Brew pubs near and far

I’ve been on the road for the last couple of weekends, which hasn’t left me much time for blogging. In addition, there have been a couple of themes competing for my attention (and overlapping with each other a bit) which has made it a challenge to get a new post started. However, today I’m sitting out a snow day at home with a four-day holiday weekend to follow, so now’s the time to organize at least one of those strands into a coherent narrative, so we’ll go with brew pubs as the story for today.

Brew pubs are a great way to enjoy beer with food that is meant to go with beer. It’s usually not especially fancy cuisine–burgers and sandwiches, maybe pizza, maybe what I would consider standard American homestyle cooking (meatloaf is a common choice), so the food prices are reasonable. The ambience is definitely casual, and often the decor is pretty spare–frequently the brewing apparatus is in plain view as a steady reminder of why you are there.

The management also wants to impress you with both the quality and the variety of their products, so you can often get a sampler of several different beers in small servings (typically 6 oz or less), presumably on the theory that you will find one or two that are worth following up with a full serving or coming back for on another occasion. My travels have taken me to two brew pubs in the last couple of weeks, both of which fit this profile to a “T”. (No etymological quarrels, please; I looked it up and sources are ambiguous as to whether it should be to a “T” or to a tee.)

Back to the story. Brew pub #1 is the Allentown (PA) Brew Works. I was in Allentown because son G had a gymnastics meet there two weekends ago. As we have done for the last couple of years, we drove down together, spent the night before the competition in a local Holiday Inn, and then headed back home after the competition. Last year, Yelp! led me to this brew pub, and my son was happy to indulge in a return trip for further research. IMG_0218Early on a wintry Saturday night they weren’t particularly busy, so we were seated immediately at a table in the front window where we could also see the brewing tanks (in the photo at right). The server explained how the beer sampler worked and gave us some recommendations about the menu and about the beers, after which we placed our orders.  (Important aside: I learned from my brother-in-law who waited tables in his younger days that it’s almost always a good idea to ask the server for her/his opinion about the menu.  A good server has opinions and wants to share them, a mediocre server will tell you what other customers like, and only an inexperienced server should say something like, “Oh, everything’s great here!”)

One of the fun things about ordering a sampler is to see how it is presented.  Every brew pub seems to have come up with their own apparatus for serving several small portions in a way that lets you easily keep track of what you are drinking.  Here it was a little circular metal stand with cutouts to support the miniature glasses slightly off the table.  The sampler includes the brewery’s four standard year-round beers plus a choice of two “premium” beers, some of which are available year-round and some of which are seasonal.  Going clockwise around the photo at left, IMG_0217you will see first the four flagship beers (a blonde ale, a wit bier, an amber lager, and a porter), followed by a saison they call Monkey Wrench, and finally their Hop Explosion IPA.  I drank them somewhat in the order presented, though I’m pretty sure I pushed the saison and the IPA a little earlier and saved the porter for last.  (Give me a break, it was almost two weeks ago!)  The blonde ale was a very beer-y beer, but nice and light and a good way to start after several hours on the road.  The wit bier (served with an orange slice, as you can see in the photo) clearly draws its inspiration from the same sources that Blue Moon came from.  The saison and the amber lager both went nicely with my dinner of chicken with an apple glaze, garlic mashed potatoes, and a spicy pile of corn.  (Another aside–I have decided that if I’m in doubt about my entrée selection at a restaurant, I look at the side dishes and see if any of them grab my attention.  Sometimes the sides are the most interesting part of the meal.)  The Hop Explosion was a citrusy West Coast IPA that came as a server recommendation.  And the porter was a nice, malty finish to the evening–you can think of it as part of my dessert as I helped polish off the dregs of G’s ice cream sundae.

Closer to home, last weekend both sons G and S had a social engagement on Friday night that allowed Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave and me to have an adult dinner out.  Even though she is a pinot grigio drinker, we often go to one of our local brew pubs, Union Station Brewery, for precisely the reasons noted above: not too expensive, casual ambience, and simple, satisfying fare.  (Brew pubs are also surprisingly kid friendly, and the downtown location is convenient for when the in-laws are visiting since they usually stay at a hotel within easy walking distance, so we have taken the whole family on numerous occasions.)  Union Station is a corporate affiliate of John Harvard’s Brewery, but they do their own brewing on site and have their own styles of beer so they aren’t a cloned part of a chain.  (I’m planning to expound more on eating and drinking locally in the next post.)

Union Station’s current selection of five beers is arranged in a “Z” pattern (as explained by my server)  in the photo at right.  IMG_0219In that order, starting at the upper left is Northern Light (a pilsner), then Providence Pale Ale (described as an American pale ale), an English IPA, their Holiday Spice Ale, and a Russian imperial stout they call Lights Out Stout.  My least favorite was the Holiday Spice Ale, in which I think I eventually identified nutmeg as the predominant spice, a flavor that I don’t think works all that well with beer.  On the other hand, the Providence Pale Ale and Lights Out Stout (the latter featuring lots of molasses) were clear winners that I would happily order again (and the server was right on when he declared that they were his favorites).  Dinner that night was a turkey burger and fries; of all the burgers on the menu, the turkey burger had the most interesting condiments, continuing the theme of interesting side dishes.  The fries were an indulgence which I will be giving up for Lent as I have done for a couple of years now, not so much out of religious devotion as just for the discipline of foregoing a food that is enjoyable but not all that good for me.

These two visits alone gave me 11 new beers, more than doubling my total to 19 (and that’s without counting some new beers in the house and a couple more from my other out of town journey last weekend).  Writing about those will have to wait for later, however, as a glance out the window shows that the snow has changed over to rain, which means that the boys and I had better go out and push aside the slush now before it has a chance to freeze solid when the temperature drops back below freezing as is expected to happen on the tail end of this storm.  Cheers!