Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Philly Beer Geek (Verbose dissertation on my life and beer)

Last evening was the Lucky 13 Homebrew Clubs' monthly meeting at the Grey Lodge on Frankford Ave here in the great Northeast.  ***Skip to the last 4 paragraphs to avoid the dissertation****

Before I get into that I have to say something about Philadelphia.  I often get down on this city for it's lack of beauty and general nonchalance or perceived malaise towards others.  I can't compare things like waterfalls on the beach in Oregon to anything in Philly and few things in PA come close to that for that fact.  Fresh air and room to breathe it in may be two other comparisons that I feel are unbalanced. 

But last night I had an epiphany thanks to my friends that I have made in the brew club and also from all those around me who struggle in this neighborhood.  I'm finding out that I have had my proverbial head up my rear-end about how great Oregon is that I was blocking out all that I had known before about Philly that I would actually brag about to Oregonians about what Philly has to offer and what it can offer.  The list is long, but Philly's history is incontrovertible.  You can't argue that at all.  History is spoken to us in the city's architecture, which I feel needs a booster shot, but it's still there to be enjoyed and studied.  I just feel it needs more care before it disappears.  But this city not only has history founded in government and the nations' founding fathers but also in recreation.  For example Fishtown was the nation's first suburb and Philadelphia at it's beginnings was rooted in the culture of BEER.  Last night thanks to something that Steve Hawk (Philly Beer Geek 2010) and Carolyn Smagalski "The Beer Fox" alluded to made me open my eyes.  As they talked to us about Philly Beer Week and the Philly Beer Geek events I got pensive.  Of course, I had a few pints to help the creativity flow, but I was illuminated to the fact that not only is Philly's past steeped in brewing, craft brewing, and home brewing but it is in the present as well and is constantly boiling over with enthusiasm about the future.  I finally realized that all these west coast "beer towns" really are playing second fiddle to Philly.  I in no way am trying to put them down in any respect.  They are great places with multitudes of great beers, perhaps more than the Philly Area, and maybe better!  Who knows?  Everyone has different tastes and "better" is really only up to you the reader/beer drinker.  Philadelphia and it's surrounding neighbors have their place in beer history that none other have.  That cannot be denied.  In that, I think Philly needs to use it's history to pry itself into the future with such things as waterfront revitalization projects including the building the ship that William Penn sailed on as an attraction at Penn's Landing.  I personally feel it's not only local pride that should support this great city, but national pride as well!  I sent many a proposal to two Presidents of the United States over the years decreeing just that.  This local craft beer movement in Philly could be construed as pride in the nation when looked at the idea from this vantage.

I'm a big fan of BEER even though my beginnings with it were not on good grounds.  In high school I didn't drink it.  Many of my friends did.  I had fun anyway.  They were good times and I can't remember anything that ever happened being bad because of it.  I just didn't do it.  College changed my mind a bit.  It was a time of very large frat parties and GDI (non-frat) parties when I was introduced to Piels.  Rows and Rows of 17 dollar kegs of Piels.  I did NOT like Piels, but I did decide to have some.  I can still taste it now that I recollect.  It wasn't pleasant and hence the necessity to "shotgun" cans of beer or chug it as fast as you could because it was like carbonated corn flavored water!

So during my college years I was in upstate Pennsylvania while in session and during the summers I was living at the beach in Ocean City, MD.  Neither place had good beer, they did have rum though!  I often opted for spiced rum in those days until later in my college career when I found myself at Penn State's main campus at what I learned was called a "microbrewery".  It's still there from what I understand.  The name escapes me and I can't find a name to attach to a microbrewery open in the early 90's in State College, PA.  About 6 friends and I read the descriptions of the beers that they had and we all decided on getting pitchers of the Porter.  "Four pitchers of Porter, Please!"  I smelled the first beer that I ever saw served in a pint.  I floated away on it's roasted aroma and took my first hearty sip.  I had found my true love!  EVERYONE else hated it.  They were soon to order their old stand-by's and I was to have 4 pitchers of Porter to myself! What a night!

So now I knew what beer was really like and how it was supposed to be!  But I had no idea where to get it.  I happened upon a downtown bar in Philly sometime later called Sugar Mom's.  I think it is still there.  It was a really neat former sugar warehouse with the kind of ambiance that I like in a hang out. I didn't get to go there as often as I liked, but Sugar Mom's had microbrews from all over the country and world, for that matter, in bottle and on tap!  This was the mid 90's and from what I understand the craft beer movement was underway in Philly or more like in full swing, but to someone in the northeast it was out of reach I suppose.  And plus, I have to add, I wasn't that obsessed with beer or drinking for that matter.  I found myself in offbeat places like Khyber Pass on occasion and had the best of times!  The Beach Club in Philly was a huge night club that had reggae bands play that were straight from Jamaica playing in the summer time.  Still, no quality beer! 

Eventually I found myself in Portland, Oregon and unbeknownst to me I was about to find the best beers that I have ever had in my life at that time from breweries on the coast, breweries in the high desert mountains, and local breweries as well.  All with different qualities and attributes that I loved!  It was a great diversity of beer as well as people and I owe it all to a fellow named Don Younger who owned a bar called the Horsebrass Pub.  It was destiny that I ended up there.  It was a local place that I checked out one time with my boss for lunch.  Yeah, I had a boss who took his colleagues for drinks and food for lunch.  Portland was great!  "It was true love, the Horsebrass and me!"  I would soon be tasting beer from all over the world, settling in on one called Bombardier from the UK as my standby.  It was malty and mildly sweet with mellow notes oak maybe and not very hoppy at all.  I was introduced to many styles of beer, tasted most, liked them all, and certainly had my favorites and some that would make me pucker from the hops!

I had brewed with friends since the late 80's but never took it seriously.  Even in Oregon many of my friends brewed beer and wine and I helped them with interest, but not as a hobby.  But for some reason, and I really can't nail it down, the first thing that I purchased when I moved back to Philly was a homebrewing setup from a guy off of Craigslist and started brewing 5 gallon batches of beer.  Mostly extract and specialty grain brewing until this winter when I decided to take that leap into all grain brewing!  I'm glad that I finally did because I don't want to do it any other way now.  It's wicked easy with the right equipement and it's not a very big investment when you compare it with other hobbies out there.  I barely surf anymore because of travel costs and I'm really not all that good!  I'm good enough to have had some really fun sessions in some incredibly beautiful locations though!  So that hobby isn't going anywhere.  It will stay with me.

So, like, I gave you a dissertation on my life leading up to last nights meeting at the Grey Lodge.  The club is fairly new with a small, but eager, membership.   For the first 8 meetings we have had a core of individuals come along to taste each others homebrews and have been blessed with numerous guests all super open and willing to help us along and it's quite cool.  It has shown me that Philly Beer Lovers are a supportive bunch all working together for the good of Philly Craft Beer and it's enjoyment.

Last nights guests were no exception.  We were graced with the presence of Carolyn Smagalski who is journalist and a judge of numerous events around the country and an all around excellent person!  She even knows about the Horsebrass Pub!  Wow!  I am smitten!  She came to talk to us about the upcoming Philly Beer Week and more specifically the Philly Beer Geek competition as the Grey Lodge is going to hold preliminary events for the competition!  We couldn't have been more stoked!  She gave us over to Steve Hawk who competed 3 times and finally won in 2010 to tell us about what we might expect and some really cool experiences that he had while competing like the time he had to perform the answer to the question of how you would propose to your favorite beer in which he had his girlfriend dress up in a bottle of his favorite brew so he could propose to her, she said "yes" for real and then burped in his face!  She's a keeper Steve!  Lucky Sod!

Carolyn then talked with us about how she got involved in beer journalism, her judging experiences, and her ideas on Gluten Free beer in which was very informative to me as I am designing my first beer and it will be gluten free!  So thank you very much Carolyn and Steve!  We are amped for the next meeting when the Philly Beer Geek competition kicks off at the Grey Lodge with local beer trivia with you guys!  It's truly an honor!

I can't say enough about our good natured members either!  Without you guys, all would be for naught!  Lucky 13 Homebrew Club is nothing without your thoughts, your generosity and of course your tasty brewskis!  Thanks guys and thanks to our Lodgemaster Scoats who provides us with the best venue and best menu!  CHOMP!

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