Mr. Bryson Goes to
I mentioned in The Buzz a few months
ago that I might be testifying against keg registration at
hearings held by the Pennsylvania legislature. Well, this past
Monday, I did.
I'd heard about some hearings that would be held about a
package of proposed underage drinking laws, including a keg
registration law, and wrote to my local Assembly member, asking him
when the hearings were. I wanted to hear what was said about the keg
registration proposal. He passed my name on to the chairman of the
hearings, Senator John Rafferty, and his executive director, a
guy named Mark Meyer, who promised he'd get me information on
when and where the hearings would be held. ( He did, and I went to the
first round. It was...educational.) Then he asked me if I'd
want to testify about keg registration. Would I? You bet! He
said he'd get me in. Cool!
Well, that fell through. So many folks signed on, industry
folks, that there was no room left for me. I was bitter,
mainly because the industry folks (sorry, but it's true) tend to
knuckle under to the anti-alcohols, and never go to the mat with
them -- more on that later. But I stayed civil, and didn't say much
Out of the blue, Mark contacted me again. A third round had
been added, did I still want to testify? Yes, I did. And this
time it happened. Of course, it was the day after Cathy and I dragged
our exhausted, smelly selves home from the Ommegang weekend, and
the bathroom's still being renovated, so I wound up driving to
Harrisburg and stopping at my parents' place in Paradise on the way to take
a shower and put on my suit. Sheesh.
Unfortunately, I ran a little bit late, and missed the
grandstanding antics of two SADD
students, a high schooler and a college student, who showed up to
testify bearing a keg to demonstrate how easy it was for underage
kids to get a keg. Cute. But the keg was empty, according
to newspaper reports, which makes it just pathetic.
I slipped in as Clinton County DA Ted McKnight was starting
his PowerPoint presentation on what seemed to be an absolute epidemic
of underage drinking in Lock Haven. To my dismay, I soon
started recognizing McKnight's statistics, some of them real howlers that
have already been disproved in the national press. He showed sexy booze
ads that he said were aimed at "youth," without saying what
magazine they were from, or admitting that it's impossible to
make an ad that appeals to a 21 year old but not a 20 year old. Same
old, same old, in other words. And it went on a loooong time.
Next up was a guy from York, Mark Mummert, who had lost his
son in a drunk driving accident in late May. He told his
story in deep detail. It was horrifying, and I felt very
bad for him. But...he told his story to the York Daily
Record a month ago, and in that version, he knew
that his son was drinking: "He told us time and time again he
knew how much he could drink" is a direct quote. But now, in
this testimony, he was shocked to find ten empty liquor
bottles in his other son's closet, and the other son saying they
belonged to him and his dead brother. Which was it?
Mummert asked that the legislators raise the legal drinking
age, and tag every bottle of liquor and wine sold at State
Stores, every keg and case sold at beer distributors, on
credit or cash, so that any empty could be traced back to
when/where/who bought it. Well, welcome to Nazi America! The
legislators, to their credit, didn't seem overjoyed by those
His MADD handler, Rebecca Shaver, took over, and said she
didn't see any need to repeat what MADD had said at the other two
hearings...and then did, a little. I've talked to Rebecca on the
phone, and she's nice, but she's ruthless in these situations.
A couple college types talked about drinking on campus, one of
them, Donald Godwin, from Marywood College in Scranton, warning
against unexpected and unfair consequences of overly draconian underage
drinking penalties: bravo, Dr. Godwin.
Then it was my turn. I got up, and walked up to the
table, and man, did I get nervous. Bright lights, all alone,
can't see nothing but guys staring down at you from about 5 feet
above your eye-level...good thing I'd taken the time to write a
script. I gave them the whole thing, about six minutes worth, about how the
aim was good, but the plan was unworkable. They thanked me. No
questions. Of course, no questions, we were 30 minutes late and it
was lunch time!
(Apparently, either I had some effect or the legislators were
already clued in on keg registration. Read this from a Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette article on the hearings the next day: "Some
committee members were hesitant. They say keg registration is a good
idea in theory, but it doesn't necessarily target underage drinking
problems, and that there might be better solutions. "It sounds
simple, but when you talk to the brewers, it's not as simple a system as
the students made it out to be," Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, a
member of the special committee, said after the hearing. Costa said he
would push for a study on keg tagging to see whether the system works in
other states where it is required.)
I shuffled to the back of the room and re-joined my good friends
John and Edith Lelak, who'd driven up to see the hearing and give me
moral support. The court reporter hailed me, and asked if I had a copy
of the script: sure, have this one. Then Mark came up and
introduced himself. Nice guy, and we thanked each other. He
apologized that I was essentially all alone with the neo-drys,
that the alcohol folks had all come the previous hearing. No sweat. He
invited me to join them for lunch, but I wanted to get the hell out
of Dodge first, and then have lunch.
I have a little list...of bars I want to get to in PA. One of
the places on that list, McGrath's Pub, was a short walk from the
Capitol on Locust Street, so we went there. Very nice! Four Tröegs
beers on tap, some other good stuff (I got a Tröegs Sunshine Pils),
nice whiskey selection, and a Tröegs Ginger Beer tap that they
use for Moscow Mules. All right! It was hot stuff, that ginger
beer. Food was good: I had a Cashel Blue Burger that was delish,
Edith had a turkey burger that was a bit charred on the
outside, but tasty inside, and John got one of the biggest
pieces of meatloaf I've ever seen. The beer was spot-on
Bye-bye to McGraths and the Lelaks. Didn't really feel like
running straight home...Hmmm. I'm on deadline this week, and yet I had
to run up to Harrisburg again later in the week to pick up copies
of Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Breweries when they came in
on Thursday. What the hell, I'll give them a call on the off
chance the book's in. And what the hell, it was! Cool.
So I went down to Tröegs to cool my heels till the books were pulled
from the warehouse, and to show off my suit; I don't think those
guys had ever even seen me in a button-down shirt that wasn't flannel.
Had fun talking trash at the brewery about the hi-jinks at
Ommegang (and picked up some photos from Ed Yashinsky), and then
I told them about testifying. I got congratulations and thanks,
and then John Trogner said, "We should do more of that (we,
the industry, he meant), but how do you testify against MADD and
not look like Satan?" You just gotta step up and do it.
You'd be surprised how many people feel like you, but don't say
anything about it. Step up, support your right to drink responsibly.
I left, and drove out to Stackpole. I talked to my editor and
his assistant, good folks, and then went home. I stopped on the way at
my parents' house, and gave them a copy of the new book. I
wanted to do that on the day it came out, because I dedicated it to
them. So they were touched. And then I went home.
Sly Fox at The Boathouse
with PJ & Larry:
I recently went to a great beer dinner at
The Boathouse in Conshohocken, and I meant to write it up a few
weeks ago…er, maybe more than that…but got side-tracked. Too
bad, really, because I had a great time. It was a Sly Fox dinner,
and Brian O’Reilly and Tim Ohst brought plenty of good beers.
Manager and host Lee Marren, who had
invited me, welcomed me with a glass of Brian’s snappy Keller Pils.
Though not quite as hoppy as Victory Prima (and not much lagered
beer is), the Keller is equally refreshing and rewarding, and
I put it away pretty quickly while greeting the folks I knew.
The dinner moved us upstairs into a cozy and nautical dining room,
where I shared a booth with PJ McMenamin and his chef at
McMenamin’s Tavern, Larry Melisen; great dinner company, two guys
with great wit and appreciation for humor, as well as a pair
of excellent palates. Brian and Tim and their girls were at a table
mid-room, and Brian got up and introduced each new beer.
The first one we got at table was his Rt. 113 IPA, named both for
the road that runs by the Sly Fox pub in Phoenixville and the bitterness
of the beer: a calculated 113 IBUs. It is…brisk. It was served
with Pacific Rim marinated duck breast, plated out thin-sliced and rare, with a sweet-spicy
sauce that left me hungry for more-more-more, well-matched with
the wicked hoppy beer. This was about when PJ realized that the main
course was salmon. "The one fish I don’t like,"
he said, with a characteristic rueful grin. Larry told him to shut
up and go get him another Pils.
Next was a gumbo, not horribly hot but with a nice, lingering
slow build-up burn. Surprisingly – for me, at least – the okra was
really good, not all slimy like it usually is when I get it. Larry
spoke in praise of okra, said it’s great stuff. Whatever. What was
good was Brian’s Burns Scottish Export Ale, a smooth, malty ale
that went beautifully with the spicy soup.
The salad course was notable for the dressing, a mint cream dressing
that I found unique, delicious, and delightfully different from
most other salad dressings. The Royal Weisse was a fruity,
spicy counterpoint to the mint cream; a beer that’s always
welcome at my table.
When the waitress brought out the Norwegian salmon, I was stunned. It was
huge, about two inches high and about six inches long.
Some of the height turned out to be a stuffing of shrimp, scallops, and
bacon. It was absolutely delicious, one of the best salmon dishes
ever had: tender, smooth, perfectly cooked, and stuffed with big hunks
of tasty scallops and juicy shrimp. The beer was Brian's Instigator
Doublebock, and while it is a great beer, it was a somewhat
uninspired pairing for the salmon.
Dessert was PJ’s salvation. They brought out a beautifully
plated chocolate-almond flan, garnished with fresh berries
and paired with Brian’s Helles Bock. The bock and the flan
were perfect together, the maltiness complementing the luxuriously
sweet and nutty custard. The berries were delicious also, but
not to be eaten with the bock; like toothpaste and orange
juice. PJ scored at least one extra flan, Larry’s,
and it disappeared as quickly as if he had some kind of super-Hoover
attachment on his lips; I think he cajoled another one out of the salmon-sympathetic
waitress, too. It’s good to eat with restaurant people; they
know how to work a waitress!
A nice dinner, and a shame it was somewhat lightly attended. If
you see a notice for another one of these, grab it: the Boathouse
did a great job on this.
Dark Beer, Dark Night
I have an error to report in New York Breweries: I didn’t
include the Golden Rail Ale House in Newburgh among the bars. I
did what I could to apologize for that error last week. At the
invitation of owner Brian Butler, I went to the Golden Rail and led
a porter and stout tasting. I love dark beers, and I love a good
beer discussion, which comparing porters and stouts always brings
out. What is porter? What is stout? What’s the difference? We
took that question head-on, and had some fun tasting great beers at the
same time. After I’d warmed up with a Brooklyn Summer Scorcher Ale (big
hops on a light frame, great quencher after a hot drive), we got
We had about 24 people at the tasting, which made for a good
room. We started with one of m favorite porters, Geary’s London
Porter, a good start for the discussion. David Geary built the
recipe for this beer from an 1803 pamphlet on brewing porter (he
left out the capsaicin and laudanum mentioned as possible
additives), written back when porter was the biggest beer in
Other beers for the tasting included Samuel Smith’s Taddy
Porter, local favorite Keegan Ales Mother’s Milk Stout, North
Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, Southern Tier Porter, an
unfortunately bad bottling of Heavyweight Perkuno’s (personally
embarrassing for me, but a perfect opportunity to launch a
discussion of how beer really goes bad; thanks to Dave King of
Gasko & Meyer wholesalers for that excellent suggestion), Stoudt’s
Fat Dog Imperial Oatmeal Stout, and Stone Imperial Stout. Really. We sampled all of those,
and to tell the truth, I'm not sure that's all of them. I had a ride
to my motel, so I tore right in. Dinner came in the middle, with
some excellent Guinness-steeped corned beef.
After the tasting was over, and I’d signed a few copies of New
York Breweries, we started drinking some other stuff, like a bottle
of Neuzeller Kloster Porter I’d picked up at Candlewyck in
Buckingham, PA, a while ago (pretty much a slightly beefier dunkel,
maybe more like a schwarz, but hardly a Baltic porter like I
expected), and a bottle of Scott Morrison’s 5 Czars Imperial Stout from
McKenzie Brew House that was quite good, burnt and bitter but
still pretty rich. Brian and Dave returned the favor with
bottles of Rogue Imperial Stout, Middle Ages Tenth Anniversary,
and the discontinued but delicious Rogue Irish Stout.
I also had a heart-to-heart with Hudson Valley Homebrewers president
Frankie Flynn about my comments here about the homebrewers at TAP
New York. I may have been a bit harsh in my bitterness about the
damage to the Jetta two years ago when I wrote up this year’s TAP
NY; my apologies to the Hudson Valley Homebrewers, who did put on
one hell of a late-night party. I regret the way it seemed that I
thought all the homebrewers were in on breaking my wipers; not what I
meant at all. No apologies to the two SOBs who hurt my
beloved Jetta. Look, guys, next time you plan to damage my car because
I wouldn’t let you come up to my room and freeload my beer, just
tell me. I’ll buy you a beer. And then Tim Butler and I
will kick your ass for you, you beer-scamming stumblebums.
We finally caught a ride back to the motel (Brian’s wife drove;
thanks, Anne Marie) at 2:30. I set the alarm for 5:15, and
collapsed. It went off, but I guess I was snoring louder than the
alarm; I didn’t wake up till 5:49. I rolled out of bed, brushed my
teeth, threw everything in the Passat, and was on the road at 6:01. Very
little traffic (and no need to stop for fuel!) got me home at
8:20. I turned right around and took my daughter to camp, drove
home, and started writing…an article for Beverage Business about
the differences between porter and stout. It always helps to live
Weyerbacher's Tenth Anniversary Beer
Dan Weirback is celebrating 10 years of Weyerbacher, and it looks
like they’ve finally found their way in this business. I celebrated
with Dan and his brewer Chris Wilson down at the Standard Tap on June
29th, the press pre-release of Decadence, their
one-shot tenth anniversary beer.
There were some other beer press folks there (Gary "BeerTV
Star" Monterosso, Dale "American Breweries" Van
Wieren, Don "Joe Six-Pack" Russell, and Jack "I
Fell On My Ass And Hurt My Brain" Curtin) and some of the top
Philadelphia beer bar figures (Tom Peters of Monk’s Café (who
we suspect guessed the secret spice in Decadence; when he
guessed, Dan’s face fell), Scoats of the Grey Lodge, William Reed
of Standard Tap (of course), and Big Jim Young (late of O’Flaherty’s
and soon to start improving the beer program at the Newportville
A wee bit of history: Weyerbacher opened on 6th St. in
Easton back in 1995; a small but beloved brewpub was added
in January of 1998. The pub was barely ten feet wide, and most of
the food was made in the chef’s home and brought into the tiny
kitchen in the back, but for three years, it was the hottest spot in
Easton. 1998 was probably the brewery’s toughest year, but
it also gave them their raison d’etre, and I don’t mean a Dogfish
Head beer. They brewed up Blithering Idiot barleywine that
year in a defiant thumbing of the nose at tight sales and an
uncertain future…and the damned thing sold out in two weeks.
It was Big Beers that saved Weyerbacher. Their growth in the
past three years has been in the double digits, and they are showing 28%
growth so far in 2005. The 25 bbl. Century brewhouse they picked up from
Victory has only made things better, according to Dan. "The new
brewhouse has made such a difference in the quality and consistency of
our beers," he told me.
It only seems fitting that they celebrate their tenth anniversary
with a big beer, and Decadence certainly qualifies. Described as
"a 13% amber ale with one rare spice and one
unusual botanical," this is only an amber ale in that it is an ale
that’s amber in color; don’t expect something like Alaskan
Amber! The spice and the botanical are deep secrets: Dan wasn't
saying anything and all Chris would say was "Maybe."
He said it over and over. "I've been practicing for
weeks," he told me.
Decadence reminded me quite strongly of the herbal schnapps
that are popular in central and eastern Europe – Enzian,
Jägermeister, Becherovka – in a very good way. Dan used
the word "herbaceous" and it seemed to fit perfectly.
The herbal character helps make this very big beer drinkable in
the same way as the schnapps, making it great for before or
after food, a palate preparer or a digestif. (The bottle
Dan gave me expressed something of a pumpkin pie character in a full
gulp when Cathy and I drank it on July 4th, but aerated sips brought me
back to the herbal schnapps analog. That’s interesting, because the
one new beer Dan told us about was an upcoming IPA – Imperial Pumpkin
Ale, a big pumpkin beer they’re brewing for this fall.)
Decadence will be available on July 7 in a simultaneous
7:00 PM (7.7.7, get it?) draft release at Which Brew in Easton (a great pub, staffed
by many of the folks who used to work at the Weyerbacher pub), the Spinnerstown
Hotel (been yet? Get there!), the Drafting Room in Exton, and
at Standard Tap (neither of which need any help from me!). It will
also come available in PA in 12 oz. bottles and in Weyerbacher’s other
markets in 22 oz. bottles. It is a one-shot only. Dan swears that
after they make the final batch ("Two. Maybe three," he
said) that the beer will "never be made again." Might
be worth a trip to pick up some 22s.
Congratulations to Dan, his wife Sue, his partners Barb and Dick
Lampe, and to the Weyerbacher crew on making it through 10
tumultuous years in this business. It’s been ten years of ups and
downs, but an awful lot of good beers along the way.
Oh, the story’s not quite over yet. I offered to give Big
Jim a ride home; he took the train in, and lives just over the
hill from me, maybe two miles away. So he’s the first one to
get a ride in the Passat. "Come on in for a beer," he
said when we reached his place in Oakford. We went back around the
house, greeted his two huge Rottweilers ("Real men keep
Rottweilers!" Jim said with his huge grin), and went back to his
deck, a wooden flat out over the 40-foot drop into a wooded cliff at
the back of his land. He’s got a little shed on the deck, where he
keeps a kegerator. He tapped up two glasses, and we enjoyed fresh
draft Heavyweight Baltus on the deck. Not bad, Jim, thanks!
Only in Pittsburgh
You may have noticed the Vecenie Distributing link
on my Drink Links page. That’s there
because when I sent out the first issue of The
Occasional Pint, the very first response I got back – in only
fifteen minutes – was from Tony Knipling, one of Vecenie’s
most passionate salesmen. I met the other guys at Vecenie,
including Ken Vecenie, at the Victory Hop Wallop release party
in December 2003. Five months later I was in Pittsburgh, addressing
the Pennsylvania Malt Beverage Distributors Association, at the
invitation of Vecenie Distributing.
So when Tony Knipling’s boss, John Manz, called me out of
the blue to propose I come out to Pittsburgh in March to do a
presentation for Vecenie’s on "Better Beer, Better
Profits" for the Pennsylvania Restaurant Expo West,
well, I said yes. I’m into the subject, you know, and this was
a chance to pass it on to some restaurant folks, just the audience I
want to reach, just the audience beer has to reach. And
when John called back the next week and asked me if I could stick around
and give a presentation on Pennsylvania beer to "some of my
people," hey, the more the merrier. I’m there anyway, right?
Which is how I came to be rolling into Pittsburgh around noon
on the Monday after Book and The Cook week in Philly, and meeting
the owner of Pubcrawler.com,
Paris Lundis, at a Mexican restaurant in Greentree, on Noblestown
Road. He hopped in the Jetta, and we headed off to Point
Brugge, a new Belgian-focus bar/bistro in Point Breeze (401
Hastings St.). It was an interesting drive, both of us talking
bars like crazy, good time. I was a little excited; Tony had told me
there were 68 people signed up for the restaurant show seminar.
But Point Brugge was closed. Monday! Dammit! I am
always running into Monday. Too bad, too, because it was a nice
looking place: light wood, clean, lots of glass, looks kinda
European. Okaaaay...I’ve been wanting to go to The Parlor in Sharpsburg
for a long time, had some good recommendations. Paris pointed the
route out, and we went across the Allegheny in the rain, and… Monday!
Okay, I said, to hell with recon, I gotta get lunch before I
get to the restaurant show. We’re going to Penn Brewery. And
we did. It was good, too. They had Kaiser Pils, delicious,
hoppy Kaiser Pils, and I got me one. Mmmm, boy. And Paris tore
into the food, man. He’s a vegetarian, see, and he told me that
he had a kind of seasonal metabolism and had to stoke in
the winter. Wow, did he ever. I got a big ol’ liverwurst sammich
and a Penn Dark to go with it. We talked some Pubcrawler stuff, some
new ideas, could work out nice.
We got down to the convention center, and Paris said good-bye.
I got all registered, and headed into the restaurant show. Things were hopping,
it was the last day of the show, the last few hours, and people were grabbing
all the swag they could get...including Vecenie’s beers.
John was glad to see me, late as I was, he was worried. Not much,
though. So we joked around some, we served out some beers, I had a
bottle of Bawls (which will really
perk you up, believe me, and tastes a lot better than Red
Bull), and then we went upstairs.
You know what? No one came. Okay, five people came.
Wow. Kind of a let down, to say the least. The presentation? We
had a good time drinking the beers we had pulled for the tasting (Erie
Railbender was one of them, and Erie
Brewing guy Andrew Johnson was one of the five people, so
that was kind of cool, and the Railbender tasted good), but I’ll
admit, I was not at my best. I was rattled by this big
room and the dramatic number of no-shows. I talked too fast, I was
sweating, but I got the points across.
Everyone was pretty let down, I guess, me too. The show was
over, and everyone was breaking down their exhibits. I guess that’s
why we had no one at the seminar, they all figured to cut out when
the show was closing. Dang. Tony and I went and had dinner at a
new place in the Strip, on Smallman, Tasca
Navarre, a tapas place that turned out to have pretty
decent beer, too. Food was good, too, I had paella,
and Tony had a couple of small plates. Good, and we had a good chat.
Time to go. The...what, the thing? The thing was
at the Teutonia Männerchor, a German singing club on the North
Side, a couple blocks from Penn Brewing. We parked, and we went
in, and Wow! The joint was jumping, wall-to-wall, full of
folks, about 150 of them, and all of them drinking the best stuff
Vecenie had to offer. We were all excited about beer, and talking
about beer. The Post-Gazette sent their beer guy, Bob
Batz, and a photographer. Bob wrote a great
story on it that showed up in Thursday’s paper.
I was blown away. I told the crowd that I didn't care what the
size of Pittsburgh was, they were a great beer town. This was a wild
event, great beer flowing, everyone digging it, everyone getting along.
I saw John Frantz of Lancaster Brewing, who told me the Hop
Hog IPA had really taken off for them. Andrew from Erie was there
also (double duty!), grinning and talking up Railbender.
This presentation went better, a lot better. I was stoked,
I was excited. I told them all about how Pennsylvania beer was
booming, and craft beer was booming. I gave them the "wine did
it, we can do it" talk, a good one. All we have to do is get the
beer to the people, and their good taste will do the rest. It’s
already working. A good third of the people who came up and
introduced themselves to me told me about the beers they had at their
bars, which were all out in a small town in the middle of
nowhere, something I’ve been seeing in southeast PA (Spinnerstown
Hotel, O’Flaherty’s, Ortino’s), and upstate PA (Four Sons,
Middle Ridge Tavern, Boulevard Grill), and upstate New York (Parker’s
in Newark and Auburn, Moonwinks in Cuba). It’s working.
One of the guys there was Jerry Lorenz, who owns the Bierhaus,
just down the street from the Männerchor. I found it one year kinda
by accident, wandering around from Penn. It’s a little
neighborhood place, friendly enough, and with an engagingly weird
men’s room…but the real attraction is Jerry’s fabulous
collection of breweriana, mostly old Pennsylvana and Pittsburgh
breweries. He’s got all kinds of stuff, and only a fraction of it covers
the walls of the bar. I put Jerry and the Bierhaus in Pennsylvania
Breweries, and met him at a Penn Fest and showed him, and
we’ve been buddies since then.
So Jerry says, why don’t we go down to the bar, I’ve got
something I want to show you. I thanked Ken Vecenie and John and Tony
for having me out, Ken gave me my "honorarium," and I headed
down to the Bierhaus. Jerry and his wife met me, all was good,
they gave me a Straub Light. Then Jerry took me upstairs to see
the breweriana museum he’d put together in three rooms over the
bar. It was fabulous! The stuff, the trays, tap knobs,
posters, glasses, minikegs, all this stuff! It was a history of
Pennsylvania brewing in promotional stuff.
So then Jerry takes me into another room, and he says, the
next time I come out to Pittsburgh, he doesn’t want me staying in
any hotel, because this room was mine when I wanted it. I was
amazed: there was a double bed, under a headboard with lit Ebert
& Ober brewery signs. The Breweriana Bed. Very cool!
Well, I thanked Jerry for his hospitality, shook his hand, and
then I went to my hotel, checked in, and slept hard. I did Bobs
for breakfast ("How are you doing this time?"
"Great." "Okay. Just checking." Love that
hospitality), and drove on home. The restaurant show could have gone
better, but Vecenie’s thing at the Mannerchor was great. Nights
like that make this stuff worthwhile.