Monthly Archives: May 2010

Iron Hill Brewery: Phoenixville

Phoenixville used to be one of those small Pa. towns where industry and manufacturing reigned. Then, most of the industry and manufacturing left for cheaper labor and lower taxes, leaving a shell of a locale.  One tenant for these old buildings and spaces are microbreweries. While Iron Hill Brewery in Phoenixville may have not filled an existing building (I am not sure), they did build on the ashes so to speak and they anchor a cool block in Phoenixville. See the picture below:

Although each of the Iron Hill Brewery locations has unique characteristics and features, like children in a family, there is a strong resemblance among the siblings.  The places are smart, sharp, contemporary, and hip. The staff at Iron Hill Brewery are well-trained professionals. Our server was knowledgeable about the beers and when I asked deeper questions about the brews, she had the good sense to punt to the assistant brewmaster. The assistant brewmaster was knowledgeable and personable. A good skill set for the service industry. When you have an interested customer who is engaged in knowing more about what you do, it pays to not get distracted by less pertinent matters like what your favorite sports team is doing on the TV (I mention that for a reason, but I will keep it at that). For the sake of disclosure, I did get a free beer after my meal from the ABM, after I told him about 40/40…that is smart and savvy consumer relations.

One of the ironies of being a microbrewery is that if you are good, really good, you might just become a macrobrewery down the road. I still root for the bootstrap entrepreneur yet it is hard to not admire the success of Iron Hill Brewery.They are well on their way to becoming a big, big player, in brewing.

More to follow on Iron Hill Brewery down the road in future posts. I still have a lot of other places that I have visited to write about. Here is my assessment on Iron Hill Brewey: It is a slick and savvy organization, they train their people well, the beers are excellent but pricey (unless you get one for free of course), the food is good but not great (some microbreweries try to be culinarily fancy and it usually falls short; Iron Hill keeps food simple with some style), and I.H.B.  will probably be in a neighborhood close to you if not already.


We Have THE TECHNOLOGY

In my 40/40 travels, I  have seen this Brew-Magic brewing system in several of the microbreweries. From what I have learned, it is used to standardize the brewing process and provides a high degree of consistency from batch to batch. Some microbreweries are using this as their brewing system. Larger microbreweries use it more to test new recipes without having to fire up the big equipment and waste energy, time, and supplies. From what one of the microbrewers told me, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Ales started out on one of these beauties and still uses it now to test new recipes. He is willing to push the envelope taste-wise and I am sure that Brew-Magic is a fine piece of equipment for the maestro to compose with and to ferment his brews’ muse. The Brew-Magic system is the brewers equivalent of a Steinway Piano.

Just a note…I have a lot of posts waiting like beer in a keg. I am more in the consumption phase right now and continue to hit one microbrewery a day. A week into 40/40, I am on schedule with a full week of visitations on tap. I will get back to more writing as the week continues. As it is Memorial Day, toast Vets as you drink a beer today. Better yet, have a brew with a Vet. Memorial Day is considered the unofficial first day of summer…let us remember that there were many young men who never got to the summers of their lives…to be with their families and friends on this day and enjoy a cold one or two.  Rest in Peace, soldiers.


Roy Pitz’s Passion

Yesterday, I was toying around with the idea of doing a two-fer, doing two Microbreweries in the same day. I am no Einstein math-wise, but I am going to be in Minnesota in two weeks for four days in mid-June attending  a wedding. Something has got to give in order to reach the goal of 40 Pa. breweries in 40 days. Math is a good checker of goals and intentions. How many people who bought big houses with massive mortgages never did the math…stuff like compound interest, math we should have learned in school but strangely did not.

Yet, math is not all. The human heart’s passion cannot be quantified, dreams and data are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. While it is surely wise to keep an eye on the bottom line, one also has to keep an eye affixed to the stars of audacious plans and goals. I tend to gravitate to people who are risk-takers, the dreamers, the mad ones as Kerouac would write in On the Road “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

So yesterday, doing double duty, I followed the stars out to Chambersburg, Pa. to Roy Pitz Brewing Company, along the the oldest highway in America, the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway cuts right through the town of Gettysburg and then enters the truly R and R of the state. By R and R, I mean the Religious and the Red Neck. It is possible to be one R without the other, yet it is just as likely that this comes as a two-fer also. But, first, I got the libations started at Appalachian Brewing Company with three fine IPA’s and some food in the gullet in G-Burg (future post),  and then packed the mules and headed on out to Roy Pitz’s Brewing Company. Between Gettysburg and Chambersburg, there is not a lot density. One could probably push the intervening miles and materials like games pieces on a board to fit in 20 times less the space.

I started having second thoughts about the drive and the destination. I got nauseous thinking about returning back on 30 through York (a close second the shittiest most-ill conceived road in Pa next to the Schuylkill Expressway). In York, there desperately needs to be an operation on the order of a quadruple by-pass on an obese and dying man. There you count the progress in yards and not miles per hour during most parts of the day even remotely around rush hour.  If Robert E. Lee had to take his army up this road to Gettysburg now, I think he would have called it quits.

When I arrived in Chambersburg, it appeared like a colony on the moon. It started to look more like every other mid-sized town in America with its strip malls, fast food franchises, and car dealerships. Civilization, as we know it I suppose. Since I was going to be early at Roy Pitz before the official hours of operation , I had called ahead while in Gettysburg to see if I could not wait until 4:00 to show up. I felt I had nothing more to do in Gettysburg and had close to three hours to fill like an empty growler before Roy Pitz was to open. When I called, as I the to find out later, one of the owners (Jesse) picked up and told me like Bob Barker on the Price is Right to “Come on down.” Like a squealing middle-aged woman, away I went.

Jesse and I had a really good time together. Like Davey Crockett needing to be photographed with his rifle, Jesse filled a glass and hoisted a beer when I went to take a photo  of him. It became clear to me as we chatted that Jesse has a passion for brewing beer. He believes that brewing is an art. Art means that you work long days, have emotional melt-downs on a semi-regular basis, and seek to first please the critic inside, knowing that if you do, that your chances of tapping your dream is enhanced. Roy Pitz, a fictional  name shrouded in the lore of Chambersburg, is a mystery much like the KFC secret recipe. We all need our secrets, a part of ourselves not privy to the intrusion of others, the sacred place.

There was also a pragmatism to Jesse and his partner and best friend Ryan (they have been hanging out since second grade) in that they have been very industrious about taking the discarded and unused equipment of others to basically boot-strap a brewery literally from the ground up of their old factory building. He told me of a trip to Alaska to get the guts of the brewery from a defunct microbrewery endeavor. This is the stuff of legends and lore.  Jesse and I shared a common link to West Chester where he and his best friend and business partner went to school. Jesse schooled me on all aspects of beer-making. Roy Pitz bills itself as the “Freshest Beer in America” as they don’t bottle their brews for sale. Instead, it is all kegged and he tells me that their beers are never more than two weeks old where they are proudly served.

I liked the Truly Honest Ale the best.

Truly Honest Ale

This is our signature brew that started it all. This beer is made with four different specialty malts, including two foreign caramel malts, a pale malt and a toasted malt. These malts impart a subtle toasted/sweet taste. This malty brew is then graced with floral and aroma hops which balance the “maltiness” of this brew and leaves behind a smooth finish on the palate. Top notch ingredients make this a seriously drinkable, not bitter, American ale. There’s no reason to lie. Honest.

  • ABV: 6%
  • O.G.: 1.063
  • Suggested Temperature: 42 F
  • Suggested Serving Glass: Basic Ale Pint Glass
  • Suggested Food Pairing: Lunch fare; grilled, roasted, or stewed meats.

If old Abe wanted to wet his whistle after Gettysburg, where I am sure consolation was needed after seeing the carnage and horrors of war, a beer like Truly Honest Ale would have fit the bill. I am sure Jack Kerouac would have agreed. On the way home, I went 81 to the Turnpike, so if you do go, and you live on this side of the Susquehanna and you have no desire to see Gettysburg and be stuck behind a tractor trailer for 23 miles, this is the way to do it.

Thanks Jesse. You make Roy Pitz proud.



Roy Pitz Brewery and Spring House Brewery

Check out the video from the from WGAL about these two breweries. I was out at Roy Pitz today and got to chat with co-owner Jesse  and had a great experience. I will write about it soon enough. I want to let my ideas and thoughts ferment a bit.


Bube’s Brewerey – Mt. Joy

First off, since I made this mistake (and I should have known better) Bube’s is pronounced “Boo-bies” which sounds like a rip-off of the Hooter’s chain. Fortunately, I am sure that the beer is much better at Bube’s. As a rule, I am not going to encroach upon reviewing the food at the establishments I visit for 40/40. This is a beer tour. Although I don’t know a lot about brewing, I know even less about fine dining. I will defer to my food critic wife on this one.   Although, I will mention that JoBoy’s in Manheim has some banging barbecue and solid beers. The owner told me that he see his place as more a BBQ place than a microbrewery.

Bube’s was like the school sub of old. I was intending to celebrate the completion of the revisions to my Dissertation at Temple where I was in Philly finalizing all of the paperwork on campus  (you may officially call me Dr. B. if you wish) by heading to New Hope to visit the Triumph Brewery (the name seemed appropriate for the occasion). Alas, I was informed that I had misspelled one of my Committee Member’s name in two places in the Dissertation document. That meant that I had to drive West on the Schuylkill Expressway (surely, ye jest…a misnomer for sure as it has more jams than Smucker’s). I put into good use my new policy of “Prayer, Not Profanity” and prayed all the way home.

The kind person at Temple helping me with the corrections was to be on vacation until next Wednesday and I really did not want to wait until then to get the changes corrected, uploaded, and approved (the submission is all electronic). Plus, KYW was calling for a possible hailstorm in the Philly area. Not wanting to experience an Old Testament-like Egyptian hailstorm (it was the 7th Plague. Why Did God Send the Plague of Hail? The plague of hail was sent to defy the god of Nut. Nut was the sky goddess and normally would be the one to control the weather) and believing firmly in the premise of work before play, I came home and took care of business. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. I was not feeling like a nut. Stupid, yes.

Then I slept for a good two hours, still frustrated with myself for making such a mistake to start with. Note: Always spell the name of the members of your Committee correct on your Dissertation. After slumbering, Bube’s came to mind. I don’t want to use up all of my local options early but staying close to home seemed wisest.

I was informed by the owner’s wife that Bube’s is the oldest intact brewery in the nation (not continuously operating though). Prohibition put it into dormancy. The building has a lot of character and seems frequented be a nice smattering of locals, bikers included. I will go down the line with the beers: The Maibock was not the best, the Stout could have been  stoutier. Then, things began to look up. The Caveman’s Belgian Wit was nice, the Hemp Ale would have made Cheech and Chong happy, and the Crazy 8’s Ale (at 8.6 A.B.V.) was great.  I also met some really interesting people who I might write more about.

While I was sitting at the bar, a guy came in and got a six-pack of Bud to go for 8 bucks. For a little bit more, he could have purchased one of the house brews in a growler. It just does not compute. Ah, open their eyes, Lord. On the way home, it was pouring down sheets of rain. I was happy to be close to home and pleased by my experience at Bube’s. As a caveat, the place is not highbrow. Instead, it is a local place with a lot of history and interesting characters. It is not for the silver spoon set.


Good Beer Map Pa.

When I first contemplated doing this 40/40, I ran off a list of Pennsylvania Microbreweries and discovered that Central Pa (the 717 area code) had more Microbreweries within it than any other area code. I got to thinking that this trek was doable as that gave me a home field advantage of sorts. Must be the Germanic stock. We Central Pennsylvanians are a lot more German culturally than we realize…the work ethic, the conservatism, the meat and potatoes, etc. The Beer. Umm, did I mention the Beer? Oh yeah, don’t forget the Beer.

See the map below of Good Beers in Pa.

I am focusing specifically on “Beers Brewed on the Premises.” A couple of things are obvious from looking at the map. Most of the Microbreweries are in Central to Eastern Pa. That is a good thing because the MB are within an hour or two of my domicile. I don’t plan to drink much beer on my visitations, just a sample and then one full-sized pint of what I liked the best. Moderation, for a lot of reasons, is the best policy. Click on the map to go to the website where you can view a larger picture of this map and get additional information. Plan to head to Triumph Brewery today in New Hope. Straight up 611 from the rough inner city of North Philadelphia to the artsy and GLBT capital of Pa.


Spring House Brewery

Spring House appears to be a converted barn that now has udders of a different kind…ales not milk below. This place is quintessential Lancaster County. The ales are excellent and have creative a locally-meaningful names. Check out the website link to the right for some review of the nomenclature. Up on the above the udders, the second floor looks like a beer fort. Kind of a Honeycomb Hideout for mostly boys to hang out and chill.  Spring House has beer bottles up on the exposed rafters, creating a veritable Shangri-La of Suds. These brew dudes are doing good work. Maybe I am like Paula Abdul and am gonna like every place I go to. We can thank mainstream brews for setting the bar literally so low that a couple of guys in little old Conestoga, Pa, can kick their beers in the ribs taste-wise. See pic of the Beer Barn below: