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.

A good name for a style that’s wandering

Over the summer Eight Degrees released their latest limited edition beer, Nomad. It’s an India Pale Lager folks. What’s that you say? It’s a style that has many detractors. A few see it as just an excuse to introduce a little variety to the IPA. The common denominator being hops and lots of them. It may fall outside style guides and the majority may be just going for the hop hype effect. However, when it is made well, it can be something to be sought after. Who better than then the likes of the Mitchelstown crew to try their hand at this. They’ve made some truly fantastic stuff over the past few years. Not only do they love what they’re doing, just as importantly they know what they’re doing.

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Nomad pours a golden rich honey colour. But as you look at this beer, you become conscious that this beer has a big, big aroma. Think pungent pineapple, kiwi and tangerines. It’s fresh. There’s a crisp bite to this beer with the first sip. There’s no sense of sweetness there. There’s a similarity with the likes of Jever and other northern German lagers but that’s where it ends. This beer certainly cannot be described as austere. It’s anything but. The aroma blends superbly with the clean, bitter body and finish.

Nomad screams out for food to be savoured alongside it. It could be one of the better beers this summer to have a with a good burger. It has bitter and crispness, along with a degree of heftiness that could match the char, red meat and an overdose of toppings that are burgers these days.

 

The beer works but like other IPLs, would people keep looking for this style of beer? Nomad makes a good seasonal release for sure. However, will hop heads continue with this style beyond the rare occasion? It’s doubtful beyond those ticking it off the list. But the willingness of Eight Degrees to constantly give things a go is to be admired. They have enough in their core range to appeal to varying tastes and that’s before we get to their rotating range of specials.  In fact, you could look to their limited releases to get a full picture of the challenges facing the IPA today. Besides changing up the hop bill for various releases, there has been black, white, double, single hop, single malt and session IPAs all from this brewery. This is replicated across the globe.

A bitter finish to summer with an India(napolis) Pale Ale

It’s August. Where has this summer gone? Never mind the weather, it’s hard to believe the new football season is already upon us and the Rugby World Cup will kick off next month. The summer season is when I like to catch up with other sports such as cricket. Having dropped the sports package on the TV, I came across a half-season pass t the baseball, which reminded me of an appropriate beer that I recently tried.

Half Cycle is an IPA out of Indianapolis by Flat 12 Bierwerks. It’s billed as a cross-between a regular ol’ IPA and a double IPA. It’s named after a baseball term when a batter hits a single and a double in the same game. At 6% abv and weighing in at a reported 104.1 IBUs, this beer is in keeping with the baseball theme of being a big hitter. I’d have thought Indiana would be more interested in football, basketball and motor-racing than America’s favourite pastime.

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The beer pours a yellowish-gold colour. It’s topped by big, frothy head, the kind you get in a coffeehouse when you need a good five minutes to find your coffee through all that foam. The aroma has melon, pineapple and other tropical fruits in abundance. Pithy grapefruit dominates the flavour. However, the body is extremely sticky and the sweetness gives it almost jelly-like characteristics. You may find yourself reaching for a spoon, purely by instinct.

It's like the Porterhouse's "Brewed by Men, not Machines" but it could become a negative for female drinkers
It’s like the Porterhouse’s “Brewed by Men, not Machines” but it could become a negative for female drinkers

There’s plenty of bitterness in the finish, which pairs nicely with this time of the year when you realise that the summer’s almost over (and the baseball too). It’s a decent beer and the tall, narrow cans would come in handy for sneaking them into sports venues over here.They should probably drop “this stuff is made by guys” from their cans at some point in the future, however. It may become too much of a distraction as the brewery grows. I will look to check out more of Flat 12’s beer range at some point in the future.

A revisionist approach to supermarket beer

It seems that the supermarket chains are getting in on this craft beer game. We’re familiar with Aldi stocking O’Shea’s stout, pale ale and red ale produced by Carlow Brewing Company.   A more recent entrant to the scene is Rye River, somewhat double jobbing with its Crafty Beer (Lidl) and Solas (Tesco) ranges.

Of course this is nothing new.  The tactic of ‘own’ or indeed ‘exclusive’ brands has been used for decades.  Think of cans or stubby bottles of cheap own-brand cheap lager that have littered many a student party or bbq over the years.  In fact it would appear that there are even more own-brand lagers appearing on supermarket shelves.  And it is a pattern replicated for cider as well.  So should we be worried when more and more ‘own-brand’ craft beers start appearing?

Why can't more supermarket offerings take after Carlow Brewing Co. O'Shea's range?
Why can’t more supermarket offerings take after Carlow Brewing Co. O’Shea’s range?

Well naturally it all comes down to quality.  And given how price conscious supermarkets are, we have to ask, can the two be combined?  The Carlow Brewing Company has demonstrated that it can with its O’Shea’s range.  The beers are great value and have introduced more people to the world of craft beer.  I know of one person, a die-hard Guinness drinker, often the hardest to convert, who when at home, drinks nothing but the O’Shea’s Irish Stout.   And he tells me that he’s tempted to explore different stouts as a result.  So if the supermarkets adopt a similar approach to the one they use when considering wines for beer, well it could be a win-win.  For example, how many times are we told that the ‘own-brand champagne is the one to seek out for value and quality?

Supermarket chains are more than likely to partner with larger craft brewers that have the necessary production capacity.  They are more likely to focus on session-type beers rather than extreme ones; although, BrewDog produces a “variant” of its 9.2% abv Hardcore IPA for Tesco.  For the brewers, it can be a valuable source of revenue; also regular and sizeable orders from large multiples can impress the banks when looking for loans to expand the business.  It is no surprise that lenders prefer big, dependable orders over smaller, though numerous accounts.

So why am I writing about this now?  Well recently I had the chance to try a number of supermarket-brand beers. It will come as no surprise that some were better than others, but what struck me was that some of those were considerably better than the rest.  I then recalled one of the first ‘own brand’ beers I had ever tried. Perhaps it was time to refresh my memory.

The four "Revisionist" beers most likely to be spotted in Tesco
The four “Revisionist” beers most likely to be spotted in Tesco

The ‘Revisionist’ range is produced by real ale behemoth, Marston’s and Tesco has an exclusive on the bottles.  It’s worth noting however, that beers like Craft Lager can be had on draft in the likes of Wetherspoons.  My local Tesco stocks the Red Ale, Rye Ale, Dark IPA and the Wheat Beer. The range also includes Steam Beer and Saison in bottles.  These beers are produced at the different breweries within the Marston’s stable (Bank’s, Jennings, Wychwood, Brakspear, Ringwood and Marston’s itself).

The Revisionist American Hop Rye Pale Ale – to give it its full name – was as I say, the first beer from the range which I tasted.  And if I’m honest, it is also the only one on which I have notes as I tried some of the others while judging a beer competition.

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Firstly the branding is certainly interesting and certainly catches the eye, while scanning the shelves.  The beer pours an unsurprisingly amber colour with good clarity.  There are sweet tropical fruits and a hint of spice on the nose.  The beer was dry hopped with citra® and amarillo so that explains the fruitiness and the rye gives the spicy notes.  Initially, there is fresh citrus on tasting but a dry, almost Bombay mix-inspired spiciness takes over.  It is however, let down a little by the fluctuating carbonation levels. The dryness of the rye also leaves it tasting a little flat at times. It finishes quite dry.

It’s safe to say that the ‘Revisionist’ range encapsulates a problem for both the real ale brewers and for the retailers across the water.  Are they edgy enough in today’s fickle craft beer world?  Five years ago Tesco used to be the go-to place in this country if you were looking for English ales.  But now that range is dwindling, and not only in Tesco.  Yes, it’s a good thing that some of the space is being occupied by local Irish offerings, but part of me is sad to see that English brewers are being sought merely to imitate rather than innovate in terms of the beers to be stocked.   And yes these beers are fine, they do the job.  But I would argue that unfortunately they come in at too high a price point in Ireland to be deemed as good value.

Three from Eight

First post of 2015 and it’s about three beers released in time for Christmas (there I said it and it’s after the 6th of January). Well the beers in question were brewed by Eight Degrees and make up its Very Imperial Winter 2014/15 collection. Craft beer and the seasonality is becoming bigger in Ireland. It’s as if we eagerly await the launch of spring/summer collections.

Eight Degrees followed up 2013’s Back to Black series with three different brews to “tempt and warm you over the cooler season”. There’s Double Irish, a double IPA (so not just a clever name at 9.0% abv, Belgian Dubbel at 7.2% abv and finally the survivor from the previous year, Russian Imperial Stout at 9% abv.

I had tried these beers after their release in the fourth week of November but things were so manic since then, I’m only getting time to post about them now. I had even used the dubbel in a tasting the day after they appeared in the shops for the first time to a group who’d been lucky enough to sample it in Mitchelstown before its release. A dubbel is a great food beer and it’s perfect for roast dinners so it was good to be able to use and Irish version for a tasting.

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The Belgian Dubbel pours with colour similarities to Rodenbach. It has a distinctly bright reddish-brown appearance and certainly more vibrant than more characteristic dubbels out there. It’s also extremely clear and given the right glass, it could pass for a brandy (the head dissipates quickly). There’s banana and dark fruits, mainly plums on the nose. On tasting, there’s some initial carbonation but quickly disappears. In terms of flavour profile, there’s a hit of plums and a dash of spice up front before being taken over by sweet notes that continue into the finish.

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Earlier this year, Eight Degrees released Full Irish, a single malt IPA at 6% abv. It was packed full of big citrus flavours with a malt bill that wasn’t going to get in the way. Double Irish is this beer’s big brother. It pours a rich bronze colour with a hazy amber hue. The aroma is a total immersion in tropical sweet fruits. There’s a tangy freshness of orange and pineapple. Sticky fruit on taste, with some caramel before yielding to a pure and chewy dry finish. At 9% abv, there’s a warming bitterness on the finish that’s similar to a strepsil in its warming sensation on the throat.

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The final beer is the Russian Imperial Stout. The previous year’s version featured as my choice for the desert beer for my 2013 Christmas Dinner Menu. It pours jet black, with a thick creamy caramel head (perhaps reminiscent of a coke float). It has plenty of vanilla and chocolate notes on the nose. On first taste, you can pick out sweet vanilla, bourbon and espresso characteristics. While it continually hints at its alcohol strength, the beer takes on a bitter, dark roasted espresso finish.

While these beers may not be standard-bearers for a given style in their own right, they achieve what Scott and Cam set out to do, namely to be winter sippers. What’s even more remarkable is that they all come in around the €3 euro mark. The brewery has had remarkable success over the past five years but they have consistently been able to maintain the prices at the lower end.

Big things can be expected to come from them in 2015 as they expand production. A second-hand kit, with funding secured via Linked Finance, is on its way from Mauritius. Hopefully we’ll see some of the seasonal and once-off beers released in 2014 becoming regularly available. The brewery even featured this week on the first broadcast of UTV Ireland’s Ireland Live at 10 programme.