and it has turned up at a couple of off-premises locations as well. I actually had my first taste of the Sapphire from bottles brought by a Victory insider to a weekly tasting and when I wrote about that online in mid-April, Tom Steigelmann of Union Jack's on the Manatawny immediately sent an email noting that he had it on draught. I, also immediately, gathered up a group of the Usual Suspects to spend a pleasant Saturday afternoon on UJ's beautiful deck by the river, consuming, with caution and care, a few pints of the 10.5% monster. I think it's one of the best strong Belgian styles to come out of Downingtown, truth be told.

Obama, Clinton Visit Bethlehem Brew Works,
Lancaster Brewing on the Campaign Trail

In addition to that World Cup Medal, the Bethlehem side of Bethlehem/Allentown Brew Works got some YouTube lovin' in April during the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary, when Barack Obama showed up on a campaign stop. In the two-minute YouTube coverage I saw, two minutes with a really annoying female voice screeching at him from offscreen to "get the one with the lemon!" the candidate, who looks befuddled and confused by it all, chose a beer sans lemon from the sample tray in front of him and took two small sips before film ran out.

Hillary Clinton also did the craft beer thing pre-election, joining MTV news correspondent Sway Calloway at Lancaster Brewing Company's pub to film a a pre-election news feature. Mostly though, her beer image in the state came from throwing down shots and beers in any tavern that would have her upstate in the coal region. That came across as a lot more, um, manly than Obama's somewhat dainty approach. He may have redeemed himself in that regard (albeit ruining his beer cred in the process) by showing up on TV chugging cans of Budweiser a week or two later in Indiana.

Then again, maybe he was just sending a subliminal message to Cindy McCain, an A-B heiress.

Union Barrel Works First Anniversary,
Stoudt's Brewmaster's Reserve Series

I stopped in at Union Barrel Works in Reamstown the week before Tom Rupp and the gang were to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their very successful brewpub. I'm told that latter celebration went very well and during my visit, Rupp, a man of a few words, summed up the state of things in general this way: "I'm paying my taxes, paying my bills, meeting payroll and I have beer to drink."

I was particularly taken with the Double Barrel Vienna, a ramped up version of the style which he had on during the visit (hmmm, given that and my affection for the Iron Hill Vienna Red, I guess you know where my head is at this summer). Union Barrel Works is doing a series of beer dinners at the pub which started out bimonthly, switched to monthly and are now said to be "irregular, though they're always on Tuesdays." They're also always very reasonably priced. There were ten beers on tap as of early May with plans to have an even dozen available by mid-summer.

Up the road a bit in Adamstown, Stoudt Brewing brought back its traditional Weizen in May, following the release in April of the latest in the Brewmaster's Reserve series, Big Brother Pils, an 8% monster created for the Michael Jackson Tribute held at the University of Pennsylvania The newest release in the corked, caged 25oz BMR series is barrel-aged Fat Dog, an imperial oatmeal stout aged in whiskey barrels, and, bottle-conditioned.

More Iron Hill: Summer of Weiss,
BUZZ Home Brewing Events

It will be the Summer of Weiss again at all seven Iron Hill locations. The Hefe is probably on tap as you read this and they will have three or four different wheat beers on tap all summer. That be a lotta wheat.

Also pair of Brewers Unlimited Zany Zymurgists (BUZZ) events will take place at Iron Hill West Chester before we meet again. The third annual "Iron Brewer" competition involved the West Chester chapter and went off on May 8. West Chester brewer Chris LaPierre has to do two mashes to create his Golden Barleywine, made with 100% pilsner malt, and he uses only the first runnings. In 2005, he invited the local BUZZ chapter to take the second runnings and hold a competition to see who could make the best beer from the wort. Fourteen beers were entered this time and judged by LaPierre, IH co-founder Mark Edelson, Newark head brewer Justin Sproul and West Chester assistant brewer Jean Broillet. The winner received a beer dinner, for four, created by LaPierre and Executive Chef Dan Bethard.

The second homebrew event, the 15th annual BUZZ Off home brew competition, will happen on June 7, about the time this sees print. It is both a BJCP and AHA sanctioned competition and last year received 270 entries from around the country. It is also a qualifying event for the prestigious Masters Championship of Amateur Brewing (MCAB). A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Philabundance, a group committed to hunger relief in the Delaware Valley. Things get, or got, underway at 9:30am, with prizes awarded at 5pm. The judging is closed by the awards are open to the public.

Weyerbacher Wins Sam Adams Hops Lottery,
Introduces Brewers Choice Series

As I always say about Dan Weirback when the opportunity presents itself, the man never met a beer he didn't want Weyerbacher to brew. Fortunately for him, the odds on the brewery having the hops to do just that went up a bit in April when Weyerbacher was the only local brewery to get lucky in the unique and highly praised Samuel Adams Hop Share program, winning the right to purchase 264 lbs. of Tettnang Tettnanger hops at cost during the late March lottery drawing. Weirback had announced earlier that he'd managed to round up enough Simcoe hops to make the brewery's very popular Double Simcoe IPA through the rest of 2008, so he definitely needed something new to keep him intrigued.

That turned out to be Alpha, a "Belgian style Pale Ale brewed with Belgian yeast and American hops," which is the first release in the new Brewers Choice series and was released in May. These one-off brews will be released on draught in the Pennsylvania market and in a limited number of bottles sold at the Easton brewery. "The idea," Weirback said, "is to give our brewers a chance to experiment, be creative. Also, doing full batches is a good way to market test new products because it lets us see how they will really turn out. It's really hard to brew a prototype small batch and scale it up and be sure you'll get the results you want." Alpha is based on a recipe by assistant brewer Jeff Musselman, according to Weyerbacher head brewer Chris Wilson.

Disappointing news from TJ's Everyday,
Ron's Original Bar & Grill New Open

Co-owner Jeff Miller emailed me in early May that "smoke-free Saturday nights" at his popular TJ's Everyday bar and restaurant in Paoli are no more. "After the first two or three absolutely remarkable Saturdays there has been a steady decline of Saturday sales ever since," he wrote. "The regulars don't come in on Saturday nights anymore and the not-so-regulars who insisted they would support our going smoke free are nowhere to be found. Thus, economics dictate that at the end of of this month smoke-free at TJ's will end until the state says otherwise. I really was enjoying leaving and not having to take a shower at 3AM. But, bills must be paid." Sad news, of course, but I have to say I thought the concept was flawed and doomed from the start. I think it's impossible to build a customer base for a single night of the week. The only way to go no-smoking, or introduce any drastic new policy which affects customers, is to just announce it, explain it and do it.

Meanwhile, Ron's Original Bar & Grill in Exton, which some of you may know as Ron's Schoolhouse Grill, is finally fully open for business with a big new bar and dining area and an expanded beer list after one of the longest and, I assume, most frustrating construction projects in recent memory. I first wrote about their plans in these pages over year ago, reporting I'd been told that the work should be completed about this time last year. Anyway, the job's now done and while I've been too busy to get in there and give things a test drive, I'll definitely do so for next time, likely in a separate story with photos.

Copyright (c) 2008 Jack Curtin

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