Monday, February 27, 2012

Spinnerstown Hotel: A Beer Oasis Off the Beaten Path

Spinnerstown Hotel Taproom

Just a few miles West of Quakertown lies a postage stamp sized town called Spinnerstown. You could literally miss it if you blink as you drive through, as if you had a reason to pass through this sleepy town in the first place. Well, I’m about to give you a reason, a really good reason… The Spinnerstown Hotel.

The Spinnerstown Hotel is a historic property that has served as a tavern and place of rest since the early 1800’s. Its current owners, the Dales, have owned “The Spinney” since 1959. It currently serves as a restaurant and taproom with a warm inviting environment and live local entertainment.

The food here is good. You have your choice of pub fare, sandwiches, and a variety of delicious entrees. One of my favorite entrees is the Hunter’s Pork: a pan seared pork mignon, brandy sauce with mushrooms, toasted walnuts, granny smith apple slaw, and sweet potato gnocchi. I once paired this dish with a St. Bernardus Prior 8 Abbey Dubbel… delicious and I highly recommend it. If you aren’t really comfortable with beer and food pairing, don’t fret. You can order something from the “Fresh Additions” menu, where beer and wine pairings are already suggested. You can also ask your server to make some suggestions.

Sly Fox on Cask
I enjoy the food and the atmosphere here, but the real reason I go is for the beer. If you just happened to stumble across this place, you would never expect the beer haven that awaits you inside. The beer menu is extensive. So extensive, in fact, that the Spinney’s website contains a beer search engine that allows you to search their inventory by style, brewery, location, and availability. The tap list is constantly rotating. Can’t decide what you want? Well, you can put together a flight of four beers from any of the 14 or so brews on tap… or on cask… or even handpump. If that isn’t enough to get your beer panties in a bunch, they also have a great beer cellar list… how does a nice 2004 Thomas Hardy’s Ale sound? You could also make reservations for the monthly “Meet the Brewer Dinner”, where a four course meal is paired with a series of beers from a selected brewery.

Tonight’s visit to the Spinney started with a tasty flight of four beers: Sly Fox Chester County Bitter (on cask), 21st Ammendment Bitter American, Maine Beer Company Spring Peeper Ale, and Southern Tier Eurotrash Pilz. A solid lineup for sure, but the Spring Peeper Ale really spoke to me. I enjoyed an appetizer of ostrich quesadillas with my flight before my entrée arrived. I ordered the broiled seafood combination, which paired up nicely with a round of Spring Peeper Ale.

Later, thanks to the most excellent suggestion from my good friend Kyle, we selected and shared a bottle from the cellar list… a 1999 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale. This brew is an English Barleywine coming in at 11.5% ABV. As you may have guessed from the style and age of the beer, the nose and flavor was full of dark fruits including raisin, plum, and black cherry. There was very little hop presence if any at all. It had a decent amount of carbonation for its age, but it was very port like and, despite its high ABV, it wasn’t hot at all. This brew made for a very pleasant after dinner sipper.

Off the beaten path, but well worth the trip, the Spinnerstown Hotel is a legit beer destination. If you consider yourself a beer lover and you enjoy pairing beer with food, then you owe it to yourself to visit this place... maybe I’ll see you there.

Cheers!






If you would like to learn more about the Spinnerstown Hotel, please visit their website at: http://www.spinnerstownhotel.com

Monday, January 30, 2012

Free Will Brewing Company: Citra Pale Ale Invades Local Taps

Fresh and local is what it’s all about… and it doesn’t get any more local than Bucks County’s only full production brewery, Free Will Brewing Company of Perkasie, PA. As mentioned in a previous blog, Free Will began production of their very first batch of Citra Pale Ale in late December. That first batch of amber hued hoppy goodness began showing up at local pubs this past week.

Area pubs currently featuring Citra Pale Ale include “The Perk” in Perkasie, PA; both Blue Dog Tavern locations in Lansdale and Chalfont, PA; as well as the Washington House in Sellersville, PA. The tapping of Citra Pale Ale was accompanied by “Meet the Brewers” nights at the Perk and the Blue Dog in Chalfont. Both of these events were huge successes as many locals came out to support the brewery, hang out with owners/brewers John Stemler and Dominic Capece, and keep the Citra taps flowing.

More about the beer…

Citra Pale Ale gets its name from the Citra hop, a variety known for its citrus and tropical fruit notes… hence the name. Other hop varieties used in Citra Pale Ale include Warrior and Simcoe to round out the beautiful piney and citric hop character of the beer.

Citra Pale Ale on tap at the
Washington House
Citra Pale Ale enters the glass with a beautiful hazy amber glow that is topped off with an off white head. As the beer recedes, lacing clings all over the side of the glass. The smell is of grapefruit and grassy hops. The first sip presents grapefruit and mango, followed by a really nice toasted biscuit flavor. The beer finishes with a crisp and lingering hop bitterness. Other hop flavors such as pine and lemon peel appear as the beer warms, offering a really complex hop profile in a brew with an ABV of 5.7%.

Citra Pale Ale on tap at
The Blue Dog Tavern
If you like hops, you owe it to yourself to try this beer… but, don’t wait too long. Conversations with managers and bartenders reveal this stuff is going fast. A second batch of Citra Pale Ale is indeed waiting in the wings for distribution. However, inside information tells me the brewery will soon be turning their attention to the next brew in their lineup, Seven Course Red Ale. Past samples of Free Will’s Red Ale revealed that this is a tasty malt forward brew with just enough of a hop presence to keep the beer balanced.

John Stemler and Dominic Capece
at The Perk

It’s great to finally see Free Will brews hitting the local pubs. I will certainly be doing my part to drain the taps of Citra Pale Ale, and I look forward to all of their offerings in the future.

Here’s to local brew! Cheers!







To learn more about Free Will Brewing Company, please visit their website: http://freewillbrewing.com/

For updates on Free Will Brewing Company, please follow them on facebook: 



Monday, January 16, 2012

113 Day: Sly Fox Brewhouse and Eatery

You know, I’m not sure why I never made it out to the Sly Fox Brewhouse and Eatery sooner. I mean, its not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump from my stomping grounds, but it’s not all that far either. It certainly isn’t because I don’t like their beers. In fact, whenever I’m in the mood for a really nice lager, Sly Fox Pikeland Pils is one of the first beers to come to mind. It’s a delicious representation of the style. But, somehow… I just never made it out that way.

Then, a unique opportunity presented itself. Kevin (a.k.a Flannelguy), creator and writer for the Beer Snobs website, invited me to his stopping grounds in Phoenixville to check out Sly Fox 113 Day. “Me and my friends are meeting for lunch at Sly Fox. They are offering their 113 IPA for $1.13”, was the message I received from Kevin. An opportunity to make some new beer loving friends, cheap brew, and a special event involving a solid IPA to boot… I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Friday afternoon off. So, I jump in my car, make a beeline down Route 113 from Sellersville to Phoenixville, and I’m pulling up to the bar with Kevin and his buds in 45 minutes.

Route 113 IPA at Sly Fox Brewhouse
I arrived just in time. The 113 Day event was about to begin. I was sitting in a brewhouse on Route 113, the date was 1/13, it was almost 1:13 P.M., and I was about to pay $1.13 for a pint of Route 113 India Pale Ale… which, coincidentally, packs 113 IBU’s. Are you getting the premise of 113 Day here? But wait… that’s not all. If you manage to be at the brewhouse at 5:00 P.M., you can purchase 10 oz. pours of Route 113 IPA… a special casked version… until it kicks… for a mere… yes, you guessed it… $1.13.

I promptly received my Route 113 IPA at 1:13. The draught version of this beer poured a nice copper color with a thin off white head that lingered. As the head receded it left a lot of lacing on the glass. I didn’t get much from the nose, but I did detect a bit of floral and citrus hop notes. The beer tasted of fresh bread and caramel up front. Citrus, piney, and then earthy hops asserted themselves in the middle and up through the sticky finish. A nice IPA for sure, but at 7% ABV, I only had one. After all, I did need to make that trek back home.

Chicken Burrito
The next few hours included good conversation amongst the Beer Snobs website crew, a bite to eat, a lot of water, and several smaller samples of a few Sly Fox lager styles. Sly Fox does lagers well, and the Helles Golden Lager is a real standout. It’s like golden sun-kissed malty goodness in a glass. Seriously, get out to Phoenixville and try it.

Then, it was time… it was 5:00 P.M. and the cask version of Route 113 IPA started to flow. As with most cask conditioned ales, the carbonation of this version was much more subdued. The subdued carbonation took the sharp hoppy edge off and allowed the malt character of the beer to come forward. The beer became very smooth with a fuller mouth feel and quite pleasant. It was a nice way to top off the afternoon.

The Growler Filler
Other highlights of the afternoon included watching Sly Fox’s automated growler filler at work and hanging out with Brewmaster Brian O’Reilly in the pub. The automated growler filler is definitely a piece of engineering wizardry and it provided regular entertainment throughout the afternoon. Brewmaster Brian O’Reilly could often be found hanging out with patrons in the pub while enjoying a pint. A brief conversation revealed his excitement over the opening of the new brewery in Pottstown, which will triple production. That’s right… triple!

Sly Fox has come a long way since opening in 1995. Their history has been punctuated by a growing lineup of solid brews, the first craft beer canning line in the Mid-Atlantic region, and now a large expansion that will triple production. I feel fortunate to have them as a part of the local beer scene and wish them continued success.

Oh, by the way, make sure you check out The Sly Fox Bock Fest on May 5, 2012. The festival features great beer, German inspired food, and goat races… why wouldn’t you go? I will certainly be there.

Cheers!







To learn more about Sly Fox beer and events, please visit their website: http://www.slyfoxbeer.com/

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Free Will Brewing Company: The Inaugural Brew

Do you smell that? That’s the fresh scent of malted barley and hops wafting through the borough of Perkasie, PA. It’s the sweet smell of countless hours of hard work and sacrifice coming to fruition. It’s the smell of Free Will Brewing Company brewing their very first commercial batch of beer.

Partners John Stemler and Dominic Capece started this venture with a handful of solid beer recipes, a two car garage, and a dog named Ralphie. Fast forward two years and Free Will Brewing Company now occupies an 8,600 sq. ft. space housing a 7.5 BBL system with three 15 BBL capacity fermenters. The brewing equipment occupies only a small fraction of the large brewery space. That’s a good thing as far as John and Dominic are concerned. There is plenty of room for future growth. There are also plans for a tasting room, but right now these guys just want to concentrate on brewing and getting their product out there.

Dominic Capece Makes Adjustments to the Equipment
What I find most impressive about the Free Will story is that these guys accomplished all of this without outside investors or bank loans. Staying true to the philosophy of Free Will Brewing, they did it their way, performing most of the planning, construction, and fabrication themselves.

Now, that’s not to say they didn’t get some help from friends and family. They are fortunate to have several talented people around them willing to lend a hand. Most notably is John Stemler’s brother… the other (Paul) Jon Stemler, machinist extraordinaire and owner of North Penn Machine Works. John’s machinist brother of the same name performed some beautiful fabrication work and created some sexy custom brewing bits to John and Dominic’s specifications. The results are a shiny new mash tun with false bottom, kettle and tank stands, and bulkheads that do exactly what brew master John needs them to do.

Now, I’m sure you are wondering… what was Free Will’s first batch of beer? It was none other than the delicious Citra Pale Ale. I know how good of a Pale Ale this is, as I have sampled it many times. If you are one of the lucky beer festival attendees to have sampled this brew over the last year or so, you know what I’m talking about. Citra Pale Ale gets its name from the Citra hop, an aroma hop known for its citrus and tropical fruit notes. Other varieties used in this brew include Warrior and Simcoe to round out the beautiful piney and citrusy hop character of this beer.

Citra Pale Ale Wort Comes to a Rolling Boil
Other beers in Free Will’s current lineup include an Irish Red Ale and a Belgian White. There are also two truly unique beers that John and Dom refer to as Pale Stout and Coffee Oatmeal Brown Ale. The Coffee Oatmeal Brown was not originally planned to be in the initial lineup. However, there was such a positive response to this beer at festivals, the Free Will guys decided to make it available sooner rather than later. Pale Stout you ask? Well, it looks exactly like it sounds. The taste… roasty with coffee and chocolate notes, yet crisp and refreshing. It’s quite delicious.

As with any start-up brewery utilizing new equipment, there are a few kinks to work out in the system. “There are minor issues that need to be addressed, but we expected this and we know what we need to do to correct them.” said Dominic Capece. “Beer should be hitting local bars sometime in mid January.”

Eventually, you will be able to visit the brewery, take a tour, sample some brew, and fill a growler to take home and enjoy. But for now, you will need to wait just a little bit longer until their beer starts hitting the bars. Stay tuned for updates on bar locations and Free Will tasting events.

In closing, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to the newest member of the Philadelphia area brewing scene, Free Will Brewing Company. I eagerly look forward to pulling up to a bar and raising a few pints of Free Will beer with friends.

Congratulations guys…. and cheers!

Now, get to brewing!







To learn more about Free Will Brewing Company, please visit their website at: http://freewillbrewing.com/

For the latest updates regarding Free Will Brewing Company, please visit them on facebook: Free Will Brewing Company on facebook

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

You Put What in that Beer???: A Visit to Prism Brewing Company and Tap Room

Variety is the spice of life… Its one of several mottos I choose to live by. In fact, variety is one of the things I love most about beer. There are quite a few categories of beer styles out there. Within those styles are many variations. Brewers across the globe put their own little twist on all those variations and, as a result, we have an almost bewildering variety of beer choices at our disposal.

But what if you were the type of brewer that feels a “little” twist isn’t enough? What if you found the reinheitsgebot much too restricting to your artistic expression? Well, if you are like Rob Demaria, brewer and owner of Prism Brewing Company in North Wales, PA, you put whatever ingredients in beer you want… no matter how off the wall it seems. Why not put some honey in an IPA… OK, that could work. How about some blood oranges in a blonde ale… sounds kind of nice actually. Why not put some bacon in a stout… Ok, that’s a little out there, but I’m willing to try it. Awww hell, lets take some strawberries and jalapenos and put them in a brown ale… screeeeeech… huh? No joke, that is exactly what I found when I visited the Prism Brewery tap room.

Prism's Regulars Chip in to Create the Tap List
You would have to be nuts to take a nice brown ale recipe and defile it with ingredients that seem totally at odds with the beer… right? Rob doesn’t think so, and that’s exactly why he brews beers like “Love is Evol”, Prism’s Strawberry Jalapeno Brown Ale. Actually, maybe he is on to something. I mean, he wouldn’t actually serve something that sounds so unpalatable if it wasn’t good… right?  As I lifted the glass of this concoction to my nose, I looked up to see Rob’s lips curl into a sinister grin. At that moment I thought to myself, “Maybe this guy really is a little nuts.”

My first sniff of Love is Evol presented roasted malts and caramel with hint of fresh jalapeno. I searched hard for the strawberry in the nose, but didn’t detect much more than a very faint fruity smell. The beer tastes of roasted malts and caramel up front, with a bit of strawberry jam fullness in the middle. It finishes with some toasted biscuit and a gentle peppery jalapeno tingle that lingered for just a little while. As crazy as it sounds, the recipe actually works. The backbone of this beer is a very solid brown ale. Rob didn’t get aggressive with the strawberry and jalapeno which, in my opinion, is a good thing. If anything, it made the beer just a bit more interesting. This was a pleasant surprise for me since I’m typically not a “let’s get crazy with the beer ingredients” type of guy.
Shiny Fermenters Adorn the Brewery

This beer would pair up very well with a lot of foods, however, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like without the strawberry and jalapeno. Fortunately, Rob has other things in the works for his brown ale recipe. In fact, he is considering offering a traditional brown ale in his “Prison Break” series. Prison Break is a series of beers in which no adjunct ingredients will be used. Since Prism’s brewing philosophy is based upon placing big twists on classic styles, this type of brewing has been illegal in their book… hence, the Prison Break name.

The first beer offered in the Prison Break series is Felony IPA. Felony is a double IPA that is brewed with ten English and American hop varieties. The amount of hops used in this brew is apparent as the nose is full of floral and citrus hops. Sticky sweet malt, citrus, and pineapple flavors dominate the palate with a very full mouth feel. The beer finishes with a strong hop presence, but is not harshly bitter. Felony IPA comes in at a whopping 10% ABV, but it doesn’t finish hot… yeah, be careful with this one. If there was any question about Rob’s ability to brew basic beer styles well, I think Felony IPA puts that debate to rest. I’m eager to see what else he comes up with.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend you make a stop at the Prism Brewery and tap room. Getting there is part of the adventure. But once you find it and walk through those big barn-like doors, you almost feel like part of a secret club that is hidden away. You will be greeted by an extremely friendly and enthusiastic bartender named Heather who is happy to explain the Prism philosophy. Not sure which beer you want? Do what I did and get a flight. If you aren’t in the mood for beer, you could always order one of the several locally made wines and ciders available. Hungry? Try one of the gourmet hot dogs. I highly recommend the Purple Dog… chili, onions and pineapple relish = tasty hot dog goodness.

Just keep in mind… variety is the spice of life. If the brewer isn’t afraid to brew it, you shouldn’t be afraid to try it.

Cheers!




If you would like to learn more about Prism Brewing Company and their tap room, please visit their website at: http://prismbeer.com/

Saturday, November 19, 2011

American Beer Blogger – Local Beer Writer “Kickstarts” a Craft Beer Show

Local beer lover and writer, Lew Bryson has announced a project to produce a television series called “American Beer Blogger”. I can’t think of a better guy than Lew to be the personality for this show. Lew is a local freelance writer for several beverage publications including All About Beer Magazine, Massachusetts Beverage Business, and Ale Street News. He is also the managing editor of Malt Advocate Magazine. In addition to his contributions to the aforementioned beer rags, Lew has written four books on the history of breweries in several states including PennsylvaniaNew JerseyNew YorkVirginiaMaryland, and Delaware. As if that isn’t enough beer verbage, Lew also maintains several blogs including Seen Through a Glass, The Session Beer Project, and Why the PLCB Should be Abolished.

As you can see, Lew has the street cred to make a great show about beer, however, I think his biggest contribution will be his fun loving personality. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then check out the preview here: Kickstarter - American Beer Blogger. If you like what you see, please consider making a donation through Kickstarter. You can pledge as little as one dollar. My little contribution… I stayed in this past Friday night and donated the money I would have spent on beer. A small sacrifice for what is potentially months of high quality craft beer entertainment viewed from my own living room. Besides, I’ve got plenty of homebrew to drink.

Now, you may be thinking, “That last show about craft beer, Brew Masters, didn’t make it past four or five episodes. What makes this show any different?” Well, with all due respect to Sam and Dogfish Head, American Beer Blogger appears to be a much more diverse show. Lew will be visiting, interviewing, and working with people all over the craft beer industry, no matter how big or small. The craft beer version of “Dirty Jobs” came to mind as I watched the preview . If that is the case, it could be a hit not only with beer lovers, but the general public as well.

Here’s to Lew and a successful endeavor… Cheers!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Beer Guy Does a Wine Tour: Tastings and Tours of New Hope, PA

I know what you are thinking… “This is a beer blog. Why are you writing about wine?” Trust me, just keep reading.

Tastings and Tours is a small company based in New Hope, PA that provides guided wine tours throughout Bucks County. Their product is a great deal when you consider all that you are getting. The tour includes visits to three Bucks County wineries from a list of eight, lunch at one of two BYOB restaurants, and you are driven around the beautiful Bucks County countryside by a knowledgeable tour guide. Having a designated driver by itself is almost worth the price of admission when you consider the peace of mind it offers (not to mention it’s the responsible thing to do). Our itinerary for the day included Buckingham Valley Vineyards, Crossing Vineyards and Winery, and Wycombe Vineyards.

The first stop on our tour was Buckingham Valley Vineyards. This is a beautiful property. Maybe it was the time of day, but there was something about the way the sunshine glistened across the vineyards that made it the most appealing property on the trip in my eyes. As the tour of this winery commenced inside, we were shown a short a video of how the grapes are harvested and then given a show-and-tell of a really interesting bottling/corking machine.

Following the presentation, it was down to the cellar to sample some sparkling wine. The wine was good, but the ambiance of the cellar was my favorite part of this winery. It was rustic with subdued lighting and wine barrels stacked in various places. It also provided great inspiration for my future beer tasting cellar.

We rose from the cellar and into the tasting room to pour our own samples of wine. The Riesling was really good, so I purchased a bottle and we were off to our BYOB lunch. Apparently, just about everyone in our tour group shared my sentiment as the Riesling was the only wine that showed up on the table during lunch. It turned out to be a great choice because this wine paired up really nicely with the tilapia dish I ordered.

Crossing Vineyards Barrel Room
Photo Courtesy of Tastings and Tours
After lunch, we headed to the second winery on the tour, Crossing Vineyards and Winery. As we entered the winery, we were escorted through a retail space and into a beautiful barrel room. Tasteful décor and barrels racked to the ceiling provided a great environment as we were guided through several wine and chocolate pairings. The pairings were good, however, I have to admit I wish I had a nice Imperial Stout on hand to throw into the mix. A few photos outside and we were off to our next winery.


As we entered the property of Wycombe Vineyards, our third and final stop on the tour, I recall thinking that this place didn’t quite have the ambiance of the other two. However, what this winery lacked in glitter and glamour, it certainly made up for in its wine and food offerings. Waiting for us were delicious cheeses, crackers, breads and olive spreads.

By far, my favorite wine of the day was Wycombe’s Smoke House Red. Smoke House Red is a Chambourcin-Merlo blend and, contrary to the name, there is no smoke in this wine. The name comes from an old photograph of the owner’s grandfather leaning up against the property smokehouse right there on the wine label. Indeed, all of the wine labels here are part of the charm of this winery. Old photographs are used on every label, depicting scenes and people from Wycombe Winery’s past.

As we sipped our wines, we were treated to interesting stories about each wine’s history, trials, and tribulations. It was a great way to end the tour. Wycombe isn’t glamorous, but it is warm and charming… I don’t think the owners would have it any other way.

This blog wouldn’t be complete without mentioning our great tour guide, Glenn. Glenn knows Bucks County wine. He knows which vintages are good and which vintages have their issues. He knows when to sit back and allow you to explore and enjoy yourself. However, what is most impressive about Glenn is his ability to know when to step in and offer explanations and advice.

As I tasted and contemplated a wine I knew was off, the look on my face must have said it all. As if on cue, Glenn appeared and asked me what I thought of that particular wine. I told him what I thought and offered up my glass for a sniff. Glenn confirmed my assumptions and happily provided a great explanation of what was indeed wrong with the wine. The coolest part was that he had a respect for my own palette and the fact that a beer guy inexperienced in grapes could pick up flaws in wine. And why not? It only makes sense that a palette developed through critically evaluating one type of beverage could translate to another. I’m not suggesting that this makes me a wine connoisseur, but it definitely helped to make the tour a more fun and enlightening experience.

As my conversations with Glenn continued throughout the day, we eventually came upon the topic of Tastings and Tours beer tour. Yes, they do a beer tour as well. The tour currently includes a visit to River Horse Brewing in Lambertville, NJ; Triumph Brewing in New Hope, PA; as well as the Penn Tap Room and the Mesquito Grill in Doylestown, PA… all fine places that I have visited many times. There are plans to expand the itinerary and… get this… they are already talking to Free will Brewing Company of Perkasie, PA about adding them to the tour when they open for business. Glenn seemed pretty excited by the prospect when I told him Free Will does indeed plan to have a tasting room when they open later this year. I share in Glenn’s enthusiasm and feel this would make the current itinerary more well rounded by adding another straight up production brewery to the list.

So, all of you so called “beer snobs” listen up… if you are even remotely curious about wine, if you have a significant other that enjoys wine, if you are looking for a great way to celebrate an event, or just looking for a nice little weekend trip then book a tour With Tastings and Tours. It’s fun, interesting, educational, tasty, and the responsible thing to do.

Cheers!





For more information regarding Tastings and Tours, please visit their website at: http://tastingsandtours.com/