Friday, April 14, 2017

Evil Genius: Under the El

North of the city center, Philadelphia gets industrial in a hurry.  The Market-Frankford transit line emerges from subway mode as it heads north, an elevated train over Front Street.  This is where
#EvilGeniusBrewing opened a taproom around the end of February.  Large-scale manufacturing is long gone, shuttered brick buildings five stories high and a block long, mark the landscape, but plenty of commercial and small fabrication firms remain.  This is where two guys who met in accounting classes at Villanova ten years ago hatched the idea of starting a brewery.  Luke Bowen and Trevor Hayward set out to learn the business of brewing and this is their result.  Their head brewer, Jon Defibaugh, learned his craft at two distinguished local breweries.
Evil Genius has a sort of partnership with a Connecticut brewery, Thomas Hooker, which brews and bottles the only packaged product, Hooray, Sports, a pale ale. There is a wide array of beers made here on tap.  Whimsical naming is the rule--"This One Time At Band Camp" (a double IPA), "Shut Up, Meg" (farmhouse IPA).  I tried a pint of "You Mad, Bro?", billed as a straight farmhouse ale (5.8% abv) with white peppercorns and juniper berries added to the wort.
The tab for that one pint was $6.50, and a 32-oz. small growler could have been filled for $12.00. The last time I bought a half-growler fill here in Philly was for a really fine saison at Tired Hands, for $10.50.  I will have to write a separate post on this topic, but have to observe that many craft breweries seem to operate as if the precepts of economics don't apply to them.  Like cross-elasticity of demand.
If you can pack the house like Evil Genius did on a recent Saturday afternoon, first nice sunny day in a while. maybe your price point doesn't matter.
(Visited 04/08/17)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Benjamin's a Saint in Philly

Ben Franklin, born in Boston, made his mark in Philadelphia and invented all sorts of stuff here,  He liked a drink as well as the next Colonial and is remembered in a number of Philly watering holes, like the Kite and Key pub and the taproom at #St.BenjaminsBrewingCo.  This small brewery began
 producing in 2014 and added a pub last year.  The location is about four blocks east of Temple University. on the ground floor of an industrial building labeled the Sewing Factory and being converted to loft apartments.  The website states that the building was originally the carriage house of the Theo Frankenaur Brewery.
 The tap lineup on a chilly day late in March featured a pair of cream ales. The Inca Cream Ale is so called, founder Tim Patton explained, because the cream ale recipe ended up a tad hoppier than planned (50 IBUs and 5.4%), so they took the first two letters of India Pale and put them in front of cream ale's initials. It has become popular enough to be one   smoothof the standard styles here and one available in 16-oz, cans. Another standard, also in cans, is the Wit or Witout (reference to the only choice a Philly cheesesteak consumer is offered at one of the classic joints in the Italian Market district; the choice is onions).  This is a Belgian wheat beer (4,6%, 17 IBUs) with a very  smooth flavor.  The other two standards are a second cream ale, not tasted, and an English
dark mild called Foul Weather Jack (4.5%, 20 IBUs), which balances a dry finish with a roasty mouthfeel.
A couple of seasonals completed my flight of tasters.  Transcontinental is a California Common (5.6%, 20 IBUs) with some rye in the grains, giving it that bit of spice in the finish.  And Le Bon Bock, released on Fat Tuesday and presented as a Lenten beer the monks in Belgian abbeys could enjoy during Lent, was the strongest at 7.4%, rich and full in the mouth.
The taproom affords a nice view of the brewery in the back.  It has a comfortable feel and would no doubt fill up later in the day.

(Visited 03/28/17)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

2nd District launches in South Philly

South Philadelphia, a close-packed neighborhood between the Italian Market and the stadiums, has gone from gritty to trendy in recent years, but they've been lacking a brewery.  Until February.  Then
the #SecondDistrictBrewing co. opened its doors--or bays--in a building long occupied by a saw and tool sharpening concern, in a light industrial block of Bancroft St. they share with a furniture maker and an auto detailer.
The owners are John Longacre and Curt Decker, the latter lately with the former Nodding Head brewpub in the center city area.  Neither the bobblehead collection, an impressive display at Nodding Head, nor the Berliner Weisse Decker introduced to the Philly beer scene, have reappeared at Second District.

A nice assortment of brews is nonetheless on tap.Three of the nine pictured here are variations on the IPA formula: a black IPA (American Economics), a wheat-based IPA (Lazerface) and an oat-based ale (Celestial Equator).  None tasted by your correspondent.  What I did try and love was the Biere de la Maison, styled as a Belgian single or monk's beer.  Aroma wonderful; they say they use French Pilsner and aromatic malts (wonder what those are) and hopped with St. Celeia (a hybrid developed in Slovenia, I had to google that one). The front-of-tongue tingle was a good second act and the full mouth feel brought out the lemon claimed in their notes.
My other glass was their take on a smoked porter, called Meta Shepherd and used in the mussels prepared in the tiny kitchen area in the front.  I can only give three stars to the mussels (Monk's Cafe gets five) but the porter (6%), based on German smoked malt and conditioned with pureed pineapple (!) hadthe smoke in the nose and that little twist of unusual in the mouth.
In the picture to the left, note the tap handles set in a length of drainpipe.  The pipe runs up to the second level (see picture above) where the brew kettle is, and where the kegs must be, too.

(Visited 04/08/17)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Breaking. Barley: Two high school teachers cook beer after school at Artisanal Brewing in Saratoga

It was April Fools Day when I ventured up into Saratoga, New York to check out Artisanal Brewing Co.  This new outfit (open since July) shares space with a distiller in a metal building last used to make bicycle frames.

A set of the region's iconic Adirondack chairs sits out on the front deck, awaiting a first coat of paint or finish.  The location is some distance from the city's pricey downtown, located across the highway from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the state park.

One of the draws here is that Artisanal was founded, is owned and operated by two teachers at Saratoga High School.  Both were working behind the bar on a Saturday afternoon.  Colin Quinn (French) and Kurt Borchardt (Technology), pulling pints and washing glasses.  Yes, the brewer has to do it all in the startup days.

They have resisted the  impulse to give their beers names like Study Hall Stout that would reflect on their day jobs.  Some titles evoke local geography, like SPA (Saratoga Pale Ale, a 3.6% session ale--Spa City being a nickname from the local mineral waters) or Trappist at the Track, a non-session trippel at 9.1%      
I limited myself to a wee taste of the trippel in. order to give a pint's justice to a Whole Lotta Trouble, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale weighing in at 9.9% abv.  A floral aroma and a rich mouthfeel, like that delicious black bread you can get in a Jewish deli down in the city.  The yeast, Colin says, is a proprietary culture they developed during the home brewing years that usually run up to a commercial opening like this,

The taproom offers Mexican dishes like burritos and tacos prepared by a restaurant in town and kept warm in a box plugged in on the bar.  The brewers are getting enough hops and grains from New York growers to meet the minimums of the state's new farmstead brewing license.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 (Visited 04/01/17)

2SP tells Delaware County story

As a traveler leaves Philadelphia in a southwesterly direction toward Wilmington, Delaware, the last Pennsylvania city of any size is an urban wasteland called Chester. Several miles inland  a more tranquil-looking town called Aston reclaims the landscape with trees, grass, and suburban amenities.

2SP Brewing occupies about a third of a business park where Aston begins.  It's a production brewery with a taproom and ample space for food trucks out front. On a sunny afternoon late in March, the brewery was celebrating the availability of The Russian, a 9% abv imperial stout which won gold at the last Great American Beer Festival. The taproom was serving flights of this rich, malty brew along with a dunkel lager called af,  and a golden stout with the glorious name of Alternative Facts Stout. Kellyanne Conway, this brew's for you.                                                                                                                                                                                              
2SP (stands for Two Stones Pub) makes and cans a lager called Delco Lager.  Delco being the local shorthand for Delaware County, the local government that stretches from Philly suburbs to the eponymous state.
Alternative Facts Stout

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ambler, PA: Forest & Main

How does a newer brewery stand out from the crowd?  Here's the formula at #Forest&Main, brewing since about 2014, Start with a graceful 19th century house, with a long front porch and a front yard with tables for the nice weather.

The building is said to be the 3rd oldest house in Ambler, a Philly suburb now, with history dating back to 1736 or so. The floor is original and the bar is refinished barn board. Two dart boards and no TV screens that I could see It's what sits on the bar that makes this pub a go to spot for fans. of the British real ale tradition.
Yes, fellow American CAMRA sympathizers,  you are looking at three, as in 3 , hand pumps (or to use the Brits' term, beer engines) always behind the bar and in front of five conventional draft taps,  And from those casks, the server draws pints of unmistakably English style ales at somewhere between forty and forty-eight degrees Fahrenheit.

I sipped on a half pint of each of the ales here caked. First, a dark mild, 4% abv, chocolate-y. Malts, lightly hopped, a nice session ale called Memories of a Man. Then another wee dram of Thoughts Like Brambles, labeled a baby IPA at  something under 5 %.  Nice apricot and honeydew flavors. The third cask: a muscular barleywine called Omphalos, 8.5%, with figgy pudding flavors.
The five draft taps appear to be dispensing saisons and other Belgian styles, for the most part.  I gathered, from chat in the taproom, that the two brewers do a lot of one-offs and do not really have flagship or signature beers they make on a regular rotation.
(Visited 03/22/17)