Thursday, March 11, 2010

On the horizon

Like green shoots breaking through the soil of spring, beer events are popping up all over.

So here's a quick hit of calendar items to consider:

High Point Brewing holds its first open house of the year on Saturday (2-4 p.m.) at the brewery in Butler, and the makers of the Ramstein brand say on their Web site it's the debut of the 2010 edition of their maibock. Bring your growlers. We haven't heard back on our inquiry with owner Greg Zaccardi yet, so we can't say if there will be any Icestorm eisbock available. Also, the maibock was one of the Ramstein beers that Greg has been making plans to put in bomber bottles. When we catch up with Greg, we'll repost.

One other thing to consider, unlike Ramstein open houses of the past, the brewery plans to cycle attendees through in two shifts. The events have become so popular that a little crowd management has become necessary to ensure everyone gets a taste, a tour and the chance to have a growler filled.

The Brewer's Plate is Sunday at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. Now in it's sixth year, this is very much a worth-your-time event, with beers from select breweries within a 150-mile radius of Philly paired with food from the city's great restaurants. Tickets are still available as of this writing. The premium ticket is a little pricey, $115, but the event benefits Fair Food, a nonprofit that promotes community sustainable/fair trade farming.

Climax Brewing, Cricket Hill, Flying Fish and River Horse are New Jersey mainstays at this affair, while Brian Boak is making his second appearance with his Boaks Beer brand of Belgian brews and imperial stouts, which a lot of folks remember are brewed under contract at High Point.

But the Jersey connection runs a little deeper: Tri-state brewpub Iron Hill will be there, and those who have followed Iron Hill know it was started by three Jersey guys who struck a mash first in Delaware, then Pennsylvania, and last year enjoyed a homecoming to the Garden State. Then there's Tom Baker's Earth Bread + Brewery, the phoenix that rose in Philly's Mount Airy section from the ashes of Tom closing Heavyweight Brewing in Monmouth County four years ago. Tom's reputation as an artisan brewer is still intact.

You'll find the full list of Brewer's Plate restaurants and breweries here.

The Atlantic City beer fest is March 20-21 at the Convention Center. In the past, we've been a little down on this festival. In fairness, we'll back away from some of things we don't like about Celebration of the Suds and be positive: Atlantic City is probably one of the best locations for a beer festival in New Jersey. AC is destination, and if you want to book a room, there's plenty of hotel space, not to mention enough glitz to occupy your time before or after your festival session.

The downside (we're not going to skip that completely) is, this is a monstrously big festival, and with that there's been long lines to get in and to hit the restroom; there's also been a little bit of rowdiness (sorry to rain on parade, but it's true). There's plenty of beer, a lot of which can be found at packaged stores with good beer managers. That said, this festival is a good fit for those who are just coming to craft beer, folks who are a few steps beyond that juncture, or people who love the buzz of a big crowds in a gambling mecca.

Look for Boaks, Cricket Hill, Flying Fish and River Horse to be poured, as well as Hometown Beverage, whose light lagers are contract brewed by the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barr, Pa. The Tun Tavern brewpub, located across the street from the festival site, is also on the bill. The Tun will be pouring the dunkelweizen made as a tie-in At The Shore and The Press of Atlantic City.

If you're looking to hit the Tun for dinner after the festival on Saturday, make reservations. It's still a recessionary climate these days, and you might get a table without calling beforehand. But over the years, the Tun generally hasn't accommodated walk-ins for looking for dinner. Not to be a buzzkill, but if you go there for just drinks or whatever, please do everyone – yourself included – a big favor by not showing up drunk. If the Tun is too crowded (and it gets crowded post-festival), try Firewaters at the Tropicana casino. You'll find a wide variety of craft beer on draft and in the bottle there.

On March 27, Pizzeria Uno in Metuchen holds its fourth cask ale festival at the brewpub on Route 1. Brewer Mike Sella has done a great job assembling a rack of casks from breweries around the region for this pay-as-you-go event in Uno's comfy pub atmosphere. Cask ale is a real delight, and this festival, which begins at noon, has generally lasted as long as the beer flows, meaning it could run a second day.

Lastly, even though it's a long way off, the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild holds its 14th annual festival on June 26. Once again, it's aboard the USS New Jersey battleship museum, moored at the Delaware River waterfront in Camden. More on that festival later.

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