Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Best Philadelphia Beer Awards!

A quick preface - I've limited the selections to only domestic beer this year.  All selections pertain to beer that is available in the Philadelphia area beer market.

Best Local Beer
    First Place: McKenzie Saison Vautour - The draft version resembles Saison Dupont, only with an ester boost.  Such a great beer. 
    Lightly haze of gold with small white head that sticks around for a while. Scattered bits of lacing are left around the glass.
    Smell is of caramel, citrus, wet hay, vanilla, gently roasted grains, earthiness, barnyard, and a hint of dry, slightly tart rye.
    Flavor is of the mentioned aromas with a beautiful taste citrus, caramel, spice, and vanilla cream. Beautiful beer.
    Mouthfeel is medium bodied, chewy, dry, and spicy. This is such a cool beer. I could drink this one all night.

    Second Place: Tröegs Flying Mouflan

    Appears a hazy dark brown sugar with small streams of lacing that quickly rises to the top of the light tan head. Scattered spots of lacing are left around the glass.
    Smell is of brown sugar, pine sap, herbs, and grapefruit.
    Taste is of brown sugar, pine needles, citrus, herbal tea, and a bit of cocoa nibs.
    Mouthfeel is medium bodied, chewy, bitter with hops and sweet malt that feels sweet and warming.


    Third Place: Iron Hill Dubbel Trubbel


    Appears a dark, chestnut toned amber with a fluffy, off white head that sticks around. Scattered streaks of lacing are left around the glass.
    Smell is excellent with complex notes of vanilla, cherry, tart juice, and hibiscus flowers on top of a mild raisin aroma.
    Taste mimics the aromas with a flavor that I couldn't have drawn up better myself. This is a beer lover's fantasy with the oaky vanilla and spicy red wine notes pulling through.
    Mouthfeel is medium bodied, mildly oaky, sweet, tart, and well balanced.
    This brew is just outright addictive. It almost reminds me of a young Flanders Brown Ale but without the acetic, over the top tartness from a bacteria introduction.


    Appears a dense black with a fluffy tan head that slowly fades. Scattered streaks of lacing are left around the glass.
    Smell is of ripe fruit, cocoa, espresso, caramel, and nuts.
    Taste is of mentioned aromas with major flavor jumping out. I love the complexities.
    Mouthfeel is chewy, spritzy, sugary, n bitter at the same time. This is clearly the best Philadelphia brewing beer I've had.


    Fifth Place: Stoudt's Double IPA

    This one has got 'em. BIG and BOLD ones! Hops, that is! Pours a golden orange with a frothy white head that sticks around. Lacing is scattered throughout the glass for the duration of the drinking. The smell is fantastic as you get that full aroma of hops with some maltiness behind it. Smells like someone took a few hand fulls of hops and dumped them in a juicing machine, took out that concentrate and dumped it right in here.
    Tastes awesome! Full bodied, rich and creamy, citrusy and peachy hop flavored IPA with a strong malt backbone for balance. Hides the alcohol too, I might add. This one will definitely creep up on you if you're not careful. Mouthfeel is terrific as well as she swirls throughout my mouth with balanced intensity and perfect carbonation, leaving me asking for more.




    Local Brewery of the Year
    First Place: McKenzie Brew House - Again, the team of Ryan Michaels and Gerard Olson have cranked out some of the region's finest beers.  The anchor beer of the brewery, Saison Vautour, has been the GABF Gold Medal winner in the Saison category for 3 of the past 4 years.  With the newest batch of wonderfully experimented barrel aged beers yielding such fine products as Oer Faute, and St. Romain makes McKenzie the sure fire winner for our Local Brewery of the Year Award for the second year straight!  Congrats Ryan & Gerard!

    Second Place: Tröegs Brewery - Tröegs continued it's drive of it's Scratch series beers, resulting in quite a few delicious treats.  The addition of the Splinter Series drew enough attention for local beer enthusiasts to continue the demand for more!

    Third Place: Iron Hill West Chester - Although I personally didn't get out to West Chester as much as I had hoped, the West Chester crew of Larry, and Jean kept things fresh and interesting by keeping a continuous flow of new and interesting beers flowing.


    Local New Beer of the Year

    First Place: McKenzie Oer Faute - This is the La Faute that was aged in a French red wine barrel and dosed with the McKenzie house "bugs".
    Appears a dark amber with a fluffy, off white head that seems to stick around before slowly fading into a mild cap. Sticky bits of streaked lacing are left all around the glass.Smell is of dark fruit, red cherries, cocoa powder, vanilla, honey roasted nuts, with a hard lean towards tartness coming in the form of earthy, leathery, balsamic vinegar, cooked wild mushrooms, and citrus.
    The flavors pull together as the beer reminds me a little of a balsamic vinegar infused with a pinot noir that one would enjoy enough to carbonate and have with a meal. For the record, I adore balsamics...so, I really dig this beer. I believe it's something of a rare gem.
    Mouthfeel is medium bodied with carbonation, and tartness doing it's proper job to really open up the palate and senses for more beer exploration. With a winner like this around, why bother to explore the other options?
    In many ways, this reminds me of a young Oerbier Reserva...and the hauntingly similar name was not intended to draw that parallel.

    Second Place: Tröegs Splinter Blue - Appears a light gold with a small white cap that quickly fizzles out into a gentle film and mild collar. Spotty bits of lacing are left around the glass.
    Smell is of funky, tart cherries, earthy, leather, apple, brett, with a ghost of the original wheat beer.
    Taste is of the aromas with the tart cherries, and brett becoming the champions of this beer.
    Mouthfeel is medium bodied, tart, a touch of lactic burn leading to a dry finish.
    Pretty damn nice!


    Third Place: McKenzie St. Romain Strong Ale - Appears a deep amber with a fluffy, off white head that slowly fades into a soapy, thick collar. Lots of sticky lacing is left around the glass.

    Smell is of vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, wild brett, leather, funk, red wine, and cream.
    Taste is of the aromas with a ripe fruit, funky brettiness, vanilla, and caramel.
    Mouthfeel is medium-full bodied, warming, sweet tart, fizzy, smooth, and semi-dry.


    Fourth Place: Yards Barrel Aged Olde Bartholomew - Appears a transparent amber with an orange hue and a small beige head that quickly fades out into a mild film. Little spots of lacing droop down into the glass.
    Smell is of obvious bourbon, oak, vanilla, caramel, and biscuity malt.
    Taste is of the aromas with caramel, roasted nuts, vanilla, and bourbon being the standout with some ripe fruit, and sugar blasts pulling through.
    Mouthfeel is full bodied, warming, on the sweeter side but not really cloying.
    Pretty nice beer!




    Fifth Place: Victory Dark Intrigue - Appears a rich, black with a dark brown edge. A thick tan head slowly fades into a gentle 1/8" head and an intense collar. Scattered lacing is webbed around the entire glass.
    Smell is of roast, oak, vanilla, bourbon, caramel, butterscotch, and cocoa.
    Taste is of the aromas with bourbon and vanilla standing out with cocoa, roasted nuts, and creme brule sweetness highlighted with vanilla, cream, and burnt sugar.
    Mouthfeel is full bodied, sweet, sticky, and mildly boozy yet balanced.





    Other beers of note on the local front:
    Roy Pitz Brewing - Daddy Fat Sacs IPA
    and
                                                                     Prism Brewing - Bitto Honey IPA












    Most Anticipated Upcoming Local Brewery?
    ...Easily, it's Tired Hands Brewing run by Jean Broillet of Iron Hill and Weyerbacher fame.  Jean's new brewery will be featuring beers that are hop-centric, and Belgian/French Farmhouse inspired.  I got a chance to check out a few of his offerings, including a very nice, & tasty Belgian Pale Ale (shown at the left), along with a few saisons that are bound to garner interest from the local beer community and homegrown beer geeks, alike.  Best of luck, Jean!






    Best Non-Local Beer

    Appears a turbid dark russet brown with a dark tan head tan that slowly fades into a small collar. Scattered bits of lacing are left around the glass.

    Smell is of molasses, brown sugar, caramel, creme brûlée, vanilla, port, bourbon, and complex cocoa infusions.
    Taste is of the aromas with sweet bourbon based bread pudding... Very beautiful.
    Mouthfeel is full bodied, sweet, cake like, yeasty, dessert drink for the ages that I would put up there with the finest bourbons, brandy, or ports.


    Second Place: New Holland Dragon's Milk
    Appears a hazy dark brownish black with a small tan head that fades into a film. Spotty lacing is left around the glass.
    Smell is of oaky lactose with cocoa, caramel, and vanilla.
    Taste is of the same aromas perhaps just knocked down a notch.
    Mouthfeel is silky and creamy with mild carbonation. Perhaps one of the silkiest beers I've ever had.






    Third Place: Prety Things Baby Tree
    Appears a dense dark copper edged mahogany. A small light tan head slowly fades into a mild cap. Scattered bits of lacing are left around the glass.Smell is if heavy prunes, brown sugar, vanilla, raisins, and mild spice. Now that I look at the bottle...Quad with dried prunes - duhhh.
    Taste is of the same aromas with sweet sugary cake flavors doused in brown sugar.
    Mouthfeel is sugary, full bodied, and sticky sweet with raisin cinnamon rolls resounding along the palate.




    Appears a near black with dark brown edges when held to the light. The tan foam leaves scattered bits of lacing around the glass.
    Smell is of cocoa, vanilla, Espresso, caramel, and toffee.
    Taste is of the aromas with more of a coffee flavor that is perfect for a digestif.
    Mouthfeel is medium bodied, sweet, syrupy, and chewy






    Fifth Place: Sam Adams Imperial Stout
    Appears an opaque, dark black with a small dark tan head that slowly fades away. Scattered spots of lacing are left around the glass.
    Smell is smokey with cocoa, brown sugar, and licorice found amongst the mix.
    Taste is of the mentioned aromas with more of a prune, and fig flavor coming through in the flavors.
    Mouthfeel is full bodied, sugary, and bitter.






    Best New Non-Local Beer

    First Place: Hill Farmstead Arthur Saison
    ...trying my best not be be biased here, but I really struggled with coming up with a better selection.  Shaun Hill is a virtuoso when it comes to brewing Saisons.  This particular one has notes of Saison Dupont but a bit more complex with some more phenolic Belgian yeast esters pulling out some peppery, citrus, and chewing gum esters.  It's a lovely beer that I would recommend everyone checking out.  I look forward to sharing a glass of this with each of you in the near future!





    Second Place: Southern Tier 2XIPA
    Appears a semi transparent light gold with a small white cap that quickly fades into a gentle collar. Tiny streams of carbonation slowly rise to the top of the glass. Spotty bits of lacing are left around the glass.
    Smell is of biscuits, caramel, herbal hops, spices, berries, pine needles, and citrus.
    Taste is of the aromas with spicy oak and vanilla cream flavors pulling through. A touch of white wine flavors are found in the there
    Mouthfeel is medium bodied, spritzy, spicy, and herbal. This would be the perfect compliment to spicy Chinese, or Thai food. Great deal on a case for his brew! That 8.2% is very well hidden.


    Third Place:  Brooklyn Sorachi Ace
    Appears a hazy ligt gold with a small white cap that slowly fades into a chunky head. Scattered lacing is left around the glass.
    Smell is of pumelo, lemon zest, herbs, cut grass, and shiitake mushrooms.
    Taste is of the aromas with a sticky hoppy goodness and a fresh doughy flavor that makes for an interesting spin on a Belgian Pale.
    Mouthfeel is medium bodied, sticky, semi sweet, and gently herbal in the finish.





    Fourth Place: Lost Abbey Deliverance
    Appears a near black with a thick, off white head that slowly fades into a chunky cap. Scattered bits of lacing are left around the glass.
    Smell is of caramel, vanilla, oak, coffee, cocoa, bourbon, toasted nuts, brown sugar, and molasses.
    Taste is of the mentioned aromas with a caramel, vanilla, and a hot brandy flavor that just seems a tad odd with a hint of astringency. Complex but a bit clustered.
    Mouthfeel is medium-full bodied, warming, creamy, and a tad thin in the finish.
    Not bad but certainly not my favorite Lost Abbey beer.




    Fifth Place: Oskar Blues Gubna Double IPA
    Appears a hazy gold with an off white head of fluff that slowly fades out. Scattered streaks of lacing are left around the glass.
    Smell is of citrus, cut trees, pine sap, and cooked malted grain.
    Taste is of the piney, resinous, citrus, with toasted, biscuity malt, and honey coming to the forefront.
    Mouthfeel is full bodied, chewy, with plenty of juicy carbonation. A touch of booziness found in the finish.





    Best New Non-Local Brewery in the Philly Market
    Hill Farmstead Brewery - Again, really trying not to be biased with this selection but I can't think of a better brewery outside the region that has had the local impact that HFB has had.  The amount of demand has been outrageous and when the kegs have gone on tap, beer geeks have been aware of grabbing it fresh.

    Runner up: Stillwater Brewing - Brian Strumke is the traveling brew show, collaborating with talented brewers to make kick ass beers.

    Best Bars
    I can't select just one...there's too many great options now in the Philly area. 
    Suburbs have Capones, TND, TJ's, and now Station Taproom
    The City has The Devil's Den, City Tap House, Memphis Taproom, Eulogy, Schmidt's Brauhaus, and Kite and Key. 
    Make your own pick - I've thrown in the towel!

    2010 Best Philadelphia Cheesesteak Award

    First Place: White House Sub Shop in Atlantic City

    Second Place: Tony Lukes in South Philly

    Third Place: Pudge's in Blue Bell

    2010 Best Philadelphia Pizza Award

    First Place: Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza in Wayne

    Second Place: Dock Street Brewery in West Philly

    Third Place: Gianfranco Pizza Rustica in Old City

    2010 Best Philadelphia Wings Award

    I've got many, many more places to get to in 2011 but be sure to check these award winners out when you get a chance...

    First Place: TJ's Restaurant & Drinkery in Paoli

    Second Place: The Perky in Oaks

    Third Place: Ortino's in Schwenksville

    John's Roast Pork (South Philadelphia) - Cheesesteak

    Appears a 12" long, sesame seeded roll with thinly sliced, chopped steak and American cheese melted amongst the pieces. - 3.5
    The roll appears to be a Sarcone's roll but I've been told that they use Carangi's rolls. In any case, it's semi-crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  The grille man rips out some of the interior bread and chucks it in the trash before scooping up the meat and cheese and placing it inside the bread.  Tasty and a nice compliment to the steak. - 4.5

    The steak is thinly shaved and chopped ribeye that is tender, juicy, and slightly oily.  Very fresh, flavorful, and delicious.  A tad more meat would've been ideal but it seemed to be enough to satisfy the size of the roll and it's tasty enough to warrant a nice score.  - 4.5

    The cheese is mostly melted throughout the sandwich and seems to be thoroughly mixed in between the chopped meat. - 4

    Overall, I was impressed with this sandwich.  I must admit though, with all the accolades including a Best Philly Cheesesteak Award from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the prestigious James Beard Award for Culinary Excellence, I was slightly underwhelmed.  Without a doubt, this was a really terrific cheesesteak but I went out of my way to get it, waited in traffic, hunted for a parking spot, and waited in the long lunch line before hanging out and waiting for my sandwich to be made.  The eating experience was good but I can't say it blew me away enough to go through all of that again.  Certainly, it's a must stop if you're over by Delaware Ave.  It would still be one of my highest rated cheesesteaks...just not THE highest rated one. - 4

    Total Score: 4.1 / 5

    John's Website




    Philadelphia Restaurants

    John's Roast Pork on Urbanspoon






    Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    Jimmy John's Pipin Hot (West Chester) - Natural Casing Special Dog

    Jimmy John's is back from the ashes...literally!  The frankfurters are as good as ever, providing the "snap" that you get from these natural casing dogs.  The fixing station is just as good as you remember with many of the pictures either being replaced, or restored, along with the electric locomotives running in and around the restaurant.  For those who have never had a Jimmy John's dog, it's a must stop.  There's nothing fancy about a hot dog, especially these natural casing dogs but they are full of flavor and they pop when you take a bite.
    Jimmy John's Website

    Jimmy John's (Opening 11/26) on Urbanspoon

    Tuesday, December 28, 2010

    Gino's Burgers and Chicken (King of Prussia) - Junior Gino Giant Cheeseburger

    So, the return of the Gino Giant has finally come to fruition.  I was but a wee lad when the chain started switching over to Roy Rogers in the Southeastern PA area.

    Anyway, allow me to just talk briefly about what they have to offer.  An okay seeded bun with a mediocre meat patty on the inside.  Nothing fancy, or overly spectacular about this.  The sauce they were supposed to add is barely noticable.  I got the fries with the burger, which amounted to a few dozen.  I also got a fountain drink in the package.  The damage?  Waaay too much.  Ten bucks a small burger, a side of fries and a drink.  I could've gotten virtually the same thing for less than half that price at Wendy's.  Five Guys would've even been a few bucks cheaper with a mountain of fries to dig through.
    These dudes better figure out how to be more competetive charging those prices, or it'll cost them in the long run.





    Gino's Website


    Gino's Burgers & Chicken on Urbanspoon

    Monday, December 27, 2010

    Boston Style Pizza (North Wales) - Traditional Pan Pizza

    Appears a large, 16" round pie with a thick, outer crust and blended cheese colors of white, orange, and yellow laying atop a layer of sauce. - 4

    The crust is a sourdough crust, which is always a nice find.  It adds a little extra flavor and hits more of the taste buds.  It also seems to have a butter crust like they rubbed the pan with butter before laying the stretched dough on top.  It's got a nice, crispy, flaky biscuit underside and an airy, semi-crunchy outer crust. - 4.5

    The sauce is vibrant, fresh, a tad sweet, and delicious.  This is a decent sauce on a pie that has already surprised me. - 4

    The cheese is a blend of mozzarella, and cheddar, leaving the top more gooey, creamy, with a touch of salty sharpness that is fairly unique, and addictive. - 4.5

    Overall, I stopped here on a whim because I was in the area and I have passed by a few times wondering what "Boston Style" pizza even was.  I was more than shocked when I couldn't wait to get into the next slice.  Apparently, Boston Style is a reference to the pan pizzas that were created in the Greek section of Boston during the 1950's.  Pretty damn good and not something you get a chance to try every day. - 4

    Total Score: 4.2/5

    Boston Style's Website

    Boston Style Pizza on Urbanspoon

    Friday, December 24, 2010

    La Chancla (Norristown) - Mexican Torta

    A small little spot on Marshall Street on the West side of Norristown holds the authentic Mexican eatery known as La Chancla (The Sandal).  This quaint eatery cranks out fresh, and exciting dishes that are rarely found in area restaurants supporting Mexican fare.  For example, this Torta, which is virtually an entire loaf of French bread jammed with your choice of meat (pork in this instance), ripe avocado, tomatoes, lettuce, and creme fraiche is a stray from the typical taco, burrito, and enchilada items found on most menus.  This torta is enough to feed two, so be prepared to leave with a half of this bad boy unless you bring along a partner with an appetite.  I got the chance to check out the freshly made guacamole, which was simply the best I've ever had anywhere.  If you're ever in the vicinity of Norristown, and have the craving for real Mexican dishes, be sure to pop in and grab some delicious treats.
    La Chancla on Urbanspoon

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Perkiomen Cafe (Oaks) - Hot Wings

    The texture is extra crispy with a generous coating of hot sauce that doesn't break down that crispy exterior. - 4.5

    The sauce is great.  Just hot enough with a oily butter sweetness that hangs out in the background with the peppery goodness being trumpeted atop the crispy shell. - 4.5

    The flavor is of one of the best wings I've had in a while.  The juicy chicken underneath is fresh, flavorful and everything comes together with the crispiness to the sauce.  So simple yet so good. - 4.5

    Edibility is really nice.  The burn is mild yet hot enough to keep me interested.  If you go on Tuesday, you'll get 8 wings for just $3.  I slammed all 8 with no problem and probably could've had a few more! - 4.5

    Overall, this is a solid wing and one of the better ones out there.  They've managed to stay consistent through the years.  I first had these about 10 years ago and I was curious if they were still the same, or if my memory was cloudy.  Sure enough, they didn't disappoint and I was thrilled to have these wings live up to the reputation that many locals give them. - 4.5

    Total Score: 4.5/5

    The Perky isn't going to win over folks who are looking for a fine dining experience, or a night out with the family.  In fact, there is nothing fancy about the place.  It's a neighborhood bar where most of the patrons know each other.  If you can get past all that, go for the wings...they're worth it.

    As for the beer selection, it's real slim though they manage to usually keep 1-2 decent selections on draft.  I spotted an Anchor Our Special Ale and Yard's Brawler on tap...and not getting any love the night I was there.  Funny part is that I asked the bartender for the Anchor beer and she struggled to figure out what I was talking about before finding it, pouring it, and a local stating that a beer from San Francisco was way out of place at The Perky.  I disagree.  I think the potential is there to expand on the beer selections, especially during a night when bands play.  You just have to offer the right beers and promote those beers!

    The Perky's website

    Perkiomen Cafe on Urbanspoon

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    White House Sub Shop (Atlantic City) - Cheesesteak

    Appears a 12", thinly cut slivered Top Round with cheese oozing out of the side.  Not the most packed sandwich I've ever seen but so far, it looks pretty promising. - 3.5

    The roll is made by their neighbors, Formica Brothers Bakery.  It's got a crusty outer shell but the interior beyond that outside 1/8" is soft enough to retain all the juices from the steak and melted cheese.  It seems that they use the same rolls that are delivered several times per day for both the cheesesteaks, as well as the subs.  While I believe they are a bit too hard to use for a hoagie, they seem perfect for a cheesesteak, as the grille guy sits it atop the cooking steak and cheese pile before taking it off to spatula the steak with the cheese side up on top of the roll.  This method gets the roll just flexible enough to be able to chew through with no problem.  - 4.5

    The steak is thinly sliced top round, which is tender, soft, juicy, and flavorful.  The great part about these steaks, unlike some of the other popular steak joints...they cook the steak to order.  It's not just taken from an overcooked, heaping pile that's been sitting there, awaiting the next victim.  No, no.  This is taken from the stainless cool box and thrown directly on the grille. - 4.5

    The cheese - finally someone got it right!  There's enough cheese, and it's melted from top to bottom, coating the pieces, which you get in each bite.  - 5

    Overall, this was a great sandwich.  I can't wait till the next time I'm out there.  White House Sub Shop will be a must stop. - 4.5

    Total Score: 4.4/5

    White House Sub Shop on Urbanspoon