Part 2 of my retrospective finds me mentally tumbling through the local bars, breweries and bottle shops that made 2014 the year of beer. With this, I can finally put 2014 to bed and wake up to the beer-filled dawn of 2015. There’s plenty to get to with the release of Hopslam, Founder’s RIS, Nugget Nectar cans and everything else that makes winter drinking great. I also preview some of my plans for the Web site this year, so let’s get to it…
The Bulls Head is my night out and day-to-day drinking spot, with a relaxed, casual atmosphere, friendly, knowledgeable staff, solid menu and variety of craft beers to suit all tastes. While I may prefer my beers imperial, Bulls Head caters to all types with 12 taps and 2 casks that rarely overlap styles. It’s a great place for you and your mates to chat without the distraction and crowd that televised sports can conjure (though they did show every game of the 2014 World Cup in a raucously fun atmosphere). My preferred place to grab a pint.
Hunger-N-Thirst goes for upscale fair, with some fantastic food, although HnT is dead to my wife now that the asparagus fries are off the menu, and a price to match. While the management seems to shun the bigger American style event beers for a mix of local, national and European brews, this is one of the best spots to tickle that sour itch or to satisfy a mixed group of liqueur/wine/beer nerds. It’s a costly night out, but one worth making, especially during their fresh oyster nights.
The Friendly Greek is a hiding in plain sight hidden gem. While it isn’t entirely forgotten, plenty of people remembered it on the Bourbon County Black Friday release, there are far too many times that I stop in and find fantastic beers that should have sold through days ago (this is especially true of Avery’s barrel series). They consistently have the lowest prices while maintaining a fairly decent day-to-day selection and plenty of big beers that linger on the shelves longer than any other area bottle shop. If there is a big beer release hitting Lancaster, you best get to the Greek.
While Iron Hill is a bit of a sprawling beast with 11 locations across the mid-Northeast, they tend to be forgotten in the local beer conversation. It may have something to do with higher than average prices on food and bottles, or the family-filled dining area that doesn’t quite have the beer drinking charm of other cozier craft beer establishments.
Regardless, I’ve had strong offerings through the year over a wealth of styles. IPAs Kryptonite and my personal favorite Dyno-mite, great seasonal offerings like the chocolate pumpkin stout Great Pumpkin, and their award-winning RIS and Wolfgang’s Indulgence (especially on nitro) make for great beer drinking any time of year. However, I will admit that Iron Hill has had a bumpy start to 2015 with a disappointingly thin RIS that I normally find pretty stellar.
Columbia Kettle Works has the potential to grow into something great if they keep on their current track. My brewery visit yielded a solid line up of standards with a few standouts, namely the Amarillo Rye, Apricot Pale, and an interesting concoction created from dropping a thick slice of homemade habanero pickle into a blonde ale (Hot Blonde). Not inspired by the blonde, I asked to have it in the Amarillo Rye and damn if I didn’t create a new menu item. The briny salt of the pickle and spicy oil of the habanero worked well with the citrusy hop and peppery rye. If you visit the brewery, make it happen.
I think of equal measure and potential is St. Boniface. While I have yet to visit the St. Boniface brewpub during its actual hours of operation, I have enjoyed their offerings this past year, especially the classic and newly canned Paideia Pale as well as their collaboration with Kettle Works, Kettleface. Cost-effective, quality brews is what Boniface is about and well worth adding to any social drinker’s repertoire.
Outside Philly Area – Favorite Craft Bars
– Capone’s Restaurant and Bar – Norristown (Facebook)
– Teresa’s Next Door – Wayne (Web Site)
– Iron Abbey – Horsham (Web Site)
– Station Taproom – Downingtown (Web Site)
– Side Bar – West Chester (Web Site)
If you don’t know these places and like your libations fermented, start planning your trip. All have fantastic beer selections that benefit from a major distribution hub like Philly without the horrid parking and steering wheel punching traffic that comes with heading into the City of Brotherly Love.
A straight shot out of Lancaster down route 30, these places provide a several mile run of the bars and bottle shops I dream about (except for Capone’s and Iron Abbey, which are in Norristown and Horsham respectively). A well-planned Saturday and you can hit a string of them and still get home in time to enjoy an evening out.
Best of the Rest
Sabatini’s is as close to the definition of hidden gem as I’ve ever seen. Tucked away in the coal mountains of PA, it’s a pizza shop on the outside (one of a ton in the area) and a haven of some of the best beer releases from the past year just waiting to get in you on the inside. While I’ve been going to Sabatini’s for the past several years, raiding the twin coolers out front and picking out every big beer my budget can handle, a recent visit found me being shown around the back store room by the owner, Lindo Sabatini. All I can say is that I hit the beer jackpot. A permanent fixture on my go-to beer places and I can’t wait to get back up there.
Wooden Keg is my go-to for Maryland distribution (i.e. all things Firestone) and they are always happy to take you around and point out what they’re into right now. It’s the kind of a place where Miller Lite and Bud keeps the doors open and the passion of the staff keeps the shelves stocked with beers to remember. My favorite stop when I’m out visiting my brother.
Favorite PA Brewery (That I Visited)
– Tired Hands (Article)
Anything I have to say about Tired Hands has already been said in the article I wrote. Spoilers, if you like your Pales, IPAs, and Saisons like a glass of cloudy funk, Tired Hands is your place. It’s a great stop on a route 30 beer run if you don’t mind traveling almost into Philly and an absolute must for the occasional bottle releases.
While an easy shot up to Easton, the bare bones facility of Weybacher is worth the trip to view their compact operation, sample some great beers, and pick up bottles on the cheap. The appeal is going to depend on your feelings towards bacher’s finest releases, but stops at Shangy’s beer distributor and Fegley’s are almost a must on your way back.
All three events made an impression for different reasons, but I’ll admit that everything I do and drink throughout the year is practice for Black Friday. An epic day that included a trip to The Beer Store – Malvern for the Bourbon County release made complete with free drafts (non-bourbon county) during the event, a sour fest at Teresa’s with the top beers from Cantillon and Russian River, a quick visit to Tired Hands for a tap ransacking, and finishing the day off at Capone’s for a mix of over 40 rare beers. November 2015 can’t come soon enough.
Web Site in Review
Here’s a bone for the beer-interested statisticians with some random facts about the site. Nerds!
Top Referring Sites
– Reddit (Beerit)
# of Visitors by Country
– United States
– Pictures Uploaded – 283
– Total Posts – 90
– # of Visitor Countries – 85
Coming Up in 2015
The Why Not of Aging IPAs – Part 2 (Over-Aged Stone’s Enjoy By)
Beer Facts – Wet vs. Dry Hops
Trip to Al’s of Hampden (Pizza Boy)
Trip to Cafe Bruge
Plans for Web Site
In 2015, I plan on adding an audio/video podcast that will bring in some of my beer loving friends for blind taste tests that will focus on the quality of the beer without the bias of the brewery. I’ve done it in the past and find it a hugely enjoyable and enlightening endeavor.
I also want to expand the educational side of things and move more into the basics of homebrewing for those looking to get into the hobby. Many plans and little time means I’ll probably be mentioning the same things in a year’s time, but we’ll see. So, a tender hug and swat on the butt of 2014 and a cheery hello to the beers and breweries of 2015. Cheers to the new year!