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Direct from the Best Beer Drinking City in America
Reporting and drinking beer in Philly and beyond
Oct. 1, 2010 | Report from Colorado... and Pennsylvania
TROEGENATOR… MIDAS TOUCH… PIKELAND PILS. They’re among the region’s most popular labels, boasting national reputations partly because of the medals they’ve won over the years at the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
Now you can add another name to that list – one that is considerably more obscure:
The farmhouse ale from McKenzie Brew House in Malvern and Chadds Ford picked up its third gold medal in the past four years last month at the festival, the world’s largest and most prestigious beer competition.
Good luck trying to find it.
While Saison Vautour is part of the brewpubs’ regular tap lineup, it’s the unfiltered bottled version of that’s won all those awards. And it’s bottled only after it’s been properly conditioned in wood barrels.
Upon returning from Denver, brewer Ryan Michaels discovered his bottle supply had bottomed out. Give him another week, though, and you should be able to pick up the gold medalist at either brewpub for $13.95.
It’s totally worth the price. Unfiltered with a touch of funk from the use of a unique bacteria strain, the Belgian-style saison (6.5 percent alcohol) is lightly spiced and makes a great partner with seafood or Thai.
And the name? It’s French for “vulture,” a species that apparently hangs out near the Malvern brewery.
Another local brewpub favorite returned to the medals podium this year: Iron Hill Russian Imperial Stout. The strong (9.5 percent alcohol), dark ale picked up its third gold medal, the first since 2006. Look for it in 750ml bottles at some Iron Hill locations.
A few other post-GABF observations.
By the book
Beer writer Lew Bryson is out with the completely revised fourth edition of “Pennsylvania Breweries” (Stackpole Books, $19.95). I asked him what’s changed since his first look at the state’s beer scene in 1998.
“The most interesting – hell, amazing – trend is where they're popping up. The busiest place in the state right now is the arc between Wilkes-Barre and State College. Ten years ago, there was Otto's, Selin's Grove, Bullfrog and The Lion. Now there’s 11 breweries or brewpubs through there, with four more probably going to open before the end of the year.
“…Almost any place with the population to support a brewery in Pennsylvania has one now.”
Want to explore the frontier beer scene?
Bryson suggests taking a day trip to Williamsport, Pa., where (after a quick stop at the Woolrich Factory Store) you can check out the Bullfrog Brewery, Franco's Lounge and Rumrunners. Then find a designated driver for a scenic drive to Old Forge Brewing in nearby Danville, Selin's Grove Brewing Co. in Selinsgrove, and Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks in Millheim.
Here’s your chance to bend an elbow with Joe Sixpack. I’ll be hanging out and pouring samples at PJ Whelihan’s (799 Dekalb Pike, Blue Bell) on Thursday (10/7) from 5-7 p.m. On Friday (10/8) afternoon, I’ll be behind the bar at Bell’s Beverage (2809 S. Front St., South Philly, across from the I-95 ramp) with free samples from Flying Dog Brewing…
Yet another web site is taking a crack at monitoring area draft beer selections. This one is www.phillytapfinder.com, with a very nice user interface that will help you locate elusive kegs. It claims to be on top of the draft lists of about 60 city bars… Bring a book to Sunday’s Docktoberfest at Dock Street Brewery (50th Street and Baltimore Avenue, Cedar Park). The donation will go to prisoners through the local non-profit, Books Through Bars. It’ll make you feel even better while you’re enjoying live music and Dock Street’s craft beers. Kegs tap at 2 p.m…
Can craft beer work its charm on East Falls? The owners of the new Fork and Barrel (4213 Ridge Ave., at the site of the former Pour House) are going to give it a stab with a very atmospheric candlelit gastropub. The menu is hearty, including braised rabbit cooked in abbey-style ale and wild boar bratwurst and braised cabbage. But it’s the beer selection that’s really pushing it, with a lineup of notably pricey taps. On its first weekend, I spotted Italy’s Del Ducato Chimera dark ale and Denmark’s Amager Hr. Frederickson imperial stout, both $9. The cheapest glass is 7 bucks, and the bottle selection tops out at $49 for a 25 oz. bottle of Belgium’s outstanding Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek…
Put these new joints on your must-visit list, too: