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Iron Hill

July, 2001

By Bobby Bush

So we’d had enough of Philly. Nodding Head and Monk’s Cafe were nice, but we still had a few more hours exploring time left. After pursuing well-intended but bad advice which took us on a wild goose chase into New Jersey, we recouped and set our sights on Delaware, a small state with only a handful of brewpubs.

Right on Main Street in Newark, Delaware (no relation to the New Jersey city of the same name), we found Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant right where it has been since November 14, 1996. Sliding up to the massive wood island bar, I spied framed certificates lining on wall. Local awards from Delaware Today Magazine - Best Overall Restaurant 2001, Best Brewpub since 1996 - this place had class and bragging rights too.

As we ordered up sampler trays, the restaurant manager and brewer lectured the afternoon wait staff about the off-menu specials and recommended beer selections. Naturally, I piped right in, answering questions intended for waitresses and waiters. Afterwards, brewer Brian Finn stopped by for a brief chat.

Brian keeps eight beers on tap along with one cask conditioned ale. And they were pretty damn good. Granite Gold was malty, lightly sweet from honey in the boil. A “British pub ale,” Anvil Ale was medium bodied and a bit fizzy. Its malty introduction was chased by a sudden bitter end. A smarmy malty lager, golden Lodestone Lager was a 1997 GABF gold winner. Big banana/clove nose announced the lemon straddled Hefeweizen, while Raspberry Wheat was sweet and clinging. Finn adds natural raspberry extract after the boil. An American pale ale, Ironbound Ale had a big fruity body and toying hoppy flavor that gave no sign of leaving. Bitterness was noticeable but not intrusive. In its cask conditioned form, which benefited from dry hopping, this APA was very very tasty, even though the firkin had been tapped for four days. Iron Hill utilizes a nitrogen cask breather to retard aging.

Lipsmacking malty, American Brown Ale exhibited low lying bitterness only at the end of each swallow. It was nice, but perhaps more English than American in style. Big mouthfeel circumscribed Pig Iron Porter. A butterscotch beginning with chocolate finish, the lightly bitter ale made a fitting conclusion to this tasting day.

This Delaware brewpub is the middle child of three Iron Hill breweries. Owned and managed by three brothers, the original opened in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1998. The youngest opened in Media, Pennsylvania in 2000.

Actually, the Media Iron Hill opened on June 20, 2000 or at least that’s what the bartender told us when we stopped in for lunch the next day. This city street brewpub had almost the same layout as its Newark brethren. Big wooden island bar and a friendly bartender. Lunch was our agenda, accompanied by beer, of course. Two “featured beers,” which had not been available in Delaware, were on tap. I chose Grand Cru to go with a juicy turkey sandwich. Deep bronze, spice maltyness tickled my tongue. Candi sugar created a lilting syrup effect that lingered only a brief moment. Belgian White Ale, full of coriander and dried orange peel, was the other special brew. Other Iron Hill/Media brews aped the Delaware selections. We re-tried only the Anvil Ale. Slightly over-carbonated at first, it was flavorful and improved as it warmed and de-gassed. A large chalk board over the main entrance serves to inform patrons of upcoming beer specials and lists beers currently being served (cellar) and soon to be served (fermentation).

These Iron Hill brothers obviously know something about the restaurant and beer business.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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