Heading to the 2nd story for beer

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

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.

Time to declare an #irishbeerday or not?

Today one’s beery Twitter feed is more likely than not dominated by Americans celebrating National Beer Day. This has caused confusion amongst non-Americans that today is also their day of celebration and libation. It isn’t. Apparently, International Beer Day is the first Friday in August, which in the case of 2016 it falls on 5th August. This is not to be confused with IPA day, marked during the preceding 24 hours (4th August).

All of these occasions have their roots in the US. Americans have a long tradition of honouring events, people or products by declaring a specific date in their honour. In more recent years, this has spread globally to pretty much everything imaginable. Three such days coming up are: International Safety Pin Day (10th April); Barbershop Quartet Day (11th April); & Look up at the Sky Day (14th April). So why should beer be any different?

Social media and the Internet have played a big role in the proliferation of these “days”. National Beer Day was first “marked” or “observed” via a Facebook page set up by Justin Smith only 7 years ago. The date chosen was to commemorate the day when beer became legal once more after the repeal of prohibition, on that date some 63 years earlier. Except it quite wasn’t. Ratification of the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution occurred 8 months later on 5 December 1933 – also a day marked on the beer social media calendar!

Ireland doesn’t have a “beer” day of its own. Does it matter? Well in the grand scheme of things, not at all. However, for craft brewers who rely on word of mouth rather than paid advertising, any excuse for publicity should be seized upon. Did you know the last Wednesday in May is National Fish & Chips Day? Maybe not, but pay attention to the media I and around that day to see the increased coverage chippers get.

We should have something similar for beer. It should be away from existing festivals so as not to eat into their PR. The press would love it. It’s an excuse to take to social media, whether we need one or not. Imagine a hashtag like #irishbeerday trending. It’s free coverage after all both locally & nationally. It can be used to share positive stories about breweries and their products. Let’s not forget that a certain day in September is no longer marked with a big bang. There’s a gap in the calendar that should be filled. I’ll drink to that.

An IPA offshoot that’s lilting?

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It’s been a while since I had a can of Lilt. So long in fact that I don’t even know if it’s still available. All of this was sparked off by Brewdog’s Elvis Juice. It tastes a lot like Lilt, period.

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One could imagine the Brewdog product development team used the following checklist. A grapefruit infused IPA with an aroma consisting largely of, you’ve guessed it, grapefruit. Box ticked. It’s refreshing, even at 6.5% abv. Box ticked. Did I mention that this beer is 6.5% abv? Box ticked. Make sure you produce a beer the “punks” will shout about. Box ticked (perhaps this one’s too easy). Use “Elvis” in the name to confuse people. Box ticked. Explore the use of fruit to substitute for high hop prices. Box ticked, or maybe I’m being unfair on that last one.

The beer’s fine. It’s certainly drinkable and the infused grapefruit gives it a vibrant, fresh aroma. Is this cheating though? Before you judge me too harshly, yes I’m more than aware that infused beers have been around for yonks – even for the IPA style. I’m just not convinced that this beer in particular works.

Beer geeks have been hyper-critical of the new wave of radler-style offerings popping up here, there and everywhere. Why should fruit-infused IPAs be treated differently? Okay, darker versions may be better but even then they play the Terry’s Chocolate Orange card. Overall, craft infused-beers do tend to be better balanced in bitterness and drinkability – Elvis Juice has a somewhat muted dry bitterness to it.

The appearance of so many fruit-infused IPAs of late merely point to the latest fad off-shoot of the overall style. Of course they’re appealing. I can see them becoming big sellers. They could even be useful in beer cocktails for those so inclined. A 3-3.5% abv or lower version could be huge, especially during the summer. Then again the neo-prohibitionist lobby could brand them in the alco-pop territory.

For me, I prefer a lot more out of a beer than this particular beer. If I want a refreshing grapefruit hit in abundance, I’d stick to the likes of San Pellegrino before moving onto beer. Brewdog certainly produce better beers than this but then again, who am I to judge this beer’s appeal.

Talking craft beer on the Last Word with Matt Cooper

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On Wednesday 19 August, I was invited on to the Last Word with Matt Cooper to talk about craft beer. Joining me on the panel was the always excellent Sarah Roarty of N17 fame and Damien O’Reilly, lecturer in retail management at Dublin Institute of Technology. The topic of the discussion was “why are we willing to spend so much on craft beer”. It was great to be a guest on the show and see Matt in full flow.

Listen back to the discussion here

 

Grilling the property rights of the Irish red ale

With the weather showing signs of summer and then not again, BBQ season is upon us. When I say BBQ, I mean grilling in the truest context and not slow roasting for 24 hours or longer. Lighting a BBQ can make it seem that way though. Think of all the hours of enjoyment standing over it trying to get the coals to catch fire. It’s made all worse by people sitting around watching and remarking on your every move. Comments such “did you use lighter fluid?” or the “quick fire bag of coal is brilliant” hitting you like accusatory daggers. Then eventually it lights, there may be an uneven heat across the grill requiring the frantic shuffling of burgers or whatnot around so they don’t burn too quickly. At least having beer on hand can take some of the edge off of the hassle of cooking al fresco.

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Yesterday, I had an excuse to work through a whole range of red ales (sadly Bay Ale from Galway Ale had disappeared from the fridge by the time I got there). It’s interesting putting different reds, like other beer styles, together to compare variations. Red ale is much maligned by the craft drinker, all too easily dismissed as one-dimensional or worse. For someone who was a fan of Writer’s Red (aka Rebel Red) by Franciscan Well and who drank it by the pitcher full in The Gingerman, I will always have a fondness for the style. At times I have acted in a manner that can only be described as quite frankly a bizarre sense of patriotism in standing up for the style to some CAMRA members all too quick to tell you what they think of it – it’s too gassy, too sweet etc.

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The style as we know it mightn’t be that old nor originating here but there’s no doubt that it has become associated with us. Classic reds may have similar flavour profiles to dry roasted peanuts, some may be too heavy on the caramel and others draw on bitterness for their identity. Who knows what the future holds for this style? It would perhaps be a stretch to see an attempt to adopt a Geographical Indicator status for the Irish red. The road is  certainly open under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for more products to adopt such status. Imagine, the likes of George Killian’s Irish Red having to alter its name. This is notwithstanding its very own identity crisis being marketed one time as an Irish red ale and now as a premium lager.

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It’s unlikely the Irish beer industry would look to adopt a GI for the Irish Red Ale. The industry doesn’t act like that, well not yet anyway. Of course, property rights have been a feature of the beer industry. Marketing rights have been a key driver so too has been use of proprietary productin techniques along with informal IP protection techniques. Look at the Trappist breweries distinguishing them from other abbey beers. However, as the market becomes more competitive, more friction can be expected. Thankfully a lot of this can be resolved through dialogue and in cases where it looks like such an approach will fail, public outcry has so far convinced brewers to keep things out of court. It won’t always be like that however. We’re already seeing whiskey producers refining the definition of what is Irish whiskey. Will Irish cream liquor be next?

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Brewers are already making moves to protect what can be called “Irish”, a measure to stop “crafty” imports from the UK and elsewhere. They clearly want to prevent the somewhat duplicitous nature of labelling á la Irish smoked salmon v smoked Irish salmon happening here. A logo is but one small step. A GI for red ale may achieve little too. Beer styles are often products of many places. You may have to be fairly brazen to claim ownership of a beer style either collectively or individually. Look what Anchor Brewing did with “steam beer”, although it was important for lambic producers.  I’d settle for a redoubling of the efforts to market craft beer and the people behind them by Government. This would match the enthusiasm of the brewers and consumers. Additionally, we have to give brewers the support to protect their IP, which dare I say it may include their brand, beer name and logos etc.

All of this may seem a fairly long train of thought but that’s what you get when you BBQ. Plenty of time to muse about all and sundry. At least I had a few red ales to keep me company.