Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lancaster Brewing Company

We sat at the bar gulping the ambiance of this converted tobacco warehouse. The bar is ell-shaped and located to the left of the door you see in the picture, in the far corner of the first floor of the structure, with a mug-club over the backbar. There's a nice draft tower on the other backbar showcasing all the beers on draught and there's a collection of growlers hanging from the ceiling along the wall you see behind the grain hopper. There are a small number of pub tables arranged in the area surrounding the bar. There's a separate restaurant directly in front of and to the right of the door with regular tables and chairs.

It appears to me that a portion of the first floor to the right of the bar, extending from the far wall in about 14 feet, and continuing down past the restaurant, has been removed. That is, if you went over to a railing installed along the edge, you can look down into the basement to see the fermentation vessels, lauter tun, and boil kettle. The fermentation tanks extend upwards from the basement to the ceiling of the first floor--what would that make them: approaching 20 feet in height? A grandfatherly open elevator presided over the whole place at the extreme right side of the restaurant's seating area. I can only imagine what this elevator was used for in the past but now it occasionally rises up, spits and sputters and opines on the state of the world and beer, serving as a reminder that old is still good. The whole place reminds me of a barn of sorts or perhaps more accurately an ancient warehouse--with massive visible structural framing members at least 12" square holding up the place and overhead exposed floor beams of the next level, rough-cut and on 12" centers--they don't build-em like this anymore!

There were a couple of small groups enjoying the beer and good conversation the whole time we were there as well as a number of men and women at the bar and at tables doing the same.

S went over to talk to someone and the next thing I knew, C came over and introduced himself to us as the Manager of the bar/restaurant. He informed us that the brewmaster's were not in at this time but that he would give us a tour instead.

We went through the restaurant and descended a flight of stairs to the cellar. C showed us where it all starts at the grain and milling room, and how the grain is then augered, oh, 50 feet into a hopper above the lauter tun. The lauter tun is right next to the natural gas fired copper boil kettle. These occupy roughly the center positions in a line of about 10 tall fermentation vessels. C said it takes two boils to fill one of the fermenters.

Away from the brewing area, there was a field of drums in the center of the basement and when asked what was in them, we learned that this is the spent grain which is picked up by a local farmer for use as animal food.

The brewery here brews all the drafts served in the bar upstairs and also fills kegs that end up at beer distirubors. Bottling no longer takes place in this facility as it has outgrown the ability and space to do so. The Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre contract brews their bottled beers now. C delighted us when he said that expansion may be in the works with another nearby brewery possible.

By the time we climbed the stairs to go back to the first floor, I had finished the Hop Hog IPA and was thirsting for another. Did I tell you that this beer is hoggish 7.9% ABV with a very svelte taste for that size pork belly? It pours a beautiful dark amber with super-nice hop aroma and plenty of citrus and herbal scents. An excellent beer to have with say, rib eye steak, which was what S and I ordered for dinner.

After we ate, I asked the server if she would ask C to come over before we left so I could thank him for the tour and his place's excellent hospitality.

So ends, my Lancaster Dreaming weekend. Thanks S, for another excellent birthday treat for yours truly. You're the best!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Waking up in Munich USA on a Saturday in August

Boom-chaka-laka-laka-boom-chaka-laka beat the rhythm of a hip-hop song squawking from a clock-radio jarring me awake Saturday at about 3:20. That's AM folks.

As I shook the spooks out of my eyes, I noticed a welcome-basket on the desk. As my eyes focused like laser-beams, the first things I targeted were two brown bottles shining through the cellophane wrap: one was labeled: Lancaster Brewing Company Milk Stout and the other was labeled Lancaster Brewing Company Strawberry Wheat Beer. Next, I saw two pint shakers in there and some snacks. I figured this was gonna be a great weekend but as yet knew not, just how Everestian.

Oh, did I mention the dream I had about balloons? Well that fiction was about to become reality and was next on my agenda this day: a flight above Lancaster in a hot air balloon. We drove over to Bird in Hand with Bottle Not in Hand (hey it's 4 am) and let me tell you that I was as excited as a kid at Christmas about what it would be like to experience floating above the earth NUIofA, discerning no motion whatsoever. It is very similar to the sensation you can achieve when sailing upon the water, and it it is all they say it is and much more. The only motion that I could detect was that felt when ascending or descending through air stratum blowing in different directions. I saw plenty of hayfields, tobacco fields, and jackasses roaming the pastures of Lancaster on our way to eventual touchdown on the lawn of an old-folks home about 10 miles north of where we started, about two miles shy of Lancaster airport. Touchdown and wrapup of the balloon was probably the highlight of the week for the residents of the home and everyone wanted to have a look inside the basket and the technique used to wrap everything up. I want to say that when we had our Mimosa's celebrating flight, it became only clear to me then, just what it means to be lighter than air. Interesting note is that we hit a high altitude of about 3500 feet and used up one tank of LPG getting there.

Feverishly she wept upon the pillow of her plans as she tried to arrange the final raison d'etre: The Brewmaster's Weekend. With a bit of finagling she put the telephone receiver down and said: ``Let's go''. As we drove into Lancaster proper, I still didn't know where we were going but she said: ``Just wait, you'll like it''. We pulled up and parked on the street next to the Lancaster Brewing Company, and I finally figured it out.

We went inside and immediately were drawn to the bar where we quickly ordered less beer than any insane man would dare. I had had the Hop Hog IPA earlier this summer for the first time when T and G joined me to celebrate T's birthday at the 15th Street Beer Warehouse in Hazleton. I liked it then on draft and I liked it even more from the source.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lancaster Dreaming

This past weekend, S outdid herself once again and treated me on the day commemorating the day I became old enough to hold a bottle, to a fantastic weekend away from home in Lancaster. As you know, she is one to plan some of the most involved and intricately-nuanced birthday celebrations and this time was even better than last year's afternoon at Hello Again with Friends and Family, in Hazleton.

It started Friday after work when we traveled down I-81, I-83, and other assorted secondary roads to Lancaster. We drove in on the Harrisburg Pike which is like the spoke of a wheel off of 30 rimming the north of the city. When I saw the Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant next to Franklin and Marshall I knew I was in for a good time with a chance to see just why this city has a chance to once again be called the Munich of America. We had never been there before so I was looking forward to a new experience and a the chance to try some new beers.

The brewery is in a new building containing apartments/condos/businesses across the street from Franklin and Marshall. For parking you can turn just before or just after the building housing the brewery and park around back. The lot was fairly full and there were numerous people walking in or out, and milling around in groups talking, just outside the place. It's no accident that the first thing you see enticing you to enter, is a row of fermentation vessels standing guard behind sidewalk-to-ceiling windows facing the parking lot!

The inside was reminiscent of a high-ceiling ed Applebee's restaurant. There was a cozy dining area separate from the bar area containing many high tables. We picked one of those and sat down to peruse the beer selection. As I looked around I noticed a mixed lot of college-aged kids having one last brew before hitting the books again and also older-folk enjoying themselves without a care in the world. As my gaze finally settled on the object of my affections, the beer list, (NOT!, S), I scanned down the list, and the seasonal Belgian Ale barked it presence out to me immediately and I quickly ordered one. S, cultivating and nurturing her own taste in beer, is leaning more to the lighter delights, and settled on the Iron Hill Light Lager.

When our beers were brought out, we lifted them high and shouted Prost! My beer reminded me in aroma, flavor and color of a Hefeweizen--the main difference being that this beer seemed a bit lighter of yeast and contains 8.2% ABV! But, there is very little alcohol taste so this can be one dangerous brew if one didn't know better and treated it like an everyday quaffer! S said her beer was just right--hitting her luscious lips at a light 4% ABV.

For dinner I figured it was getting late so when I spied the kielbasa and sauerkraut I immediately was drawn to it and placed an order. S decided on the sweet potato fries which she had never had. With that I added an Ironhill Ale which is an American Pale Ale, and let me tell you, what a pairing. I highly recommend this beer based on the the 4C's of quality: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Crystal! Medium-bodied coming in at a very light 5.1% ABV. Ummm, mmmm, good.

The Iron Hill Brewery is a nice place for a night out. It's a happy place and you'll come out of there primed!

We drove just a bit further to the Arts Hotel located on the same Harrisburg Pike, built in an old tobacco warehouse, to settle in for the night. I slept sweetly with visions of beer and balloons dancing in my head.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What's Scranton about Cleveland--After the Fire

So there we were, perched on stools at a table along the wall and beginning to look over the beer menu. There was a nice selection of brews on there, beers one could drink all morning and others for special occasions. Still having to drive back to where we were staying, I opted for the DUNIA special (my word, not theirs) and picked the Burning River Pale Ale. Now, I know if this beer was around when the Cuyahoga river caught fire in 1969, it's quite possible it would have been quaffed by the firefighters working on the blaze. This beer is a 6-time Gold Medal Winner at the World Beer Championships and let me tell you, I can see why. It's an American Pale Ale that has the perfect blend of Cascade hops and malty sweetness. The pint arrived a deep tawny color which is something like a lion caught between the mid-day sun and a muddy watering hole. In other words, a brown-yellow color closer to brown with a tinge of yellow giving it a bright clarity. A thin head was present after the soft pour, but remained on the edge of the glass as I quickly sipped it. The citrus and pine of the hops came out noticably with just a tinge of sweetness. Ahhhhh perfection in a glass.

Looking over the menu, I noticed a sausage tray appetizer: a sampling of four sausages, with some pickled red cabbage and various mustards. Now, I'm here to tell you that a Pole and his sausage are never separated by more than an arms length and this looked mighty enticing so I opted for it to get the party started. Cleveland being one of the top 10 cities in America in terms of Polish-American population, explains it.

Looking around the bar some more, I noticed a vintage metal sign on the back wall for E. Robinson's Sons Brewery, Scranton PA! Doing a little research, I discovered that their Pilsner brewed in Scranton , were once considered the Beer of Beers for Over 50 Years. It's really a small world isn't it? The E. Robinson's Sons brewery met the wrecking ball in Scranton just 17 years ago--what a shame. There was another smaller tag-line on the bottom of the sign but for the life of me I can't remember it exactly. Something like: Bring some home for the family. I'll drink to that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Top of the Hops

Just an update on the status of our Hop garden. J planted six rhizomes in early April. The Cascade have plentiful cones and are about ready to harvest. These were from the giant oversize rhizomes and I'm impressed that they produced this well the first year. I expect that I'll get enough for at least one batch. The others, the Fuggle and the Willamette varieties only have a few small cones--these were from the normal sized rhizomes and I expect that next year they'll produce better.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Scranton by way of Cleveland

This past weekend we loaded the family truckster, pointed it west on I-80, stabbed the thruster, and set a course for the Cleveland area to the annual family reunion. My sister C and her husband P were hosting the reunion this year and C put me in charge of Beer. It's a burden, I know. But, not really certain of the availability of beer by-the-keg, in Ohio, I decided to purchase a sixtel here, load it in a cooler with ice, and transport it, and my Beer Meister, the 300 miles. Side-note: a standard single 1/2-keg beer meister just fits into the back of an explorer, if you lay it on its side, and swing the narrow backseat forward to allow the tower to protrude forward.

My beer choice, as always for me, was an adventure of the highest order and excitement level. (See how just the littlest things amuse me?) In the end, I decided on a sixtel of Weyerbacher Hops Infusion. As many of you know and some may not, this is a very approachable beer that has an excellent hop aroma and unmistakable hop flavor that makes its presence known, unlike as I've heard described elsewhere: ``those insipid lagers'' , but not overwhelming. I figured that for some this may be the first time they've tasted this sort of beer, and something too radical and maybe no one would drink it. My fears were unfounded and most if not all of the assembled clan enjoyed it. (The keg did not kick, but it almost did, and I transported it and my Beer Meister safely back to PA after the reunion--where I retapped it and continue to quaff large quantities from it.)

For some of us on the trip, this was our first encounter with Cleveland and we decided to do it in style and make a long weekend of it by leaving Friday morning. We arrived after lunch and immediately headed downtown to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As we approached the pyramidal monument that serves as the mecca for those that revel in things loud, melodic, and raucous, it was with eager anticipation that I wondered what this place would hold for us. I'm here to tell you that our visit was wonderful and well worth the $22 admission. The special exhibit of The Doors occupied the upper-most level, and I learned that back in the day, the Doors had played a concert at Susquehanna University which is not too far from here. It struck me how the artwork on album covers, posters, show-announcements and such embodied the prevailing spirit of the time in that sort of spacey, swirling, dazed but I won't say confused way, that many of the time no doubt felt. (Do I wist for times like those?) L liked the Rolling Stone exhibit as there were many examples one of her favorite authors, Hunter S. Thompson, and his major contribution to that seminal document of the Rock and Roll period. Of course there was the impressive staging and prop characters of The Wall that were used when Pink Floyd performed the album in its entirety only a few times. We concluded our visit by watching a 60-odd minute film-tribute to the past inductees. This is done in an imaginative and informative way that is able to document all the past winners, set to their music, in a collage-like fashion.

I could go on and on about other cool stuff at the Hall, but I won't, so you can experience, explore, and discover this treasure on your own. We only had four or so hours at the Hall, until it closed at 5: 30, so if you're planning on going, I would rather you have six to eight hours to fully appreciate and begin to absorb the enormity and scope of the place. It is easily worth every one of the 22 bucks entry.

Afterwards, we headed off to try to locate the Great Lakes Brewing Company for a meal and a chance to sample the liquid fare in their brewpub. Now, if you're not careful it's easy to miss the street--it's off of West 25th street, heading south, about a mile west from about mid-downtown. Hmmm, sounds impossible to find, doesn't it? Anyway, get the address, check a map, Google it, GPS it, etc. before you go. After missing the street as we traveled down 25th, we turned off 25th to go around the block and found the brewery one street north in the same block. It may be joined to the brewpub but I couldn't tell. We kept looking and driving and then located the court the second time by (McLean Court) and we began trolling and eventually caught and reeled in a free street parking spot around the corner and a block south. The place is located on a cobblestone, tree-lined street that holds other interesting looking places which we'll explore the next time we're in town. As we crossed the street, it was hard not to be enticed by the very nice outdoor al-fresco dining area, but we were informed by the hostess that there would be an hour wait for an outdoor table, but indoor tables were available immediately. I personally wanted to see the bar that I've drooled over in pictures, so we accepted an indoor table without a drop of hesitation.

We were seated in the tap room, at a table that was one of about six along the wall opposite the bar. It was about 6-ish on a Friday evening and the bar was crowded with an after-work bunch of office workers looking to blow off a little steam with a side benefit of blowing the head off a cold brew. The assembly included a guy there for his surprise 50th birthday party. I can only hope my 50th birthday party be held in such a place! Gazing around, it's hard to miss the bar and what a bar it is! It's hard not to be overwhelmed by the magnificent, dark, wooden, squat columns that bear arches that separate and frame mirrors over and dividing the back bar. The area of the columns are adorned with fleurs-de-lis-like emblems of the most involved symbolism of which their meaning I could not fathom. And this before I even tasted a single Brew!

Next time: what's Scranton about Cleveland.