After some coffee, eggs, and 90’s darkwave comps at Rich’s house, we headed out to one of the most highly anticipated stops of Beercation 2.0, Al’s of Hampden/Pizza Boy Brewing. This stop held special significance, especially for the Philly crowd. The new head brewer at Pizza Boy, is none other than Terry Hawbaker, good friend of Rich’s, and previously head-brewer at The Bullfrog during one of their most legendary periods. He was also involved in one of the most disappointing brewpub debacles Philly has ever seen.
Said debacle saw him, uprooting himself and settling in Philly, only to get moved by his new employers to Virginia, where he had a disappointing run, working for the famously inept crew at Farmer’s Cabinet, only to leave just before some of his most prized beers got dumped by the VACP/TTB. The saga was well detailed here so I’ll leave it at that.
You can imagine our excitement to have Terry in Philly, and so you can also imagine how disappointing the insuing year and change was. Of course, when we heard he was moving to Al’s we were really excited. Not just because he was out of that shit-hole in Shenandoah, but that he was not too far outside Philly, and in a place where he can follow his muse and keep making his fantastic beers.
Lucky for us, we arrived during a brew, and got to see Terry’s shiny BrauKon system in action. Without getting too geeky on you, let’s just say it’s an impressive beast, and one of the more interesting brewery systems I’ve had the pleasure to see. Terry however, doesn’t even use most of it’s many functions, as he still likes to brew “on the fly”… gotta love that!
Amongst the many pieces of cool gear we saw at Pizza Boy, the coolest has to be Terry’s bespoke quick-souring system. I’ve heard whispers of this thing for about a year now, and some speculation as to what it could be. In the end, it’s pretty much what I had expected. A warm tank for developing Lactic sourness on the quick, in a temperature environment that would not be favorable to yeast. Thus, dropping the Ph, so that the Brettanomyces can do it’s thing.This allows Terry to make beers that took 3 years at the Bullfrog in 4 months. Pretty impressive! Though, I must say, while a weapon like this in Terry’s capable hands can be a wonderful thing, I am a bit concerned that soon every piss-ant brewery in the country is going to have one of these. And while I’m certainly stoked that Al’s will be able to crank out the sours, I am still partial to traditional methods which produce more nuanced flavors. That said, the samples we had that day were still pretty mind blowing.
Note, none of these beers have been released, so the names are not “official”…
Terry has been on a Berliner kick, which I can’t complain about, being a huge fan of the style. His Berry Berliner was on the light side, refreshing and easy to quaff, with a mild tartness and light touch of blueberry.
One of my favorites of the day was a hoppy Berliner, clocking in at over 6%, fermented with belgian yeast, and hopped exclusively with Falconers Flight. This had a thick tannic sourness that really held on, a creamy wheat backbone, herbal and rustic, with a perfectly honed hop hit. I have a feeling it’s going to beer very popular, especially after a dry hopping with more Falconer’s.
The epically dubbed “Go Back to Bumblefuck, Braggot” was a honey Saison (the name is a reference to the bitter fallout between Terry and Farmer’s Cabinet, that culminated in Terry being told the former, ‘cept they didn’t say Braggot. Classy bunch! But you knew that…). This beer is about as good a comeback to such douchiness as I can think of. This was spicy, herbal, and bready, with some notes of Tripel, and a lovely honey smoothness. Pretty divine, and potentially destructive at 10.5%!
Yet another hit of this tasting was his dry Quad. I’ve never had a Quad this dry, but since, I’m wondering why more people don’t go this route. Gone was pretty much everything I dislike in Quads, the syrupiness, the sugary twang. This was deep, dark, peppery, and with a full taste of dark sugars sans the toothache. Perfect.
If all that wasn’t lovely enough, then it was time to actually saddle up at Al’s for some pizza and the official beer offerings… The Beercation 2.0 crew was joined by the esteemed Commissioner, a member of the Beercation 1 crew, who sadly couldn’t make the trek. We all went in for samplers and got on with the tasting.
I started with Amarillo Hopgasm. This is a wet-hop IPA that really does get at that fresh hop flavor. It was smooth and carmelly, with an assertive bitterness. The range of flavors was pretty interesting, firm, sticky, resiny sweetness, to some delicate vegetal notes, with a lasting bitter finish.
Next up was the Sunny Side, a seductive, heavy stout clocking in at 11%. I have to say I was impressed over and over by how smooth the high ABV beers at Al’s were. Terry seems to be able to crank out massive beers with no perceptible alcohol heat. The Sunny Side is a great example. This is full bodied, thick and chewy. Full of smooth dry, roasty coffee with cream and dark chocolate notes. Massive, and delicate.
Arck Angel at first look, almost caused me an eye roll. I love IPAs, but the IPA arms race has been a bit done. I thought triple IPAs were kind of silly, but Arck, is a QUAD! Well, silly or no, I had to try it. This thing is a slayer. One of the most dangerous beers I’ve ever had. It’s a study in controlled excess, easily up there with 120 Minute IPA, if not surpassing it. At a devastating 13.9%, it is still smooth, and positively exploding with tropical fruit flavor. The grapefruit kick alone is worth trying this for. I’ve never had a beer that tasted this much like a fresh fruit that did not contain said fruit. This finishes impossibly clean, with zero alcohol heat. Baffling.
The IPAs at Al’s were all pretty great, The West Shore being especially interesting. Contrary to it’s name, this is not the grapefruit wallop you’d expect, this beer focuses on pine and spruce character. Unlike the other IPAs, this had no fruit character, which was definitely an interesting twist. It was all spicy, herbal, and pine sap-like, with an intense bitter finish. Very unique.
I finished off with the Royal Tannin Bomb, a blueberry sour ale. This was a great ender, with the signature muscat grape sourness typical of a lot of Terry’s hot-tank sours. And this was pretty damn sour. It also served up a nice dose of mellon and blueberry notes, and finished with a lasting sourness that hung out on the tongue. A surprisingly drinkable beer for its complexity.
The pizza at Al’s was also quite good. Nice thin crust, and fresh toppings. We tried a pie of the extra thin crust, and the Neapolitan, both were really good, but I might be inclined to ask them to overcook them a bit, as I prefer a crispier crust. That’s a matter of taste though. Commish ordered a fried chicken sandwich that came on a fresh baked long roll with lettuce mayo and pickles, that was pretty amazing. All around it seemed like solid pizza joint food, which is ok by me. But with beers Al is serving up, I’d come even it there wasn’t food. It’s looking like the trek out there is going to become something I do as often as I can. Highly Recommended.