Author Archives: Tim McFarland

Of Brewfests and Big Pour, and Sunny in Philly.

Bitter Beer Face : Take the Bad with the Good

Someone asked TDY the other day, “If you’ve already tried most of the beer, why do you go to brewfests?”.  I thought that this was a pretty intriguing question.  Why do we love brewfests so much?  The Steel City Big Pour provided a lot of answers…  There weren’t too many beers that were new to TDY, but the atmosphere was fantastic with great food (not necessary for a good brewfest, but doesn’t hurt), art and music, and of course a great selection of brews.  Once you have been to a really great brewfest, you no longer ask that question. 

I suppose the short answer for us is three-fold.  Brewfests provide the opportunity to try many different beers in succession and thus comparisons are much easier.  The second reason is the ability to drink some rare offerings like East End’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Black Strap Stout or New Holland’s Imperial Mad Hatter.  Finally, we get to meet and hangout with the brewers and lots of like-minded beer lovers.  There’s really nothing like a great beer festival and the Steel City Big Pour does not disappoint.

Tonight is the season premiere of Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  TDY can safely say that Always Sunny is the best export to come out of Philadelphia.  In honor of the premiere, we will be putting a few Burgh beers up against Philly brews.  Look for our future post on the Always Sunny premiere.  If you enjoy fantasy football, The League is a great comedy which will be playing after Always Sunny.  Stay tuned…this one is definitely worth it.

Finally, we had a chance to meet with Tim of Craft Pittsburgh at the Big Pour last weekend.  He is starting a quarterly craft beer publication to keep Pittsburghers abreast of the city’s beer news and events.  TDY is on board as a contributor so look for this publication in your favorite watering hole in the coming months.

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Big Pour and Irish Festival : A Weekend Full of Beer!

First of all, this weekend is the 4th annual Big Pour, the most highly touted beer festival in the Pittsburgh area.  Chances are good that you probably didn’t get a ticket.  Have no fear, TDY will be in attendance for the 12-3 PM session tomorrow and will give yinz the scoop on the Big Pour.  We are definitely a little bit worried about the number of people that might be in attendance (see long lines as in Brew at the Zoo).  However, we are absolutely excited about the brewers and some of their offerings.

Joel Armato from New Holland gave TDY the scoop on a couple of rare brews that they are bringing: Oak Aged Mad Hatter and Brother Jacob Belgian Dubbel.  East End is also making a special brew, a tart Berliner Weisse, just for the Big Pour.  Mountain State Brewing Co. was a nice surprise at the Ohiopyle Beer and Gear festival earlier this summer.  Try their Seneca IPA.  Voodoo was also at Beer and Gear and really stole the show.  We are excited to see if they bring either the Pilzilla (Imperial Pilsner) or the wild and fruity Love Child.  Unibroue, Stone, and Bell’s are three other breweries that don’t make many Pittsburgh area appearances but will be at the Big Pour.  I’m specifically looking for Bell’s to bring one of their great IPAs, and I will be pretty thrilled with anything that Stone and Unibroue bring to the event.  Want to plan out your strategy? See the layout for Big Pour!

If you can’t wait for Big Pour or can’t get tickets, there are several pre big pour events going on tonight!  Sarah and I will be at the Harris Grill enjoying samplings of Furthermore, Erie, Troegs, and Oskar Blues from 5-7 PM.  Blue Dust in Homestead will have a huge collection including Stone, East End, and Dogfishhead tonight starting at 7 PM.  The Sharp Edge Emporium will have the same basic lineup as the Harris Grill from 8-10 PM tonight.

After Big Pour, TDY will be heading out to Homestead for the 20th Annual Pittsburgh Irish Festival.  In addition to great food and beer, there will be traditional Irish music, dancing, and some contemporary Irish bands including Gaelic Storm at 10 PM.  We challenge you to listen to their version of Nancy Whiskey and Johnny Jump-Up and not quaff a pint of Guinness.  Big Pour + Irish Festival = Amazing Beer-Fueled Saturday

Check back early next week for lots of videos, pictures, and our thoughts on all the beer.

Inclined to Brew: An Introduction to Mead

photo by David Blaikie on flickr

 Mead.  The very word conjures up images of burly men with names like Lars and Sigurd drinking from large pewter tankards or perhaps the skulls of their latest conquests.  Made from honey, mead is probably one of the oldest known fermented beverages as records prove that it was made by nearly every major culture including the Egyptians, Romans, Mayans, and Aztecs. 

Honey has long been associated with fertility, and mead is no exception.  In fact, the term honeymoon is derived from a ritual of drinking mead soon after marriage to ensure the birth of a son.   The couple would consume mead for one month after the wedding  (mead -> honey, month -> moon).  Mead is truly the drink of myth and legend.

Mead is essentially fermented honey water and thus simpler to make than beer.   However, the simplicity of mead means that the flavor depends entirely on the quality of the honey.  The variability of honey crops means that mead is not normally commercially available.  In the land of mead, the homebrewer is king.

Mead does present some interesting challenges and decisions for the homebrewer.  Honey lacks the yeast nutrients for a nice, fast fermentation.   Fermentation may take anywhere from 3 months to 1 year, but nutrients can be added to decrease the fermentation time to about 6 weeks.  Luckily, mead ferments at room temperature and can be kept for years.  Many people have created batches of mead upon the birth of a new daughter to be enjoyed on her wedding day.  

12 lbs of unrefined honey

I recently brewed my first batch of mead and a batch of cherry mead as well.  Next time, I’ll go through the mead making process.

New Holland and Founders Tasting (Part 1)

TDY planned a great saturday to celebrate the beginning of the end to our summer!  We started off with a 2 hour paddle around the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers downtown.  The weather was absolutely beautiful, and the views of the city from the river are unrivaled.  If you are interested, Kayak Pittsburgh rents kayaks at $15/hr and no prior experience is necessary. 

After working up an appetite (and thirst), we grilled out some fajitas, complete with homemade salsa, and gathered together a large collection of New Holland and Founders selections for a tasting. New Holland is located in Holland, MI and Founders is located in Grand Rapids, MI so you can think of this as sampling the real fruits of Michigan.  Here’s a list of the beer that we tried out and some quick notes on what we thought.

  • Centennial IPA (F) 7.2% ABV, 65 IBU – very malty for an IPA with even a few hints of chocolate and caramel on the palate. a slight hoppy aroma but not much bitterness to speak of . 
  • Mad Hatter IPA (NH)  5.25% ABV – dry hopping provides more of a hop aroma (hints of something similar to Simcoe?).  The Mad Hatter is nice and crisp with still a touch of malt sweetness.  Better hop/malt balance than the Centennial.  The dry hop causes Mad Hatter to finish with a satisfying dryness.
  • Imperial Mad Hatter IPA (NH) 9.4% ABV – similar to the Mad Hatter but with the distinctive bite of a higher alcohol brew.  The alcohol actually balances the malt bill and helps bring some more of the hop character to the forefront. 
  • Red’s Rye IPA (F)  6.6% ABV,  70 IBU – Centennial with a touch of rye to create a richness of flavor that overcomes the strong malt bill.  Our favorite of all 4 of the IPAs, although nontraditional, has the most to offer in terms of flavor complexity and balance.  A rich deep red color and good head retention  create a visual experience to rival the taste.

 

 

  • Golden Cap Saison (NH) 6.25% ABV – Very sweet candy-like aroma reminiscent of a Belgian blonde ale. The flavor is sweet at first with a carbonation that feels light on the tongue and a finish that ends in a surprising sourness reminiscent of a Belgian gueze.  Golden Cap is a wonderful surprise and great on a hot summer night.  We should warn that this beer is not for everyone as many people shy away from this level of sweetness in a beer.
  • Cerise (F)  6.5% ABV, 15 IBU – Aroma reminiscent of a fresh baked cherry pie.  Fruity with a touch of sweetness but not artificial.  Finishes with a tartness that any good cherry pie should have.   Pours a beautiful light red color with a nice head.  Cerise is  truly a gateway fruit beer : introducing the style without being overly sweet.
  • Sundog Amber Ale (NH)  6% ABV – A typical amber ale that balances a bit of maltiness with just a slight touch of hops.
  • Curmudgeon Old Ale (F)  9.8% ABV, 50 IBU – Curmudgeon is all about the malt and therefore retains a characteristic sweetness that is evident even in the aroma.  With hints of roasted malts, caramel, and butterscotch, Curmudgeon seems like a dessert in a glass and so again is not for everyone.  Those that enjoy very malty or sweet beers will likely love Curmudgeon while American IPA “hopheads” will find this one hard to swallow.
  • Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale (F) 8.5% ABV, 50 IBU –  A slimmed down version of Curmudgeon which is not as malty resulting in a much smoother flavor.  The Scotch Ale has a bit more roasted malt flavor than the straight sweetness of Curmudgeon.  Excellent head retention.

 

Our Favorite Beers 

Tim :  Founders Red’s Rye IPA – It’s really a unique beer with a great hop/malt balance and a flavor profile that is truly enhanced by the touch of rye.

Look for our  continuation of the New Holland and Founders Tasting  including New Holland’s Night Tripper Imperial Stout, Wheat Wine, and Poet Oatmeal Stout.

Local Hoplight: Pittsburgh Deli Co.

728 Copeland St. Shadyside

This is the first post in our Local Hoplight series which features off the beaten path Pittsburgh establishments where you can find some good craft brews.  The Pittsburgh Deli Co. is a great little spot in the heart of Shadyside (just off Walnut St.).  As a Shadyside resident, I recommend stopping by for a sandwich off their extensive deli menu.  The Tally Ho, which is an Italian sandwich on flatbread topped with a delicious olive tapenade, is a drunk yinzer favorite!

This neighborhood deli is not typically the sort of place that you would expect a good beer selection, but the Pittsburgh Deli Co. surprises with a respectable craft beer selection.  Not only do they have a variety of craft beer in bottles so that you can grab a few beers to go, but there is a rotating draft list of 6 beers.

L2R: Bell's Oberon Ale, Yuengling, Miller Lite, Magic Hat #9, Dogfishhead 60 min IPA, Guinness

The bottle selection rotates, but this past weekend included a healthy dose of Victory, Great Lakes, and Magic Hat offerings with a few nice surprises such as Boulder Beer’s Hazed and Infused, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, and Rogue’s Chocolate Stout.  I recently paired the Tally Ho with a Heavy Seas summer ale which made for a refreshing late summer lunch.  Heavy Seas got this one right as it is  light and refreshing with a touch of sweetness.  If you find yourself in Shadyside, stop by for a sandwich and beer in a very laid back atmosphere.

Brew at the Zoo Wrap-Up

Despite the rain, Jake and I made the trip out to the Pittsburgh Zoo for last weekend’s Brew at the Zoo fundraiser for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.  Apparently a large part of the city of Pittsburgh also attended as lines were pretty long, but there was beer and exotic animals so we still had a good time.  There was a good mix of beer and several live music acts.  Interestingly, there was plenty of free food from chips/pretzels to mini pulled pork sandwiches to a chocolate fountain in the main atrium of the PPQ aquarium.

Several homebrew clubs were in attendance lending another dimension to the brewfest experience.  Sixth Circle Brewing offered a variety of homebrews including Piss Water (American Cream Ale), a well rounded Dunkel, and a nice stout (which they use to make ice cream too!).  Shubrew was also in attendance with several selections including a creamy stout with some hints of chocolate and coffee.  The final tent boasted several Belgian selections including a framboise, Piraat, and St. Bernadus. 

As we ran into a few great old friends we kept tabs on all the beer gossip .  The homebrew tents kicked quickly and lots of people missed out, bummer dude.  Same thing happened at the last tent.  Did anyone else get Dragon’s Milk?  I’m pretty sure we drank most of it.  Others really enjoyed the Framboise served from Beet Nutz.  A few had high praises for McSorley’s, Sierra Nevada Summerfest (Pilsner) and the range of fruity wheat beers.  In talking with a few co-workers I heard a terrible terrible terrible rumor.  Can anyone verify if Miller was present?  I understand their beer is triple hopped brewed, but seriously WTF?!?!  Can’t you also triple hop brew piss?  Riddle me that Miller!

Brew at the Zoo attracts a wider audience than the typical brewfest, and it is nice to see people getting out and trying new beer.  However, this can result in a bit more of a mob mentality, without much order in the lines.  Additionally, the sheer number of people (and the downpour) make it difficult to get many discussions going with brewers/pourers.  With this in mind, Brew at the Zoo is a fun night out complete with zoo animals, good beer selection, and live music.  Where else can you sip on a glass of mead and watch a polar bear take a swim?

Arcadia Brewing Co. (Battle Creek, MI)

Last Visit : June 11, 2010

Visiting the town of Battle Creek,  best known as the home of Kellogg’s famous cereal brands, is a bit like taking a step back in time to enjoy a slice of true Americana.  Sarah and I happend to be visiting during the town’s cereal festival and so ran into a fairly crowded area.    Right in the middle of this typical Midwestern town is the Arcadia Brewing Co. which brews in the traditional styles of England and Scotland.  The taproom and restaurant are adjacent to the brewery so there are some good views of the bottling line from the bar.  However, this location is in a warehouse so that the restaurant can get pretty loud.  This place reminds more of a very typical brewpub with a full restaurant menu.

The Cereal City Bitter was the $2 pint special.  The bitter is nice and light with just that right touch of bitterness to make it a refreshing summer beer.  Sarah ordered the Whitsun wheat which has a great aroma and a crisp initial taste but ends with a yeasty aftertaste and a slight touch of hay (present in many american wheat beers.)  I did get to try the Hopmouth Double IPA which has a nice aroma of Cascade possibly mixed with some U.S. Fuggles.  This is a great addition to the Arcadia family which already makes a very good IPA.  The double IPA does carry some residual sweetness which some may not find complementary to the malt bill, but I think this is an interesting take on a typical IPA.

I have to give the Arcadia folks some credit for staying true to their beer.  The bar does not serve any outside brews or liquor and wine drinkers have only three options (Red, White, and Sangria).  This is a refreshing view as I have seen far too many brewpubs that pander to the masses by offering at least one of the mass produced U.S. light lagers.  Also a really cool feature for the men’s restrooms, there’s a chalkboard above the urinals to share your thoughts!

Arcadia is worth a visit if you happen to be near Battle Creek.  There’s plenty other things to see and do in the area and many other breweries to visit too.  You can make a weekend just by visiting the many local breweries in the Southern Michigan area. 

On Draft….

Cereal City Bitter

Hopmouth Double IPA

Starboard Stout

IPA

Whitsun Wheat

Rapunzel Light Wheat

Irish Red

B-Craft

Sky High Rye

Anglers Ale

***Brewery Visits are a biweekly post about our favorite tours and taprooms all over the U.S..  Check back to see where we are going next!