The Joy of the Harvest

Making your own beer is one of the great joys in life.  Even if it never approaches the stuff you can buy, one’s own homebrew somehow always takes just a little better. Even a mediocre batch of homemade beer  with its slight funk still possesses that certain je ne sais qua that cannot be found anywhere else.


Yet  over the years I have found that this appreciation is magnified when you grow some of the ingredients yourself.  Now since most of us cannot grow, let alone malt the necessary amount of barely. nor do we keep and culture our own yeasts, the easiest way to do this is to grow your own hops.


For four years I have cultivated both Cascade and Centennial hops growing them on DSC_3220lines strung up the back of our church parish hall.  Although the first year yielded very little I am now getting two full harvests each year.  Of course while the vines are beautiful the only real use for them is brewing.  So when late August rolls around we have gotten into the habit of brewing a wet-hop or “harvest” beer.  One year we went so far as to collect and brew with  rain water from Hurricane Irene.


DSC_3225This year we decided to wait until we were actually brewing to go out and pick them.  So while the grains were steeping we went out to the garden to pick the flowers of aromatic, oily goodness.  It takes a surprising amount of hops to make the necessary weight  for the aroma stage and to have enough extra to dry hop the carboys.


DSC_3227While this beer has been consistently good I am under no illusions.  There are a lot of great wet-hopped beers out there.  Yet knowing that part of the beer came not from the supply store but as the fruit of my own labor makes our own beer taste that much better.


So what about you?  Do you grow your own hops?  If so, what variety?  How much use do you get out them?  Please let us know.

Beer Cocktails

I confess that I am rather skeptical when it comes to  beer based drinks.  Beer, be it a simple pilsner or a complex barrel aged stout, is best appreciated on its own.   Yet they seem to be growing in popularity.  From classic concoctions like the michelada to dreck like Bud Light’s Limearita and its ilk, there are many different cocktails out there that rely on beer for their flavor.  To date I have yet to find one I really liked, until this summer that is.


 That’s when I finally decided to try this recipe from Draft Magazine.  I find this magazine one of the best out there about beer since it includes more than just the usual assortment of brewer and style profiles, it also devotes many pages to food and recipes.  And so it was, not without some reluctance, that I decided to give this one a try.


I used a good resposado tequila and the same Cuvee Rene gueuze shown in the picture which I chose strictly because of the price point.  I sure didn’t want to use an expensive bottle only to find that I had wasted it on a dud recipe.  Given that there were only 4 ingredients it came together rather quickly.  One word of advice- don’t fill the shaker to the brim- the gueuze will foam up when you shake it!


The result was not just decent- it was excellent.  While it could never be mistaken from a traditional margarita the balance of flavors was wonderful.  Sour but just sweet enough it went down dangerously easy.


I liked it so much I have made it twice more using different gueuzes with equally good results.  In fact, I like it so much I plan to try my own variations using gose and Berliner Weisse beers instead of the gueuze.  The light sour, and in the case of the gose, the salt too, should stand in nicely.


The recipe and photos below come directly from the March/April 2014 issue.

How to: Make the ultimate beergarita

It doesn’t look like a bright yellow marg, but the flavors are dead-on, and the bubbles are a refreshing bonus! Here’s how to mix up a proper beer margarita:



2 ounces gueuze

1 ounce tequila

1 teaspoon agave nectar

squeeze of lime

A gueuze stands in for tart Triple Sec, and a little agave soothes the sour. Shake it up, salt your glass, pour over ice and serve.

To see the original article click here.


If you try it let us know how you like it!

No Room in the Trunk? No Problem!






When it comes to packing the car I am a master.  To me it is a challenge like a jigsaw puzzle… I love to try to get all the pieces put together in the most efficient way possible. As a result I can squeeze more bags into the small trunk of our Mazda 3 than anyone else I know and still manage to leave room to see out of the rear view mirror.  This skill comes in handy, not just in terms of packing for vacation, it is also useful to visiting breweries.

Two weeks ago I undertook my annual pilgrimage up to see family in Vermont and Rhode Island.  As you may know Vermont is particularly rich in great local beer, most of which cannot be found outside the state.  Many times I have come back with bottles squeezed into every available nook and cranny of the car.  Once I managed to pack in two cases of Heady Topper in addition to everything else.

Although I did not get to many breweries on this trip I still had more than 3 cases of beer to squeeze in amongst our bags.    Below is a list of the beers I brought back:

Berkshire: Czeck Pilsner and Lost Sailor IPA

Foolproof: Backdraft IPA, Raincloud Robust Porter

Grassroots: Arctic Saison (Hill Farmstead and Anchorage), Arctic Soiree (Hill                 Farmstead and Anchorage), Black Nitro (Hill Farmstead and Amager)

Longtrail: Imperial Pumpkin

Switchback: Extra Pale Ale

Wachusset: Larry Imperial IPA

Trinity: IPA

Mystic: Saison, Table Beer, Day of Doom

Woodstock: Double Pig’s Ear Double Down Brown Ale

Graysail: Flying Jenny EPA, Flagship

Newport: Storm IPA

If you’ve ever had any of them, let me know what you thought.  So how much beer have you managed to squeeze in the car?  Solo trips or with just a beer buddy don’t count.   No, I want to know how many bottles and growlers have you packed among all the kid’s luggage coming back from your road trip?  Let us know below.


DSC_3196 DSC_3198

My daughter is going to see One Direction. Where did I go wrong?

Since 7 am this morning my daughter has been up carefully laying out her outfit, getting her hair dye ready and offering incense to the shine of picture covering one whole wall of her room.  She has been looking forward to this day since January.  For tonight she will travel to Citizens Bank Park to worship at the altar of  the scourge known as One Direction.


I confess am baffled.  From the time she was little I fed her a carefully chosen diet of music that ranged from the Decemberists to classic funk to Halestorm.  Yet somehow, in spite of this nurturing, she has now devoted herself to this latest incarnation of the universal parental bane otherwise known as the “boy band.”  Where did I go wrong?


It’s not that I object to pop.  I had no problem with her first concert when she went to see P!nk last year.  I was fine with her plans to see Lady Gaga (sadly the concert was cancelled).  But what I fail to understand is why a group of 5 teen boys singing insipid drivel can whip a stadium of 42,000 teen girls into an utter frenzy.  I am not blind to the sexual dynamic here, but I just don’t get the appeal of the whole genre.


So I turn to you gentle reader.  What’s a father to do?  What is it about boy bands that make our daughters act like this?  How should I respond?  Can anyone help me?  Parents?  Former boy band groupies who are now in recovery?  Please post your comments and above all, pray for me.


UPDATE: I edited the post a bit because in retrospect I realized that I wasn’t simply expressing my own bafflement. I was making fun of my daughter.  No matter what I think of One Direction that’s not cool.  While I still don’t find what there is to like in the music she had a great time going to her first concert on her own and as a parent I am most grateful for that.

We got to get back to the garden (beer garden that is)

Last weekend my wife and I were trying to find a suitable location for the after party that will follow my brother’s wedding reception.  Since many of the guests will be from out of town, or even out of the country, we wanted to find somewhere that really represented our fair city.  We thought about the usual iconic restaurants, bars and hotels but then she was struck by a flash of inspiration.  And so after dinner that night we headed down to the new Independence Beer Garden.


downloadWhen we arrived at Sixth and Chestnut Streets (directly across from the Liberty Bell) you could see even from a distance that the place was packed.  The main hall was simply too noisy so we walked around the outskirts to try to find some open space to sit and enjoy our beer.  Finding nowhere where there were just two empty seats I spotted a grouping of six Adirondack style chairs occupied by only four people.  I asked if the two empty seats were taken and were told they weren’t.


For our first round (I had Yards IPA on nitro and she had Ommegang Wit) we spoke only with each other, discussing the merits of the venue.  But as our beers were running dry one of the young women seated in the group complimented my t-shirt which read “Fizzy Yellow Beer if for Wussies”.  With the ice broken we turned our chairs into their group and began to talk.  Turns out  all four were originally from Ukraine.  Two now live in Philly and two were down visiting from Brooklyn.  Soon they were pouring some of their pitcher (Yards Love Stout) into our empty glasses.  We reciprocated by buying the next round.


Beer brings people together.  I have written before about beer’s capacity as social lubricant and about the potential that the bar has to make friends out of strangers.  This holds true even here in the United States where we tend to prefer reserved tables or sitting with as much space as possible between ourselves and the people on either side of us at the bar.


Yet in Europe and many other places around the world the social potential of beer reaches its apex in beer gardens and beer halls.  They are of course largely the same as the average American bar.  People still go there to drink, to let off steam, to talk politics and sports and to make friends.  The major difference is in the seating.  Beer gardens and halls tend to feature long tables, often seating a dozen or more.  As such our concept of personal space goes out the window.


Think about it, a group of three or four people couldn’t possibly hope to keep such a table all to themselves. As the place fills up, people inevitably come and fill in the extra space.  The sense of isolation that some Americans value so highly is simply impossible in such a gregarious setting.  Moreover, the beer garden is not simply a place to dash into for a quick round.  It invite you to sit and stay, often for a long time.  It’s allure is furthered by music and games, be it ping pong, shuffle board, bocce or even giant Jenga.


Another important difference from the traditional American bar is that the beer garden isPicture 632 usually a family friendly environment.  In my travels to Germany in particular, this was a place for everyone to gather, to eat, talk, play and of course drink.  It is not considered at all incongruous to have children playing just because the men (and some of the women too) are hoisting liter mugs of beer. (FYI, my daughter is only holding that mug for the photo op)


philly-fergies-beergarden-lg_636_400_85_s_c1Thankfully, this time honored tradition of drinking and community is finally catching on here, particularly in Philadelphia.  Several years ago Frankford Hall helped to get the trend of an outdoor beer garden going.  But this summer, spurred by a newly exploited loop hole in the law, a number of “pop up” beer gardens have appeared all over the city.  Some are in very public places like the Parkway in front of the Art Museum.  Others, like Fergie’s “Beach,” (above) are in open lots next to established bars.  But I am not here to opine on the legalities but I hope they are here to stay.  Because I enjoyed meeting my new friends from Ukraine and it might never have happened without the blessing of the Beer Garden.

Every Saint has a Past, Every Sinner has a Future

One never knows where inspiration will strike.  As someone who looks for moments of the Divine outside its traditional milieu, I try to stay alert for such things, but at times even I get caught off guard.


il_570xN.419946369_as8fI was heading towards the checkout line at the local Acme when I noticed the young woman standing in front of me.  Her tank top revealed a multitude of tattoos, none of which were very good.  Yet as I was about to squinch up my nose in displeasure, I noticed the tattoo on her shoulder.  But what struck me was not its quality (it was just a poor as the others) but rather the sentiment that was permanently inscribed there.  It read “Every saint has a past.  Every sinner has a future”


I stood transfixed, completely absorbed in considering the depth and meaning of those words.  If anything their poor execution made them even more profound.  In these words I heard a plea to look beyond the surface of a person and consider not just who they might be at the moment, but instead to try and see them as a work in progress.  Who might they have been?  Who might they still become?


As I thought about it more I realized how very apt these words were for the occasion.  The young woman who first brought them to my attention was in fact covered with about a dozen tattoos of poor quality.  I confess that I am often quick to both judge and dismiss those who cover themselves in bad ink.  I am not proud of this fact but there it is.  How wonderfully and indeed grace-fully ironic that the very thing that would normally elicit my contempt was instead the catalyst that challenged it.


When I got home I hurriedly googled the phrase only to find that it was in fact a rather popular expression appearing on a multitude of tattoos and Etsy jewelry.  The quote itself, like so many other profound and witty words, comes from Oscar Wilde.  In full context it reads, “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”  In full context it rings a bit more of Wilde’s wit and social commentary, yet still held its power to challenge me.


In thinking about those words and the young woman who first brought them to my attention I realize that I was not nearly as open-minded as I liked to think.  Truth be told I knew nothing of her past yet I was fully prepared to judge her present and indeed her future based solely on the quality of her tattoos.  Although I shall never know her name I will always be grateful to her for helping to open my eyes and see that I had a long way to go in terms of accepting that fact that regardless of whether we are saints, sinners or somewhere in between, we all have a past and that no matter how bad our past may be, that it doesn’t always have to determine our future.

The Curator Challenge

Let me begin by apologizing for another extended absence.  I truly appreciate your patience and pledge to be more consistent moving forward.  I have many stories to share from recent travels.  Now, back to the business of beer.


Earlier this year my good friend Ben (you remember Ben don’ t you?) and I were discussing dopplebocks.  As you probably know dopplebocks (or double bocks in English) are a fortified bock  beer first created by German monks to sustain them through their Lenten fast.  We talked about the merits of this brand and that and of how our American versions stack up again the German originals.  While I have tried many different ones over the years in the end there is Celebrator and then everyone else.  To my surprise Ben (who knows his dopplebocks) disagreed.


“Have you tried Curator?”  I shook my head.   Not only had I not tried it,  I had never even heard of it before.  “Kirk, Celebrator is good but Curator tastes like heaven’s vagina”  (Did I fail to mention that Ben is given both to hyperbole and color metaphor?)  Once we both stopped laughing Ben pressed his point.  “Kirk, you need to try this beer!  In fact, if you try it and don’t agree with me that it is best dopplebock out there I’ll convert to Christianity!”  In terms of religion Ben walks the line between agnostic and atheist so needless to say this caught my attention.  We shook hands and called it a bet.


With lots of work to do it took me sometime to actually track this beer down.  No bottle shop I visited had it, indeed most had never heard of it.  But finally I found it.  The weekend after Easter I was taking a much needed Sunday off from work and   was staying downtown with my lovely wife.  While walking around Olde City we wandered into Bierstube.  Knowing they were a German beer bar I immediately read through their bottle list and to my delight found my long sought after goal.


The bartender (who knew her stuff) brought out the large bottle, popped the top and set it front of me next to an empty glass.  The first thing I noticed was how cold the bottle was.  She agreed with me that it would be far better to let it warm up.  I wanted not only to be fair to Ben but also to get the most out of it.  So in the meantime I enjoyed a half liter of happy hour special pilsner and conversation.  Once my mug was dry the hour of truth had finally arrived.


WP_000038The color was quite dark, somewhere between brown and black.  The aroma was remarkable, rich and full of a huge range of malty overtones.  The beer itself was quite delicious.  However, I was immediately struck by the amount of fruit, especially plums and raisins, that seemed to be present.  Moreover, while it finished well, it was a bit sweeter and more cloying that I was quite expecting.  In fact Curator reminded me more of a good Belgian Quad than of the kind of thing I was looking for in a dopplebock.

Wanting to be sure that I had gotten a good bottle I asked our barkeep and she confirmed my perceptions as accurate.  To serve as proof, I snapped this picture with my phone (apologies for the poor quality) and texted Ben my conclusions.   While Curator is indeed a good beer, I’ll be sticking with my Celebrator whenever the dopplebock craving strikes.


In fairness, once I told him that I respectfully disagreed Ben never protested.  We are still trying to get him booked into catechism classes but will keep you posted.  If you have ever tried Curator, Celebrator, or otherwise have a favorite dopplebock, please let us know.  Until next time….