Brews International

"Beer and various things like that…"

Brews International - "Beer and various things like that…"

Trapped in Tilburg

Twenty-four hours in Tilburg isn’t on many a traveller’s bucket list. The small southern Dutch city does not attract much attention. Only the most ardent football fan would recall that it was in Tilburg on 20 April 1994 that Ireland’s Tommy Coyne scored the solitary goal against Holland. It was a warm-up ahead of USA ’94 and it was highly likely the last time the city was mentioned on Irish TV.

What brought me to Tilburg was an invite to a 25th wedding anniversary party. I had gotten to know Willem through my beer tastings. He was a regular fixture in Probus Wines. A group of us from there travelled over for the laugh. It appears that if you’re having a party, the local butcher throws in the bbq, bar & kegs, gazebos, the lot just for buying the food from him. It’s a good deal, even if the beer choice is limited to Jupiler. We did manage fortunately to try some Dutch beers from the local supermarket earlier that day.

 

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We were keen to have a look around the city the following day. Lonely Planet listed only two sights for the city, a textile museum and a modern art gallery. We were also apparently only 5km away from the ‘Dutch Disneyland’. Talking to locals the night before, it was suggested we take in the highest point in the city, no more than a larger-than-normal hump in the road. If we wanted, we could also visit tallest apartment block in the country. Well it was the tallest until the rival city of Breda built a taller one. This had all the hallmarks of a Springfield-Shelbyville sized rivalry. Willem had other plans. As it was a Sunday, he suggested we take a trip to a nearby monastery in Berkel Enschot.

The Abdij Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van de Koningshoeven is situated on the outskirts of the city in a quiet, wooded area along a canal. This it seemed was the place to be on a Sunday. It’s a popular destination for cyclists and the whole families come trundling along. This particular monastery is better known as the home of La Trappe beers (Koningshoeven in the US) and at one time was the only non-Belgian Trappist brewery. There are now two in the country and others have commenced operations in the US, Austria and Italy.

 

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La Trappe is the black sheep of the Trappist breweries. It lost and subsequently regained the right to use the “Authentic Trappist Product”. In 1999 the monastery sold control of the brewery to industrial powerhouse Bavaria. They took this tough decision because the monastery could no longer support the brewery. We tend to forget that they are religious establishments first and breweries second. Trappist monks are reported to say that they brew to pray, not pray to brew. Thankfully six years later, following a new arrangement where monks would have a greater role in the production process, the brewery was allowed back into the hexagonal club.

This wasn’t the first time that La Trappe had a flirtation with other breweries. They licenced their beer to Stella Artois in the 1970s. At one point, they themselves brewed a wit beer for Chimay. Imagine if that occurred today – a Belgian Wit produced over the border! This would attract scorn, derision and protest, well in the dark web of the beer world at least.

 

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Set in the gardens of the monastery, the brewery bar has the look and feel of an oratory. It’s a modern, simple and modest design. Rather than having an altar, a bar immediately faces the congregation of beer drinkers as they enter. The beer garden is extremely popular, which is hardly surprising given the number of smokers about. Beer and traditional Dutch snacks like Buitterballen were plentiful.

 

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One of the remarkable things about La Trappe beers is their value for money. 750ml bottles of the Blonde and Dubbel can be purchased in Ireland for around €7. Here at the monastery was no different. Cars were pulling up at the shop, complete with monks behind the till, to purchase cases of their favourite local beer. The Wit beer in the local supermarket was 70 cent a bottle.

 

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Unfortunately, my time in Tilburg was coming to an end. I was getting the train back to Brussels National Airport. However, it would’ve been bad to have left here without having tried La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged. Batch 19 is the Quadrupel aged in banyuls barrels. I’m generally not a fan of this French fortified wine but could imagine how the sweetness could compliment the rich, dark fruit character of the beer. A bottle and glass were quickly sourced from the kloosterwinkel or brewery shop. This was set to be one indulgent train beer!

The beer poured cloudy with an appearance of mahogany. Strong oak wafted from the bottle once the cork was popped. This aroma was not only immediately apparent to me but also to a fair few fellow passengers. It didn’t help that I was standing between the carriages, trying to pour this beer carefully into a glass.

 

La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged

Once the oak notes had settled down somewhat, the aroma took on a plum, raisin and sherry-like character. This continued into the flavour. This beer was pleasantly smoother and creamier than you might expect. It’s unmistakably a Quad but it has an exceptional complex finish. It’s a blend of desiccated coconut, honey and sherry. All of this is on top of a warming alcohol finish. It was certainly an interesting sipper and helped the journey pass by.

Tilburg was certainly worth the visit. A number of beer bloggers will be touring La Trappe this week as part of the European Beer Bloggers Conference. Unfortunately, I will be unable to make this year’s conference in Amsterdam and excursions. I was registered to attend but other matters have gotten in the way. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

London called once more

Last week, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) was held in London’s Kensington Olympia. This was my fifth consecutive GBBF. It’s not quite the exploits of Michael Phelps and Steve Redgrave but it still makes me smile. It has become firmly an annual jaunt over to London.

GBBF 2016 had a slightly different feel to it over previous years. It seemed as there were one or two fewer brewery bars. Some big brewers like Shephard Neame relegated its sole beer (Spitfire) at the festival to a shared bar, which in the grand scheme of things is no big loss. The festival certainly had a more corporate feel to it, if by corporate one means organised.  It felt more spacious than previous years. This is more space on top of what is already the cavernous environment that is the Kensington Olympia venue. There was a big push by CAMRA to sign up new members. Some had the air of chuggers about them, keen to push the £20 Wetherspoon vouchers above all else. Corporate hospitality featured also with groups given guided tours, tastings etc. This is becoming the norm it seems at large festivals these days.

Olympia

The organisers managed to invoke the ire of many a beer geek, who are known for their carefree attitude, by moving the announcement of the Champion Beer of Britain from the event itself to a separate awards dinner. This didn’t go down well at the festival and contributed to a fairly muted atmosphere during the afternoon of the trade day. However, many a beer writer quickly jettisoned his/her umbrage as the American Cask Bar opened around that time.

The presence of international beers at GBBF is always contentious. Yes it’s sad to see so many beer people crowded around the American beer bar. Then again the U.S. Brewer’s Association put in a lot of work to make sure the beers present are interesting, eclectic and first-rate. What’s more is that they pay tribute (except for the international bottle bar) to cask ale. They also throw in appearances by brewers or others connected with the breweries. It’s no wonder this bar’s popularity will continue, they put in a serious effort to make it exciting. Unfortunately, two Vermont breweries were due to be there but their beers missed the shipping deadline. For the record, the U.S. beers I tried were Ziggy Stardust (Boulder Beer Co.), Daydream IPA (Santiam Brewing); Hop Hunter IPA (Sierra Nevada); and Spruce Tip Session Ale (Urban Farm Fermentory).

Anyway back to the Champion Beer of Britain. I was expecting some ardent CAMRA folk to have picketed the dinner. Did it happen? I don’t know but then again coverage of the actual awards dinner on twitter was poor. There seemed to be only two people tweeting from the event. I was keeping an eye on proceedings more out of curiosity to see if any of the beers I had tried during the first day made the final three.

Binghams Brewery Vanilla Stout

As luck would have it, my brother Eoin had a pint of Binghams Vanilla Stout in front of him. It was his beer for the road. That was probably the last pint of it (or close to it) sold at the festival during the rest of the week – the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain being limited to third or half-pint pours. Thankfully, I had tried it earlier because it would’ve made the brother’s smugness all the more unbearable. The beer was smooth, silky with a pleasant vanilla hit – reminiscent of a quality chocolate truffle. Whilst there was a hint of sweetness in it, the vanilla didn’t overpower the character of this beer. It was well-balanced and drinkable.

Old Dairy Snow Top

This year’s three overall medallists would be even more enjoyable when the weather gets colder. It was also the first time a speciality beer won the overall prize and no doubt will be an answer in many a future CAMRA themed table quiz.  There was obviously a preference amongst the judges for darker beers this year. Snow Top by Old Dairy, a 6% abv (plenty of spice, winter fruits on the nose, warming and toasty) took silver and Tring’s Death or Glory, a 7.2% abv barley wine (not overly sweet, dark fruits, marmalade, and spice) taking home the bronze.

Tring Death Or Glory

There were some excellent stouts and porters on offer. Particular highlights for me were Crafty Stoat (Wibblers); Old Growler (Nethergate); Boss Black (Boss); Lambeth Walk (By the Horns); and Parabellum Milk Stout (Gun); Triple Chocoholic (Saltaire); and Chocolate Marble (Marble). Speaking of Marble, I enjoyed its lemony Earl Grey IPA and thought Lagonda IPA deserved better than bronze in the golden ale category. Other pale and IPAs worth a shout out include Nova (Bristol Beer Factory); Nor’ Hop (Moor Beer); Revelation (Dark Star); Magus (Durham); 77 (Heavy Industry); and Gyle 1500 (Flowerpots), although it’s billed as a red ale, given its hop profile it can pass somewhat as a red IPA. In case you’re wondering, no I did not forget to sample some mild and yes, I did try Fullers annual Vintage release. The 2016 version had plenty of the expectant vinuous notes, it could do with a bit more ageing.

A nice touch at the festival was to be found just inside the front door. Too often London breweries were underrepresented at the festival. This was a shame because there’s some amazing things happening in the city’s local beer scene. London Beer City grew up in and around GBBF and some might say, in response to it. London is definitely a front line in the craft versus real ale battle. Thankfully, the Real Ale in a Bottle bar returned to GBBF this year with offerings (all bottle conditioned) from Kernel, Redemption, Orbit, Partizan and others. Giving myself a break from the cask offerings, I enjoyed Weird Beard’s Saison 14. It hit all the right notes, with plenty of esters and leather in the flavour. The carbonation levels were spot on and set me up nicely for more beer tasting. I must say that Weird Beard is certainly a brewery that’s getting better both in terms of quality and consistency.

Earlier I mentioned that there seemed to be fewer brewery bars at the festival. There was an especially welcome new one. Tiny Rebel has gone from strength to strength since winning the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain accolade last year for Cwtch (still tasting great). Of course, they made a name for themselves well before winning the title but the brewery appears to have stepped up a gear.

Tiny Rebel Great British Beer Festival

The brewery was out in force at the festival and besides the likes of Fubar and Hadouken, it had Hank, a wonderful session pale ale and Juicy, which as its name suggests was a vibrant fruity all-rounder. As you probably guessed, I spent a fair bit of time at the Tiny Rebel bar, enjoying those beers mentioned, along with their black IPA Loki. It pleasantly avoided even the slightest hints of dark roast and opting to focus on bitter citrus notes. Finally, I could not but try Stay Puft, a 5.2% marshmallow stout. I was a little uncertain of this beer when I first tried it and on the second day, I bit the bullet and tried it again. I admit that this beer grew on me.  It wasn’t overly sweet even though that’s fear elicited by its name and description. The best description would be of a thick and creamy milk(shake) stout. Interesting and was worth having a pint of it.

Great British Beer Festival 2016 Pint

All in all, it was a good festival. More could be done to improve it. There was a lack of atmosphere on the first day that continued into the afternoon of the second day. The venue’s cavernous and could do with a bit of music. Perhaps various buskers dotted around the venue, not just on the stage. The food offering was the best yet. Talk already started of next year’s trip to GBBF 2017.

First, I have the Irish Craft Beer Festival to look forward to. It returns to the RDS on 8th to 10th September. Tickets, opening times and event information can be found here: http://www.irishcraftbeerfestival.ie/

 

 

 

Plans to limit the number of off-licences in Dublin City

The new Dublin City Council Development Plan (2016-2022) will be finalised in September this year. Drafting the plan offers local councillors the opportunity to make significant decisions on the future direction of the city. Unfortunately, for some it is simply an opportunity to pander to nimbyism as well as trying to force through illogical measures.

Forget the fact that many existing buildings wouldn’t get planning permission under the proposed amendments to the plan. One particular area of concern is the following proposal to be a stated objective of Dublin City:

“To prohibit the further expansion of off-licences or part off-licences unless a compelling case can be made that there is not an over-concentration of such uses in any one area. In this respect, any application for an off-licence/part off-licence should include a map of all such establishments located within a 1km radius of the proposed development. In relation to stand alone off-licences an audit of the existing off-licence floorspace provision within 1km and an analysis of the need for the proposal in the locality shall be provided”.

This is a serious additional layer of restrictions on what is an already heavily regulated retail activity. This move is separate to the restrictions proposed in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It could prevent new outlets opening or existing retail locations branching into off-premise alcohol sales. It is a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores local employment, the specialist nature of products sold and changing consumer patterns. It shouldn’t be seen as the panacea for tackling public drunkenness and anti-social behaviour.

It is contrary to the stated ambition in the draft development plan to “actively promote and protect the range of specialist shops within the inner city, which contribute to the character and attractiveness of the city as a destination for shopping”. Imagine specialist whiskey, wine or beer shops being prevented from opening because there’s a generic off-licence somewhere within a kilometre of their proposed location. At the very least if the proposal remains, it would add significantly to the high costs of applying to open a shop.

Craft beer has been gaining a significant foothold in the likes of Spar, Centra and smaller Tesco stores. This proposal could limit stores such as these moving into off-sales, if they aren’t already selling alcohol. It also could limit new stores opening and offering alcohol sales. They already have to cease sales by 10pm and can be prevented from sales at the discretion of the Guards.

This proposal is not based on empirical evidence or regulatory logic. Why not let the market decide on this one? Off-licences are a source of employment, collect considerable duties and VAT for the State and would pay commercial rates to the council. Many are supporters of independent craft producers, providing them with a sales channel for their products and an important alternative to pubs.

G’Knight on the Fourth of July

Fourth of July for Americans is a BIG deal. Understandably so. I’ve been lucky to have been in the US for a few Independence Day celebrations. It’s barbecue, outdoors and fireworks. Hot dogs feature more prominently than beer. There’s even a nationally televised hot dog eating competition broadcast live from Coney Island, New York. Today’s winner apparently polished off 70 in the allotted ten minutes.

Of course many bottles and cans of Sam Adams or Yuengling will be downed today. Beers marking the festivities or ‘Murica more generally will be popular today. Even Budweiser has been renamed America for the summer (more on that another time).

Oskar Blues G'Knight

Forget the red solo cup, Oskar Blues made drinking from a can cool again

Needless to say IPAs will be drunk in commemoration of an American triumph over a British style. Is there a better or more symbolic way for a craft beer drinker to mark the 4th?

Americans don’t just like things big, they like them bigger. So why not turn to an imperial red IPA from Colorado’s Oskar Blues. At 8.7% abv, G’Knight demonstrates significant home-grown American heft. It’s name captures that the events 240 years ago when the 13 original states said goodnight and good luck to George III’s “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States”.

The beer pours a clear, burnt orange and rusted copper colour. There’s plenty of thyme and other herbs alongside pine on the nose. With IPAs these days all focuses on trying to extract as much fresh fruit aromas, it is almost somewhat pleasing to revert to the old-school pine notes. This beer is all about full-on bitterness and flavour.

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It finishes dry, spicy and herbal. It’s chewy too, at times a little astringent. The warming alcohol notes suggest that this beer would be better enjoyed at this time of year in doors with the a/c cranked up, except if like me you’re enjoying the changeable Irish summer.

There’s sweetness in this beer and believe me you subconsciously go searching for it. You need something to cut through the bitterness. It’ll be hard to drink anything after this as your palate would be destroyed. Then again, a BIG BEER is appropriate for the day that’s in it.

Flower over-powered

The term “flower power” immediately conjures up images of hippies, psychedelic drugs, music and VW Westfalia camper vans. It’s over-used these days and is a tad unoriginal for a beer name. Ratebeer.com currently lists 33 beers having this name). New York’s Ithaca Beer Company perhaps can lay a partial, legitimate claim to the name, being only a short 8 hour drive from Woodstock.

I recently tried a pint of Flower Power (7.5% abv) in New York City. Its appearance was orange mist and gold. The nose was of fresh pine, not a hint of floral or fruit notes. The body was a little thin and appeared intentionally to amp up the bitterness. Lightly carbonated and bitter on tasting – nothing else. The mouthfeel was chewy with unwelcome notes of plastic. It gave way to a pure, spicy bitter finish.

Ithaca Beer Co. Flower Power

I’ve certainly had better IPAs but I’m not sure that this was even the best representation of this beer. Usually, I prefer judging beers from bottles or cans because you’re also at the mercy of the bar, pub or restaurant storing and serving the beer correctly. Might this be one of those occasions? I don’t know but it’s possible. For example, I couldn’t detect the use of simcoe, citra and amarillo notes but plenty of “c” hops.

If I see a bottle of this beer floating about, I’d be tempted try it again. As it is, the beer I tried was so aggressive that Bob Dylan could pen a protest tune about it.

Which road, which beer?

I’m a reader. I stick to non-fiction over fiction and this probably explains why I chose to study history in college. Books on beer are a popular preference but I read it all – politics, business, history, various biographies and the like.

When travelling, I usually duck into the bookshop at the airport or train station to buy the paper and the occasional longer read. The range of nonfiction books is limited and with the exception of the latest releases, they rarely change. I don’t know who puts the range together but there’s always a heavy emphasis on motivation and self-help. This indicates that the modern traveller needs all the help they can get. One book regularly features – The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck.

This particular book has influenced a lot of those motivational posters and countless more PowerPoint slides used in business training seminars. They all seem to focus on a fork in the road leading to choices having to be made. Thankfully for a few people in Stratford, Connecticut this meant taking the leap and opening a brewery four years ago. They went one further and actually named the brewery after this principle – Two Roads Brewing Company.

Two Roads Brewing Worker's Comp Saison

Recently, I got to try their Worker’s Comp Saison. First of all, this is a great name for a beer named in honour of the saisonaires. It may be a saison but it’s not a seasonal offering. This style is quickly replacing wheat beers as a year-round staple of US craft breweries.

The beer’s appearance was of a late-summer sun haze. For the aroma, think big, funky farmyard aromatics along with fruity esters. The fruit aromas were a complex blend ranging from an expectant lemon citrus right through to more exotic, topical notes. This beer is peppery carbonated tartness in a glass. There’s a bitter lemon twist to this beer. There’s a big dry, peppery finish to this beer. It’s almost as if you’d lightly seasoned your tongue.

The flavours and other characteristics of the style are wonderfully pronounced. At only 4.8% abv, this is a wonderful session beer. I had no regrets in selecting this beer from a few other local offerings and other high profile but hard-to-get beers on this side of the Atlantic. I was my own “road less travelled” moment I suppose. My only regret is that I only had time for one.

 

Talking beer on the Ray D’Arcy Show

With the heatwave Ireland’s experiencing, I was invited on to the Ray D’Arcy Show on RTÉ Radio One on Friday 3 June to talk about beer… what else? The segment was dubbed BBQs, Beer and Sunny Weather! It was cool to be on with Ray finally as I never managed to make the Blackboard Jungle team back in school and this is still a sore spot for the quiz enthusiast that I am. I was on with the renowned chef Oliver Dunne and RTÉ’s very own Evelyn Cusack. If that wasn’t enough, Ray also had in studio, Hermitage Green to get us in the bank holiday spirit.

My brief was to suggest beers for someone dipping their toe in the ‘craft beer’ world over the long and sunny bank holiday. Accessibility was vital. The beers couldn’t be too high in alcohol, session beers were key. I was also asked to recommend a cider and a non-alcoholic beer. Each pick should be generally available across Ireland, not an easy thing when it comes to craft (even these days).  It was also suggested that I tone down the “beer geek” speak. So here were the five beers and one cider that I chose to make up my Six Pack of Summer. All of these were sourced in Baggot Street Wines, the ‘National Off-Licence of the Year 2016′.

You can listen back to the show here: https://www.rte.ie/radio1/ray/programmes/2016/0603/793168-ray-darcy-friday-3-june-2016/?clipid=2196499#2196499

 

Six Pack of Summer

Victory Summer Love

Victory Summer Love – This beer is as bright as the summer sun. Golden ales are transition beers, easing the path for lager drinkers to the world of ales. Oh, it’s another fantastic craft release in a can, perfect for outside drinking. The label features America’s favourite pastime with games lasting around three sun-soaked hours, an easy drinking beer is in order. At 5.2% abv Summer Love may be a tad on the high side but other ales like Brooklyn’s Summer Ale or closer to home, you could look to Dungarvan’s Helvick Gold but the brewery’s summer seasonal Comeragh Challenger (it’s gluten free as well) would hit the spot.

Black's Kinsale The Session

Black’s of Kinsale The Session – There’s a perception out there that craft is only about high alcohol beers but session IPAs and pale ales are gaining in popularity. Founders All Day IPA anyone? Well-made versions can pack in the hop bitterness, flavour and aroma at session strength. This one from Sam Black fits this bill perfectly and is only 3.5% abv.

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Galway Hooker – This is a great beer to go with food. Use it in batter but it’s even better with burgers, sausages, really anything on a BBQ. It balances out the tanginess of ketchup.   It’s one of my favourite go-to beers. At 4.3% abv this beer is to enjoy several bottles or pints on their own.

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Black Donkey Sheep Stealer – This ‘farmhouse ale’ is perfect as this classic style was traditionally brewed in winter to give to farm hands in the Belgian fields in the summer. It’s effervescent, spicy, fruity, if you like wheat beers, you’ll like this. Also, try giving it to people who usually drink wine. They shouldn’t be disappointed. Sheep Stealer is perfect grilled food especially fish. Also, look out for Swingletree by Kinnegar for a higher but no less drinkable abv version.

dan kellys cider

Dan Kelly’s Cider – I’m not usually a cider drinker but then again my perception is based on developing a dislike for overly sweet mass-produced versions. This one isn’t and together with lower carbonation levels, it brings out more natural flavours grown on the McNeece family orchard. You pass through it on the Dublin-Belfast train-line.

Brewdog Nanny State

BrewDog Nanny State – BrewDog appears to Ryanair of breweries. I’m not talking about low-cost but rather the fact that  they like to annoy as much as they like to make beer. Seven years ago they got criticised for Tokyo*, an imperial Russian stout at 18.2% abv. Their response was to brew a beer at only 1.1% abv, not subject to beer duties and called it Nanny State. The beer has since been revised down to 0.5% abv. Thanks to the addition of four hop varieties and eight specialty malts, this dark ale has flavour and life to it. Too many non-alcoholic beers have little to them. It’s as if when they removed the alcohol, they also removed the taste. Many N/A lagers fall into this but wheat beers thanks to their ingredients fair better. Nanny State on the other hand can sate the taste-buds of hop heads should they need a quick and painless hit. It’s a little more extreme than other N/A beers out there.

Beer tasting still a game of hit and miss

Trying different beers can sometimes be a game of hit and miss. It can be easy to spot an off-flavoured beer and you’re within your rights to send it back. But what do you do when you get a beer that’s just plain bad? If the beer’s on draught, you might try before you buy. Sadly, this is not the case with packaged beer. Some staff might try to dissuade you from ordering it in the first place or occasional some might offer to replace it, taking the sales hit in the process.

Beer enthusiasts might check ratebeer.com or untappd for reviews but that’s too much work. Often you just trust the establishment that the beers on offer are good, all the more so when their beer menu is limited and the rest of the drinks menu is carefully selected. This opens the possibility of one being misled as a fair few places show less interest in their beers as they do with wines, whiskeys and other handpicked small batch spirits. This happened to me a few weeks ago in an award-wining restaurant in New York City.

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When you’re away, you want to try as much local beers as possible. I had been drinking my own fair share of Brooklyn Brewery beers and I even eschewed aged-Orval (accidentally, due to the delay in shipping it stateside) on the menu. Instead, I opted for Kuka Coffee & Cream Stout by Andean Brewing Company. The brewery is located a few wiles west of the city on the far side of the Hudson River. It may be pretty local but the Kuka range of beers pride themselves in using Andean ingredients, with maca root (an aphrodisiac, apparently) found in all of their beers.

Kuka Coffee & Cream Stout (6% abv) pours black with a garnet tinge. It has a fairly limp, tan head – not a great advertisement for the powers of the maca root. The beer contains Brazilian coffee and lactose so it comes as no surprise that the nose is of coffee and a dusting of powdered sugar. The sweetness is there at the start. Unfortunately the body is too thin and fails to mellow the roast coffee.

The beer’s far too astringent and quickly overpowers the carbonation and the lactose. The sugars remain on the lips but this beer finishes harshly. I didn’t finish this beer. That says something. In fact, I quickly moved on to the wine. It goes to show that beer tasting is hit and miss. While thankfully it’s more hit than miss, there’s still a few disappointing beers out there. I still can’t get over why fine dining establishments and upscale bars don’t show more respect to the beers they stock.

Heading to the 2nd story for beer

Philadelphia is a great city to get out and explore. 24 hours isn’t nearly enough time to take it all in. Yards Brewing is close to downtown. However, if you’re stuck for time, for example if you’re skipping out of a conference or simply balancing beer and site-seeing, there’s a brew pub even closer than you think.

After checking out Independence Hall & the Liberty Bell, you'll have earned a beer. The good news is that there's a brew pub 3 blocks away.

After checking out Independence Hall & the Liberty Bell, you’ll have earned a beer. The good news is that there’s a brew pub 3 blocks away.

2nd Story Brewing Company is only three blocks south of Independence Hall on Chestnut St. The origin of its name is simple enough – there’s a 15 BBL system on the 2nd floor. There’s seating in upstairs so drinkers can oversee the brewing side. It’s bright and airy. The ground floor has far more seating but is fairly dark, like so many American bars.

2nd Story Brewing can be found on 117 Chestnut Street.

2nd Story Brewing can be found on 117 Chestnut Street.

Having spent the morning in the National Constitution Center (I’m a politics nerd, not just a beer one), I felt I deserved a beer. I didn’t have long before heading to Washington, DC so I opted for a flight. The beers rotate fairly frequently so of those I describe below, it is more than likely only Five Mile will be on when you visit – it is one of their two standard brews. Expect some of the other beers to return at both the brewer’s and seasons’ discretion. My choice was heavily influenced by the recommendations of the bar staff.

The 15 BBL brewery is on the 2nd floor so it's not just a clever name. Wonder if there's a penthouse brewery out there?

The 15 BBL brewery is actually on the 2nd floor so it’s not just a clever name.

First off was Berliner Weisse (3.6% abv), which poured a wonderfully refreshing-looking light gold. It was almost perfectly clear. There was a touch of fruit and wheat bread on the nose. Tart but creamy also. There were hints of apples and lemon in the flavour profile continuing into a very pleasant dry, lemon finish. When this beer is pouring, you can avail of syrups to blend with it should you wish,

Next up was Thrills & Pils, a 4.5% abv German pilsner hopped with Hallertauer Blanc and Jarrylo. It poured slightly hazy, yellow straw. The aroma was a blend of grass, herbs and mango. It drinks fruity at first before a good dose of bitterness kicks in. There’s an intense herbal finish to this beer.

L-R: Thrills & Pils (4.5% abv); Berliner Weisse (3.6% abv); Evolve – VII (7.7% abv) & Five Mile (3.7% abv)

L-R: Thrills & Pils (4.5% abv); Berliner Weisse (3.6% abv); Evolve – VII (7.7% abv) & Five Mile (3.7% abv)

Evolve – VII is a Double IPA (7.7% abv) hopped with Hallertauer Blanc, Jarrylo and Hull Melon. It’s hazy, light orange in appearance and there’s a bright, floral character to the aroma. At first, it is sweet, floral and pleasant for a DIPA. Then, everything changes. The “D” could equally stand for deceptive. Bitterness descends and lingers warmly into the finish.

As I mentioned above, Five Mile, an English Mild (3.7% abv) is one of their two standard brews. Fritzie’s Lager (4.9% abv), a Vienna red being the other. I suppose being a brew pub, it’s important that your house beers are session-friendly and similar to Yards,  they are traditional styles tapping into to the historic city. Five Mile’s a ruby mild with hints of chocolate and dark mahogany in its appearance. Toffee, chocolate and hints of coffee all feature on the nose. Its flavour is not too far from a hazelnut macchiato. It finishes smooth, creamy and nutty. Think coffee cake in a glass.

Pope Beer - Pater Noster in disguise?

Pope Beer – Pater Noster in disguise?

I couldn’t leave the place without trying a beer that was brewed to commemorate Pope Francis’ visit to the city a few weeks earlier. It was simply called Pope Beer. It was straw-like in colour with plenty of esters and clove on the nose. It was fairly-well carbonated which helped balance the sweet and spicy flavours of this beer. I have my suspicions that this beer might’ve have been their Pater Noster, a 4.9% patersbier, simply rebadged. Either way, it wasn’t bad.

Recreating a Belgian "brown bar" with a splash of colour

Recreating a Belgian “brown bar” with a splash of colour

It should be noted that Belgian beers are celebrated in the City of Brotherly Love. From what I saw in Yards and 2nd Story Brewing, local brewers are happy to produce their own versions. There’s more than a few serious Belgian beer bars in the city. Monk’s Café is far and away the best. It has a serious tap and bottle list. Sadly, a late night visit wasn’t conducive to photography – I’m sure you’ll understand. Anyway, you’ll encounter other Belgian bars too when your wandering around the city.

Going the extra Yards in Philadelphia

Sadly, I’m not in Philadelphia this week for the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America®. Fortunately, I was able to visit the city last autumn. Ten years has passed since my one and only visit to the city. Regeneration has played a key role in its revival and it has become a good stop on one’s beer travels. I had less than 24 hours to take in a couple of beer destinations and see some of the sites.

Yards Brewing, now in its 22nd year, is in easy reach of downtown. It is one of those breweries that suffer unfairly from being one of the early movers on the craft beer scene. Familiarity can count against you in the craft beer movement, even one that holds “traditional” as key tenet.

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It’s a short walk from the Spring Garden metro stop. The first hundred yards or so is a tiny bit sketchy but the entire area is up and coming. You’ll see just how far it’s come on when you get to North Delaware Avenue, with the condo developments. This used to be the nightclub area of the city but with close proximity to the river front, land prices are going through the roof.  The vacant lots won’t be there for much longer. This part of the city has one added benefit. It comes complete with the smell of wort emanating from the brewery.

Yards Brewery focuses on traditional beer styles but they can have a twist. The branding, like its beers, reflect traditional British ales, a likely a nod to the revolutionary routes of the city. It also doesn’t hurt to compete with the British imports like Sam Smiths. The brewery operates Monday to Friday before opening up for tours on the weekends (12-4). Apparently people line up before it opens but they run every 20-25 minutes. Oh and it’s free!

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It’s worth visiting due to a good tap room and getting to meet the regulars, many of whom drop in on their way home from work. The tap room offers a window into the brewery so you don’t have to be there on a Saturday to get a view of the operations. Of course, visiting brewers and beer tickers stop by.  A group from nearby Conshohocken Brewing were in visiting. The tap room’s a great place to chat to the brewery staff. They can be found enjoying a post work pint at the bar but at times ducking back into the brewery to check up on things. Work never stops.

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First, up was Brawler a 4.2% abv English Mild. It was rich mahogany in colour with excellent clarity. As you’d expect the aroma was malty with slight coffee and nutty aroma. As a session beer, it was smooth and almost milky in mouthfeel. Toasty with a hint of caramel roasted nuts in the finish. Next was the Extra Special Ale (6% abv). Its appearance captured the colours of Philly and Pennsylvania perfectly – copper and chestnut. Think Liberty Bell & rusting factories. I’m partial to an ESB and this beer is interesting. There’s a lot going on. Spicy, nutty, dark chocolate flavours complete with a slight, citrus bitter bite. It has a big finish building intensity of the bitter malt. I would love to try this on cask but sadly they didn’t have it on when I was visiting.

L-R: IPA (7% abv); Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv); Extra Special Ale (6% abv) & Brawler (4.2% abv)

L-R: IPA (7% abv); Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv); Extra Special Ale (6% abv) & Brawler (4.2% abv)

Of course, the brewery’s pale ale and IPA offering is part of the signature flight. Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv) pours an incredibly clear golden colour. The aroma is of freshly squeezed oranges, thanks to being dry-hopped with simcoe. It’s certainly easy drinking with notes of fresh tangerines in the flavour. It’s reminiscent of orange squash with a pleasant dry, bitter finish. The IPA is called IPA because let’s face it, why bother coming up with a name for it because it’s a beer style that people just ask by style rather than name. At 7% abv it falls outside the session beer category. The colour is polished brass with orange on the nose. The fruit flavours continue with a sherbet-like mouthfeel at first before being hit by a big, bitter punch. There’s a sticky sweetness and pine notes in the finish. It’s hopped with chinook and amarillo.

Of course, you’re bound to take in some of the historical sites when in the city. If you’re not in the mood to actually venture into Independence Hall, you can smooth you conscience somewhat by trying beers inspired by three founding fathers as part of the brewery’s Revolutionary Flight. These beers are inspired by historic recipes of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.

L-R: Love Stout (5.5% abv); Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv); Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale (8% abv) &  General Washington's Tavern Porter (7% abv)

L-R: Love Stout (5.5% abv); Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv); Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale (8% abv) & General Washington’s Tavern Porter (7% abv)

General Washington’s Tavern Porter (7% abv) has an aroma of roast coffee and beef. It’s smooth with a smoky body before a big dark chocolate and caramel finish. There’s also a bourbon barrel-aged version, which I have yet to try. Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale on the other hand is a strong golden ale (8% abv). It pours a clear, copper colour. The aroma is of lightly toasted wheat, red fruit and spice on the nose. The flavour and finish is of spice and honey.

Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv) is apparently based on a recipe of Benjamin Franklin. Billed as a historical style, it’s brewed with molasses and local blue spruce tips. Amber in colour, there’s ginger and vinous notes on the nose. The flavour and finish is of ginger and pine; a really interesting beer. The final beer of the flight is Love Stout (5.5%) named for the City of Brotherly Love. A nitro pour, it’s almost jet black topped by a creamy head. The aroma is of powdered milk chocolate. It’s creamy, with a coffee hit in the finish.  I understand there’s a variant of this beer containing 100% cacao Belgian dark chocolate.

L-R: PYNK (5.5% abv); Hefeweizen (5.4% abv); Saison (6.5% abv) & Cicada (8.5% abv)

L-R: PYNK (5.5% abv); Hefeweizen (5.4% abv); Saison (6.5% abv) & Cicada (8.5% abv)

The final flight consisted of four refreshing seasonal and small batch brews. Beginning with Hefeweizen (5.4% abv). It was 24ct gold in colour, if it was any clearer the guys on TV’s Gold Rush may finally retire. There was plenty of banana and clove on the nose. At first it comes across as a tad over-carbonated, leaving it too dry. It finishes in the opposite direction, however, with sweet banana flavours lingering long after. Saison (6.5% abv) also pours a lovely, polished gold. There’s banana, clove along with other saison yeast notes. It’s sweet, cereal with lemon and honey blending into a pleasant finish. There’s a dash of pepper and bitterness too.

Yards, like other breweries, are keen on giving back. They are passionate about supporting charities and what better way than through brewing beer. You should check out their Brew Unto Others initiative. Part of the proceeds from PYNK (5.5% abv), a tart berry ale, goes to support breast cancer research and awareness. This is a pink beer, no doubt about it. What’s better is that the colour is natural thanks to the cherries and raspberries. It’s none of that artificial colouring for green beer. It’s amber with a big splash of pink. For the aroma, think raspberry yoghurt. Upfront, there’s pleasant fresh sour cherry in the flavour before a brut, dry finish. The palate isn’t overpowered by the tartness.

The last beer of the flight was Cicada, a Belgian-style IPA brewed with local honey (8.5% abv). This bronze ale had a big Juicy Fruit aroma. It was hard to pick up the Belgian yeast aromatics; only the slightest banana esters could be detected. Drinks bitter at first, then floral and honey notes take over. There’s a warming bitter tropical fruit and herbal bitterness in the finish.

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I couldn’t leave the brewery without trying Olde Bartholomew Barleywine (10.3% abv) on cask. It pours lovely, clear amber. The aroma is a wonderful medley of marzipan and grapes. It’s not overly sweet, one might say medium-dry. The flavour is penetrated by pleasant hints of fruit. It finishes dry and spicy.

I had only planned to stay an hour or so in the taproom but I was there far longer than that. As I mentioned before, the taproom has a real “local bar” vibe to it. It’s a friendly place, whether you’re from the city or just passing through. And of course, the beer is good.