Happy Birthday

  Dogfish Head’s Birthday Beer to Help Celebrate BoB’s 1st Birthday

It was a year ago, a couple weeks after first purchasing the domain above, that I got my first post up on the site. The guiding principle I gave myself was “Beer does exist in a vacuum; don’t just write about what is in the glass.” That idea really came to life when I attended the Harrisburg Beer Week kick-off party and sipped on the (717) Collaboration Ale by Troegs, Pizza Boy and Appalachian Brewing Company. I wrote for that post what is still one of my favorites.

Too many beer reviews on the Interwebs talk about the beer in a way that focuses exclusively on what’s in the glass. That ignores a big part of what craft beer is to me.

Drinking beer should and can be more than an alcohol delivery device.  The expectation is that craft beer brings more to the imbiber than just booze. It has a back story, is an artistic endeavor, and has cultural or personal relevance that should be discussed. Some posts I wrote did this well; others maybe not so much. In the end I think most worked.

Looking back as some of the more popular and/or interesting posts:

There was the time I tried to define craft beer.

The time I compared Peter Seller’s Dr. Strangelove to funky beer.

The above referenced story about (717) Collaboration Ale and my love of craft beer.

My most widely read post this year, by a wide margin, was about Costly Beer vs. Expensive Beer.

Most importantly as I look back I need to thank some people:

  • First, my friend Bobby C. who encouraged me to start the blog. He is a good dude and I have yet to find a more positive and supportive friend.
  • To Theo and Brandalynn Armstrong (Zeroday Brewing Co.) could never be more open to discussing brewing, starting and now growing their business, and what makes it takes to make great beer. Happy Birthday to you guys too.
  • Rod Smith of Columbia Kettle Works and Mike and Kristen from Moo-Duck Brewery, Al from Pizza Boy, who each spent occasions discussing with me the process of brewing.
  • The Beer Busters Podcast for having me on the show. That was fun and crazy nice of these guys. Love the show.
  • Tierney, Chelsie and Sara from Stouts and Stilettos and SaraBozich.com. They have all been supportive and engaging over the past year.  Extra thanks to Tierney for letting me bounce ideas off her and for offering inspiration.
  • Most importantly thank you to my readers. This vanity project has been a lot of fun and I hope it continues to be fun the future.

Looking forward to year two… I have some plans and additions:

  • Podcasting: Looking to lauch maybe by June, if I am lucky. The next thing that goes up on time for this blog with the first thing. Hell… this post is two days late. I am planning for the podcasts to be a short (think ~25 minutes) conversation with some of my beer friends. These are interesting people and I think you will like to hear from them.
  • Other Writers: I have discussed with a couple people about posting on this blog from time-to-time. It would be a rarity but it should happen. Really hoping to have one guy join… He is a total lunatic but he really knows his beers. He would be completely insane, gonzo, and it could be so much fun.
  • Lagers and Pilsners: In 2016 I am going to planning to drink more Lagers and Pilsner beers. Hoping this will broaden my taste and hopefully you will find some good beers too.
  • More Regular Posts (LOL J/K I can’t promise that…)

Again… thanks for reading and I hope year two is even better than the first.

Cheers!

Bread, Milk, and Eggs

No Fry… What you really need is beer.

An impending snow storm is descending upon the Northeast and in my area we are looking to get at least a foot of snow.  That means everyone is running out to get the three necessary food items before huddling inside:  Bread. Milk. Eggs.

But beer drinkers have their own unique needs and I have three for you.

Bread: Toaster Pastry by 21st Amendment is an India Style Red Ale brewed to celebrate their big expansion into a former bakery that made toaster pastries (read: Pop Tarts).  I had this beer about a month ago.  It is hard to find and it was a little on the pricey side but worth every penny. 21st Amendment uses biscuit malts that gave the beer a great bready flavor. Balanced between malty and sweet juicy hops left me in love with this beer.  The mouth feel was thick with a great long finish.  Toaster Pastry is an absolute killer.

Milk:  Lancaster Milk Stout by Lancaster Brewing Company.  I feel like in the Central PA beer scene the folks at LBC sometimes gets forgotten.  LBC has been around making great local craft beer for so long now that they easily get forgotten among a culture that puts a high price on “new.”  This beer, LBC Milk Stout, has been standout for a great Lanacster brewery for years and I every time I have one I wonder why I don’t order these more often.  Hints of chocolate and coffee, but it is really all about the thick and creamy mouthfeel.  A slight sweetness comes in the finish to compliment the pleasantly bitter notes from the front.  It’s a great example of how to properly brew a milk stout and properly represents the brewery’s namesake, Lancaster County.

Eggs:  The Martians Kidnapped Santa Egg Nog Stout by Spring House Brewing Company is a sweet stout and one of my favorite beers in Lancaster County. Spring House has a knack for making great stouts. I think they have a great stout base and that they play off this with an impressive number of variations, each one better than the last. Kerplunk! Coffee Stout, Satan’s Bake Sale Mint Chocolate Chip Stout, the transcendent Blood Lust RIS, and the twin killers Big and Lil’ Gruesome Stout.  Martians Kidnapped Santa is still available at Spring House and in the Central PA area.  If you have yet to enjoy some this year, get on it as it is a fantastic winter stout.  The flavors of heavy cream, vanilla, nutmeg with a whiff of cinnamon come through from nose to finish.

If you can’t find any of the above or want the easy choice, grab a case of my absolute favorite Central PA beer, Nugget Nectar (in the cans).  Nothing will beat tilting a couple of these back with a bowl of chili after shoveling the drive way.

Now, have a beer and enjoy the snow…

All Right Stop, Collaborate and… Brew Really Good Beer

East End Brewing Company and Pizza Boy Brewing represent the two areas of Pennsylvania that matter to me personally.  Over the past decade plus I have spent more time on the PA Turnpike than I would like to admit traveling between my old home (Pittsburgh) and my new home (Harrisburg and later Lancaster).

East End has been making phenomenal beers in Pittsburgh since 2004 and are at the center, geographically and metaphorically, of the region’s craft beer surge.

Al’s of Hampden was where I discovered the funk and the sour of craft brewing; either through Al’s wonderfully curated offerings, Pizza Boy Brewing or Intangible Ales. It has been where I know I will find great beer here in the Harrisburg area every time.  It’s bullet proof.

So when Al teamed up with East End to make a Berliner Weiss I knew I would have to check it out.  Moonstomp (named after a Reggae song) is a cloudy straw colored beer.  The brew was crisp and refreshing.  The nose was similar to that of Big Hop, an exceptional pale ale by East End and was fragrant of apples. The light bodied and effervescing brew had an easy drinking character. The flavors of apple and slight bits of lemon along with a pleasing mouth feel made this beer inviting; while the long slightly sour finish made it slow going. A palate-cleansing tartness of lactic acidity sold this beer to me as perfectly executed.  A fine collaboration and bringing characteristics of both brewers to the final product, it is highly recommended.

Moonstomp is currently available at Al’s both on tap and in 22 oz. bombers. It will see a limited release on Saturday at East End.  You will want to arrive early for this one if you are in Pittsburgh.

Al also released a bourbon barrel aged version of his beloved Sunny Side Up Stout. This coffee stout was aged for about four months in Woodford Reserve barrels Reserve barrels and yesterday ten and a half kegs of it were tapped starting at 11 am.  Glasses and Crowler fills sold out the allotment before the dinner rush ended. The numbers on how much was sold as figured by my friend Jeff… were in a word, amazing. Al was apologetic on social media about selling out half the stock so quickly. He need not be. The beer was fantastic.

Served in a wine glass, the pitch black stout shortly held a mocha brown head and smelled lightly of bourbon, vanilla and cold coffee. In the front, it tasted of chocolate, coffee, and roasted malts.  The bourbon flavors of vanilla, caramel and oak come along to finish and linger pleasingly.  The full bodied beer never gives up a burn or astringency despite the 10% ABV or the long rest with the spiritus frumenti.

This is barrel aged beer done right.  The aging process expanded the character and flavors of an already exceptional beer.  It added depth and complexity and never diminishes the base.

Al will be tapping this beer again today (7-30-15) at 4pm.  It will be available by the glass and in 32oz Crowlers to go. (Special thanks be given to Zeroday for helping out in this regard.) Get to Al’s early. This will sell out.

In order to bring this posting full circle I also decided to crack open one of my two bottles of Homewood Reserve (2014) that I have been sitting on.  This bourbon barrel aged version of Blackstrap Stout by East End was a fine compliment to the Sunny Side Up.

It too played with the subtle end of the barrel aging spectrum. The nose is thick of roasted coffee and hints of bourbon. Medium bodied and lighter than the Sunny Side Up.  Homewood Reserve was lightly carbonated but with microscopically small bubbles.  Easy drinking for an aged stout it had a long and very dry finish of coffee, vanilla and slightly of wood.  As the beer warmed up, just a faint burnt smokiness entered with an almost peaty character. The most interesting flavor was a mineral like taste that would be akin to a full bodied deep red wine.  This was both surprising and pleasing.  A great beer.

The thread that weaves all three beers together beyond the collaboration between the two breweries and the similar styles is the understated approach to flavors. These beers work at the edges. Never being over powering with any one taste. Instead they gently suggest various impressions of the ingredients and processes used to make the final product.  This is brewing at a high level.

Post Script: Beer geeks frequently talk of chasing “whales” the seemingly unobtainable beers that many covet. Usually these beers are from far off states sold in incredibly low volumes. I am generally dismissive of these snow flake in hell type beers. I stopped chasing “whales” a long time ago. 

But there are “whales” to be had in our own backyard. I just had three of them. We need to recognize the quality we have locally and cheer this as a grand success for the craft beer community here in Central PA.

Dr. StrangeBrew or How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Love Funky Beer

Dr. Stranglove

I have always been a Stout drinker.  I like my beers to be thick and hardy; to stick with you.  The deeper and the darker the better.  I love a nice hoppy beer but the malts always seemed to carry more depth of flavor.  The roundness of a proper malt character just works with my taste.

When I go into a bar with a decent tap list I would immediately scan the list for Stouts and Imperial Stouts but as of late I find myself looking for Saison and Farmhouse Ales.  I am drawn to the funkiness.  To the layer after layer of various favors.  To the subtle turns between sips.  They are weird and twisted and kind of strange.  I get the impression that these beers don’t always do what they are supposed to do.  The yeast operating like Peter Seller’s Dr. Strangelove.  They are fascinating to me right now.  Luckily there are a number of breweries that are providing excellent examples of the style right now that you can try in and around Central PA.

First up is ZerØday Brewing’s Saison 28.  I have mentioned this beer at least a couple times on the blog and frankly it deserves all the praise.  The beer was poured into a snifter and presented with a dried grass colored haziness. The aroma is slightly yeasty with a hint of lemongrass. It’s hoppy upfront with a proper floral bitterness that is welcoming.  The carbonation was as fine as to draw comparison to Champagne. The slight Farmhouse funk and earthy tones in the finish grow more pronounced as the beer warmed and disappeared from the short stubby glass.  This Saison is big and weighted in at 9.9% ABV but it drinks like some sub-4.0 near beers; careful with this one. This beer is as effervescent and deep as the girl that brewed it.  This beer is fantastic.  I loved it.

Shut Up, Meg by Evil Genius is the most approachable of the Farmhouse Ales I’ve had as of late.  It was mildly sour with a bright nose that lacked the deep earthy funkiness that can be off putting to some drinkers.  A cloudy straw colored ale that was forward tasting of citrus hops and a light spice finish this beer is easy drinking and is not loaded with booze at only 6%.  This is perfect for introducing someone to Saisons/Farmhouse ales.  It’s very well done and plays well with the subtle end of the Farmhouse ale spectrum.

Moo-Duck Brewery’s Just for Fun Ginger Saison was a special brew made just for Harrisburg Beer Week.  It is still around and available currently at the Elizabethtown brewery.  The aroma is citrusy with a strong but pleasant ginger spiciness in the nose.  Smooth drinking with slight farmhouse funk in the front and a long crisp and slightly sweet finish that brings the ginger flavor full circle. The funky flavors here are a little muted and make for a very easy drinking beer clocking in at 6% ABV.  The ginger puts a nice twist on the style and worked well.

Last was my favorite of the four, Dean Rustic Farmhouse Saison by Spring House Brewing Company.  I had this on draft at the Sturges Speakeasy and it was a great beer. In the nose I picked up cloves and a little spiciness from the yeast along with pears.  The taste opens up with a farmhouse funk and again some pears and apple; making it crisp in flavor.  The beer was not overly carbonated and provided for a nice dry mouthfeel.  As the beer warmed the big 9% ABV became evident but was not off putting.  The medium bodied beer is deep amber in color.  The finish is funky as hell with focus on earth tones and a long slightly sour dry finish that I loved.  This is a big beer that drinks lighter than it should; though not quite to the degree of Saison 28 above which masks the alcohol with what I assume is magic.

All four beers are very good and recommended.  Dean Rustic Saison and Saison 28 get the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

The Highs and Lows of Cellaring Beer

SlyFox Raspberry Reserve  Speedway Stout 2011

Shortly after I bought my first home eight years ago I started cellaring beer.  I had heard of the practice and it seemed like the perfect way to expand my interests in rare and unusual beers by making some of the best beers of today potentially even better.

First off… I am no expert on aging beers.  That being said there are a few rules I work around and they have worked for me.

  • The storage space should be cool. My basement is quite cool year round and never gets above 60 degrees.
  • It should be dark. Beer is as photosensitive as an albino in the tropics. I use wine boxes and some old blankets.
  • Choose boozy beers. 8% ABV and above.
  • Hops are fragile and their floral, dank, piney, resin, citrus and/or tropical flavors degrade quickly. This will make you sad.  Pick something else.
  • I like to generally work with dark beers… Imperial stouts, barley-wines, Belgian strong ales, sour beers, Flanders reds work but so can Triples and Quads.
  • Bottle conditioned beers and those injected with wild yeast or Brettanomyces tend to offer good results.
  • Try to run a vertical. Age a couple bottles from each year and then try them together to get an idea of how the beer is developing during its long slumber.  This is great for learning about when a beer reaches “maturity” and when its over the hill.
  • Experiment… some will work and some will not. Failure is an option. Some will be sublime and some will be ready to hit the drain.  It’s a crapshoot; get over it.

I ran into that the dichotomy of that last bullet point this past week.  First, I opened a bottle of SlyFox’s Black Raspberry Reserve from 2010.  This bottle conditioned fruit beer weighs in at 8% ABV, is loaded with raspberries and is brewed in Phoenixville, PA.  I first had this beer fresh and I found it overly sweet and lacking sufficient complexity in flavor.  It was a little on the thin side but its effervescence made for nice mouthfeel.  It poured a deep rich purple with a slightly pink head. Flavors were only slightly tart and that was drowning in sweet sugars and candied raspberry.  I thought the beer promising if only the tartness could be amplified, the sweetness muted and some of the other potential fruity flavors given a chance to come forward. So in the cellar it went for nearly five full years.

Upon opening the cork and caged 750 mL bottle and pouring it in to a snifter I could tell the long rest had made significant changes.  This beer previously had a luminance about it.  The color had clearly moved towards a darker more brownish hue; not immediately off putting but certainly different.  The bubbly effervescent liquid was now flat and thin.  The aroma once of raspberry jam was now only a whiff of its former self.  It was bland at the front with no discernable finish. The beer lacked any real flavor. The beer was boring.  Age had not been kind this beer.  What was once a modestly good beer, with what I had hoped to be great potential, was lost for good.

The second bottle I opened was a 2011 Speedway Stout by AleSmith out of San Diego California. AleSmith makes a number of very, very well regarded brews and is a company that I trust completely with my hard earned beer money.  When fresh this imperial stout pours a pitch-black with chocolate and coffee aroma’s dominating the nose.  The taste of coffee and chocolate are dominate but do not hide the subtle toffee, caramel, vanilla and dark sweet fruits notes.  These all come through thanks to the fine and abundant carbonation. This beer is silky smooth and very easy to drink even at 12% ABV.

My 2011 bottle after four years of hibernation showed significant and welcome change.  The beer pours slightly flatter with the previously firm dark brown head disappearing quickly and only providing minimal lacing at the edge.  The creamy mouth feel was replaced with the smooth silk like texture of a fine cordial.  With the coffee notes completely out of the way after its four year slumber the beer now focused on the roasted malts.  Toffee, caramel, and vanilla are all here in abundance but never over powering.  The 12% alcohol is more evident but never lends itself to a burn or unpleasant astringency and merely invites more rationed sipping; a wise credit to my patience.  The finish is as long as ever but instead of coffee now evokes the flavors of softly roasted malts and a hint of plums.  The beer was and remains complex and is never boring.  I am glad to have two more bottle to see what another five to ten years does.

Speedway Stout and cellaring your beers both get the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

A Beer as Prologue For My Love of Craft Beer

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About dozen years ago, when I first moved to Harrisburg from Pittsburgh I lived in downtown on North 2nd Street. I visited the bar scene along my street three to four nights a week. I worked at a beer distributor as a second job a couple weeknights and on weekends. Back then I considered myself above the average beer drinker because I preferred Guinness and spoke well of Yuengling Porter. Drinking dark beer alone a differentiator and sign of my good taste.

Then one cold afternoon more than a decade ago I wandered into Troegs Brewing Company’s tasting room; the one that used to be in Harrisburg. I had a Hopback, a Pale Ale or maybe even a Troeganator… it blew my mind. Here was beer of a completely different nature. It was flavorful in a way I did not know it could be. It was a revelation in every sense of the word.

Shortly there after, seeking out other beers of high regard I stepped into Appalachian Brewing Company (ABC) on Cameron Street. Their beers were sweeter and more approachable but no less interesting to my plebe beer tasting palate. Here again was beer brewed with care and respect. ABC’s then brewer, now owner/brewmaster of Roundabout Brewing in Pittsburgh, was my neighbor. This along with drinking regularly at Troegs helped expand my interest in craft beers.

Years later after I had given up on corporate beer and became fully committed to craft brews, a couple friends and I discovered Al’s of Hampden. This was back when he had six tables and maybe twenty or so taps. Here my world opened to styles of beer that I couldn’t have found elsewhere… Saisons, Black IPAs (remember when they were the new hotness), West Coast and triple IPAs and “What the hell is Brettanomyces?”

So last night at the Harrisburg Beer Week kickoff party, I had a beer that in many ways celebrated not just the region but my own journey to craft beer. (717) Collaboration Ale by ABC, Pizza Boy Brewing (Al’s of Hampden), and Troegs Brewing Company is my history with beer in a can. While Sara Bozich and the ladies at Stouts and Stilettos kicked off what took a ton of work to birth, I was thinking about my decade long journey with beer and the Harrisburg area; the two are woven together.

(717) Collaboration Ale is a strange beer that is brewed for a wonderfully strange area code. The area code where it gets its name holds a company town where government is the company. It is also home to some of the most fertile farmland in the country. The area has city life and Amish carriages all at once. Just as the area code is a hybrid, so is this beer. It has the character of noble hops like an IPA with the range of flavors of a Farmhouse Ale/Saison. This beer is hoppy in the front with a pronounced sweetness while providing the long dry finish and Chardonnay tang of a farmhouse brew.

Hybrid beers by their very nature are complex but this one is just uncanny in its depth. It starts with a billowy and long lasting head from a vigorous pour that provides a welcome yeast and peppery aroma along with some sweet and sour flavors in the nose. The slightly amber and completely clear and clean appearance are inviting and representative of the exacting standards these brewers demand.

The flavor profile provides for a bit of the honey sweetness up front as is typical for ABC beers in my opinion. The middle is all hops with a generous Nugget hop profile that is all Troegs. The finish is long and dry with a proper white wine and slightly sour notes clearly attributed to Pizza Boy Brewing’s history of sublime sours. The ability to definitively pick out the distinct characteristics of the three brew houses is truly unique for this collaboration. This beer is incredibly impressive on multiple levels.

The 7.17% ABV ale is easy drinking and sits comfortably in either a standard pint glass to be casually imbibed or savored in a snifter quietly with reflection. 

It is available on draft during Harrisburg Beer Week at Al’s of Hampden, ABC, and Troegs and will be released in 16 oz cans on Monday, April 27th at distributors in the area. If you get the chance, I highly recommend picking some up.

(717) Collaboration Ale gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

Friday Beer News Link Dump

Today officially launches the first Harrisburg Beer Week (HBW).  After a ton of work by Sara Bozich, Colleen, and Chelsie we can finally see Tierney’s initial dream come to fruition.  Best of luck to all the organizers and I hope that Harrisburg River Rescue brings in a boatload of donations.  I am doing my part, you should too.

I will be attending the HBW VIP Kickoff Event tonight at Appalachian Brewing Company thanks to the generosity of Merlot Mike from Hershey Vineyards and Brewery. I am very much looking forward to having a glass of (717) the collaboration beer between tonight’s host (ABC), Pizza Boy Brewing, and Troegs. I am sure it is going to be a great event to start a great week for the city.  Expect a beer review of (717) tomorrow right here at BearcatOnBeer.com.

Speaking of (717), it will be available for purchase in 16 oz cans throughout the Harrisburg Area beginning on Monday, April 27, 2015.  Be sure to pick this one up early as I am sure it will sell out very quickly.

Really quickly, here are some of what I think are HBW’s can’t miss events:

April 25th — Victory Firkin at Brewhouse Grill (Victory rarely does firkins so this is great)

April 26th – Battle of the Homebrew Clubs at Federal Taphouse Harrisburg (ticketed event)

April 28th – Tired Hands Brewing Company on Tap at Al’s of Hampden (Tired Hands Beer!)

April 28th – Tapping of Saison 28 by ZerØday Brewing and Brewed in the Burg Screening at Midtown Cinema

April 30th – Moo-Duck Brewery Tour and Meet the Brewer Event at Moo-Duck in Elizabethtown

May 1st    – Pennsylvania Women in Craft Beer Conference (Ticketed Event)

May 2nd   – The Little Big Beer Fest at ABC (Ticketed Event)

In other PA Craft Beer News, this week New Belgium officially announced it was entering the PA market and has signed on a dozen distributors including locals, Ace Beer Distributors and W&L Sales; both are HBW sponsors too.

Yesterday, the Trib in Pittsburgh has a great story on women in craft beer, its a great write up.

Finally, Jason Notte on the brilliant Stan Hieronymus’ argument that craft beer loyalist are fighting the wrong battle.  Always remember what Steve Jobs said you should be “skating to where the puck is going not where it has been.”

Have a happy Harrisburg Beer Week everyone.  Be sure to follow along on Twitter @BearcatOnBeer and on Facebook if you are still into that thing.

Cheers!

[Insert Name] Coffee Porter/Stout

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The craft beer business is fraught with trends that take root en masse. This has brought us an abundance of hoppy west coast style IPAs, bourbon barrel aged everything, and more recently the gose and sour beers surge.

This is not to say that I don’t like these beers, just that the craft beer culture seems to drift together and glom onto trendy styles with an aggressive stickiness.

The one thing that the above-mentioned styles provide when done right by all the various brewers is that they provide for iteration and variation. The distinctions that provide for the desire to try a various brewer’s take on a style and compare and contrast.   You know the whole reason we hunt for new brews and discuss the ones we like and don’t like.

This is a good thing.

But there is one trend that has completely burned me out… coffee flavored beers. There was a time years ago that coffee stouts were a subtle rarity. The proper bitterness of cold coffee flavors along with the roasted malts and creaminess of a stout just merged and provided the drink with a new level of complexity.

But eventually this trend turned south for me. It is now almost necessary for each brewery to brew a coffee stout or porter. Give the people what they want…I guess. This resulted in each brewer turning to specifically sourced and locally roasted coffee beans for their coffee beer. Iteration and variation became just a sourcing of beans.

When I first had a bomber of Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel it was a revelation; like many of Mikkeller’s beers. Pizza Boy Brewing’s Sunny Side Up (Little Amps!) Stout is so good I have considered it an all world quality stout since it first arrived. I still order that one when given the chance. I like coffee beers, but they are getting commoditized; by and large one is indistinguishable from the rest.

So that leads me to The Brewer’s Art and their Zeke’s Coffee Porter. This beer was perfectly fine. Rich coffee flavor, a proper bitterness, while slightly flat and thin in the body it was a good beer. Nothing about it was offending or strange in anyway; just like the dozens and dozens of other coffee beers I have had over the years. What was unique about this beer? The beans. Really? That is what they are selling?

Maybe this is a problem with me… As obsessive as I am about beer, is exactly how little I care about my coffee. Coffee is binary. It is either strong or weak.

Strong Coffee = Good Coffee

Weak Coffee = Shit Coffee

The artisanal coffee bean roasters offering specially sourced and carefully roasted coffee beans that are then ground with the care and precision reserved for pharmaceuticals and finally brewed at precisely 188º just seem overwrought. I mean the coffee at McDonalds is only a buck. Yeah its burnt to hell but… oh, God please don’t judge me!

So after 500 words where am I? Well… This post is just like coffee beers, overdone and not nearly as interesting as they used to be.

Say Hello to ZerØday Brewing Company

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Yesterday, provided the grand opening of ZerØday Brewing Company as the newest local brewery in Central PA. It was an opening with fanfare and well attended by the mayor and a Storm Trooper for the traditional ribbon cutting.

Over the past year I have attended three different opening days for local breweries (Columbia Kettle Works, Moo-Duck Brewing, and ZerØday) and without a doubt this one was the best on multiple levels.

I arrived well after the noon opening ceremonies but right into the thick of a very busy opening day.  While the crowd was heavy, the husband and wife proprietors, Brandalynn and Theo Armstrong, made sure everything ran with exceptional smoothness.

Upon arrival, I was able to quickly claim a corner spot near both the bar and the entrance.  I was very promptly greeted by a friendly bartender and plied with my first beer; no wait.  The service was impeccable.  It was hard to tell this was their opening day as the service and atmosphere made for an exceptional time free of any issues.  Theo Armstrong (the brewer) worked as bar back during my visit and made sure fresh clean glassware was always at the reach while his small but very busy team of bartenders served up his fine libations.  He also clearly took the time to talk with patrons and to politely accept congratulations from many happy customers.  Brandalynn worked the door greeting people warmly when she was not busily making sure everyone’s needs were met.

In the lead up to this opening I watched the Armstrongs via the modern wonders of social media put together their dream and I was a little worried about the volume of orange paint they were splashing about in the prospective taproom.  But the look of the place is fantastic.  The taproom is very nicely appointed and while very orange, is in no way off putting.  It has clean lines and is clearly well thought out all around.  Just a beautiful place to brew and drink a pint.

The beers were impressive even beyond first batch/smaller scale brewing standards.  ZerØday opened with five offerings on tap: Firstborn (Dry Stout), Cheap Date (American Blonde), Wits End (Belgian Inspired Witbier), Zeroday IPA – Ep.1, Dolce Vita (Chocolate and Hazelnut Sweet Stout).

My first beer was Dolce Vita.  After hearing via twitter about the soft opening this was the beer I knew I had to try.  It did not disappoint.  Served on nitro it has a silky smooth mouthfeel with a creamy luscious head built to last.  The aroma is like Nutella only somehow more inviting.  Then as it warms up the finish becomes longer lasting and deeper with a proper hazelnut and creamy chocolate that just makes this beer.  Very sweet, it would pair wonderfully with strawberries after a fine dinner.  If there is any room for improvement here… it’s that the beer was served way too cold. Dolce Vita shows off its flavors as it warms up. This beer was exceptional and is worthy of a visit.  Dolce Vita gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

As for the other offerings: Cheap Date goes down easy like she should and will be great for hot days when you are looking for a session beer.  Wits End was nicely constructed with a proper Belgian yeast and bitterness but lacked a peppery bite that I like in Witbier.  Zeroday IPA was clearly advertised as the first iteration. It was good but at 7.4% ABV, I was expecting more flavor and aroma from the hops and more body; just a tad thin. Firstborn was my least favorite of the offering but was still an exceptional stout.  When I say it was my least favorite its almost unfair because it was rock solid.

ZerØday’s beers were all good… and were frankly great when you consider this is the first time operating on the brand new brewing system.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  This would be excellent work for even a well-established small town brewery. The ceiling here is really high for future batches and I am sure they will not disappoint.

ZerØday Brewing Company gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval

Harrisburg Beer Week

HBW Harrisburg gets a bad rap around here by the people that live in the area. “West Shore” white people refuse to cross water and would rather fight snarling traffic nightmares within a commercialized suburb. Harrisburg downtown can’t get out of its own way sometimes to succeed as it should. No better example of that than the hostile government boondoggle that is parking. It’s easy for those outside of Harrisburg to think of it as second rate when the most visible tenants (politicians) in this city are at best second rate and have a surprising number of outright criminals… but that is another post for another failed blog. There is one thing this area has that is first rate… Beer. From the established heavy hitter (Troegs), to the sublime upstart (Intangible Ales), to the spunky local (Columbia Kettle Works), we have an abundance of quality craft beer options here in the center of the Commonwealth. This is a long way of saying, its about time Harrisburg got its own Beer Week. In a couple weeks, Harrisburg will be holding its inaugural Beer Week and the timing and the planning appear to be perfect. Harrisburg and the Central PA area should be proud of its working man libations. I personally will be attending as many of the 120 currently scheduled events as possible. If you are reading this post I would expect the same from you. Celebrating and supporting local beer is critical to ensuring that the brewers continue to thrive in this area. It’s about time we celebrate our diverse and excellent craft brewers in the area. The girls at Stouts and Stilettos and Sara Bozich are putting in a ton of work to get this off the ground. ABC, Pizza Boy and Troegs are throwing their collective weight behind this endeavor right now by brewing a fascinating hybrid beer, (717). This crazy brew will debut one month from now at the kick off event. It will also be sold in 16 oz cans throughout the namesake area code. I can’t wait to get my hands on some. But this is not just about getting together to share our favorite social lubricant. Harrisburg Beer Week has a beneficiary in the Harrisburg River Rescue and Emergency Services. This means that your dedication to social drinking also supports a social good. I reached out to Tierney Pomone of StoutsandStilettos.com and she was, as always, kind enough to give me her thoughts:

“I’m really excited about the PA Women in Beer Conference on 5/1. 4 women who work with/for/own PA breweries are on the panel with a lead q&a, beer from Gift Horse in York, food from LBC. I really love supporting women in beer and think it’s important to have this open panel.
Each woman has a different role at their respective brewery so it’s going to be a unique opportunity to really engage.”

There are lots of events and they can all be found at HarrisburgBeerWeek.com. The week will close with The Little Big Beers Fest at ABC where local brewers will be offering small batch beers (little) that are heavy hitters (big). I already have my ticket. If you are going, I look forward to seeing you there and discussing all the great things about our local brews. Harrisburg Beer Week emphatically gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval

/Updated 3/10/15 to reflect the hard work of Ms. Sara Bozich who I regretfully left out when discussing the efforts to create the Harrisburg Beer Week.  Apologies Sara.  I owe you a beer.