December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Tonight is one of my most favorite nights of the year. I love the ending of one year and the beginning of a new one. It's so freeing. I'm not Catholic, and I've never gone to confession, but I imagine this is what absolution feels like - a chance to leave behind bad decisions, bad judgments and bad habits and start over with a clean slate.

2009 was a momentous year for many reasons. I quit a job, actually a career, that wasn't fulfilling to me to pursue something I've always wanted to do (writing). I became officially divorced. I moved. I got a new car. I made new friends and deepened relationships with old ones. I ran a 1/2 marathon. I went to Paris in the springtime. I didn't work out as much as I should have. I let go of things and people I really didn't want to let go of. I learned how to be honest about my feelings and to communicate them without hurting others (most of the time). I learned how to listen better. I started this blog. I followed through on commitments, even when I didn't want to. I did some things that scared me and felt stronger for having done them. Without overstating it, I started moving confidently in the direction of my dreams.

If I had to weigh the good and bad of the past year, the scale would definitely tip towards the good. And that's the best I can ask for in any year.

Here's hoping your scaled tipped to the good, too. And if it didn't, don't worry. Tonight is your chance to start all over again. Have a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2010!

December 30, 2009

I want.... a porter?

It's been pretty damn cold here in Philly the past couple of days. On top of that, I'm nursing a nice cold. I stayed home last night for the first time in over 2 weeks and it looks like I'll be staying in tonight, too. That's all fine, because tomorrow is New Year's Eve, and I don't want to sit in by myself then!

Beer is never far from my thoughts, so even as I sit on my sofa, coughing and chugging all different kinds of cold medicines, I can't help but think about what I'd be drinking if I were going out. I find my thoughts turning towards stouts and porters, which surprises me. I was never one of those people who paired what I was drinking with what I was eating, except on rare occasions. For the most part, I drank what I liked. I guess that's why I'm surprised I'm reacting to something (weather) other than just my personal preferences. Maybe my palate is maturing?

Anyway, since I've had but a few of these types of beers, I'm asking you for some of your favorites and hopefully when I'll all better tomorrow (power of positive thinking) I'll be able to add a few new beers to my favorites list.

If you had to name one or two of your favorite stouts or porters, or even seasonal beers, what would they be?


December 28, 2009

Winterfest Beer Tasting

Yesterday was an incredibly fun day spent trying many different beers at the Winterfest '09 Beer Tasting at WXPN. First of all, I love XPN and World Cafe Live. I've been a member for many, many years and credit them with my incredible (if I do say so myself) taste in music. They're constantly introducing me to new artists and expanding my musical horizons.

Now I can also credit them with expanding my beer horizons. I love beerfests, and not just because I love drinking beer. It's such an amazing way to try new things. And the people there are usually pretty cool, too. I mean, they're there to drink beer - how bad could they be?

The event lived up to my expectations. It was a fun crowd and there was a selection of over 80 different beers! The focus was on porters, stouts, winter seasonals, and special holiday ales. Below are some of the favorites I had, including their ABV and what type of beer they are:

Rogue Yellow Snow, 6.2% American IPA
Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, 4.7% American Porter
Breckenridge Christmas Ale, 7.4% Winter Warmer
Dogfish Head Burton Baton, 10% American Imperial IPA
Mikkeller Red and White Christmas, 8% American Strong Ale
Ridgeway Very Bad Elf, 7.5% English Pale Ale
Lakefront Holiday Spice, 9.5% Winter Warmer

So, you can see we had some pretty strong ones! All in all, a bunch of different tastes and a nice addition to my usual repetoire of IPAs (although I managed to sneak a couple of those in there). I highly recommend trying one of these on a cold winter's night.

Tonight I'm celebrating the holiday season with a couple of my girl friends and will be bringing a nice seasonal beer for them to try - now I just have to decide which one.

December 22, 2009

Bell's Winter White

It seemed appropriate to try the Bell's Winter White Ale the other day, given all the white stuff I had to trudge through to get to a bar to watch the Eagles play. I seriously wanted to post signs around my neighborhood that read "It's called a shovel. Get one and use it".

However, I'm not writing to discuss the laziness of some people. I'd much rather write about the beer, because it was quite good.

According to Bell's, this is "a wheat ale brewed with American wheat and a proprietary blend of Hefe and classic Belgian-style yeasts." This is a nice beer for someone who likes witbiers, but wants something a little more complex in the colder months.

It poured a clear, pale yellow. The smell was fruity and spicy - coriander and clove. The taste was the same - citrusy with spiciness and coriander flavors coming in, too. There was also some bitterness from the hops, which added a nice touch.

For a lot of people, this may not be the winter beer they turn to on the coldest of days. But I guess not everyone faces the same winters we do here in the northeast, and this would be a great beer for a mildly cold day. Speaking of, a friend of mine lives in Florida. She told me that when it gets below 70, people pull out coats and hats. I think she said scarves, too. That's just crazy! I was shoveling in 20 degree weather without a hat on and felt fine. Then again, I was shoveling (which is some good exercise as attested to by the pains in my upper back and arms) and so was probably angry about the shoveling and not really feeling the cold. But still.

It may not seem like it, because what I wrote is pretty cut-and-dry, but I really did enjoy this beer. I was with a girl friend of mine, and she liked it a lot, too. It's extremely easy to drink - only 5% ABV - and is definitely worth trying.

December 20, 2009

A winter wonderland and Merry Monks Ale

Yesterday was quite a blizzard here in Philly. I don't think I've actually heard anyone call it that yet, but according to the definition of a blizzard, it seemed to be one. We got more snow in one day than we got all of last winter. It was a blast! Started off with some really great Weyerbacher beers at my place, then went out and met up with friends. The bars were nicely packed and everyone was making merry. Nothing like a weather disaster to bring people together.

Speaking of making merry, one of the beers I enjoyed before heading out was the Weyerbacher Merry Monks Ale. I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's a Belgian Style Tripel. Not at all hoppy (which is why I was surprised), it's actually very fruity (banana, apple) in both the aroma and taste. There was also bit of peppery spice and some nutty flavor from the yeast. This is not a beer to be taken lightly - it comes in at a fairly hefty 9.3% ABV. I thought it was well deserved after some shoveling, and I wasn't disappointed. It tasted even better as it warmed slightly and the more complex flavors (from the combination of pilsner malts and Belgian yeasts) really came through.

Merry Monks is a bottle conditioned ale, meaning that some sugar and yeast are added just prior to bottling. Bottle conditioning helps extend the shelf life of the beer, but also ultimately changes its character as it ages because of the on-going fermentation. The good people at Weyerbacher recommend saving a few bottles to see the differences for yourself, and I wish I had. Luckily it's available year-round so I can pick some up and save it for the next snowy day. You should, too.

December 16, 2009

My Top 10 IPAs

The other day a friend challenged me to name my favorite IPA (and he's written about his top ten faves, too). In his defense, I'm sure he meant it as a question rather than a challenge, but it's so hard for me to pick my favorite that it feels like a challenge.

After much thought and some scientific calculations of ratings based on aroma, appearance, and taste (okay, kidding about that last part) I've come up with my list of my 10 favorites. I'll caveat it by saying that I obviously haven't tried every IPA out there (yet). And also, some of these may be double IPAs or whatever other category they fall in to, but I'm simplifying it - if it has IPA somewhere in the name or description, it counts. If I've written a review of it, I'm simply going to link to that. If not, I'll give a brief overview - and then thoroughly review it another time. Hey, if it's on the list, it should be on the blog.

10. Victory HopDevil
I've written about the Yakima Twilight, but not the HopDevil. This was one of the first hoppy beers I had, and I can still remember how much I enjoyed it. Victory Brewing is in Downingtown, PA and they produce some fantastic beers. The HopDevil uses American hops and German malts, producing a balanced taste that's not too overly bitter. It has a 6.7% ABV, making it easy to enjoy more than one.

9. Founders Centennial IPA
Hmm, I've written about the Founders Reds Rye, but not the Centennial IPA. I wonder if I've written about any of my favorite IPAs? (Kidding.) This is a really drinkable IPA - even though it does have a 7.2% ABV. It's not overly bitter (even though I enjoy that), but still has the nice hoppy flavor that I so love.

8. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
This is the beer I credit with turning me on to craft beer. And I've actually written about it! You can read my review here.

7. Stone IPA
Wait for it - I've written about the Stone Cali-Belgique IPA, but not the IPA. Wow. This is an eye-opening exercise. I apparently need to do a lot more writing! Anyway, the Stone IPA has a big hop presence, in the aroma, taste and bitterness. This is not an IPA for those that don't like their beers bitter - the hops will get you! But if you do like them, make sure you try this. 6.9% ABV. That makes it almost sessionable!

6. Bell's Two Hearted Ale
Um, right. So, I've written about the Bell's Oberon, but not the Bell's Two Hearted. I'm embarrassed for myself at this point. The Two Hearted is a good beer for hop heads. It's definitely got a hoppy bite to it, but it's balanced well with the malt. It's on the stronger side - 7.1% ABV, but still very drinkable.

5. Green Flash West Coast IPA
Another fave that I've actually reviewed! Green Flash is a fantastic brewery in San Diego, CA. You can read my review of the beer here.

4. Ballast Point Big Eye IPA
I've not only reviewed this beer here, I've sung it's praises to people near and far. It's a great beer that is a must-try for hop heads.

3. Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA
I thought the trend was bucked, friends, but (for what I know is the last time) I have to admit that I've written about the Weyerbacher Winter Ale but not the Double Simcoe. Sigh. The Double Simcoe is fantastic. It's brewed using only Simcoe hops, which are known for their low "harshness" levels, allowing brewers to use a lot without creating a harsh-tasting beer. It comes in at 9% ABV, but is so flavorful you'll likely want more than one.

2. Russian River Pliny the Elder
Can't say enough good things about Pliny the Elder. It was one of the first beers I reviewed, and you can read it here. Piney, hoppy deliciousness in a glass.

1. Ballast Point Sculpin
All my internal battling about my favorite IPA has landed me here - the Ballast Point Sculpin. It's just amazing. As I wrote in my review, which you can read here, I'd live in a bottle of this beer if I could. Everything about it is just that good.

Whew, I'm thirsty! Writing about all this fabulousness has me questioning how long I'm going to be able to hold out on a drink today.

But tell me - what do you think of my list? What IPA do you think I'm missing? As I mentioned, I know there are a number of IPAs waiting for me to try them, so let me know your favorites that aren't listed. Doesn't necessarily mean I haven't tried them, but I'd like to hear.

December 10, 2009

Founders Reds Rye

I think I'm on to a new type of beer that I love - the ryes. I've had a couple recently that I've really enjoyed. I think the reason I like them as much as I do is because the ones I've tried are pretty close to IPAs. Ryes tend to be less bitter than IPAs, but there's still a strong hop essence. I wonder what I would think if I tried a true Roggenbier (German rye beer).

Since I haven't had that pleasure, I'll concentrate on a pleasure that I had the other evening - the Founders Reds Rye. This is a fantastic beer! The pour was a nice, deep amber. Yes, you can smell the citrusy, piney hops but they're mixed with the aroma from the spicy rye. The taste, as expected from the smell, was hoppy, but really well balanced by caramely malts and spiciness from the rye. So good!

The ABV is about 6.8%. Not too strong and this is such a drinkable, enjoyable beer that you'll never realize it's that high.

Luckily this beer is available year-round. It's definitely way up on my list of favorites and I highly recommend you try one as soon as possible.

December 8, 2009

Weyerbacher Winter Ale

As I wrote a couple of posts ago, now is a great time of year for Christmas beers. Last night I had the chance to try a Weyerbacher Winter Ale. I appreciated this ale for a couple of reasons. First, it's called a Winter Ale rather than a Christmas ale. Now, I love the holiday season as much as the next person and don't want to get in to a heated debate over whether you should say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays". But the bottom line is - I don't celebrate Christmas. And I do enjoy beer. So this seems very inclusive (which, I should point out, doesn't mean I won't enjoy a beer called a Christmas beer. It was just nice to see one that wasn't). Second, it's got a really good taste at a low ABV - both of which I'll get in to more below.

Weyerbacher is a great brewery located not to far from me in Easton, PA. They make one of my favorites - the Double Simcoe IPA (which I'll be reviewing soon). I've also had their Imperial Pumpkin ale (one of the best pumpkin ales I had) and the Harvest Ale, which is really wonderful and made from hops that they harvest themselves.

But back to the Winter Ale. It pours a nice hazy, deep brown that shows some red when held up to the light. The smell is that of winter - nutmeg, allspice, roasty chocolate malts. I really enjoy the flavor of this beer - I think it's nicely balanced and not overwhelming... anything, really. Some of the other Christmas beers I tried were so malty - a little too malty for my taste (which shouldn't be surprising, given my love for the hops!). This one is very, very drinkable to me. Notes of chocolate, some toffee, caramel malt came through with just a bit of hops in the background.

Earlier I mentioned the ABV - it comes in at 5.6%, making it very easy to enjoy more than one on those long, cold winter afternoons you're stuck inside. Not surprisingly it's only available November - January, so be sure to grab one while you can.

December 6, 2009

Home brewing

Yesterday was a fun day for me - I got to try my hand at home brewing for the first time. It's something I've been interested in doing for a while now. Brings to life the academics of what I've been reading about lately.

Also, yesterday was a great day for home brewing. We got our first "snow" of the season - big, wet flakes that didn't stick (at least not in Philadelphia proper; may have been different in the 'burbs) but were really pretty to watch fall.

Me and the boys - 3 friends who have been doing this for about 2 years and started Philly Beer Club - made a holiday porter. What I learned is that there's a whole lot of waiting that goes on. Waiting for the wort to be made. Waiting for the water to boil. Waiting for the water to cool down. And once all that is done, the longest wait of all - waiting for the beer to ferment and become something you actually (hopefully) want to drink. That's going to take a couple of weeks.

All of the waiting did, however, give us a chance to drink some beers. And that's when I knew this was something I could really get down with. We all brought some beers and some food, and spent the afternoon brewing, talking, eating and drinking - including a couple of beers the boys had brewed before. Doesn't get much better than that.

I'll be heading back over in a few weeks to help with the bottling. Then we'll let the beer age in the bottles - and then we'll finally be able to taste the fruit of our labors. I can't wait!

December 3, 2009

'Tis the season - Christmas Ales

It's the most wonderful time of the year. And not just because of the holidays. Now is the best time of year because of all the great holiday beers that are available.

This is my first holiday season as a real craft beer drinker. Last night I had an introduction to a variety of these beers at the Tria Fermentation School's Hoppy Holidays class. It was led by Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack), who did a great job of schooling us in the advent of Christmas beers, as well as imparting some interesting tidbits along the way (like the history of St. Nick, the origins of the first image of Santa Claus, some truly great vintage ads of Santa hawking beer). All this while teaching a class of students who became quiet loud and unruly as the tastings continued.

Here is the line up we had along with where they're from and the ABV of each:

Anchor Christmas Ale (San Francisco, CA) - 5.5%
Brasserie Dupont Avec Les Bon Voeux (Tourpes-Leuze, Belgium) - 9.5%
Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza (Dexter, MI) - 12%
St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel ( Le Roeulx, Belgium) - 9%
St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Watou, Belgium) - 10%
De Struise Tsjeeses (Woesten-Vleteren, Belgium) - 10%
Troegs Mad Elf (Harrisburg, PA) - 11%
Samichlaus (Eggenburg, Austria) - 14%

So after looking at the ABVs, you can probably figure out why we were all so boisterous towards the end of this class.

It was an eye-opening experience. These were much different tasting than my usual IPAs! But some of them - particularly, for me, the Dupont Avec Les Bon Voeux and De Struise Tsjeeses - were really awesome. I think I liked those two best because they were the most mild of them all. Many of the others were very malty, and, in the case of the Jolly Pumpkin, very funky - which is because the brewer uses a yeast that makes it taste funky on purpose (it's also fermented in wooden barrels and then the different barrels are blended together).

Any one of these beers would make a great stocking stuffer for the beer lover on your gift list. For the beer lover who likes to read (which perfectly describes me) pick up a copy of Don Russell's book Christmas Beer, which tells the story of Christmas beers and has a list (compiled last year) of the 50 best Christmas beers.

Here's to holiday cheer with some Christmas beer!

November 30, 2009

Victory Yakima Twilight

The Victory Yakima Twilight - a dark IPA, and seemingly nothing to do with the movie Twilight - was the beer I had to kick off my Black Friday festivities. And what a good choice it was!

While it's a dark beer - it pours a deep, reddish brown - the smell of the hops really come through. You get that wonderful grapefruity/piney smell with a nice hint of toasted malt. The taste is overwhelmingly hoppy but I think nicely balanced with bready malts and even some chocolate. While I think it's very drinkable, it is on the bitter side and may be a bit much for some people - including my friend who tasted it, made a face, looked at me and said, while shaking her head, "Oh, Hel". She just doesn't get how I can take the bitterness of the beers I drink.

This is definitely a strong ale. It comes in at 8.9% ABV (which is why I only had one; I knew I was in for a long day of drinking). It's only available through January, so be sure and get one while you can.

November 28, 2009

Santa's Butt

Is it blasphemous to talk about Santa's Butt? If it is, then I guess I'll be smited (is that even a word?) because I have to write about this beer.

My best friend and I have an annual tradition of spending Black Friday drinking. It started many, many years ago by accident. She was home from college for the holiday and we decided to get together for lunch. It turned in to a drinking lunch and we had what can only be described as one of the best days ever. I don't think it really turned in to an annual thing until years later (and there have been a couple of years here and there we've been unable to get together) but for the most part, we make it a point to keep the tradition going.

Yesterday was no exception. We had lunch at the wonderful Isaac Newton's. I've written about them before, but it bears repeating that they're one of the best beer bars I've found outside of Philadelphia. Their bartenders are really knowledgeable, and they always have an amazing array of bottled and draft beers.

Which brings me back to Santa's Butt. I had to try it because it sounded good, but also because of the name (I guess I was channeling my inner 12-year old boy). I'm glad I did!

Santa's Butt is brewed by Ridgeway Brewing, which is in the UK. It's a very drinkable winter porter - perfect for those cold winter nights that are almost upon us. It pours a nice, dark brown that shows some red highlights if held up toward the light. The smell is mostly of malts - nice, roasty malts. There's also some coffee, caramel and toffee. There's definitely a coffee taste to this beer, and even some chocolate. It was a bit hoppier tasting than you might expect, given the smell. I found that to be a good thing, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone. It's also only 6% ABV, making it easy to enjoy more than one.

There's an interesting explanation for the name of the beer: in England ‘butt’ refers to a type of barrel used for brewing - a very large barrel that holds 108 imperial gallons. Back in the day, breweries put their beers in a large butt for storage.

Bottom line (pun intended) - grab Santa's Butt if you see one. You'll enjoy it much more than a lump of coal in your stocking.

November 19, 2009

San Diego Brewery Tour

Just got back on Tuesday from a nice 5-day vacation in beautiful San Diego. Had a great time. The weather was perfect - blue, cloudless skies every day. Temps in the 60s-70s. I even went for a nice, 10 mile run on the boardwalk by the beach and along the bay in preparation for the 1/2 marathon I'm running Sunday.

What really made the vacation perfect was the brewery tour I went on while I was out there. The tour included stops at Stone, Ballast Point, and San Diego Brewing. What an amazing day!

We started with a stop at Stone. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The grounds are amazing and there's a beautiful garden in which you can enjoy your brews. They had some hops growing on the vine, although, admittedly, California isn't the best climate for growing hops. The main bar area is all light and huge windows overlooking the garden. We had 5 tastings there, including the Pale Ale, Porter, and IPA. I finished with an oak-aged Arrogant Bastard that was heavenly.

Next stop was Ballast Point. The best part about a brewery tour? Not worrying about driving yourself and roadies. Enjoyed a Sublimely Self Righteous on the way.

We were led on a tour of the brewery at Ballast Point. This is a much different brewery than Stone. Truthfully, it's a store front in an industrial park. (Actually, a lot of breweries are in industrial parks.) It reminded me of the post office or a FedEx location. I mean, obviously the coolest post office EVER since there were taps right there with some of the best beers, but it was a small window you'd walk up to and give the girl your order. I had some Big Eye, Wahoo and Yellowtail Pale Ale. I've mentioned before - Ballast Point can do no wrong in my mind, and being there proved it to me all the more.

Our final stop was San Diego Brewing, and I treated myself to the Ballast Point Sculpin for the ride.

San Diego Brewing Company is a restaurant/brewery. Here I had the wonderful Hopnotic and the San Diego Amber. I also, thankfully, had lunch! It was about time to get some food in me. I had a wonderful mahi-mahi sandwich. We'd made our food choices earlier in the day, and I'd chosen fresh fruit as my side order. As usually happens with a couple of beers, I decided to put healthy eating on hold for a bit and changed up the fruit for french fries. Wise choice!

This was a really great way to spend a day. Our guide, Mindy, was very knowledgeable and told us lots of fun facts about the breweries. She also put up with us as the day wore on and we got louder and - I can only imagine - more annoying. If you're going to be in the San Diego area, check out Brewery Tours of San Diego. You won't be disappointed!

November 4, 2009

Lost Abbey The Angel's Share

Great back story to the name of this beer, which connoisseurs of whiskey may know, but I had never heard. When distillers of whiskey age their whiskey for many years, some of the whiskey evaporates. They refer to this evaporation as "the angel's share".

It's an apt name for this beer as the brewers at Lost Abbey age the beer for a year in a bourbon barrel, which is evident in the taste.

I decided to try this beer because I've been writing a lot about IPAs. I can't get over my love of them, but think it's only fair to write about all the wonderful varieties of beer available.

The Angel's Share is an American strong ale, which is a term that refers to a strong beer (greater than 7% ABV) that doesn't fit in to another existing category. Beers termed strong ale typically share certain characteristics - they're usually dark brown to black in appearance and have a strong hop flavor and bitterness that are balanced by sweet or caramel malt flavors.

The Angel's Share certainly lives up to this in terms of color. The pour is deep, dark brown. It looks almost syrupy. There's no carbonation in the beer, which probably adds to this appearance.

You can absolutely smell the bourbon, as well as some oak and a little bit of vanilla. No hops here!

The taste, to me, is overwhelmingly of the bourbon. Maybe because I'm not a huge bourbon fan (which is an understatement), I felt like it was all I could taste. I even got that burning sensation at the back of my throat like I get when drinking a bourbon, which admittedly I don't do very often. I was told by my fellow bar patrons that the warmer the beer got, the better it would taste as other flavors came through. But I have to admit, that for me, that just didn't happen. Some other flavors were evident - molasses, caramel, dark fruits. Even with all that, I couldn't shake the bourbon taste.

The Angel's Share is currently available on draft at both Tria locations. Even though I can't write that I loved it, I'm glad I tried it. After all, that's what this blog is all about - expanding my horizons. Obviously I can't love every beer I try. There were a lot of other people at the bar who were drinking it, and most seemed to really enjoy it - some had even had it before and were commenting on how it good it was. And while I didn't see anyone order a second, I'm going to attribute that to the hefty 12% ABV.

November 2, 2009

Green Flash Hop Head Red Ale

There are some breweries that, in my mind, seem to be able to do no wrong. Yards, Ballast Point, Russian River are just a few that come to mind immediately. I'm adding Green Flash to that list. I love their West Coast IPA, and I can now add the Hop Head Red Ale to my list of favorites.

The name really tells you what you're getting with this beer. It's a red ale but so much more than just a red ale, as indicated by the addition of "hop head". It's a red ale for those people, like me, who love the hops.

The pour is what you would expect from a red ale - a nice, clear red.

According to the BJCP, the aroma for red ales should exhibit "low to moderate hop aroma from dry hopping or late kettle additions of American hop varieties. A citrusy hop character is common, but not required. Moderately low to moderately high maltiness balances and sometimes masks the hop presentation, and usually shows a moderate caramel character". And the aroma (and taste) is where the "hop head" of this beer really comes through. The smell of hops overrides that of the malt - it's just the way I like it, piney and citrusy.

The taste starts off hoppy, with some nice malt flavors coming in after. This definitely isn't what you would expect from a typical red ale. I guess that's why even the brewers beg the question "Is it red IPA?" I would answer emphatically and excitedly "yes!" followed by "give me another!"

October 26, 2009

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Double IPA

The Torpedo IPA is brewed by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, most famous for their Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I've heard a lot about the IPA, and finally decided to try it today. I bought it on my way home at the wonderful Foodery, where I would live if they let me.

This is a really good IPA, although a bit different tasting than what I normally find myself drawn to. For instance, while I can smell the hops - a nice pine and citrus aroma - it's not as strong as some others that I love (the Sculpin or Big Eye, for instance). It smells good, but doesn't want make me want to write on and on about it.

The taste is good, but again, probably not as hoppy or bitter as I might like it. Especially given that it's billed as an Extra IPA. I think a lot of my friends, who are sometimes put off by the bitterness of the beers I like, would like this one. It is good - I'll no doubt have it again. I just can't seem to bring myself to gush about it the way I have some other beers I've had.

ABV is 7.2%, which is actually surprising. Definitely doesn't taste like it would come in that high. I only had one tonight and could go for another, but I only bought the one (just one of the many great things about The Foodery - make-your-own-6-packs!) so am going to have to wait for another time.

An interesting fact about this beer - it was introduced at the beginning of 2009 (which, is anyone else surprised that it's nearly the end of 2009?? Where did this year go?) as the newest addition to the year-round roster of beers; most notably, it's the first full-production IPA from Sierra Nevada and the first change to their year-round available beers in over a decade!

October 14, 2009

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

It's been a bit since I've posted, but not because I haven't been drinking some great beers! I've been kind of busy with a few other projects, but that's really no excuse. The Phillies making the playoffs - and winning the NLDS! - has given me nothing but good reasons to head out almost daily and I was going to write about some of the different types of beers I've been trying. But I can't stop thinking about the Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, so I'm going to have to go with that one.

I've written about the Ballast Point Big Eye IPA before (you can read it here), and Sculpin is - as I like to think of it - the big brother to the Big Eye. (They have another, bigger brother - the Dorado, but that's a review for another day. I'll just say if you see it, get it!)

I had the Sculpin the other night while watching the Phils take the NLDS (can you tell I'm excited about that?). I've had it before, and honestly, I could drink it everyday.

The smell of this beer can only be described as amazing. I want to jump in the bottle and live in there - that's how good it smells. It's all piney and citrusy and tropical-fruity. I would dab it on my wrists and wear it as perfume. (I think you get that I love the smell.)

Okay, so at some point you're going to want to stop smelling it and start tasting it, instead. And you won't be disappointed. This is a bitter beer (which, as we know, means nothing but goodness to me!). You can taste the citrus fruits right away - not surprising given the smell. It's all apricots, grapefruit, mango. But there's also just a enough of a malt taste (ever-so-slight) so you're not completely overwhelmed by the citrus. This is truly a phenomenal beer - and that might not even be a strong enough recommendation.

I just realized I didn't write about the color. Not that it's not beautiful - it is. A nice amber color out of the bottle. But for me the smell and taste is really what sets this apart from other IPAs.

Oh, and one last note - the ABV is only 7%! I know, I know. 7% is higher than a lot of other beers. But believe me, the taste on this will have you thinking it's much higher. I'm just thankful it's not, because I can definitely enjoy more than one (or at least the 22 oz. bottle I got served the other night) without worrying about the next morning.

September 30, 2009

Great American Beer Festival Winners - Congratulations!

The Great American Beer Festival was held September 24 - 26 in Denver, CO. While I didn't go this year, you can bet I'll be there next year.

Pennsylvania did us proud by coming in 5th in number of overall medals (or 4th, depending, apparently, on where the Iron Hill brews were credited to - either PA or DE) with 12 (although, with the Iron Hill beers we took 14, which is what puts us in 4th). PA was the only non-west coast winner in the top 5. I call that an amazing feat! A big congratulations to all!

You can see the full list of PA winners here. If you're interested in the Delaware Valley winners, you can find them here. And finally, if you want to see all the winners, look no further than here.

I'd also like to send a big congratulations to Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD and Robert Malone (the brewer) for winning the 2009 Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year! They were the only non-west coast brewery to win in the brewing company or brewpub category. I've had their beers (and have written about them) and know that they are deserving of this recognition! Great job, guys!

September 27, 2009

Green Flash West Coast IPA

I'd like to note that today is Yom Kippur. I'm not religious and haven't done anything even remotely religious in many years, but for some reason today I felt the need to try and fast. It's 3:38 right now, which means there's about 4 more hours until I'm going to eat. I won't lie - I did have a bowl of cereal this morning at 9:30. Still, that's many more hours than I typically go without eating. So if this post seems rambling or incoherent, I'm going to blame it on the lack of food in me.

I'm also watching The Happening. It's like a train wreck. It's not at all good (sorry, M. Night. You're a Philly boy and I love you, but this is just not up to par with The 6th Sense), but I can't turn away from it. And the worse it gets, the more I want to watch.

I feel like I should be reviewing a He'brew beer today, but I haven't yet had one so I can't do that. Instead I'll talk about Green Flash West Coast IPA. I've had it before, but had it most recently on Saturday at Isaac Newton's, which was part of an IPA lunch hosted by Lew Bryson. What a fun afternoon!

This IPA is quite bitter. So you can imagine this review is going to be quite good. It pours a nice coppery, orange color. The smell is what I love best (next to the taste): distinctly hoppy - citrusy and piney and just all over wonderful. The taste is nothing less than exceptional. All citrus and pine and earth with a nice caramely sweet finish. It's such a great beer - I could drink it all day, even with it's 7% ABV. Actually, I'm surprised - this is much lower than I thought it would be given the hoppy flavor of the beer.

I may have mentioned this before, so forgive me if it seems that I'm bragging. I'm going to San Diego in November (Eagles v. Chargers!) and am doing a brewery tour. I'm so lucky because Green Flash Brewery is one of the stops (along with San Diego Brewing Co and the incredible Ballast Point). Can't wait to do some reviews after that little trip.

September 17, 2009

Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial Triple Hoppy Ale

Got news through Facebook (seems how I get a lot of news these days) that the great bar Isaac Newton's in Newtown would be tapping a keg of Moylan's Hopsickle Imperial Triple Hoppy Ale. An imperial hoppy ale? Moylan's speaks my language. Also, I grew up in Bucks County and while I've been to Isaac Newton's many, many times, I don't go as often as I might like given that I have to worry about getting myself home afterwards.

The beer made the trip - and the (sober!) drive home - well worth it. Need I mention that the beer is a nice, deep amber color? There's a nice hop smell - citrusy, grapefruity, piny - with a hint of caramel in the background.

The hops are plentiful in the taste, too. Having said that, the taste is nicely balanced with the malt so as strong as it is, it's still drinkable. It's definitely one of the most bitter beers I've had, but because I like my beers bitter, I don't have a problem with it.

This is a strong beer. You can tell that from the smell and the taste, and reading it should come as no surprise - 9.2%. Not a session beer, but one worth a try if you're in to intensely hoppy beers.

One note on imperial IPAs. "Imperial" is a fairly recently coined term that's been used to describe the big IPAs that American craft brewers have been brewing for those people - like me - who crave intense beers. Imperial seems to be an arbitrary term and doesn't have an official designation, other than to signify a stronger version of an IPA. The words "double", "extreme" or even "extra" mean the same thing.

September 15, 2009

Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale

As I mentioned in my last post, fall is a great time of year. As the temperatures cool, everything becomes a little heartier. Food. The clothes we wear. And most importantly, the beer we drink.
In addition to the great Oktoberfest beers that are so prevalent this time of year, pumpkin ales make a strong showing now, too.

I had the great Brooklyn Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale last night at 12 Steps Down. Although I've lived just a couple of blocks from this bar for almost 4 months now, it was my first trip in. It won't be my last. You can read more about the bar here because right now I'd like to focus on the beer.

The beer is a nice orange/ amber color. It smells of pumpkin, which should be expected given that - according to the brewers web site - hundreds of pounds of pumpkins are used in the mash of each batch. This heralds back to the early American colonists tradition of using natural ingredients in their brews. Pumpkins were chosen because of their abundance, flavor and nutritional value. Lucky for us!

The taste is somewhat spicy - cinammon, nutmeg, clove. You can even taste real pumpkin. But the nice thing is that it's not overwhelmingly pumpkiny, as some pumpkin beers are. The pumpkin taste is really nicely blended with the malt, giving it an almost bready taste.

This is a nice, easy drinking beer. Given it's low ABV (only 5%), and low caloric value (best I can figure is about 150 calories per 12 oz) this is a beer even the Great Pumpkin himself would enjoy (sorry. I wanted to get that in there somehow. I'll try not to make it a habit when reviewing other pumpkin beers).

September 7, 2009

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest

My first tasting of the great seasonal Dogtoberfest was at a fun event - Independents Hall's 2 year anniversary, which coincided with the 100th episode of Two Guys on Beer, both of which were celebrated at National Mechanics. Talk about a good night! Add to it that I was drinking such a good beer, and well, it was a perfect Tuesday evening.

Fall is my favorite time of year. There's something to be said about the hot, muggy days of the Philadelphia summer (although to be fair, this summer wasn't bad at all) turning to the cool, crisp days and nights of fall. Sweater weather! Is there anything better?

The other great thing about fall is what it signifies. Football, Oktoberfest, Halloween, Thanksgiving. So many fun things going on, it's hard not to love it.

All of this leads me to the beer, believe it or not. Fall is a great time for beer (well, all seasons are a great time for beer. But there's something about a good, hearty ale when it's a bit colder out that makes it even more appealing to me). Especially Oktoberfest beers.

The Dogtoberfest is a Marzen/Oktoberfest beer from
Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD. If you live anywhere near the area, you should know that the second annual GonzoFest is being held at the brewery on Saturday, September 12. I'm going to be there. You should be too, if you can make it.

The brewers use 100% imported German ingredients to give this beer an authentic German taste. It pours a nice deep brown. Although not the tongue-scraping hoppy I usually like (I have to admit I got that from a Twitter friend, who described the beers he liked as such), I genuinely enjoyed this very drinkable beer. It comes in at 5.3% ABV. The taste is sweet - malty and caramely. Given its low ABV you can, and should, easily enjoy more than one of these. And the calorie-conscious will be happy to know this comes in at about 148 calories for a 12 ounces. Prost!

September 2, 2009

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (60 minutes of heaven)

I've mentioned before that I've just recently gotten in to the craft beer scene (and have been loving every minute of it!). One of the beers that helped pave my way here is the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. I can honestly remember tasting one for the first time and thinking how flavorful it was, and so unlike the beers I usually drank. I realized why people genuinely like beer and want to drink it for the taste (instead of just a means of getting drunk).

This is a nice amber beer (of course it is. Maybe I should just stop writing about the pour every time I talk about an IPA). There are obvious hops in the smell, citrusy and floral. The bitterness of the hops and the sweetness of the malt are really nicely balanced. There's also a nice citrusy flavor that comes through. Only 6% ABV and about 209 calories. So again, a bit more calories than you'd get in say a Miller Lite, but so much more flavor it's definitely worth it!

The 60 Minute is Dogfish Head's best selling beer - as they call it "the de facto session beer (that low ABV) for hop heads". It's easy to see where they got the name from - the beer is continuously hopped with 60 hop additions over 60 minutes.

Believe me when I tell you, it will take you much less than 60 minutes to realize what a great beer you're drinking.

August 29, 2009

Craft beer vs light beer

I've recently started publishing the caloric content of the beers I'm writing about because I had a couple of requests to add that. I'm worried, though, that people (okay, women) are going to focus on that number and not be able to see beyond it. We women are a funny bunch that way. We get a number in our head of what's acceptable - be it a pant size, a bra size, the age we want to get married - and we can't seem to let it go.

The advertisers of the mass marketed beer will have you believe that the lower the calories the better. Nutritionists would agree. I, of course, see the rationale in this. I'm certainly not saying that calories don't matter. I really do believe in moderation in all things (oh, I can hear a lot of my friends laughing at that one).

But the difference is, these craft beers are so good that you should take the time to smell the beer, really let it sit in your mouth and get the full flavor rather than just mindlessly throwing them back the way you would whatever ice-cold "goodness" you've been enjoying up until now. Am I saying that I always only drink one or two? Anyone who knows me, reads this blog or follows me on twitter and sees some of my ridiculous, late-night tweets knows that's not the case. But I have learned to appreciate what I'm drinking, and think that you should give yourself the chance to, too. Regardless of what the number is that comes along with enjoying it.

August 21, 2009

Uh-oh, beer snobbery is not good

Okay, just read this article that the Beer Babe posted on her facebook page and felt the need to write immediately.

It's not good to be a beer snob! And after reading the article, I'd like to think I'm not one. (Please someone agree with me!) I'm really not writing reviews and learning about beer so that I can make someone else feel inadequate in their knowledge. No, I'm doing this so that I can entertain and inform so that you can feel good about going out and ordering something different. I might on occasion laugh at someone's choice of favorite beer (yikes, sounds very snobbish to me) but I'm laughing with the person not at them (um, okay).

The thing is, I'm not really a beer geek either (not nearly knowledgeable enough). I guess I'm an aspiring beer geek.

And when was the last time a snob said they aspired to be a geek?

Case closed.

August 20, 2009

Am I a beer snob?

I know the answer to this question and it's an emphatic YES. This was proven to me (again) last night. I went to Rembrandt's and ordered Great Lakes Brewing Company's Commodore Perry IPA. I loved it and am only not reviewing it because I didn't really drink it in a way where I'm ready to review it (meaning really paying attention to all that I would write about in a review. I just knew it was gooood!). Look for that in the future.

However, let me get back to the issue of my snobbery. A guy friend met me and ordered .... a Bud Light Lime. I started laughing and said that when I came in the first thing I did was look for the hoppiest beer the bar offered, which was in stark contrast to his ordering the shittiest beer they had (sorry Anheuser-Busch). I meant it as a joke (although I'm not going to lie about cringing when he ordered it) but it sparked an intense conversation between me and him and the helpful gentleman sitting on my other side who insisted that Miller Lite is the best beer around.

Now, I agree that there is room for everyone's taste. (Okay, I don't really agree with that but for the sake of trying to sound open-minded I'll at least write it. I'm talking flavor. Where is the flavor in a BLL or ML?) For instance, I'm not a huge fan of certain types of beers - sour beers, German style beers. But I feel that the ones that I've tried are at least craft beers. They're not just mass-produced mass-marketed drones of the beer world.

As I'm writing this, I think I'm gaining clarity on what I'm snobbish about. It's the "mass" part of this process. The genericism (is that a word?) of the big beers out there. There's something about a microbrew that to me speaks of someone who isn't content just to say "yes, a beer is made up water and malts and hops and yeast". No, they want to see what they can do with those ingredients to bring us a new taste, a new flavor.

The guy who waxed philosophically on his love of Miller Lite insisted that microbrews are just a phase. I tried explaining that when you had as many people making a living as are from microbrews, it was likely to be around for a while. He said that people don't like going to bars and trying something they know nothing about.

Which is a good point. Let's face it, as much as we'd like to believe we're all independent thinkers and in control of our every action, we are creatures of habit and suspect to outside influences. So let's think about this - who does the advertising? Whose billboards are plastered everywhere you look? It's not the microbrews of the world. And I agree that people are scared of trying new things (that whole "creature of habit" thing again). It makes sense that people believe they really like Miller Lite or Bud, because it's what they've been drinking and what they know and what they're told is going to make them sexy to the opposite sex.

So let's try to help me out, people. Help me avoid debates with friends and strangers alike, and maybe even get rid of the label "snob". Just try a new beer. Tell the bartender what kind of beer you typically drink and ask for a recommendation. As I'm fond of saying, you just may surprise yourself.

August 16, 2009

Lagunitas IPA

No clever names here. The Lagunitas IPA gets straight to the point - it's an IPA from Lagunitas Brewing Company, and it's a great one. I've been drinking it for many months now. I had one last night and finally decided to write about it. I tried to take a picture, but my camera kept insisting I had to "change the battery pack". I hope that just means "charge the battery", which I'm currently doing. Then maybe I'll be forced to have another one today, so I can get my picture.

Lagunitas (or, as can be found on their web site LAH-GOO-KNEE-TUSS) is in Petaluma, CA. I'm thinking there's a trip to the left coast in my near future to visit all these incredible breweries. Maybe I'll take advantage of that Jet Blue All-You-Can-Jet Pass. But I digress.

This IPA pours a nice deep amber, just like you would expect from an IPA. The aroma is hoppy - citrusy, piney - which isn't surprising given that there are 43 hops in the beer. Taste is wonderful - a smooth bitterness from the hops mixed with a sweet maltiness that comes from 65 malts. ABV is 5.7%, nice and low. Comes in at about 180 calories.

I'll be as succinct in my wrap up as Lagunitas was in the naming of this beer - drink it. You won't be disappointed.

August 11, 2009

Stone Cali-Belgique IPA

Ah, finally getting back to my true love - the IPA. Last night I was lucky enough to try the wonderful Stone Cali-Belgique IPA while at Tria. It was as good as I could have hoped. The Stone Brewing Co bills the Cali-Belgique as the "identical twin to Stone IPA that was raised in a Belgian culture". This is a fitting description, as it seems the main difference is the addition of a Belgian yeast strain.

The pour is a pale amber. (One of these days I'm going to remember to take my camera out with me everytime I'm going for a drink! You really have to see some of these beers to appreciate them. I take that back. You really have to taste these beers to appreciate them!) The smell is similar to the Stone IPA - hoppy, floral. The addition of the yeast gives this a "breadier" (I was trying to stay away from the word "yeast" again) smell, but the fruity aromas are definitely there. There's a bitterness to the taste, and as we know, that's what I like. ABV isn't too bad - 6.9%. For something this tasty, I'll take it!

The Cali-Belgique comes in a 22 oz bottle, and from the best I can determine that bottle has close to 400 calories. I'm trying to figure out if this is right, so will update if necessary. I had this on draft, so at best I had 16 oz. Still - remember - everything in moderation. I wouldn't pass this beer up just because of it's caloric content. Instead, I'd go for a nice long run and not think twice about it.

August 9, 2009

Victory Prima Pils

Another lager! But it's a good one and I'm glad to be writing about it.

The Prima Pils is a German pilsener brewed by Victory Brewing Company, my neighbors in Downingtown, PA. This beer is highly regarded by critics and regular, every day beer drinkers (like me).

The pour is pale yellow. The smell is a bit grassy and citrusy with some floral in there as well. The taste is clean and crisp, just what you want from a pilsener, and more flavorful than most beers of this style. There's not much malt in this one, it's more about the hops, making it more bitter, but not overwhelmingly so. At 5.3% ABV, this is a great session beer. And even better, it comes in at only 150 calories. Not bad at all!

(I've included the calories because I've had a couple of requests lately to include this information. I think it's a great suggestion, especially since one of my goals is to promote drinking of good, craft beer. I hear a lot that women are afraid that drinking beer will make them heavy. I hate to break it to you, but too much of anything will make you heavy! Don't hate on the beer!)

August 5, 2009

Beer Glassware

I just got back from an amazing weekend in Boston. My 4 days there included a bar crawl, sight seeing, shopping, celebrating my birthday and - to top it all off - seeing Coldplay in concert. Doesn't get much better than that, does it?

I stayed at friends of a friend's place the first two nights (then it was hotels). These two were as passionate about beer as I am, which led to some great conversation about beers, brewing and proper glassware. I'd never given much thought to the type of glass I used to drink a beer out of (and, until recently, would even just drink right out of the bottle).

Turns out it's not just a marketing ploy (as so much is these days. And I'm saying that as someone who makes a living from marketing!). There are real reasons that different glasses should be used for different beers. It doesn't just make the beer look prettier, it really can have an effect on the taste.

There are 6 main types of glasses that a beer enthusiast will want to own (I just ordered mine online).

Pint glass
(for some fun, go to Type in "pint glass" and click on images. What??)
If you've ever had a beer on tap at a bar, you've likely had it in a pint glass. These are good, basic glasses and popular in bars because of their durability. The British-style pint glass, which is bulged near the top, is good for pale ales, bitter, stouts.

Pilsner glass
The pilsner glass is tall, slender and cylindrical. The shape of the glass helps focus the hop aroma, while helping the beer maintain its head. This is a great glass for lagers, including pilsners (obviously, given the name), maibocks, and dopplebocks.

Weizen glass
This is the perfect glass or enjoying weizen (wheat) beers. It's tall, with a slightly bowed-out shape and narrower top. These attributes help concentrate the aromas of this type of beer, while also allowing for enough room to accomodate the big heads associated with these types of beer.

Goblets (or Chalice)
There is a technical difference between a goblet and chalice; a goblet is thinner and long-stemmed, while a chalice is heavier and thick-walled. However, they're in the same family and both are great for heavier, malty beers (dubbel, tripel, quadrupel, Belgian IPAs) where the hop aroma doesn't play as important a role in the taste of the beer. The bowl on these glasses should be big enough to hold the entire beer, and are designed to hold the head.

The design of this glass - tulip-shaped, with the top of the glass pushing out to form a "lip" and a bulbous body - is perfect for more aromatic beers such as strong ales, imperial IPAs, and imperial stouts.

Clink with confidence with a mug! Mugs are sturdy, heavy, and come with a handle. They typically hold a lot of beer. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The large, open mouth allows for the release of the floral herbal bouquet, while also maximizing the malty aroma of the beer.

Now, I realize that not everyone is going to run out and buy a set of these different types of glasses. But the next time you're out at your favorite watering hole, pay attention to the type of glass your drink is served in. It really does make a difference!

July 30, 2009

Jever Pilsener

I was out the other night at Eulogy (one of the best beer bars in Philadelphia, in my, and many other people's, opinion) and asked for a lager. I've realized that a lot of my reviews focus on ales, because that's what I love. But others may have different tastes, and it's only fair I try to give the lager lovers (I say that like it's the worst thing in the world to be!) something they may be looking for every once in a while.

I asked for a recommendation and the bartender told me about Jever Pilsener, because, as she told me, it has a bit more hops than most lagers. I was sold!

I'm happy, and not surprised, to say I really liked it. I took a lager class at Tria Fermentation School (which I wrote about) about a month ago, and liked everything I tasted - of course, some more than others.

The pilsener poured nice - golden and clear. The smell was citrusy - lemony - and a bit grassy. You can definitely taste the hops, more so than in other lagers, but not overwhelmingly so. It's a very refreshing beer - as most lagers are - and at less than 5% ABV, you really can't go wrong. This is a great beer for someone like me - someone who loves the flavor of ales but likes to switch it up every once in a while.

July 27, 2009

Ballast Point Big Eye IPA


I thought I'd get right to the point with this one. What a great beer! The Big Eye IPA is brewed by Ballast Point Brewing Company in San Diego. (Side note - I'm going to San Diego in November for the Eagles/Chargers game and now know one place on my must-visit list!)

With an ABV of 7%, it's a bit on the stronger side, but, to me anyway, remains very drinkable.

The pour is a nice coppery orange. It smells as good as it tastes and looks - hoppy, citrusy, piney. Also a hint of caramel malt. The taste is great. Hoppy flavors that start off herbal and turn to citrus, but with a good malt flavor that helps balance the bitterness.

I've had this beer in my fridge for a couple of weeks now. I got it at Bella Vista Distributor when I bought a case of beer. They have an "exchange program" - buy a case and you can exchange one of the beers in the case for one that someone else has left behind from their case. Great idea and good way to try a new brew!

July 26, 2009

Summer Ale Festival

Last night I went with a friend to the Summer Ale Festival at the Philadelphia Zoo. We had a really good time, and I realized how much I love the zoo - I don't think I've been to one since I was 13! I'm definitely going back again soon.

The funniest part of the night came when my friend decided to give me a plug on her facebook page. She wrote "At the Summer Ale Festival with Philly Bear Girl" BEAR, not beer. We didn't realize it until another one of our friends texted me and told me what was written. It was appropriate given that we were at the zoo (although there are no bears), but so hysterically funny. I'm still laughing out loud as I'm writing this. I told everyone to be on the lookout for my other blog, which will be about wild animals.

There were a number of local brewers at the event, and all featured at least two of their summer ales. In addition, there were several local restaurants who were onhand to provide some delicious eats.

Now, I don't like to complain, especially about an event whose proceeds went to the education and preservation efforts at the zoo. But my friend and I got there at 7 - the event started at 6:30 - and there were already a number of vendors who were out of food. What? People had only begun arriving 1/2 an hour before that, and they were already out? It was like there was no communication between the event organizers and the restaurants that were participating.
The other problem was the long lines. I really don't think anyone was properly prepared for the number of people in attendance, and lines wound round and round and up and down. It was made interesting because while you were waiting in line, you were typically near some sort of animal, but it didn't take away from the fact that there was a whole lot of waiting going on.

Having said that, the event was a lot of fun, even if I didn't get to try all the beers I wanted to (lines were just too long). I had the wonderful Weyerbacher Double Simcoe and a Hops Infusion. I paired the Hops Infusion with a fish taco, and it was fantastic! I also had the Victory Golden Monkey with a piece of banana bread, and the Victory Storm King Stout with a piece of banana chocolate truffle. Mmmmm! The River Horse Double Wit and Victory Whirlwind Wit were a hit with my friend. I enjoyed the River Horse Hop Hazard Pale Ale, Victory Hop Devil and Yards Pale Ale.

Wow, when I write it all out like that, you probably wonder how many other beers I could have wanted to try! But believe me, there were a number of them. However, we did get some really good ones in and - much like I want this blog to be - I think the night was an eye-opening event for my friend and showed her just how many different types of beers she likes.

July 24, 2009

A lovable (Elysian) loser

I've loved some losers that embarrass me when I think about them to this day (my first boyfriend is a good example). But there's nothing embarrassing about loving the Elysian Loser Pale Ale, brewed by Elysian Brewery in Seattle, WA. I've been lucky enough to have enjoyed this beer at a few bars in Philly, although I believe I've heard it's a limited edition brewed to celebrate Sub Pop Records 20th anniversary.

The Loser is a bit darker than most pale ales - a coppery/reddish color. The taste is good, and drinkable, but it's not overly exciting. (I heard a woman who was drinking one say that it was the most unexciting good beer she's ever had.) And that's the thing - it's not going to make you exclaim how great it is, but you're going to find yourself drinking more than one and liking it. There's a good balance between the hops and malt, with the hops providing a touch of bitterness and the malt taste coming through as caramely (is that a word?) and bready. Alcohol is 6.5%, making this a bit of a stronger pale ale.

You might want to run from some of the losers you see sitting around you, but if you see this one, invite him over. You'll be glad you did.

July 16, 2009

Rare VOS

One of the things I'm loving best about writing about beer is all the new beers I'm being introduced to. Up until recently I was content to ask the bartender for a new IPA to try. And while I'll still ask the bartender for a suggestion, I've opened up the list of beers I'll try to include - well, pretty much everything. I think I mentioned before just how many types of beers I've realized I really, really like. I would recommend that you do the same. Don't be afraid to try something outside your tried and true and you just might surprise yourself. Now that I think about it, that advice applies to life and not just beer drinking!

Now that I'm done telling you how to live your life - on to the beer!

Last week at Jose Pistolas, I was introduced to a rare treat - the Rare VOS from Ommegang. It's considered a dark ale, but pours lighter than one might expect. It's orange/amber in color and has a decent-sized head. There's the yeasty smell typical of Belgian beers, but you'll also catch hints of of spice/nuttiness, and fruit as well. The taste is wonderful - starts off malty but finishes with a hop taste. It's a little bit sweet and a tiny bit spicy. (Hmm, sounds a little bit like me.) Overall very refreshing and delicious! And not too strong - about 6.5% ABV.

Don't drink this beer on rare occasions - drink it as frequently as you can. It's that good.

July 11, 2009

Pliny the Elder

I fell in love last night with an old man. His name is Pliny the Elder, and he is delicious! Seriously one of the best beers I've ever had. The brewers at Russian River Brewing certainly know what they're doing (they had me at Blind Pig IPA).

Pliny is an Imperial IPA. Now, for as much as I love the IPAs, Imperials are usually a bit too strong for me. There's something about their taste I'm not entirely in to - I think that for me, most tend to be too bitter. Not so with Pliny. I could easily have drank him all night (well, maybe not that easily since he comes in at a fairly hefty 8% ABV). But that taste! Citrusy, hoppy and not too bitter. Really a perfect balance here. The smell is wonderful - piney, grapefruity, floral. And what a pour - a nice deep orange with a good head.

The story of the real Pliny the Elder is interesting. He was a Roman naturalist, writer, historian - and, fittingly enough, he created the botanical name for hops with his contemporaries. He was killed in 79 AD while watching the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Pliny is somewhat difficult to find, but well worth looking for. When you do find him, you're going to want to make sure to order one immediately.

July 10, 2009

What's on tap at Jose Pistolas in July

Last night I had the chance to enjoy some Ommegang brews at Jose Pistolas. I had the Abbey, Rouge and Rare V.O.S. Very different flavors, and I really enjoyed the Abbey and especially the V.O.S. I'll write more about each later.

For those looking for some cool beer events this month (and who isn't?), check out what's happening at Jose Pistolas in July.

Tuesday the 14th is New Holland Beer night. From 5 pm until the beer is gone, there'll be flights of New Holland's best beers paired with cheese.

Friday the 17th is a Bell’s Barbecue. Bell’s beer will be on tap (including a firkin of the Two-Hearted Ale - a wonderful IPA that I really love) and plenty of chicken, ribs and pork. Hey, I'm a vegetarian and I'll still make it to this event - you have no excuse not to come by.

Tuesday the 21st, in addition to being my dad's birthday, is Doc’s Cider night. Although it's not beer, Doc's Ciders are not to be missed. Considered one of the best cider makers in America, Doc’s will be available in a variety of flavors including pear, apple, and raspberry starting at 5pm.

July 7, 2009

Troeg's Sunshine Pils - a wonderful summer brew

Up until recently, it seemed the sun had forgotten how to shine in Philadelphia. Which isn’t to say you couldn’t find some sunshine if you knew where to look.

Take, for instance, the Troegs Sunshine Pils from Troegs Brewing Company in Harrisburg, PA. This German-style pilsner is sure to brighten up any day. It starts with the pour – a nice, clear yellow in the glass. You can almost taste summer just looking at it! The smell is sweet – faintly citrusy, faintly herbal. Next comes the taste. Crisp. Smooth. A little hoppy but not overwhelmingly so. And not a lot of carbonation, making it very drinkable.
Another great thing about this beer is its relatively low ABV – it comes in at just 5.3%, which means you can easily enjoy more than one.

My advice? Don’t hold out for a day on which you need some sunshine – this beer is meant be enjoyed everyday. It's perfect for a hot summer day (I imagine having one after an afternoon spent mowing the lawn – if I had a lawn to mow!) or on one of those days when the thunderstorms come rolling in to break up the summer humidity. And since it’s only available May through August, make sure to get one while you can.

July 3, 2009

Session beers - another mystery solved

I've been hearing a lot of talk about "session beers". I had an ill-defined idea of what this meant, so today I sat down for a session to figure it out.

In a nutshell, a session beer is one that is less than 5% ABV (alcohol by volume). The reason for this is simple - a session beer meant to be drunk over a period of time without the drinker becoming drunk, or having "their legs taken out from under them". Ostensibly, the lower the ABV, the more you can drink. Of course some of why alcohol affects people differently depends on factors outside of the alcohol content of the beer, but it's a good gauge and it seems that around 5% is a pretty good number for the majority of people.

Another feature of a session beer is a balance between the hops and malts. In addition to not getting the drinker drunk, a session beer is not meant to overwhelm the palate, which is where the balance of flavors comes in.

While session beers are a different breed than some of the more extreme beers available today (and you know I like plenty of them!), I'd like to point out that these beers - of which there are literally thousands - are quite tasty in their own right. They may not have you exclaiming about how wonderful they are while you're drinking it, but that's another point about them - you're supposed to be able to drink a session beer without feeling like you want to talk about it.

Finally, session beers are typically more reasonably priced than a lot of the big beers.

For my money, anything that I can drink for a while, without worrying about getting drunk, and at a decent price is something that I can stand behind.

June 30, 2009

What the firkin

As I sat down to write this, I was (obviously) thinking about the word "firkin". It's a funny word. Which made me think of another funny "f" word (and no, it's not four-letters). Fartlek. Ever heard of it? Most runners probably have, and may know what it means:"speed play" in Swedish. And just so you can sound really knowledgeable, it's a form of interval training that helps improve speed and endurance.

But we're here to talk about beer and beer-related words, so on to the firkin.

Firkin is an old British unit of measure, usually equal to a quarter of a barrel. Beers that are matured in firkins (cask ales) are not pasteurized or pressurized with carbon dioxide - meaning that they're a lot "flatter" than what most American beer drinkers are used to (or, at least, what I'm used to). Beers served in firkins are also called "real ales" by "real beer drinkers".

I had some firkin beers on Sunday. They were good, but definitely different than what I typically drink. It's funny because I've always said that I can't drink ice-cold beers (it hurts my teeth) so I typically let them warm to room temp. That's pretty much what a beer from a firkin tastes like - a flat, room-temp beer - and yet I just don't really like it.

I'd also like to note that beer is not meant to be served ice cold - no matter what the advertisers have led you to believe. Beers are actually meant to be enjoyed at a warmer temp. This allows them to release more of their natural flavor and aroma, which to me, explains why a lot of beers are served so cold. They don't have a lot of flavor to begin with, so you're really not going to gain anything by drinking it warmer.

Have you tried a firkin beer? Do you want to? If you've had one, what are your thoughts on their taste and "texture" (flat vs. carbonated).

June 27, 2009

Flying Fish Belgian Style Dubbel

Before I get in to the beer review, let's review this past week. What a week it was. I was out Wednesday night with a friend in NYC and he told me Michael Jackson had died. I'd been in a meeting all day, with no access to what was going on in the real world. At first we thought it was a rumor, but we quickly realized that it was true. Add to that the fact Farrah Fawcett had also died and you had a pretty surreal day (although, given how sick she was, it wasn't as surprising about Farrah). I have to admit, I felt badly that Farrah's death was so completely overshadowed by MJs. I know that happened once before, but I forget who it was. If anyone can remember the last time two celebs died on the same day - and one completely overtook the airwaves, with barely a mention of the other - post a comment and remind me.

No matter what you thought of Michael in recent years there is no denying the fact that he was an amazing talent and absolutely worthy of the title "King of Pop".

So, the beer. I went to the Royal Tavern (which I really need to write about - it's one of my favorite bars in the city - and not just because it's so convenient to where I live!) for dinner last night. Decided to try the Flying Fish Belgian Style Dubbel. I enjoyed it with my meal - a vegan sloppy joe (mmmmm!). It wasn't hoppy, but as I'm trying different beers, I'm realizing the incredible variety I really like.

It pours a nice amber color, with a pretty thick head that disappears fairly quickly. It's on the stronger side at 7.3% ABV. The smell is fruity and faintly spicy. You can taste the fruit when drinking this, as well as a bit of the spice (cloves?). It's definitely more malty than hoppy, meaning it's more sweet than it is bitter (hops add bitterness, and I love bitter beer!). While drinkable, I think two or three is the most I could have, mostly because of the maltiness. It's not terribly heavy, and would go well with a variety of foods.

Flying Fish Brewery
is my neighbor, just over the bridge in Cherry Hill, NJ. I need to get myself over there for a brewery tour! Anyone want to join me? They do them almost weekly on Saturdays.

June 21, 2009

Russian River Blind Pig IPA

Let me start off by saying I love this beer. I should also point out that it's not a Harp, even though that's what the glass says. I had one on Wednesday night at Local 44 in West Philly and then had another Saturday night at St. Stephen's Green in the Fairmount (or, as I always call it since I lived there for nearly 5 years, art museum) area.

It's brewed by Russian River, a brewery in Santa Rosa, CA.

This beer has what seems to me the perfect amount of hops - not overly hoppy and balanced well with the malt. It's got a great citrusy scent and pours a dark orange with a fairly thick head. It comes in at only about 6.1% ABV, making it very easy to drink more than one. And with this great taste you'll likely want to have more than one. It's also not too "heavy" - you don't feel like you're eating a meal on top of your meal - another reason it's a great drinking beer.

I highly recommend you seek out the Blind Pig, especially if you've been wanting to try a hoppy beer, but were afraid to.

June 18, 2009

Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend

Three Philosophers Belgian Style Blend is a quadrupel ale from Brewery Ommegang.

Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium. It's meant to have a bolder flavor than Dubbel and Tripel (makes sense, right?) styles.

Three Philosophers is a good, complex beer - a belgian-style ale mixed with Lindeman's Kriek Lambic, which adds a nice cherry flavor to the chocolate and caramel malt flavor of the ale.

It comes in strong at 9.8% ABV. In my mind, that makes it a beer to sip, almost like a liquer, rather than one that you'll constantly be reordering. Also (and again, this is for me) the cherry flavor gets to be a little much and I can't see drinking it for an entire night. I think this would make a nice substitution for a dessert wine (port), if you're looking for one.

I think the history of the Trappists is interesting. The Trappist order came to be in 1664 when the Abbot of La Trappe felt that the Cistercians were becoming too liberal. Wanting to bring some order back to the abbey, he introduced stricter rules, and so the Strict Observance was born.

Trappist monks follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Monks have long brewed beer as a means of feeding their community, in an act of self-sufficiency. They've also produced cheese, bread and other items, including clothing. In this way they are following a rule from the 48th Chapter that states "for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands". Contrary to popular belief, they do not take a vow of silence, although they do typically only speak when necessary.

There are certain criteria that must be met in order for a beer to be called Trappist. These criteria are:
** The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under the control of Trappist monks
** The brewery and what is chosen to be brewed must be determined by the monastic community
** All proceeds from the brewing of the beer must be used for assistance purposes and not for financial gain

It's also good to know that Trappist isn't a type of beer, but rather a designation given to a beer that meets the above criteria.
Currently, there are 7 recognized Trappist breweries - 6 in Belgium and 1 in the Netherlands.

If any of this has piqued your interest in meeting a Trappist Monk you're in luck if you live in Philadelphia (or will be in town on Tuesday, June 23). Monk's Cafe is hosting a meet and greet with Abbot Izaak from La Trappe from 5 - 7 pm. This is the Abbot's first-ever stop in America, and it's sure to be a special event.

June 13, 2009

A lesson in beer

Last week was a great beer-tasting/learning week for me. I went to two amazing beer-related events.

On Wednesday night I went to a Love of Lager class at Tria Fermentation School. It was a great event! I learned so much about beer. Someone calling themselves "phillybeergirl" should probably be embarrassed to admit that she didn't know this, but there are only two types of beers - ales and lagers. (Hey, I stated from the outset I was here to learn and wanted others to learn with me. And learning is what we're doing!)

The difference between the two is how they're fermented. Ales are brewed at a higher temperature, typically using yeast that ferments at the top of the fermentation tank. The high temperature causes the yeast to "throw off" different flavors; you don't necessarily know what you're going to get.

Lagers, on the other hand, are brewed at a lower temperature, for a longer period of time, typically using yeasts that ferment at the bottom of the tank. What the brewer wants you to taste is what they're going to put in to the tank. There's a lot less "guess work" in this approach.

Another interesting fact I didn't realize is the number of different types of beers that fall under each category. For example, lagers include pilsners, bocks, and dunkles, among others. Ale examples include pale ales, IPAs (yay!), porters and stouts. Somehow it all reminds me of religion and how there are so many sects that fall under the term "Christian". Maybe not an exact analogy, but it works for me.

Okay, that was all very educational. But I can hear you asking "how do I know which to order when I'm out?" Well, if you haven't tried the types of beer I've given as examples, here's the basic "taste" differences between the two: Ales tend to be fruitier and more complex while lagers are typically crisper and more refreshing. Hopefully that helps a little.

Or you can do what I do and just ask to try something new! That's the best way to learn what you like anyway.

On Saturday I went on a walking tour of Northern Liberties. It was sponsored by First Person Arts, a wonderful organization in Philadelphia whose mission it is to "transform the drama of real life into memoir and documentary art to foster appreciation for our unique and shared experiences."

We started out at Swift Half, a new bar that just opened in the Piazza at Schmidt's. Schmidt's, as it turns out, was a brewery that was open in the Northern Liberties section of the city years back. The Piazza should be a huge hit. There's an enormous outdoor TV, tons of galleries, retail stores and of course Swift Half (owned by the same people that brought us Good Dog in center city). We also went to the Standard Tap, 700, The Foodery (where we met one of the brewers from Yards Brewing), and ended the day at North Bowl. All along we were drinking and learning about beer from none other than Joe Sixpack himself. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about going on this tour by myself but I met some wonderful people and had a really wonderful time.

I tried a lot of different beers over the past few days and will be writing my review of the Three Philosophers later this week. I chose that one for now because I actually have pictures to accompany it. Probably not the best reason (although I also really liked the beer), but we'll make it work.

June 8, 2009

Walt Wit Belgian Style White Ale

Before I begin to review this beer, I'd like to write about my night. I came home and made dinner - something I've done far too little of recently. I decided to eat dinner at my dining room table. Without the TV on. Without reading a magazine or talking on the phone. Just me and my food, the way the experts say you're supposed to eat.

It was the quietest, most boring meal I've ever eaten. I don't know if it was the deafening silence or the fact that I was starving, but I think I can say without hesitation I've never eaten as quickly as I did tonight. The experts can say what they will - I will not go through dinner like that again. TV, radio, phone, magazine - you are all my friends when I'm dining alone.

On to the beer...

While I usually like much hoppier beers, I liked the Walt Wit. It's made by the Philadelphia Brewing Company (which in no way influences my review). I also like the play on words - Walt Whitman was a famous playwright who spent the last years of his life at a house in Camden, NJ, which is right across the bridge from Philly. There's a bridge connecting Philly to Jersey named after him. There's a lot more to Walt Whitman than just a bridge, but you'll have to look on wikipedia to learn more - this is a blog about beer!

Wit, or white beer, originated in Belgium about 400 years ago. While there were once a number of brewers in Belgium brewing this type of beer, in 1954, the last of these breweries closed. Then, in a moment of genius (and nostalgia) Pierre Celis started brewing the wit beer again and he called it Hoegaarden. Anyone out there who hasn't enjoyed a Hoegaarden on a hot summer day should make sure to do so at their next opportunity.

The Walt Wit is brewed with grapefruit and chamomile, giving it a light, citrusy taste. There's a hint of pepper in there, too, but overall it's very refreshing. The beer pours a light, golden yellow. It may not be the best beer I've ever tasted, and while I'm not sure I could spend a day drinking it, I can imagine enjoying a couple out on a deck before switching to something with a little more hops to finish off the night.

June 6, 2009

Hangover ruminations

I was a bit in hell this morning. Spent the night drinking. I would say a good 8 hours drinking. That's a full day of work! Good brews - Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Yards Pale Ale, and I have to be honest and say I'm not sure what I finished the night with. I'll figure it out tonight, since I'm heading back to the same bar I ended at last night (The Royal Tavern at 937 Passyunk Ave in Philly. I'll write more about this gem of a bar in another post).

Given how I felt this morning (but luckily have recovered, since I'm heading out to do it all over again shortly), I started thinking about hangovers. I've experienced my fair share. Or rather, a lot more than my fair share.

So here's what I was wondering. Does drinking a mixture of beers cause a worse hangover? How about a mixture of alcohols? How many times have I said to myself "beer before wine, always fine, wine before liquor, never sicker" to determine what I can drink based on what I started with? Is there any truth to those silly rhymes?

I'd love to hear ideas on how to avoid hangovers. Well, other than not drinking too much, of course. To me that's like teaching only abstinence to teenagers. Better to be prepared with all the facts for when you inevitably do that which you probably shouldn't be doing.

June 3, 2009

Long Trail IPA

I've realized that I'm not as in love with all IPAs equally and am trying to figure out what the differences are. A brief history on IPAs - they date back to the 1700s, when England was exporting ales to British troops stationed in India (starting to get it?). These English pale ales were infused with extra hops (a natural preservative) to help them survive the long voyage. And hence, a great beer type was born.

Right now I'm enjoying a Long Trail IPA from Long Trail Brewery out of Bridgewater Corners, VT. (I want to mention that I'm also watching a documentary on the Dave Matthews Band, which is, and has been for a long time, my favorite band. This night couldn't be any better!) It's an unfiltered beer, which means that the yeast hasn't been filtered out. Good news about this - yeast contains B vitamins, so there are those that think that unfiltered beers reduce hangovers. Sweet! Most beers are filtered to remove the yeast to give a clarity to the beer, but filtering does sacrifice some of the taste.

It's a good beer but I don't think I'd put it on my list of favorites. Too bad, since I bought a case of it. It doesn't seem quite as hoppy as I'd like it be. It has an ABV of 5.9%. I appreciate that, as most of the hoppy beers I like tend to have higher ABVs, which can led to some rough mornings. It's golden in color. It had a pretty good head but just seemed so much lighter than what I've come to expect from IPAs.

I would recommend this to someone who wanted to try an IPA that is lighter tasting (nice and refreshing in the summer!) and not overly hoppy.

May 31, 2009

A blog is born

Welcome to my blog!   For a while now I've wanted to combine two loves of mine - drinking and writing - and a blog seemed like the perfect way to do this.  
I love beer.  Good beer.  Hoppy beer.  I drink IPAs like it's my job (I wish it were!).  I feel fortunate to live in a city where a good bar (and good beer) is never far away.  
I think women need to know there's more to beer than the light swill that is so often marketed to them.  Beers that taste really good and don't have that many more calories than the light stuff. My goal for this blog is to review beers and bars.  It will be an adventure we can go on together.  I don't have a degree in beer.  I just know what I like, am going to learn more and want share the experience with others.