APR/MAY 2005 | REGIONAL | EAST
Atlantic Ale Trail : A Beer-Prognosticating Groundhog?
Hawaiian Shirts on a Snowy February Morn? Just Another Day
at The Grey Lodge Pub
By Jack Curtin
Fickle, feckless February, the month with an annoying Little
Man Complex, kicked off locally with the fourth annual Groundhog
Day Hawaiian Shirt Beer Breakfast & Lucky Cat Night Seasonal
Beer Prognostication event (whew!) at The Grey Lodge Pub —
a long title for yet another inventive and improbable beer
celebration dreamed up by Mike “Scoats” Scotese,
the clever publican who is Philadelphia’s proven purveyor
of the weird.
The Grey Lodge celebrated Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s
most famous groundhog, and his annual weather prognostication
by opening the doors at 7:00 a.m. for a Hawaiian Shirt Beer
Breakfast featuring free buckwheat pancakes and prizes for
the, um, most compelling of the Hawaiian shirts customers
don for the day. In the spirit of the day, I drove there over
snow-covered roads clad in Hawaiian shirt and swim trunks
that I had purchased and worn 20 years ago on Kauai. (It impressed
the hell out of me that they still fit; others noted how sad
it was that I had 20-year-old garb in my closet).
Climbing up the icy rear fire escape in chilling winds so
I could preview the pub’s cozy new and about-to-open
second-floor bar and kitchen inspired me to accompany my pancakes
with warming Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and Brewer’s Art
Canard (a Belgian strong ale whose name is extraordinarily
clever once you figure it out), while most in attendance opted
for the appropriately breakfast-named Flying Fish Coffee Porter
and Sly Fox Oatmeal Stout.
At the evening session, which I missed, The Grey Lodge's
own Wissinoming Winnie assumed prognostication responsibilities
to determine if the pub’s beer lineup would feature
six more weeks of winter beers or, as turned out to be the
case, spring seasonals would arrive on the taps early. Adding
to the palpable excitement, I am told, was the tapping of
a keg of sought-after Dogfish Head Burton Baton Ale.
New Philadelphia Beer Festival
February didn’t seem so depressing when mid-month
brought us something Philadelphia has been seriously missing,
a big downtown beer festival. The first annual Blues &
Brews Brewing Exposition and Talent Show (B.E.A.T.S.) drew
450 beer lovers to World Café Live, a relatively new
music club named after the popular radio show of that name
on PBS station WXPN. The nonprofit station, owned and operated
by the University of Pennsylvania, joined with the for-profit
Real Entertainment Group to create a three-tiered venue that
proved to be ideal for an 18-brewery gathering. The “Talent
Show” part of the title meant that representatives from
several of the participating breweries performed on the World
Café Live stage over the course of the afternoon.
Event coordinator Suzanne Woods started late and put the
thing together on the fly without benefit of much publicity,
but she still managed to nearly sell the place out. Woods
is a homebrewer who previously held a similar coordinating
job with Boston Beer Company. In addition to presenting B.E.A.T.S.
annually, she’d like to hold a summer festival and put
a couple of beer dinners on the schedule. Hard to argue with
any of that.
Things Change in Harrisburg
In the state capital, Troegs Brewery did a major upgrade to
its 25-barrel brewhouse in March, integrating a new mash kettle
and new wort kettle into the existing three-vessel system.
The restructuring essentially automates the brewing process
and provides a variety of benefits designed to improve the
quality and ensure the consistency of the beers. "BrauKon,
the German brewery fabricator, shrank down the components
of a high-end, larger system to meet our needs," explained
John Trogner, who founded the Harrisburg brewery in 1996 with
his brother Chris. With everything in place, Troegs can do
10 brews a day if need be and, based on a five-day schedule,
could produce 40,000 barrels annually. “We’re
a long way from needing that," laughed Trogner. Still,
a new brewer will be added to the staff to assist current
workhorse Chris Brugger.
In another part of town, the huge three-story Appalachian
Brewery completely revamped its second floor, converting the
longtime sports pub there to a sparkling new Belgian beer
bar called The Abbey at ABC. “The bar has 14 taps and
a 50-bottle selection of the best Belgian beers, plus a really
cool digital music system,” said Artie Tafoya, Appalachian’s
brewmaster and director of operations. The Abbey is directly
modeled on the popular Steelgaarden in the basement of Bethlehem
Brew Works in Bethlehem, he acknowledged. “We followed
their plan almost to a tee.”
Dogfish Head to Expand, Launch Chain and Build East’s
Largest Bocce Facility
Sam Calagione and Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery have
been all over the business pages. A low-interest $1.85 million
loan from the Delaware Competitiveness Fund, a partnership
between the state and Citizens Bank of Delaware, will help
Dogfish add new brewing tanks, an automated bottling line
and a closed-loop wastewater system at its Milton brewery
over the next two years, as well as up to 25 new employees.
Calagione said that the current brewery fell short of meeting
demand by 25 percent in 2004.
Hardly had that news been absorbed when Dogfish announced
a licensing partnership with four restaurateurs to create
up to six Dogfish Head brewhouses in the greater Washington,
D.C., area, with the first site scheduled to open in Silver
Spring, Md., in June. "These are not brewpubs,”
Calagione stressed. “We've licensed them to use our
beer and spirits brands, our menu and our decor, and given
them permission to use our logo and image and sell our merchandise.
We will make Dogfish beers and spirits for them. There will
be 12 taps at each location, including at least one beer that
will be available only at those restaurants and our current
brewpub in Rehoboth Beach and, when it opens in 2006, the
one in Milton.”
Finally, in a more whimsical endeavor, Dogfish Head is constructing
the East's largest indoor tournament bocce court area as part
of its developing Milton complex. "Hey, I'm Italian,"
Calagione shrugged, “and I like a game you can play
while holding a pint glass in your free hand." The first
two courts will be completed and ready for testing by attendees
of the Craft Brewers Conference in April.
Harpoon 100 Barrel Series, Clipper City Heavy Seas
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant’s West Chester, Pa.,
pub invited Harpoon Brewery down for one of the popular Brewer’s
Reserve nights recently. The appearance of Harpoon Smoked
Porter, the current release in the New England brewery’s
very successful 100 Barrel series, reminded me that I’ve
left this project — three years old come May —
unmentioned far too long.
I talked to Director of Brewing Operations Al Marzi, who
told me the small-batch beers are a result of “wanting
to let our brewers exercise their muscles and giving the sales
and marketing people something new in addition to our four
year-round and four seasonal beers. We figure 100 barrels
is just about right for beers we probably wouldn’t want
to do on a large scale.” The one-offs are released in
draft and 22-ounce bottles and have proven very popular. A
wheat wine should be out by the time this sees print; the
summer release was still undetermined when we talked, but
an imperial stout is on deck for fall.
Speaking of exercising brewing muscles, Clipper City Brewing’s
Hugh Sisson says that its Heavy Seas seasonals, a series of
more adventuresome beers introduced by the Maryland brewery
in October 2003, is something that “frankly, we should
have done a lot sooner. I was much too cautious, in retrospect.
But unlike many of our competitors, we don’t have a
brewpub in which to do these higher-end beers, and we needed
to first establish a business that could support the company.”
The series is midway through its second go-round at present,
with Small Craft Warning Über Pils having been so successful
that it has just become a year-round release. Other beers
in the program are Winter Storm Ale, Red Sky at Night Saison
and Peg Leg Stout (an imperial at 8% abv). Sisson added, “We’ll
probably add a fourth seasonal next February and continue
trimming our sails —pun intended — to see where
the market takes us.”
Jack Curtin writes “Atlantic Ale Trail”
and occasional features for the Celebrator Beer News,
provides coverage of the local and national beer scene in
the news pages at beeryard.com
and carries on about beer and other stuff at jackcurtin.com.