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FEB/MAR 2005 | REGIONAL | EAST COAST

Atlantic Ale Trail : Greenwood, Iron Hill and Sly Fox
By Jack Curtin

In early December, brewer Brandon Greenwood turned in his resignation at Philadelphia’s Nodding Head Brewery and Restaurant, where he’d been in charge since the downtown brewpub opened in late 1999, in order to accept the post of brewmaster at The Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Former Lion brewmaster Leo Orlandini (GABF brewmaster of the year in the mid-sized brewery category in 1999) stepped up to the new post of plant manager when the changeover took effect on January 3.

The Lion was born as the Luzerne County Brewery in 1901, and the current brewery building dates back to 1905. It is a regional brewery with a 400,000-barrel capacity which produces a wide range of its own beers under various labels and also contract brews for several smaller breweries. The Lion produced, for example, all of Stoudt's 12-ounce bottles for years before Stoudt's moved production briefly to Frederick Brewing in Maryland (Stoudt's finally brought everything in-house to their Adamstown brewery in 2004).

The Lion's line of Pocono lagers and ales is its most successful brand, and Pocono Lager is the brewery's best-selling beer, winning a GABF gold medal in 1999 under the previously used Brewery Hill branding. Other Lion beers include Stegmaier (whose history stretches back to 1857), Gibbons, Bartels and Esslinger. Stegmaier Liebotschaner Cream Ale won GABF gold in 1994, 1995 and 1999, and the 1857 Lager took a gold in 1994.

Greenwood, who holds a master's degree in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt, Scotland's famed brewing school, brewed at Red Bell and Yards in the late 1990s before joining Nodding Head. He won five Great American Beer Festival medals there over the past three years: gold for Grog and bronze for BoHo Pilsner in 2002; silver for 60 Shilling Ale and Berliner Weisse in 2003; and silver again for Berliner Weisse in 2004.
Nodding Head's stalled efforts to build a production brewery in the city were a major factor in Greenwood's decision. "I've been losing my edge," he admitted. "I haven't been using my whole breadth of knowledge about brewing. There are many more areas of the business in which I have experience and training which I'd like to get back to using. This is what I do. I intend to retire from the brewing industry.”

"I'll miss Brandon professionally because he’s a tremendous brewer," said Nodding Head co-owner Curt Decker, “and I'll miss him personally because he's a good friend. Looking at it realistically, he probably has way too much talent and knowledge to be brewing in a seven-barrel brewpub. But nothing changes the fact that we had a great run and were lucky to get five great years out of him."

At this writing, the resignation leaves things in the hands of Assistant Brewer Gordon Grubb, who has actually been doing much of the day-to-day brewing for the past year, according to Decker. While there was no formal agreement in place, Greenwood left all the Nodding Head recipes with Grubb, so things should continue as they were, at least for the foreseeable future.

On other fronts, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, the steadily growing Delaware-based chain, announced that it will open its sixth location in Phoenixville, Pa., in early 2006. The 5,800-square-foot pub will be located on the first floor of a new four-story building to be constructed on Phoenixville’s suddenly hot Bridge Street as part of a three-restaurant complex centered around the long-standing and popular Columbia Bar & Grill.
The new pub will be smaller than the five existing Iron Hill locations, with a five-barrel brewery capable of producing 150 gallons per batch — roughly half the capacity of the other Iron Hill sites. Size is not important, according to Mark Edelson, founding partner and brewery operations manager. "We've gotten a lot more efficient with our floor plan, and we're hoping we've learned some things over the last eight years. This is a good spot for us. We like being involved in the revitalization of small towns, and we think the demographic in and around Phoenixville fits our business plan very well."

Phoenixville is already home to Sly Fox Brewhouse and Eatery, which celebrated its ninth anniversary in December. That month, Sly Fox's year-long IPA Project culminated in a day-long event during which eight varietal IPAs (brewed and poured over the course of the year) were all on tap, and brand-new Odyssey Imperial IPA debuted in draft and cask versions. Brewer Brian O’Reilly claimed this was the largest simultaneous offering of IPAs by a single brewery ever, and so far no one has challenged him. He says he’ll do 10 varietals and a new imperial IPA (brewed, as this year’s was, with all the varietals) in 2005. Sly Fox also opened a new 20-barrel brewery and restaurant in nearby Royersford in November. Look for caged, corked 750-ml bottles of the bigger beers to start appearing later this year.

In an odd bit of synchronicity, just as Brandywine Brewing Company in tiny Greenville, Del., was shutting its doors on New Year’s Eve, the brand-new Twin Lakes Brewery in the same locale was getting ready to release its first beer. The Brandywine folks said that the shuttering is just a hiatus brought on by losing their lease, and that they’ll be back in a year or so. No official word, but rumors have that return earmarked for Hockessin, Del.

At Twin Lakes, Brewer Mark Fesche, who did a three-year stint at Deschutes Brewery in Oregon, said the first offering was a “traditional ale,” scheduled to come out in January, with a seasonal to follow. The brewery is aiming “to have Twin Lakes beer available at every tavern in New Castle County” as soon as possible, he added.

The brewery grew out of founding partner Sam Hobb’s desire to save the 220-plus acre Twin Lakes property, where his family has resided for six generations, from development. Twin Lakes is the watershed for both the Brandywine River and White Clay Creek, and part of its historic legacy is the legend that the apple tree that sits at the end of the driveway was where George Washington planned the Battle of the Brandywine during the Revolutionary War. I guess we’ll find out if nobility of purpose leads to superiority of beer.

Last time around, we let Bill Covaleski tell you how delighted he and partner Ron Barchet were with Victory Brewing’s new 50-barrel brewhouse. Their old Century brewhouse was turned over to Weyerbacher Brewing in November, right after Barchet did a final brew, a new Baltic Porter. As soon as Dan Weirback and his merry band got the transferred brewhouse up and running in Easton, they turned out a 20-barrel batch of their mega-hit Heresy (bourbon-barrel-aged Old Heathen Imperial Stout) on December 9. And it turns out that they’re just as pleased as the Victory guys.

"This has been a really big step for us — a nice step,” Weirback said. “Now we can do net 20-barrel batches of our big beers, whereas the old system produced 10-barrel batches. After slogging along for a lot of years with inferior equipment, the technological improvements and consistency we'll get out of this equipment package will mark a real improvement for our beers. Far better temperature control and process control — that's what it's all about."

Barrel-aging is becoming something of a Weyerbacher signature, and it seems to be working for them. Insanity (barrel-aged Blithering Idiot Barleywine) has already joined Heresy in the portfolio, and similar brews are forthcoming. In October, Weirback learned that Heresy won the bronze medal at the Stockholm Beer Festival in the "Other Strong Beer" category. It was entered in the competition, without the brewery’s knowledge, by Jörgen Hasselqvist, the manager of Oliver Twist, a Stockholm pub that has been importing American craft beers since 1997 and that currently stocks 50 U.S. beers from 18 breweries. In an e-mail informing Weirback of the medal, Hasselqvist wrote, "I will hopefully bring more of your beers over. … I have already booked the spot for next year, and I'll guess you’d like to participate." Duh!

Jack Curtin writes the “Atlantic Ale Trail” for the Celebrator Beer News, provides coverage of the local and national beer scene in the news pages at beeryard.com, and expresses outrageous opinions about beer and lesser matters at jackcurtin.com.

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