Monthly Archives: June 2010

Rivertowne North Shore

Because my wife Lina and I were in Minneapolis for five days during 40/40 (where we did visit some great microbreweries), Pittsburgh became the place where to make up missing time and visitations. Both Minneapolis and Pittsburgh are small big cities…people are friendly, the amenities such as restaurants, the arts, and concert venues, are world class. The best of both worlds type of thing.

The last night in Pittsburgh, my brother and I went down to the newly open Rivertowne Brewery: North Shore. It is one of four locations for this small chain. The North Shore location is housed in the Del Monte building. “The Del Monte Center, a six-story, 270,000-square-foot office building which cost around $43.5 million to construct, is located along the Allegheny River and near Heinz Field, where the Super Bowl-bound Pittsburgh Steelers play.”

I will get to the beers in a bit…I want to first go elsewhere…

I don’t know what it is about rivers/lakes, and beer, but they always seem to make a good pairing to me. Look how beautiful this photo is that was taken outside of the establishment:

A little more attractive than a shopping center parking lot, eh? Location, location, location. I know that some microbreweries have no choice to go where they do, but I do believe an effort should be made to make the setting more than just either a Subway or a Microbrewery.

Here is a shot a little down the walkway that winds along the river for quite some time. My brother told me that the southeast-bound part of this path goes all the way down to Washington D.C., except for one little part that is almost completed.

The walkway was strangely almost deserted…I found out why as we progressed down the way.

There was a tribute band to The Who performing that had a big crowd.

We stuck around to hear them play “Teenage Wasteland (really named Baba O’Riley),” the anthem for every adolescent off on the wrong track. I saw and heard the original Who play down at JFK Stadium, to over 100, 000 people, back in 1982. These guys did a decent job…the lead singer’s voice was about as fried as Roger Daltrey’s, though.

I found this on a website:

In an interview with Billboard magazine carried out in February 2010 Townshend discussed how he feels now that 40 years on this and other Who songs take on a deeper meaning. He explained that when he wrote the band’s classic tunes, “the music there was about living in the present and losing yourself in the moment. Now that has changed. Boomers kind of hang on to that as a memory. When I go back and listen to those songs, the Who songs in particular of the late ’60s and early 70s, there was an aspiration in my writing to attune to the fact that what I could feel in he audience was – I won’t say religious – but there was certainly a spiritual component to what people wanted their music to contain. There’s definitely a higher call for the music now which is almost religious. U2, for example, are hugely successful with songs about inner longing for freedom, ideas.

A song like ‘Baba O’Riley,’ with ‘we’re all wasted,’ it just meant ‘we’re all wasted’ – it didn’t have the significance that it now has. What we fear is that in actual fact we have wasted an opportunity. I think I speak for my audience when I say that, I hope I do.”

Umm, talking about wasteland…I found out why the walkway was bereft of people:

Yes, a packed brand- spanking new casino. The ruin of the Indian Nations everywhere.

I get the logic that Pa. doesn’t want Pennsylvania cash to go to Atlantic City or Las Vegas, so it wants to build its own to keep the revenue in state. I also get that most people who gamble are not addicts…no more than every person who drinks a beer is an alcoholic or problem-drinker. For most, it is just a night out on the town and a harmless diversion. Yet, I am extremely skeptical when gambling is presented as a panacea to budget problems…that is truly a gamble.

I think the benefits and costs of legalized gambling are much more of a 50-50 deal, if not worse. The big winners are the casinos themselves, and the house always wins–particularly more so now that the table games are all being computerized. It is just a big money-sucking operation. My brother gave a ten dollar donation playing the slots machine and we moved on. There is a reason why gambling is called the “Stupid Tax”…this includes the Pa. Lottery by the way…

It was also weird on a beautiful moonlit night, everyone was inside looking like Zombies.  Even The pseudo Who concert was a casino event.

Ahem, back to Rivertowne and the beers.

I have to be completely honest about the microbrews at Rivertowne, they were good, not great. Still far better than the zombie brews of the Bigs. I did think the granite bar had a cool design:

The place has a hip chic look both inside and out…again, though, it was fairly deserted which seemed odd for a prime location on a Friday night around 9:00. We have to remember when people are at casinos spending money, they are often not somewhere else spending money. If I was a restaurant owner, I would be mad about this, particularly since casinos have bars and restaurants within their grounds and spheres of operation. It is  called an unfair competitive advantage.

I have seen much better crowds here in Lancaster at venues such as a Rivertowne on a Friday night. This place deserves a better chance to succeed.

Rivertowne also supplements its beers with other microbreweries. I had a Sierra Nevada Glissade Spring Bock. I have become a big fan of bocks in my travels. I also enjoyed the award winning Victory Hop Devil.

I am really happy that Rivertowne has decided to go up rather than down in the brews that it does not brew on-site. I think, in time, its own beers will be able to compete with the best. It just seems right now that they are on the learning curve.

I will leave you with one last shot of the Pittsburgh night. It is a shame that most down in the vicinity missed it while gambling:



North Country Brewing Company

Wisdom prevailed when I decided to not try and hit another brewery last Wednesday.

I heartily endorse moderation in drinking beer and not endangering myself or others. So, as I geared up to drive the 90 plus miles from Erie to Pittsburgh, I decided to not attempt visiting North Country Brewing Company in Slippery Rock on the way down. I was tired and hot, and the drive–especially with all of the road construction–proved to be a test of endurance. Two plus hours of the automotive equivalent of a root canal…

There are times in every great endeavor where one’s back is up against the wall. It takes wisdom to know if we are to fight through something or wait to fight the battle another day. Wisdom is knowing sometimes more this “when” piece than the “what” piece. Timing, my friend, is everything.

Making me even more weary on last Thursday was a phone conversation with my wife. She was feeling neglected by 40/40. Even though we had both talked about 40/40 at the beginning to make sure that we were on the same page, it is fair to say neither one of us really grasped how hard it was going to be to see it through.

Another general rule of thumb: Most things are harder than we expect. It is one of those paradoxes that we are often called to make life choices without the prerequisite knowledge to really know what we are getting into. This is particularly true where one is blazing a path not traveled before. There are no clear paradigms to follow.

By Friday morning, I was feeling considerably more chipper. I had a great day on Thursday making the brewrounds in Pittsburgh. My brother Steve had taken Friday off of work, so we were both free men to head north up to North Country Brewing. I am so glad that I had waited. I would not have appreciated it on Wednesday night. It would have gone there to go there, to take one more microbrewery off of my list. No joy, no peace, just raw gutting it out…a long hard slog. Literally, gone south.

We pulled into the college town of Slippery Rock. One of the side benefits of 40/40 is seeing all of the college places where my students have gone to that are in different parts of the state. Like Clarion, Thiel, Gannon. I will never see places like these unless I break my ruts.

Ah, notice the Nittanny Lion. He is on the prowl everywhere, another college town or not. No matter to him. College carnivore…

Here is the North Country Brewpub itself:

Outside:

Inside:

The best shot of all…Beerside:

Now that my brother and I are older and more mature, we have learned how to share. So, we split the flight.  Flight, not fight. There were great beers all-around. Nothing was merely good.  I really liked them all.

Take special note of this one:

CREAMATION ALE

“This style of beer is light to medium in body (mouth-feel) with very little hop character. The brewer says “a good beer to try if you’re a Northern Lite drinker”

Why named thus? This building used to be a morgue! One could say that they brew their beers with a lot of body!

Even the food was banging:

No matter who I talked to out in Western Pa. about North Country Brewpub, everyone loves the food. This was a turkey and bacon sandwich that met my gnawing hunger head on and reduced it to satisfaction and satiation.  My brother had the Reuben and he seriously inhaled it like a shop vac does to dust bunnies. I looked over while halfway through my sandwich and he had cleaned his plate. And, I eat fast…I am like the Wyatt Earp of eating…or should it be Wyatt Uuurp? I gross my wife out with how fast I can down food.

Hey, I come from a big family of  four boys and if I didn’t eat fast, I didn’t get seconds.

We met a really cool and amusing 83 year old Edward who regaled us with jokes and stories of what it was like growing up in the Depression. The man was a gem.

I called him “Edward the 83rd.” Although he looks a little serious in the picture, the man has a great sense of humor and a wonderful and whimsical way. He had the best line of the day:

“I am not retired, I am just tired.”

Followed by guffaws all-around. I have been blessed to have met so many interesting people along my travels as well as traveled with friends to brewpubs. I have special affection for Edward.  May you live longer and prosper!

Another blessing of 40/40 is that I have been able to spend time with each of my three brothers individually at different brewpubs in the state of Pennsylvania.  To my family and new and old friends, “Cheers!”


The Church Brew Works

In my 40/40 travels I have drank beers in buildings that were formerly used as barrel making factories, nylon manufacturing, a bakery, a barn, a morgue, among other various and sundry uses. In Pittsburgh, we went to church to get some spirits, specifically The Church Brew Works.

The church building as place of worship closed down several years ago due to a significant drop in attendance and parishioners.

Another building nearby now stands abandoned, once a place that was bustling with life, too. The old Iron City Brewery (who now brew at the old Rolling Rock Brewery in Latrobe):

Here is the sign at the front of the the Church Brew Works building, a sign that shows that life is back:

Yet, try as I might to be positive about The Church Brew Works, I cannot be. Here is why:

In what would be a persistent theme all evening, the bartender stand-offishly inquired as to whether we “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” when my brother and I sat down at the bar and did not respond quickly in English (in two seconds or less) to his asking us what we planned on drinking. To say that the bartender acted abrasively all night is probably as good a description as any. I could be harsher but won’t go there. He thought he was being clever and funny no doubt.  Spending an evening with a bartender who seemed to be auditioning for a waiter’s job at Ed Debevic’s was decidedly not fun.  Imagine visiting a church were the priest or pastor is unnecessarily insulting. Same deal.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who was tentatively trying to take steps away from the Babylonian Big Breweries like Bud, Miller, or Coors, who has stayed with the tried and not so true options as to not appear stupid and uniformed to others who are decidedly more  up on the new religion of craft beers, and who does know not know the jargon, the rituals, the styles of beers, etc. Encountering someone like this bartender might be a turn-off and cause a desire to not go to a microbrewery again any time soon, especially the Church Brew Works. Again, same deal with a church visitor. It is wise to be welcoming and it is even your duty.

I generally tell the bartender at microbrewery establishments who I am am and what the 40/40 Pennsylvania Microbrew Tour is all about. I don’t want to act in a secretive fashion and have found telling them the details often opens up the staff, brewmaster, and owners, to sharing with me more about who they are, about their mission to make better beer, and history. In this guy’s case, he didn’t create a rapport to even start a dialogue. Instead, we were on the defensive all night.

Bartender-dude, we are all on the same team trying to get Pennsylvania microbreweries to win. Your boorish behavior does not help.  I wish I could be more positive and end on an up note.  I really tried to separate the unpleasant flavor this bartender left in my mouth from the beers and the grand building and just cannot. So, I will let it be and leave it at that. PTOOOOEY!!!


Hofbräuhaus

No, I didn’t take an all-nighter and all-dayer flight to Munich, Germany, for 40/40, to hoist a brew at the historic Hofbräuhaus. Instead, it pretty much came to me in Pittsburgh.

The Munich Hofbräuhaus is the grand-daddy of all brewhouses (founded in 1589), a veritable Opa of Beers. The  Hofbräuhaus in Pittsburg is one of the three Hofbräuhaus grandkids in the United States and the similarities to the German progenitor papa are striking. I have been to the Munich Hofbräuhaus…way back in the day several times. That was during the time of Kaiser Wilhelm’s reign. So, I have some frame of reference, faded as it is.

Here is a shot from the outside at PBHBH:

And the inside:

The long tables are a Hofbräuhaus staple. Kind of deserted….it was around lunchtime so it wasn’t like I came in at 9:00 AM.

But, boy, was it crowded out back in the Biergarten!

Yeah, right. It was so hot in Pittsburgh on Friday that if this many people had been there, the Pittsburgh Fire Department would have had to hose down the masses periodically to prevent heat stroke.

I was a little concerned that the Hofbräuhaus in Pittsburgh was going to be a hollow fake…a plastic version of the real thing, designed to suck capital out of the pockets of dopey tourists like me. “Hey, Mildred, Ooom, Pah-Pah.” I am glad to report that the Hofbräuhaus in Pittsburgh rang true as authentically German-like with some American enterprise and advertising techniques.

Case in point, on the American advertising influence. Check out these German Hofbräuhaus beer-chugging Fraulein:

And this:

Let us say that these posters, and several others like it, were placed strategically in the men’s lavatory. Looks like Hofbräuhaus has decided to take a page out of St. Pauli Girl’s Beer’s playbook. Or Bud’s “Babes and Beer” strategy. I am hoping that Microbreweries don’t go down this advertising route. Just make great beer.

Fortunately, the beer at the Hofbräuhaus is decidedly better than St. Pauli Girl or Bud.

Speaking of the beers….here they are in all of their beauty:

The flight (sampler) was quite reasonable at $ 6.50….no tourist trap inflation on the beer at least…very affordable, very legit German. Das Gut! I did not have the food so I cannot speak to its quality and price. Because it was such a warm day, my tastes went to the German Pilsner. Here is a listing of all of the brews with a brief description. It looks like my German-American dad could have used that flight holder as a spanking paddle, too.

As a destination, I would recommend the Hofbräuhaus in Pittsburgh for a visit. It does a good job bringing the zeitgeist of the original location in Munich to life at considerably less costs and travel time. Yet, it is well worth to visit the original. Here is a little history.

A couple other factoids not on the website link “About” but which I did read about when on my visit there Friday. The Munich Hofbräuhaus used to be open only to the German aristocracy. King Ludwig opened it up to the commoner. In a little more recent history, but still quite some time ago, future U.S. president John F. Kennedy was busted at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich trying to steal a mug in the 1930’s . It was probably the reason why the uppity-ups wanted to leave the rabble out.

Well, speaking of all things German, I am heading to a German-American Day Festival in Warminster, Pa. today.

Just one last note. Since I was in Minneapolis for five days, I was not able to visit Pa. microbreweries in that time. I still am sticking to the one post a day as to allow each place to stand alone. At the conclusion of 40/40 July 4th, there will still be several other posts following daily for a spell. Plus, some additional thoughts and reflections on the experience. Today is number 36…four more to go!

Cheers!


The Brewerie at Union Station

Going to Erie turned out to be as far geographically as I could go in Pennsylvania for 40/40.

And if 40/40 was a game of Twister, the stretching it took to go from Lancaster, to State College, to Erie, and then to Pittsburgh, in a little over a 12 hour period almost split my metaphorical psychological shorts in trying to cover all of the dots. That Erie was so hot that it felt like Madagascar didn’t help me chill. The iced beer and cool people I found there did.

Before commencing 40/40, I had contemplated doing a U.S. tour of microbreweries by Amtrak. When I really thought about it and worked out the expenses–financial, energy, and relational–it was clear that this plan by rail was too grandiose. But an automotive trip through Pennsylvania to visit microbreweries was realistic and sufficiently adventuresome. So, I did a modified “all aboard!” In Erie, I did have the opportunity to get some train stuff  in.

When I pulled into Erie, I first visited the Erie Brewing Company. While in town, I drove a little farther into the city and came to  The Brewerie at Union Station. Check the picture of the outside of the building, a former train station:

The building is truly magnificent both inside and out. Read about a little of its history here. In the history, there is a story about a couple who lost a daughter at the station to a tragic accident and whose ghost supposedly haunts the place. While I am not one to heartily endorse tales of the paranormal, I did feel as strong sense of nostalgia as I walked around the building, sensing and imagining the thousands of people who had come before me and who had passed through this station in the trip of their lives.  Life is a series of stops and starts and stations.

It was a little eerie yet interesting in Erie to see scenes like this:

Here is a closer look at the “Tickets” sign:

Clever use of the Tickets sign to list the beers on tap. There was another sign of departures and and arrivals with more information about the beers (sorry about the crappy quality of the pic):

And this:

Talk about baggage…I got some and have to unload.

I have to get on the philosophical rails here for a bit. I won’t be on them long. In going all over Pennsylvania, stations, signs and sights of earlier prosperous times, indicative of optimism, the whir of industry, the construction of the American Dream, remain. Yet, much of it is now empty, silent, rusting, and beaten by the hands of time. When people jibe me that “Go drink your beer” as if this trip is one long party jag, it makes me somewhat sad, alluding that I am some juvenile 46 year old. No, what I am doing is paying homage to our Pennsylvania history, to the people who have come before us in the very same places, where beer played an important role in the journey of their lives, where clinking the mugs in celebration or crying in one’s beer alone, trying as best one could to deal with the tragedies, big or small, that had happened.

And yes, I am having some fun!

Pennsylvania microbreweries, their innovation, their “get it done” work ethic, their willingness to take chances with brewing  techniques, their homage to quality, gives me hope that all is not lost in this fine state. Take a moment today, when you drive through the Pennsylvania countryside (or get to a place where you can get to some place where the strip malls end and the trees grow again), and step out of your car and take a look around. Imagine as if you are seeing this beautiful place for the first time.

Well, speaking of beauty, back to the beers:

By the looks of it, I look liked the J. Koehler the best, as it is the emptiest.  Or, it might be lower because it is closest. That is a possibility, too. Notice the Apparition Ale…

Little known to me at first, was that the “Conductor” of these fine brews, the Brewer himself Gary Burleigh, was sitting to my right at the bar. We chatted for a good half an hour about all things brew and I learned a lot.

I noticed that he had a liter bottle of some beer called Imperial Red Ale by the Lavery Brewing Company. I asked him where I could buy a bottle. He gave it me for free!

Since I was due in Pittsburgh a couple of hours later, I got some ice from the friendly bartender and chilled it in my mini-cooler so I could give it to my brother as a house-warming gift. I will leave the bloody red hand graphic story untold as to pique your interest!

Read an interview with the one of the owner’s of Lavery Brewery here (he is the husband in the husband and wife team). The Imperial Red Ale was a strong and tasty concoction. This ain’t no Bud Light “Here We Go” and their it went tastelessly and mindlessly  down the gullet. No, this bad boy packed a punch and stuck around like a neighborhood tough flavor-wise.

As I pulled out Erie, with a stiff cup of coffee in my system on my way down to Pittsburgh, I savored the Erie experience and was so glad that I had come her way…may I come again to your town soon.


Pennsylvania Brewing Company

When I first decided to do 40/40, on a whim, I sent an email to the Pennsylvania Tourism office about the brewtrek. As a result, the Pa. Tourism office contacted media across the state.  A reporter by the name of Bob Batz from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette then emailed me and we made arrangements to convene while out here in Pittsburgh.

Yesterday, we got together at the Pennsylvania Brewery.

This was like going to see the guru on the top of the mountain to hear him dispense winsome advice about all things brew because Bob arranged for Tom Pastorius, the owner for Penn Brewery, to meet with us. There were also several others, elder-like in their knowledge of microbrewing, who joined us on the apex.  I felt like a brewing ant in the land of giants.

Although I am a literal giant myself, I bow in homage to him (being tall often causes me to suffer some form of photographic scalping or throws the whole photo into the freak show arena, like I am some circus attraction)

That is Tom Pastorius on the right and Head Brewer Andrew Rich on the left, a fellow rugger who also graduated from the same high school that I did in Berwyn, Pa. (Conestoga),  facts totally unknown to me before my arrival on the pilgrimage. That is me, the supplicating big goon, in the middle.

The guru on the mountain metaphor works for several reasons. First, because Pittsburgh is hilly, yo! But, primarily because Tom Pastorius is a legend. Anyone with the international nickname “Mr. Beer” qualifies for microbrewing swami-status. The man started Penn Brewery 25 years ago which practically is almost prehistoric for microbrewing. He was instrumental in having laws changed on the Pennsylvania state level, making it legal to microbrew and to have a restaurant at the same location. Pa. Hungry beer-lovers have him to thank for clearing this trail. Dumb law, stupid law. Not the first, not the last.

Pastorious had decided to sell Penn Brewery in 2003 and retire in 2008.  Then, after Penn Brewery closed, by December 2009, Pastorius and a new new group of investors bought back Penn Brewery and started again to make its beers in-house after it being shut down and ceasing production (brewing had been contracted out to The Lion Brewery under the previous owners). Literally, Penn Brewery was brought back from the dead.

The older warrior picking up his sword and returning to  the battle is the stuff of legend and lore. And, it is not all legend. There is some very interesting family history. As Pastorius notes, “My great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was Franz Daniel Pastorius, and he is referred to by historians as the Father of German Emigration to America,” Says Pastorius. “Franz Pastorius and William Penn were close personal friends who met when Penn sailed up Main River to Frankfurt searching for people who wanted to pursue religious freedom in the New World.” Pastorius and William Penn were close personal friends and drinking buddies!

Here is the preamble to the Penn Brewery Constitution:

We the brewers of Penn Brewery Beer, in Order to form a more perfect Union of Barley, Hops, Yeast and Water, establish a brewing standard, insure Domestic Drinkability, provide uncommon refreshment, promote the general great ­taste and establish the Fermentation of Penn to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the Pennsylvania Brewing Company.

Here is Founding Father Pastorius  in action explaining the intricacies of bottling and labeling beer. Believe me, this is a very complicated process that only appears simple to the unschooled.

The Articles of Confederation, the beers themselves:

I surprisingly enjoyed the Kaiser Pils the most. Hoppy but light at the same time. I am not typically either a hoppy or lighter beer fan. That I embraced this brew tells me that a master made it.

The beers are excellent legislative libations at the hand of the great liberator and lawgiver Tom Pastorius. He is truly a Pastor to the flock of microbrewers everywhere and it is our duty and sacred honor to see that his dream of great beer for the people does not perish upon the earth.

I will leave you with a parting quote uttered to me and the others at our convocation yesterday at Penn Brewery by one of the elders:

“Malt does more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man.”

Actually, I will have to side with Milton on this one…but malt certainly can be theologically justified!


Erie Brewing Company: Christmas in June

Wasn’t planning to blog much while out here in Western Pennsylvania. But, I feel like a kid at Christmas who can’t sleep. My brother and sister-in-law’s computer was unoccupied.

Talk about a present worth opening. Check this out…two day old fresh beer from a massive storage tank:

This was a fine cool glass of Mad Anthony American Pale Ale at the Erie Brewing Company given to me by the gracious and very cool host,  one EBC dude Jim.  Yum! More Ovalteen, mom, please!

Mad Anthony Wayne was a Continental Army General, kind of a precursor to Patton. He unexpectedly died in Erie. He lives on in the beer. Interesting factoid to me…he was born close to my home town.

The red script above his visage is a direct quote from him (hard to see in pic): “I will storm hell if you’ll only plan it.” I am sure that he gave the English hell. Maybe even caused the more staid and stable George Washington some indigestion?

Returning to the Christmas present motif for a moment….check this out:

A veritable Christmas Tree of EBC six-pack holders. Only could have been better if it had beers in them. Like a Christmas Tree without lights. Still pretty cool.Would love to find some EBC under my tree! No Santa, don’t put Coors like coal in my sock!

Great graphics and names….I am still on the art and branding kick.

Here are two of the EBC elves taking a break from the Brewshop (boy, it was hot in there)

This is ” Director of Marketing Guru” (that is what his business card says) Jim Hicks on the left. I like him. He gave me free, cool, and delicious beer. On the right, is Assistant Zymurgist Tim Schnarsii. Tim has got some passion like Mad Anthony. I like him too, he gave me free beer. I am pretty easy to please. Sorry about the poor quality of the photo, guys. I hopefully write better than I shoot pics…

What a gift to visit with these guys at EBC. There is a revolution going on and I am in! Like the upstart Americans in Revolutionary War times, these soldier/elves (I know that I have horribly-mixed metaphors here with war and Christmas and and was not sure how to save it, so I let it be), they are changing the rules of brewing warfare and are fighting harder, better, and fiercer, than the Brits Big Brewers and their Hessian henchmen for hire.

Hey, weren’t the Hessians attacked on Christmas Night? Folks, that was truly an act of God to tie this up so well like a present.