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March 30, 2008

Web Standards Rap [nanoblog]

Maybe not quite as funny as last summer’s Original Design Gangsta rap (by Kyle Webster), but actually full of good advice—The Poetic Prophet (AKA The SEO Rapper) on web standards and clean code as the way to SEO success. (Via Chris Herdt on the PSO mailing list)

March 21, 2008

Bridgewater’s Pub After Beer Week

My only regret regarding Beer Week was not being able to attend all 150-odd events (kidding!). Especially painful was missing the Beer Week happy hours at one of my favorite joints, Bridgewater’s Pub, a haven of good food and drink in bustling 30th Street Station. According to the schedule at least, they hosted Summit, Spaten, Southampton, and Lancaster.

Last night, I stopped in for dinner and passed up such delicacies as Duck Fat Popcorn for the more conventional Pulled Pork Sliders topped with slaw. I had time for two beers, a Southampton IPA and a Spaten Spring Bock, served in a large Spaten glass mug. Hey, it was the first day of Spring!

Today, we got out of work early, and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. SEPTA helped me decide where, because the R5 I was on ended in Philadelphia. With an hour to kill, I took that as a sign and headed straight back to Bridgewater’s Pub, this time for lunch. You might think I was in a rut, but every time I go back, there’s something different. They had already switched out one of the draft beers, replacing the Southampton IPA with Southampton Biere de Mars. Their IPA is good, but the Biere de Mars was one of the tastiest and most drinkable beers I’ve ever had. They also added Beamish Stout on draft (it’s possible I just missed seeing it yesterday), so I had one of those, too. Delicious. I had Beamish on the brain anyway from watching the premier episode of “Two Guys on Beer” (the two guys being Johnny Bilotta and David Martorana), which featured a “Stout Shootout,” a blind tasting of Guinness, Murphy’s, and Beamish. Check it out. Oh, I had the veggie burger to help wash down the beer.

There was an interesting moment just as I was leaving. I was sitting at one of high-top tables instead of the bar (partly because the bar was crowded, but mostly so I could use the laptop). From this vantage point, I noticed that when one of the customers left his seat at the bar temporarily (I knew he was coming back because he left his bags), his cell phone fell on the floor among the bar stools. This happened just as I was getting the check, so I didn’t have a chance to catch him. By the time I finished with the check, somebody else had arrived and put their luggage right on top of the cell phone. Now, I am a shy person, and it was amusing to me that I would have to explain that I needed to shift their baggage so I could grab this phone. So I asked the one guy to pick up his giant backpack so I could get the cell phone—I felt like a magician who could produce cell phones from thin air—and then handed it to the other guy (who was now back). He was very appreciative and gave me a look like I had saved his life. He was just really surprised. Even though the clock at Bridgewater’s is ten minutes fast, I really had to go so, checking my pocket for my cell phone, I headed to the platform.


Have you considered changing the name of your blog to BereCat...? :-)

March 20, 2008

Beer Week 2008: Michael Jackson Tutored Tasting

As a newcomer to beer, I basically learned who Michael Jackson was when he died last year. He started the Tutored Tastings series at Penn almost twenty years ago, and it looks as if the event will continue without him indefinitely. Judging by the number of heartfelt tributes I heard this week, it’s a shame I never got to hear him speak. I believe he would wish us all to stop moping around, have a good time and drink up, so let’s get on with it. Cheers, Mr. Jackson!

The tutored tasting consists of three sessions each with seating for about 400 people in the Upper Egyptian Gallery of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. I went to the first one at 1:00 PM. Because I was one of the last people in the room, I ended up near the end of a long table and basically had my own set of beer samples arrayed before me, the envy of all who surrounded me. But believe me, I shared. This stuff doesn’t drink itself, you know; I needed help.

I believe there were four panelists on the dais, Don Russell (he’s everywhere! he’s everywhere!), Tom Dalldorf (editor of Celebrator Beer News), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), and somebody else? They were far away, although the sound system was decent.

Presenting the beers:

This was my first tasting with an actual scorecard. We were supposed to rate each beer on appearance, bouquet, balance, mouthfeel (whatever that is), aftertaste, and overall impression. Even though I didn’t have a clue, I played along and filled out my card. According to my scorecard, I’m one heck of a golfer! Oh, wait, I forgot what I was doing. Since we’re talking uniformly good beer here, it’s no surprise that my scores for all of them were very much the same. The lowest score went to Old Companion, and the highest to Palo Santo Marron. This beer was deep—rich in complex flavor and balanced, the kind of beer you could proudly serve to shut up a wine snob who looks down on the whole beer-appreciation scene. It was a little intense for a daily drinker, but it would be outstanding for a special occasion. My overall favorite was Saison Dupont, however, which I could drink all the time if it wasn’t so expensive. A sentimental favorite would have to be the Oatmeal Stout. It was an oatmeal stout (from the late Independence Brew Pub, if you must know) that sucked me into this whole beer thing a couple of years ago.

With each tasting, the crowd grew noisier and noisier, but we ran out of beer before things got totally out of control and with that, the mob was turned loose on the Chinese Rotunda for a free-for-all tasting. Yes, yet another list of what I tried from the 150 available:

  • Rogue Santas Private Reserve (a double-hopped Saint Rogue Red)
  • Brasserie des Géants Goliath Tripel
  • Sly Fox Saison Vos (it really is like champagne)
  • Radeberger Pilsner (exceptionally light and crisp)
  • Allagash White (one of my favorite Belgian wheats)
  • Great Divide Titan IPA
  • Victory Hop Wallop (you know, maybe a leetle too hoppy for me)
  • Climax Porter (nice, not too heavy)
  • Climax ESB
  • Legacy Hoptimus Prime (I have had this before and I love it)
  • Samuel Smith Organic Lager
  • Arcadia Hopmouth Double IPA
  • Arcadia London Porter
  • Bell’s Best Brown Ale (I’m a Bell’s fan, but this was kind of disappointing, actually)
  • Bell’s Pale Ale
  • Bell’s Hop Slam (a lot of good things going on in this IPA)
  • Erie Railbender
  • Weyerbacher Merry Monks Belgian-style Abby trippel Ale (really good!)

And that was the end of Beer Week for me. To Michael Jackson, may you rest in peace! As for the rest of you still earthbound, hope to see you next year.


It sounds funny to hear you say that you're a newcomer to beer. As long as I've been reading your blog, you've been into beer! Even stranger, I think I've been a beer snob for longer than you have, despite being much younger....

The Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout is one of my personal favorites, too, as is the Allagash White.

Yeah, you’re right, but I still feel like a newcomer because it seems that everywhere I go I find many beers that I have never even heard of. I date my interest in beer to early 2005 and that oatmeal stout I used to drink at Independence Brew Pub during blogger meetups. It was a while before I would try anything else. What’s oddest is that for decades I wouldn’t touch beer at all. No explanation for the transformation, except that I finally realized what I had been missing. Now I guess I’m making up for lost time ;-)

March 19, 2008

Beer Week 2008: A Bitter Bite with Joe Sixpack

In February, when I was planning my Beer Week schedule, I had decided to avoid “all the dinners featuring multiple courses and beer pairings,” because I just don’t have the capacity to eat and drink that much. The description of “A Bitter Bite with Joe Sixpack” (Jose Pistolas, March 13) sounded innocent enough: “a fun taste of hoppy beers, paired with an imaginative menu.” That didn’t say “dinner” to me, or maybe I just fixated on all those hoppy beers! Mmmm.

When I got there at 6:40, the downstairs dining room was empty except for one person, but by 7:15 every seat was filled (about 25 people). I sat at a table for four and was joined by Tom, Steve (visiting from Denver), and David, who said he has a blog (although the URL I wrote down didn’t work). One beer-related tidbit I picked up during our wide-ranging conversation was that English “bitters” is really something wonderful to try if you go to England. I was told that there’s nothing like it here in the US. Someday... I also heard that the “Most Expensive Beers” dinner, held the night before at Monk’s, was an amazing party that even included a marriage! Hard to believe, but why would they lie?

I persuaded Casey Parker (our host, representing Jose Pistolas) to sign page sixty-six of my copy of Don Russell’s book (where he lists his favorite beers). Actually, it didn’t take much persuading. :-)

The beer lineup and pairings:

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe Great IPA with a slight metallic aftertaste, probably my favorite IPA of the evening.
Heavy Sea’s Small Craft Warning Uber Pils Delicious and not too hoppy. You don’t need to be a hophead to appreciate this one.
paired with: Serrano Ham and Asparagus Risotto; shaved queso cojito and mint
Dogfish Head Aprihop Different, with a nice hoppy note added to the fruitiness.
paired with: Pan-Seared Diver Scallops; applewood bacon and Jever Pilsner braised
Sly Fox Cask Rt. 113 A treat to have this on cask. Wonderful, bitter flavor, one of my favorite IPAs, but tonight, at least, I preferred Weyerbacher’s by a nose.
paired with: Iowa Maytag bleu cheese; tomato confiture, spiced balsamic syrup
Stoudt’s Smooth Hoperator Excellent. DeRanke XX Bitter was an alternate choice, but I didn’t taste it.
paired with: Barleywine Marinated Pork Tenderloin; sweet corn souffle, creamed spinach, Vermont maple demi
Urthel Hop-It A Belgian IPA, combining the best of both worlds, but by this point, my head was spinning, so I barely sipped this one.
paired with: Isgros South Philly Rum Cake

I think I was the first person to leave and left the table in the middle of a heated discussion about global warming. I was feeling kind of warm myself—what you earthlings call drunk. I had reached my limit just before the dessert course, but all those delicious beers were just too good to pass up. Fortunately, the walk to the train helped sober me up.

Of the four events I attended during Beer Week, this was my favorite. It wasn’t just one thing that stood out. Rather, everything was just right—my favorite kinds of beer and the best food of any of the events, all in a relaxing and friendly setting. Thanks to Don Russell for making it happen.

Oh, by the way, if you’re planning to go to Beer Week in 2009, don’t wait until February like I did to make up your mind.

March 18, 2008

Beer Week 2008: Schmidt’s History at Triumph Brewing

Tuesday the 11th was my next outing, and this time I dragged my wife along to one of the many “Meet the Brewer” events, this one featuring local beer historian Rich Wagner and Jack Ehmann (formerly of Schmidt’s) at Triumph Brewing. Unlike most of the other events, this one wasn’t built around tasting a variety of craft beer, but my father was a loyal Schmidt’s drinker, and besides, I had never seen Rich Wagner speak.

We arrived around 6:30 and asked to be seated as close to the screen (past the bar on the back wall) as possible. Since there were quite a few people there already, we weren’t that close, so while it was pretty easy to see, it wasn’t so easy to hear. We settled in and started ordering. During the course of the talk, we ordered schlachtplatte mit brotchen (a sausage and cheese sampler—a Beer Week special), buffalo chicken spring rolls, edamame, and a nicoise salad. I’ve always enjoyed the food at Triumph, and tonight the sampler was particularly outstanding. Our beer selection included a Kellerbier Pilsner and Bengal Gold IPA (for me) and a Honey Wheat and Schwarzbier (for Anne).

Somehow I got the impression that this lecture would be an overview of the history of brewing in Philadelphia, but it was really only about the history of Schmidt’s. No problem, as the history of Schmidt’s alone provided more than enough material for a fascinating presentation.

March 17, 2008

Beer Week 2008: Extreme Beer Homebrew Challenge

It’s going to be all beer all the time for the next few days here at mere cat as I wrap up my adventures during Philly’s first-ever Beer Week.

I had hoped to start Beer Week right on its opening day of March 7th by attending “Beer and Cheese: A Victorious Combo” (at Tria’s Fermentation School), because, well, I love beer and cheese, but it sold out before I could get a ticket. Monday was my next free night, so I decided to go to Jose Pistolas for “The Extreme Beer Homebrew Challenge.” My interest in homebrewing is nascent, but from experience sampling the beers of the few homebrewers I know, I was sure the beer would be both unusual and excellent. Also we do happen to have basic brewing equipment (acquired when Anne made a batch of mead last year), so I thought the evening might help inspire me to try it myself.

The event was presented in part by Home Sweet Homebrew (homebrew supplier), and I had the pleasure of meeting George and Nancy Hummel, the proprietors, as well as Casey Parker, one of the owners of Jose Pistolas. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet the other sponsor, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. I really only knew one person who was going to be there (one of the homebrewers), but during the evening, I ran into an old friend of mine who has been brewing for a while.

The place was so packed, I actually had a little difficulty getting to taste all the beers, but in between gorging myself on chicken and quesadillas, here’s what I tried:

  • Cuckoo for Cocoa Bock (Weizenbock) by Chris Clair
  • Hop Goggles Belgian IPA by Chris Coval
  • Greer’s Garage Grand Cru Belgian Strong Ale by John Greer
  • Hop God Ale by Bob Grossman
  • Belgian Wheat by Mark Kenesky
  • Paradise Pumpkin Wit by Kyle Kernozek and Michelle Dickey
  • Mint Chocolate Porter by Howard Ross, Michael Pearlman, and Ari Romm

Unfortunately, I never got to try the Scarlet Fire (with chipotle peppers) or the It Ain’t Just for Breakfast Coffee Porter. All of the beers had outstanding flavor and balance. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Belgian IPA, because as I’ve said recently, I have a weakness for hopped-up versions of things. Kudos to Jose Pistolas for hosting this event, and I can strongly recommend hitting any of the homebrew events next year.

March 8, 2008

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008

I always enjoy the Flower Show in part because we work in a nice pub dinner either before or after. Back in the day (before I got into beer), we used to go to Independence Brew Pub. I am mildly curious about Field House, which replaced it, but in no hurry to go there, so we decided to go to McGillin’s, a place that has been patiently waiting for our custom since 1860. It was our first time there, and I’m sure we’ll be back. When I am in the neighborhood, I usually go to Fergie’s, which is a little more visible. Choice is good.

The theme this year was Jazz It Up; let’s go to the pictures:

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - Chihuly piano

The Peter Dugan trio was playing when we arrived (although they were long gone when I took this, obviously); this is the Chihuly-designed piano.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - piano

Many of the exhibitors jazzed up their displays by placing instruments in the landscape, such as the guts of this piano.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - tuba fountain

Brass instruments are just pipes after all and make wonderful fountains, don’t you agree?

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - brass fountain

Another fountain incorporating all the brass instruments.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - parade

A New Orleans-style parade wound through the crowd at one point.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - parade


Philadelphia Flower Show 2008 - mouse drummers

Aw, mouse drummers. Kyoot!


McGillin's has Beamish on tap I'm told!

Albert, Yes, and that's what I had. Good!

I really enjoyed your photos, especially the brass fountain. I missed out this year since I was sick. Bummer cause I loved the jazz theme.

March 7, 2008

Adventures in Plumbing: When a Trap Dries Out

One of the urinals at work has been out of order so long that the water in the trap evaporated. I noticed because I could suddenly hear the hollow sound of distant flushing and water rushing down a pipe. For a few days, I was fascinated by the acoustics, but the novelty wore off, so I filled the trap back up with water. The sound-deadening properties of a couple inches of water are amazing. I thought it was odd that I never smelled any sewer gas, but I’m now thinking that air only rushes into the stack and never out.

March 3, 2008

Philly Craft Beer Festival 2008

Another beer post, and Philly Beer Week is still a week away!

Saturday we went to second Philly Craft Beer Festival (last year’s festival was so much fun). This year, I didn’t have much of a strategy; about all I did was try to avoid breweries I know fairly well (skipping Yuengling, Lancaster, Victory, and Yards). For some reason, we were able to taste more beers this year. While it seemed just as crowded (and I mean crowded), no line was much more than five people long, so in about three hours, we were able to taste 33 beers, listen to the band, and split a corndog. Not bad. Another bonus this year was that I found some beers I liked well enough to buy a whole case of, but more on that in a moment. First, here’s the list in order of tasting:

Thirty-three beers seems like a lot, but that’s only 66 ounces split two ways—barely three beers in a three-hour stretch. Even though we barely felt a thing, flavor fatigue set in, and we reached saturation. We’ll try for 40 next year. ;-) I should mention that $40 is a lot to pay for 33 ounces of beer, but the tasting opportunites of the festival make it worthwhile for me.

At a festival like this, it’s pretty hard to find a bad beer, and I was very pleased with most of the beers on this list. Still there were a few high and low points worth mentioning.

I stayed away from most IPAs (currently my favorite style), but couldn’t resist trying a few. I liked them all (except the Butternuts), but my favorite was Stoudt’s, and I plan to pick up a case of this. Despite being a distinguished local brand, I had almost no experience with Stoudt’s before. Check out this profile of Stoudt’s at American Hops.

Two other exceptional beers were Erie Brewing’s Presque Isle Pilsner and Southampton’s Arrogant Bastard. I think the way to win my heart is to take any style, hop it up a bit, and I’ll lap it up.

Finally, my most exciting discovery was Ithaca Brewery. I really liked both of their beers, especially the Red Ale, probably my favorite overall at this year’s festival. It would be fun to make a pilgrimage to Ithaca (I have fond memories of the Moosewood restaurant there).

There were only three clunkers, and while it was probably just me, I didn’t care for the Anchor Porter, Long Trail’s Blackberry Wheat (watery), or the Butternuts IPA (just didn’t meet my expectations of what an “IPA” should taste like).

Sorry, no pictures this year. I didn’t even bring a camera. Special shout out to the Bullets, who rocked hard. This year’s festival sold out early, so if you’re thinking of going in 2009, don’t delay.