Monday, May 21, 2018

Lancaster Stop #2: History cherished at Wacker Br.

    At one point in the nineteenth century, in the industrializing decades after the civil war, Lancaster was reputed to be brewing seven percent of all the beer consumed in the U.S.  One of the leading producers was Eagle Brewing Co., founded in 1853.  Joseph Wacker purchased the brewery in 1870 and he and his sons and grandsons ran it up to and then after Prohibition until 1938, a sixty-eight year run.  The brewery closed in 1956 along with hundreds of regional brewers in that era, and after another fifty-eight years, the business was reborn under the same name, Wacker Brewing Co., in 2014.
    Both the website and the interior of the taproom pay homage to this history. Along with photos of the original brewery, now demolished a few blocks away, the owners have framed and hung labels that once festooned Wacker bottles back in the day.  The Bohemian Pilsner, a best seller for the brewery in draft or 12-oz cans, was a leading brand back then, too.  The Kolsch is another popular style, according to brewer Michael Spychalski.

     The ten-barrel brewing system with four fermenters down in the basement keep about a half-dozen styles on tap here.  Wacker II just celebrated three years of business May  15. On the left, a glass of Marzen, somewhat lighter in color than many brewers make (isn't Marzen the style of choice for many oktoberfest beers?).  Or is memory tricking me here in the springtime? This led with the malt and went down very well.

(Visited 05/02/18)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Lancaster's eponymous brewer

   Amtrak rolls west out of Philadelphia on the main line of the old Pennsylvania Railroad, through towns of mortared stone mansions and good new beers--Ardmore (Tired Hands Brewing), Bryn Mawr (Tin Lizard), Berwyn (La Cabra).  Past Downington and Victory's original brewery, farmland becomes more prevalent than commerce. Tidy farms, some run by Amish, surround the compact city of Lancaster, PA, about an hour's ride from the city.
    Lancaster Brewing Co., about a dozen blocks from the station, is the oldest (est. 1995) of the new breweries in a city once called the Munich of America for the quantity and quality of German lagers made here. Approaching its solid nineteenth century brick building, once a tobacco curing warehouse, one sees a silo attached to the exterior, looking like a grain silo--but isn't.
It's a rainwater catching structure, built to intercept storm water from the city's sewerage system before those extra flows can overload and bypass the treatment works. Inside, I meet Mark Braunwerth, head of brewing operations for the company and learn that the silo evolved from the city's review of LBC's application to add a brick patio area for outdoor sipping (visible beyond the silo). More impervious surface would have meant more stormwater in the sewers, unless it could be offset by some serious mitigation. Hence the silo and some other pervious areas to soak up the rains. 
   All that sounds fine, environmental kudos, etc., but what about the beer?  What caught my eye on their website was a milk stout, a chocolate milk stout, no less.  I remember having a hankering for this style back in Washington last winter; the only packaged milk stout was from Left Hand in Colorado.  "I think we've been making this longer than Left Hand," Mark said, offering me a sample. 
   Oh, my Gambrinius, that was good!  Think of a chocolate malted milk shake with a call-a-cab kick (6.8% abv). 
It was not stout-drinking weather, about 75 and sunny, but happily the brewery did have 4-packs of 12-oz bottles, so I took some home to savor on a cooler day.  These bottles were brewed and filled at Susquehanna Brewing, about a hundred miles from here, Mark said.  "All our capacity here," indicating the fourteen 30-bbl fermenters behind him, "goes into kegs."  He added that a canning line was in the works, which should enhance the company's marketing area, the five states that abut Pennsylvania, plus Virginia.
   So what to drink on a warm spring day.  A lemon blueberry shandy (5%, 5 ibu) caught my eye.  "That's quite a fruit bomb," Mark said. "I like to cut it half and half with our Kolsch" (5.1%, 35 ibu).  I took the brewer's advice and quaffed a just-right beer, a liquid blueberry muffin.
(Visited 05/02/18)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Sterling Pig: True beer facts in this Media

   The pretty town of Media, PA, a few miles west of Philly in the suburban fringe, boasts two quality craft beer makers, one of the Iron Hill chain and Sterling Pig Brewing Co., a small (10-bbl?) operation with a good-vibe taproom and a menu with some tasty barbecue, smoked on site.
Founded in July 2015 by local restaurateur Loic Barnieu, the pub's food fare does stand out from typical pub grub.  The barbecue, like pulled pork, is smoked on the premises and the pizza comes out of a copper clad oven upstairs.  The beer selection is much more varied than the typical IPA house, too.  How many taprooms will have two pilsners on out of about a dozen choices?
Sterling was doing a standard pilsner, called Shoat (5% abv), hopped with just Mt. Hood, and Hoppin' Pils (4.9%), same process as Shoat to the end of the boil, then adding whole leaf Liberty hops in  a hopback process. I tried both, liked the second version a bit better. 
  Another good pint was the Sty-Lander (yes, a

few piggy names here), a Strong Scotch ale at 8.3%.  This had not just a malt-in-front taste, there was a bit of peat in there too.
  The pizza oven is shown on the right.

(Visited 04/26/18)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Cast a crooked eye in Hatboro, PA

     The Crooked Eye Brewing Co. is about a six-block walk from the regional rail station in Hatboro, PA, a suburb about twelve miles north of the Philadelphia city line. The seven-barrel brewery was
founded in 2014 by a couple of brothers of the Mulherin clan and their uncle.  The building is tucked behind a tattoo parlor and also shares parking with a deli, so food, while not made in the taproom, is never a lack.
   The Irish like the Mulherins are akin to their fellow Celts, the Scots, and this is most true in the beers made here.  Among what they call the core beers I saw a stout, a wit, a golden, a brown, and a Scottish Ale, Regimental 80, at 4.7% abv, a nice malty flavor.  Plenty of choices besides the usual IPAs, in other words.
   They offered a second, stronger Scottish called Angry Piper (6.9% abv) and this was wonderful.
I imagined I could taste a bit of the earth the barley had been grown in, the mouthfeel was that good.  At the recent Locals Only beerfest in Philly, where each brewer brought their flagship and one specialty brew they wanted to show off, Crooked Eye had Angry Piper on tap as the specialty.
   Ever adventurous, the brewers were also offering a Gruit called Ugly Mug Wort the day I stopped in. Gruit is German for herb, and before hops were as commonly grown as they are today, various herbs were used for bittering. This one (6.9%) used mugwort, hence the name, also some sweet gale,ground ivy, and heather tips. The end result was still on the sweet side--if you want real pucker up bitter, there's no substitute for hops.

(Visited 04/08/18)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Yards' New Digs

The Yards Brewing Co., a mainstay of the Philadelphia brewing scene for all of the past thirteen years I've been visiting the city of brotherly love, has been turning out its revolutionary war recipes and other ales down by the Delaware River, a site that it finally outgrew.  The new quarters are a long five blocks away, at 5th St. and Spring Garden, a major crosstown arterial.
  The architecture features a striking facade and     a line of grain silos over the Spring Garden sidewalk.  The brewery passed the 40,000 barrel annual sales level in 2015 and must have been pushing 50,000 bbls by the close of 2017, when they opened the new plant.

The taproom seems vast, certainly by the standards of a Washingtonian (I'd guess you could fit Scuttlebutt's and Fremont's taprooms both in this space).  They have almost twenty of their own brews on tap, along with the occasional ciders or guest taps.  Great glass panels expose the whole of the operation to the public's view.  The very first brew kettle, encased in a brick jacket, was in plain view at the riverfront site and I was told it would be reassembled here, at some point.
Yards' packaged beer sales have been almost entirely in 12-oz glass bottles; a few limited releases have been in 22-oz bombers.

But lo and behold!  Part of the new plant is a canning line. It was almost ready to start up when I stopped by on March 31.  It may well be running by now.  Cans increase potential marketing areas--I don't think Yards sells west of Ohio now but this should certainly open up more midwest markets, at least.
I tried a seasonal release, Cape of Good Hope double IPA, 9.7% abv, and very floral along with a burst of bitterness.  Very good.

(Visited 03/31/18)

Sunday, February 18, 2018

From a sun break in Guatemala--Antigua Brewing Co.

It's been a long, soggy, gray winter this year, although the variety of winter ales is up and helps to dispel the gloom.  However, the itch to wander needed a little scratch and I just came back from a week in Guatemala. Got some natural Vitamin D and a taste of craft beer in the old colonial city of Antigua, a few miles from the capital, Guatemala City. The stucco walls come in all sorts of pastels and the brewery, a couple of blocks from the main plaza, contributes a bright blue.
This operation started up a couple years ago, brewing on a small system that looks to be capable of making three or four barrels at a batch.
The pint I tried poured real pretty and tasted like a well made pale ale. They sell at forty quetzals (around six dollars) a pint, closer to U.S prices than what the locals would be used to getting their Gallo cervezas for.  Indeed, the other customers I saw on a Thursday afternoon were turistas like me, speaking English.
The treat here was the roof patio, looking out over the town and several of the volcanoes that surround it.  The mountainous part of the country is mostly made up of volcanoes, like our Cascades, but considerable more active.  The most recent activity came out of a volcano called Pacaya, which blew in 2010 and again in 2014.    (Visited 02/08/18)    
Volcan Agua, not erupting, just catching clouds

Illuminati: Bellingham's newest

    Our fair city of about 80,000 is now home to 11 brewing entities, making beer in 12 buildings (Kulshan has two). The most recent to open, last October, is Illuminati Brewing, way up on the north side.  Like DesVoignes in Woodinville, Illuminati makes its beer under the same roof as a related winery, Masquerade Wines. The taproom is not a pub per se,  but a cold case holds a fair assortment of artisan cheeses, a nod to the winery adage "Buy on bread, sell on cheese."
The logo is unusual, reminding one of the odd pyramid on a dollar bill
When I first stopped in, the crew was celebrating the opening weekend of the latest Star Wars movie with Millenium Falcon IPA on sale at three dollars a pint. They also participated in the state beer commision's Belgian Fest down in Seattle in January, pouring Spinal Tap Tripel, a hefty 11% abv done in the Belgian tripel ale style, and a Belgian style pale ale called Rickshank Redemption, a more civilized 5.6% abv.

(Visited 12/16/17  and 01/27/18)