Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Grape Room

I've only lived in Manayunk for three years, so I did not know about the original Grape Room in Manayunk. I'm not sure why it shut down, but the new version opened earlier this year and it is a really chill place. I think having a live music venue in the neighborhood is a huge plus. And although craft beer plus local live music is usually a good equation for an influx of hipsters (no one wants that), Grape Room seems to be a place void of overwhelming pretentiousness and skinny jeans.

I was there last night for an open mic night and discovered that they had a good amount of craft beers on tap and several more in bottles. From what I remember these are the beers they had on tap;
  • Troegs Dreamweaver
  • Magic Hat #9
  • Victory Pils
  • Dock Street Pumpkin Ale
  • One or two more that I am blanking on
  • They also had Lionshead and Dogfish Head in bottles
I ordered a Magic Hat #9 and bellied up to the bar where I could see the small stage. The open mic night was relaxed, and the crowd seemed to be a lot of regular open mic-ers because a lot of the people knew each other and it seemed like I was the only one in there that wasn't performing at some point during the night. There was pretty good music all around, mostly originals, including a good dose of folksy stuff. They have the open mic night every Monday, and it started around 9:30; it's definitely worth a visit if you are looking for a low-key atmosphere. They also have regular shows, usually with a $5 cover almost every other day of the week. For a list of shows go to their website, http://graperoommusic.wordpress.com/

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Beer 101 - Basics of the Brewing Process

I've been drinking beer for a while now but only recently did I really start thinking about how it is actually made. I'm going to be brewing my first batch of homebrew fairly soon (I'm starting with a Nut Brown), so I've trying to take in as much as possible about how beer is brewed.

It's really a pretty basic overall process. Plants are made of complex carbohydrates, which can be broken down into sugars, which are simple carbohydrates. Under the right conditions, yeast consumes the sugars and the byproducts of the chemical reaction are carbon dioxide and alcohol.

The main grain for brewing is barley but other grains such as wheat and rice can also be used. The process that extracts the usable sugars from the grains is a topic for another day but the main idea is to convert the complex carbs to sugars. The sugars are then mixed with water (creating what is called the wort) and boiled. The boiling kills bacteria so that only the yeast will be able to attack the sugars. Once the wort has been properly boiled, it needs to be quickly cooled to a temperature that is advantageous for whatever type of yeast is being used, generally between 60 and 70 degrees F. The yeast is added and the fermentation begins. Usually some extra sugars are added for carbonation purposes. Wait a couple of weeks and you will have drinkable beer.

There is a lot more to each step than I just mentioned but I will probably get into each of them at a later date. But if you want more information right now you can check out this website;

On the music front, if you get a chance, put Bob Schneider on your playlist. His latest album is Lovely Creatures. I saw him live about a year ago and it was an extremely entertaining show. The trumpet player did the entire set in a bunny suit. Just how they roll. He is a talented musician with a distinctive voice but his strength is his songwriting. His lyrics are clever and meaningful and he always tells a compelling story. Give him a listen. And let me know what you think. Comments are always welcome.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hebrew - Messiah Bold

Last weekend while watching the Notre Dame football team lose to Michigan, I cracked open a He'Brew Messiah Bold, perhaps subconsciously looking for some fermented divine intervention. It is after all, as noted on the upper label, "The beer you've been waiting for."

This is labeled as a Dark Brown Ale from San Francisco, but both of those claims are a little misleading. It is a dark beer for sure, with a good weight to it, but it has a sweeter, more subtle taste than I was expecting for a dark brown ale. Also, He'Brew is a line of beers conceived by Smaltz Brewing Company, which is based in San Francisco. However, Messiah Bold is actually brewed at the Mendocino Brewing Company (based in CA) facility (which is actually the Olde Saratoga Brewery) in Saratoga Springs, NY. It has 5.6% ABV and is the first certified Kosher beer that I can remember trying.

Looking back, it is interesting to me how much the beer mirrored the game. ND started off with a first drive touchdown and looked great in the process. I was getting my hopes up for a romp. The beer had a dark brown color, with only a slight head, a strong malty aroma and a sweet but malt forward first taste. I could also smell some hints of chocolate or coffee as well as a little bit of nuttiness. So, my first impression was very optimistic.

Then, the starting quarterback got hurt and the performances of the back-ups were entirely forgettable. Messiah Bold had a slightly bitter hop finish to it, but the aftertaste went away very quickly, leaving me reaching for another drink because I felt like I was missing something. The starting quarterback came back in the game (another sip), he started the scoring again (that malty, quality brown ale taste), I got my hopes up with a go-ahead 4th quarter TD (the slight hoppy finish), but in the end Michigan scored a TD with less than a minute to go and I will be waiting for another year for a shot at those smug Michiganders (the nonexistent aftertaste.)

So overall, I enjoyed the flavors while they lasted, but the football game and the beer left me feeling bittersweet about what could have been. The only difference between the beer and the ND game is that I will be back watching the Irish week in and week out, knowing that most likely I will be perpetually disappointed. The Bold is a serviceable brown ale that has great initial flavors, but I won't be waiting for it to show up again in my fridge anytime soon.

Staying with the post-related music recommendations, check out Matisyahu. A lot of people have probably already heard his music, but it's worth a re-listen if you have. If you haven't, he has a unique reggae style that seems to crossover to people who generally don't like reggae. His lyrics have meaning and his beats catch you and keep you interested in what he has to say.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Craft Beer Experience

There is a pretty interesting craft beer event coming up in Philadelphia on September 25th. I'm sure there have been others, but it's the first beer event that I've noticed that is being used as a fundraiser for a worthy charitable cause. 

The Craft Beer Experience is taking place on Sept. 25th at the City Tap House in University City at 39th and Walnut. It is sponsored by Philly Magazine and it is billed as an "upscale tasting event." They will have beers from 26 breweries, including many from here in the Philadelphia region. There is not too much information available online, but it seems like the plan is for the event to be a more educational beer tasting than most straight up "drink a lot" beerfests, with brewers available to speak with and food pairings. It's slightly pricey at $80, but proceeds benefit SafeHome Philadelphia, which is a program run by the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness that helps families find affordable housing and starts them off by paying two months rent up front. Their website is http://pceh.org/.

You can also go to the City Tap House website for a little bit more info. http://www.citytaphouse.com/events.php 

Or check out the Philly magazine website for the breweries that will be attending. 

If you go, let me know what your favorite beer was. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Great Lakes - Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

I was back at my college this weekend and at dinner after our football game I had the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. It is brewed by Great Lakes Brewing Company out of Cleveland, Ohio. I am a sucker for smooth, malty beers, and porters generally fit the bill. I was very glad that I ordered this one.

My overall thoughts about this beer keep coming back to the fact that it was extremely smooth. I always expect a porter to be heavy but fairly smooth, making it a beer that you can enjoy in gulps, but definitely not one that you would do a case race with. But this one seemed especially creamy and very easy to drink, with a nice malty chocolate taste to it as well. I don't remember it being overly bitter even though Great Lakes' website says that this is a higher hopped porter than average. It is 5.8% Alcohol By Volume (ABV) and 37 IBUs, which is the measure of how bitter a beer is (the International Bitterness Unit). Since it is from Cleveland, it is widely available in the Midwest, but I have seen Great Lakes cases in several beer distributors around the Philly area. I would highly recommend that you give the Edmund Fitzgerald a try now that fall is right around the corner. 

Just in case anyone is interested, the Edmund Fitzgerald was a freight ship that operated on the Great Lakes. In 1975 it was caught in a winter storm and sank with all 29 crew members on board. Apparently it never sent out any distress signals and was split in two when it was eventually discovered at the bottom of Lake Superior. Gordon Lightfoot made a song about it. I've never heard it, but I'm sure it's terrible. If you are ever in Cleveland for work, or because you were kidnapped by Clevelanders, stop by the Great Lakes Brewery. They have tours and tastings to make your unintentional trip to Cleveland more bearable. 

And since today is Ohio themed, check out the Black Keys. They are from Akron and they are a great band with bluesy rock. I've been listening to their newest album Brothers on almost constant repeat lately, but Magic Potion from 2006 is also a great album. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Flat Rock Saloon - Manayunk

I've been living in Manayunk for three years now, making it my default drinking hang out. Center City has the majority of Philly's beer-centered establishments, but Manayunk has plenty of places to belly up to the bar and navigate through the craft beer world. My favorite is Flat Rock Saloon. It's cash only, and it's on the corner of Main Street and Roxborough Ave.

The first time my wife and I went there was a couple years ago. We had been out for a few hours before hand so she wanted an easy drinking light beer, which led to this exchange with the bartender.
Wife: Can I have a Bud Light?
Bartender: We don't have Bud Light.
Wife: Do you have anything like it?
Bartender: Water.

I, meanwhile, was laughing and slowly backing away, putting some distance between the beer novice and myself.

My wife thought it was a little bit harsh of him, but that's the kind of dedication to good beer that you'll find at Flat Rock. The bartenders are usually the same three middle aged guys and they are generally more than willing to help you figure out which beer to try off of their extensive list. Just don't ask for Bud Light, they don't have any of the typical domestics. 

The large rotating selection of craft/micro brews ensures that you can always have something that's new to you. There are usually one or two beers on tap along with bottles of domestic craft beers from all over the country, a pretty good selection of high quality imports, and usually a few high ABV drinks that they tout as "drinks for men" on their chalk boards. If you are there for dinner, they have good sandwiches and some pretty tasty mussels. 

On most weekend nights they have acoustic cover music and the crowd is clearly a hang out crowd, rather than the club-type crowd of the more college friendly places in Manayunk. It's really a great place to go grab one beer at happy hour or to grab a spot for the long haul and try out a bunch of quality beers.

And I'm happy to say that my wife would now rather have a case of Yards Brawler in the fridge than Bud Light.

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