June 22, 2012

Drinking during pregnancy

I'm not sure how this will make me sound, but one of the reasons, among many, that I've worried about the day that I get pregnant is the idea of not drinking for 9 months. Or however many months, since I understand it takes some time for most people to realize they're pregnant.

I have other, better reasons for pregnancy concerns but the not drinking definitely is on that list. It's been a big part of my life for about 20 years (yikes!!). I've always said that it's the perfect companion for any situation, helping to celebrate the good times and make easier the bad ones. Most importantly, I just love it. I love a refreshing beer on a hot summer day. Or a big, boozy one on a cold winter day. Or really, just a beer on any given day. So I was plenty excited about the latest news out of Denmark saying that moderate drinking during pregnancy may not affect a child's neurodevelopment.

Not one but five studies came out earlier this week suggesting that women who drink low (defined as one to four drinks per week) to moderate (defined as five to eight weekly drinks) levels of alcohol during early pregnancy may not risk neurological and psychological damage to their child. It's also important to note that in Denmark a drink is defined as 0.4 ounces of pure alcohol whereas in the U.S. an alcoholic drink is defined as 0.6 ounces.

The studies, which followed more than 1,600 pregnant women, looked at the effects alcohol had on children's IQ, attention span, and "executive function" skills- skills that relate to planning, organization and self-control.

 The studies found that low to moderate weekly drinking and binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks in a single setting, which most women said they did only once) had no significant effects on a child's neurological development. Women drank, on average, around 17 weeks (first trimester). There were no differences in IQ test scores or other tests that measure executive function in those children whose mothers drank low to moderately and those children whose mothers didn't drink at all. Interestingly, children whose mothers drank heavily (nine or more weekly drinks) did have lower attention spans when the child reached five years old.

Of course  there are many caveats, and the CDC stands by their recommendation that pregnant women not drink at all. Personally, I know friends who have drank - very moderately - during pregnancy and their children are fine. I'm not sure which side of the line I'll come down on, should the day come I'm pregnant, but I'm not going to lie and say I'm not relieved that there is some news out there that drinking moderately may not be the worst thing ever for an unborn child. If I do decide to have a drink at least I won't feel like a monster.

Where do you fall on this question? Would you drink, or have you, while pregnant?

June 18, 2012

Summertime and the beer is easy

Summer may not arrive officially until June 21, but don't tell that to the 90 degree weather and high humidity we're expecting over the next few days. I may be one of the few people alive who seriously dislikes summertime. The heat.  The humidity. The limp locks and constant sweating. Bleh! Give me a good snowstorm over those any day.

Lest I sound too curmudgeonly, there are a few things I do enjoy about summer. The long hours of sunshine. Beautiful blue skies. Baseball games. BBQs. And I definitely dig a lot of the beers that become available. Below are some of my favorites that have been popping up around the city.

Bell's Oberon: An American wheat beer brewed by Bell's Brewery out of Kalamazoo, MI. This is a summer classic. Light, refreshing with a fruity - orange - taste, and touch of spice coming through. Clocks in at 5.8% ABV, so nothing crazy.

Troeg's Sunshine Pils: This is one I've written about. You can read my review here.

Sierra Nevada Summerfest: I love hoppy beers, and this is a hoppier summer beer (even though it's a lager). There are tastes of orange and spiciness, as well as bready malts. Just a really good, really easy-to-drink brew, especially given it's just 5% ABV.

Evil Twin Bikini Beer: I'll admit that adding this one is almost unfair, since your chances of getting one are pretty limited. I bought this while I was road tripping down the east coast about a month ago and the closest I've been able to find it to Philly is at State Line in Elkton, MD. Having said that, it's totally worth the drive if you have the time and inclination to seek it out. To say that this is sessionable is almost an understatement; it comes in at just 2.7% ABV! Most amazingly, it's flavorful. A really nice balance of malts and citrusy hops. I could literally drink this all day long.

Victory Summer Love Ale: This crisp, refreshing blonde ale comes in at 5.2% ABV. It has a nice bite to it that is somewhat hoppier than you might expect from this type of beer, mixed with some nice toasty, breaded malts.

Sam Adams Summer: Another American wheat ale brewed by an original in the craft beer movement. This brew uses Grains of Paradise, a rare pepper from Africa, to impart a slightly spicy flavor in addition to the citrus and crisp wheat flavors that come through. Another day-long drinker, this one is just 5.3% ABV.

One thing these all have in common is the lower ABV (which I like, especially after the triple IPAs and Imperial stouts that get me through the colder winter months). They're also all crisp and refreshing, making them the perfect accompaniment to your summer activities. What are some beers that you enjoy during the dog days of summer?

June 11, 2012

Philly Beer Week, the aftermath

That sound you hear? It's the sigh of livers across the Philadelphia area realizing that Philly Beer Week has come to an end for another year. I decided to sit out the official close yesterday, figuring I'd done enough during the week. I was mightily impressed with the number of people still out, drinking and having fun (according to their Twitter feeds, anyway).

Having said that, there's still plenty of good beer to be found around the Philly area for those that didn't get enough over the past 10 days.

Use the hashtag #pbwleftovers to search on Twitter to find out who is pouring what. You should also use that hashtag to post something if you're out and about and find something good on tap.

For those that truly don't want to let a good thing end, there are plenty of after events still taking place (hey, those kegs aren't going to kick themselves). You can find out what's going on by visiting phillybeerweek.org for all the information.

I, for one, will be taking it easy the next couple of days. See you out there again soon!

June 10, 2012

Philly Beer Week, Days 8 and 9

As I write this, the sun is up and shining and it's the last day of Beer Week. As usually happens, I met this day with a sense of relief. No, I don't have to go out every day during Beer Week, and I obviously didn't. But I still went out much more than usual, and I'm looking forward to my usual routing kicking back in.

Having said that, here is my wrap up of Days 8 and 9.

Day 8
Day 8 was an exciting one for me - John was coming home. I knew I'd have some time to kill before I had to meet him at the airport, so had decided to head to South Philly, where it would be easy for me to jump on 95 to pick him up. I wound up at P.O.P.E. with some friends, and while they weren't doing anything specifically for Beer Week at that time, they had the Allagash Yakuza on tap. Yakuza is the Tripel dry hopped with Sorachi Ace and Cascade hops. It's a big beer at 9%, but extremely well balanced and tasty. I think it's pretty rare - there's only 2 reviews for it on Beer Advocate and 3 on Rate Beer! I also had the Elysian Loser Pale Ale, one of my favorite pale ales. So flavorful!

After getting John from the airport, we headed to Misconduct Tavern. I love their burgers and we were both hungry for some dinner. I had the Harpoon Catamount Maple Wheat, a wheat beer brewed with Vermont maple syrup, which was quite good. After dinner we headed to Monk's, because even with all their great beer events I hadn't been there during the week. Again, nothing really going on per se, but they did have some great Russian River brews on tap, including one of my all-time faves, the Blind Pig, which is what I eagerly ordered.

Decided to take a little bit of a walk on to the other side of Broad Street, and found ourselves at Varga, where they were having Weyerbacher night. I had the Weyerbacher Victor, an India Red Ale, and their latest in the Brewer's Select Series. Really drinkable and delicious, and only 5.8%. I also had the Last Chance IPA, which I'd had earlier in the week.

We found ourselves at Tria after leaving Varga. Grabbed more food and I actually switched to a glass of wine at that point. Having only water probably would have been smarter, but I enjoyed the wine nonetheless.

Home was next on our agenda, and much needed at that point.

Day 9
I could tell Beer Week was getting to me, as I slept until 10:30, which I never do. Had a bit of leisurely morning - John was acclimating back to east coast time, and he slept until noon. He probably would have slept later if I hadn't woken up, but my stomach was telling me that some serious food was in order. We headed over the Memphis Taproom where they were having a home brew event. After having brunch (and a Brussels Calling from Brasserie de la Senne) we headed out to the beer garden where the beers of several home brewers were being showcased. Really fun event. We got to try some different beers, and met people that I'd been following on Twitter that I hadn't met in person before. I had a lovely lavendar saison brewed by Bombshell Brewing, a Candadian Bacon IPA (two of my favorite things in one drink!), a Wit or Witout (Belgian Wit) from St. Benjamin Brewing, an English Pale Ale by Mellody Brewing, Fishtown Smally (a Trappist-style table beer), Summer Blonde, and Love Bite (English Ruby Mild).

Headed over the Royal Tavern, because we were both hungry again. They had a Troegs Tap Takeover, and I had the Sunshine Pils, one of my favorite summer beers.

From there we headed out to celebrate a friend's birthday. So once again, Beer Week fun ended but the party continued on.

Not sure what's on the agenda today. May head out for one last hurrah, or may start the detox process. I guess we'll see soon enough!

June 8, 2012

Philly Beer Week, Day 6

I had another great day celebrating craft beer in Philly on Wednesday.

The day started off at The Water Works Interpretive Center, with an event put together by Great Lakes. Let me say that I've been to the Water Works restaurant and have been past this building hundreds of times and I had no idea that there was anything other than the restaurant. But there is, and it's so interesting! You learn about the history of The Water Works, and many interesting facts about water and the ties between water and the development of Philadelphia. For instance, the Philadelphia water department was the first to supply an entire city with clean drinking water. And how about the fact that Fairmount Park, one of the largest urban parks, was established to protect the drinking water? But back to the event... there was a brief, but in-depth, presentation from Rich Wagner, author of ... , on the history of brewing in Philadelphia. It was a really educational couple of hours made even better by the addition of Great Lakes beers! I got to have one of my favorites - the Commodore Perry IPA - and got to try the Rally Drum Red Ale, typically only available at the pub.

Next I stopped by the Four Seasons With Love Beer Garden. On tap that day were a couple of new local brewers including Round Guys and Evil Genius. I had the Evil Genius Big Eye PA, which I really enjoyed. I also had an amazing shrimp taco. Definitely wish I'd made it out to see more brewers at this garden. Didn't spend too long here, because I was excited to get over to St. Stephen's Green for their Bell's event.

For those that don't know, SSG (as I refer to it) is the place I have to thank for my love of craft beer. I was lucky enough to live across the street from this great bar for 4 years. Thanks to the wonderful people that work there, I was able to constantly try new beers. If I didn't like something I'd ordered (which happened fairly frequently as I was getting used to all the new beer flavors), they were always willing to give me something else to try. Just love!

My last beer of the night was a Bell's Black Note, and what a way to end the night. This big, 11.5% brew is a combination of the Expedition Stout and Double Cream Stout aged in newly retired oak bourbon barrels for months. I'll admit it was a bit potent for me. I don't love bourbon, and the flavor came through a bit too strong for me, especially given some of the beers I'd been enjoying earlier in the evening. Having said that, I'm really  glad I got to try it.

Day 7 was a day off for me. But here we are at Day 8 and I'm looking forward to some good  times tonight.

June 6, 2012

Philly Beer Week, Day 5

As I mentioned in my last post, I stayed in on Monday so don't have a recap of Day 4. However, Day 5 proved to be a good one.

I met up with my friend Heather at The Belgian Cafe, where they were having a Southern Tier Tap Takeover. Southern Tier makes one of my favorite seasonal beers, the Pumking. You can read my review of it here. Belgian Cafe was offering oak-aged Pumking. As delicious as it was, Heather and I both agreed that we both prefer the original. We also had the Inquity, an Imperial Black Ale, which I really loved. I've never had it before and am looking forward to having it again soon.

From there we went to London Grill. Earlier in the day they'd had a Dunk the Rep event, but unfortunately that was over by the time we go there. I had a Weyerbacher Last Chance IPA. A couple of things about this beer. It was just released last week, and it's replacing one of my favorites - the Hops Infusion - so it's a good thing I liked it as much as I did! Also, Weyerbacher will be donating a portion of all proceeds from the sale of this IPA to small, regional animal rescue operations.

On to Time Midtown. They were having an Ommegang night, but neither of us actually wound up with an Ommegang beer. Instead I had a Saranac White IPA, which I really enjoyed. It was a light, refreshing IPA that was a nice balance in flavor between wheat and hop.

Was going to call it a night after that, but on my way home I saw that there was an Allagash night at Uno's Maple Shade, so I stopped in for a try. I had a flight, which consisted of  the Victor, Saison, Tripel, and Dubbel. Always good beers from Allagash, and last night didn't disappoint.

It was a very nice, if low key (which is respectable for a Tuesday) night. More events on my agenda later today, so will see where the night takes me.

June 4, 2012

Philly Beer Week, Days 2 and 3

The first weekend of Philly Beer Week is over, and I made it through! I think I'm getting smarter about this whole drinking thing because I managed not to have a hangover at any point. So that only took about 20 years.

Anyway, what a great weekend it was! The weather couldn't have been better, and the events I went to couldn't have been more fun. Let's start with Saturday, or Day 2.

Day 2
After getting a very late start, I made it to The Pour House in Collingswood for lunch where they were having a Goose Island Tap Takeover. It was also the Haddon Pub Fest, but we didn't do any crawling. Finally made it in to Philly a little before 5 and headed straight to Varga where they were having their annual block party. Although it was late in the day (the event only went until about 6), we were still there in plenty of time for fun and good beer. There was a DJ spinning great music and everyone was just chilling out, enjoying the beautiful skies and light breeze. The block party ended and then it was a Great Lakes Tap Takeover event. Got to have some of the great beers from Great Lakes before heading to the next destination.

Devil's Den was next on our list. Although there wasn't anything in particular happening while we were there, we benefited from earlier events in the form of rare/new beers. I got a flight, which consisted of Ballast Point Even Keel (an amazing, tasty session beer that's only 3.7% ABV), Reprisal Centennial Red from 4 Hands Brewing, Belgian Tripel from Neshaminy Creek (really liking what these guys are doing!), and a Choco-Latte from Williamsburg AleWerks.

Our Beer Week adventures ended there, but the fun continued as we helped a friend celebrate his birthday.

Day 3

Sunday was another beautiful day. Unfortunately, I had to take John to the airport as he'll be in LA for the week for work. I was sad to drop him off, but luckily I had some Heady Topper from The Alchemist at Misconduct Tavern to look forward to. This was the first I've had of the Heady Topper; it was from a keg and it was honestly awesome. I've heard some say it's a strong rival against Pliny the Younger, and I agree with this sentiment! Next up was a Lavery Oak-aged Lipoard Oir, from Lavery Brewing, which even after the bitter bite of the Heady Topper still came through as a beautiful saison.

The artist at work
 The best part of Sunday was absolutely Mat Falco of Philly Beer Scene getting his head shaved by Casey Hughes. I believe Mat's been growing his hair for 2 years. To the left you can see what Casey had to work through. I don't even have the words to describe how much fun it was to see this happen.
Mat was a great sport, although more than once I'm sure he had to be wondering what he had gotten himself in to.

The end result
Casey did a nice job, although Mat may feel differently. You can see more photos here.

Next up was the Cirque de Sasion at Tapestry. This was a great event for kids and adults. There was face painting, live music provided by Slo & Shakey, men on stilts, hoola-hooping, and an amazing array of saisons. I had the Del Ducato Nuova Mattina. Delizioso!

Making my way north and east, I wound up at Standard Tap where they were having a scratch beer showdown between beer writers Lew Bryson and Jack Curtin. Both used Troeg's facility to brew their beers; Lew's was a Zwickel Licker and Jack offered a Biere de Grouche. It was essentially a dead heat, with Jack beating Lew by just three glasses. (I'll be honest. I didn't stay until the end and I just read online what the outcome was). Having tried both, I'd say they were both winners.

It was an epic weekend, followed by the need for a day off, which is why I won't be posting anything tomorrow about Day 4. My Day 4 consisted of lots of TV time and water. Back at it again tomorrow (Day 5) and am excited for what the night will bring.

Photos courtesy of Stephen Lyford.


June 2, 2012

Philly Beer Week, Day 1

Yesterday was the start of Philly Beer Week. Leading up to it I was feeling a sense of excitement, but when I woke up yesterday I couldn't wait for the fun to begin. It was that feeling of anticipation that is reserved for big events like Christmas morning when you were a kid, or the morning of your wedding.

There are so many events taking place each day it's hard to decide what to do. A few years ago I wasn't working and went to multiple events every day (except for Wednesday. I remember I needed some downtime at that point). It's really exhausting for the beer drinker and even more so for those working the events. As I said to someone last night, it's hard for me to complain to someone about how tiring Beer Week is when he was going to be working 20 hour days. I'll just be drinking!

Day 1 was a good one. I'd been thinking about following the Hammer o'Glory on its way to Independence Hall for the official first keg tapping, but I decided it was smarter to wait to start drinking until later in the day. Since I was going to the Opening Tap festival, it seemed a good idea to head over to Old City, where we'd be within walking distance of Independence Visitor Center. I'm glad we did.

First stop was Eulogy Belgian Tavern, where they were having a Firestone Walker event. Obviously one of the points of beer week is to enjoy new, rare beers - of which there promises to be plenty! I had the Wookey Jack, an unfiltered black rye IPA (which happens to have just been released), and DBA, an English pale ale, which was the 2011 Great American Beer Festival Gold winner for English/Special Bitter. Both were delicious, which isn't surprising. Having had the Double Jack and Union Jack before, I knew I could expect something special from these guys. I also got to meet Dave Walker, co-founder and brewer. He was a lot of fun to talk to, and not just because he was easy on the eyes and had an accent (although neither of those hurt).

Next up was The Irish Pol, where they were having a 4 Hands event. 4 Hands is a brewery out of St. Louis that isn't even yet distributed in Philly. I had the Single Speed Session, an American blonde ale brewed with elderflower, red wheat, and three different varieties of hops. It was very light and refreshing. The brewer was there but since we wanted to head over to Opening Tap, we didn't have a chance to talk to him.

Opening Festival was the same fun event it's been for the past 3 years that I've gone. Yes, there are a lot of people but you never wait long for a beer. I got to try a lot of beers from new local brewers, including Round Guys, Neshaminy Creek, Evil Genius, Springhouse, and Free Will. And of course all the usual suspects were there. I'll post a link to pictures once they become available.

Today is beautiful and I'm looking forward to the fun that lies ahead. I'll post tomorrow about the events I make it to today.