Stoudt's Fest June 2000 -- For the birds?

By Kurt Epps

Adamstown, Pa. -- I love Stoudt's for many reasons: the beers, the Beer Garden atmosphere, the beers, Carol and Ed's inimitable brand of hospitality, the beers, Ed's bread, the beers, the sausages and the beers.

But never did I expect ostriches.

Stoudt's "outback" had ostriches running around in a pen on the hot June day I arrived to check out this beer mecca's Ninth Annual Microbrew festival.

What are they thinking, methought? Are the big birds for kiddie rides? Is Stoudt's going the Crocodile Dundee route? Is the famous Black Angus restaurant to be replaced by another food source? Could such an idea ever, um, fly?

Ah, well. There's always the beers.

And this particular festival had some real winners -- besides Stoudt's -- among the twenty breweries represented. They came from as far away as Vermont (Wolaver's and Otter Creek), North Carolina (Weeping Radish) and even Indiana (Oaken Barrel and Lafayette).

The home front of Pennsylvania was amply represented by a host of breweries, including the always popular Victory Brewing (Downingtown), the malt ministers from The Church Brew Works (Pittsburgh), and Tom Pastorius' nationally acclaimed Pennsylvania Brewing company (also Pittsburgh). The lines in front of Iron Hill (West Chester) paid tribute to the solid beers coming out of its tanks, the always reliable Weyerbacher Brewing made its presence known, and Troeg's (Harrisburg) did a land office business with its offerings. Sly Fox, Bethlehem, New Road and Manayunk rounded out the PA roster.

Maryland and Delaware also sent representatives in the form of Oliver's Wharf Rat, Johannson's, Deep Creek and John Harvard's respectively.

The day was very warm for early June, and the place was predictably crowded. The band was doing its job keeping the crowd pumped with its sing-a-long and bang-a-long numbers, though few of the Stoudt's faithful require prodding.

As is always the case at beer fests -- especially ones limited to four hours per session--there are too many beers and too little time. Still for the sake of the craft, we beerwriters plod on doing what is necessary to inform the world of quality craft beers. The name of this game is to try those you have not sampled.

With a wistful glance toward Victory's Hop Devil, I sauntered over to Troeg's Table under the supervision of John Troegner. The offerings were an ESB and a Pale Ale, and both were outstanding: the beautifully amber ESB true-to-style, fruity and dry, and the equally good-looking Pale Ale beautifully balanced, hoppy and complex, especially in the finish. Troegner says he "can't make this pale ale fast enough" and the PubScout is not surprised. Troeg's (named shortened from a Flemish word for pub) has two winners here and should be a definite stop for any hophead who hits Harrisburg.

Eschewing what would have been a perfect beer for the day -- Penn Pilsner -- I found myself in front of the Oaken Barrel stand. Hoosier Brewer Brook Belli (try saying that five times fast sober) offered a Razz Wheat and a Snakepit Porter. The Razz Wheat is really red, really different and not your usual wow-the-ladies transition beer. The first sip stunned my taste buds, and I wasn't sure whether I liked it or not. But after the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth sips, I realized I had discovered a really remarkable Raspberry Wheat. The tartness of the raspberries did not overpower, but augmented the assertive wheat flavors. This is a perfect beer to enjoy on your back porch after you've mowed the lawn.

The porter was also unique in that was not as roasty-toasty (either in the nose or on the palate) as most porters are expected to be, but the beer was well made with a sound balance of the darker malts and hops, neither imposing its will on the other. Its smoothness was most impressive and, like many porters, it got more complex as it got warmer (which didn't take long on this day).

Belli, who bolted big business for the brewer's barrel, was flanked by his mom and dad, two folks who could have been the casts for an All-American Parents mold. Friendly and outgoing, Brook's dad Bob relayed that he and his twin brother were the only living twins to share the distinction of having been captured simultaneously by the Germans during WW2 in two different theaters. His brother escaped but was recaptured. Both were released in prisoner exchanges. Mom Jane allowed that she and her husband, both winemakers, taught Brook to brew. He learned well.

Lafayette Brewing, the other Indiana entry, had an interesting beer in Old No. 85. Hoppy, assertive and lighter in color and body than many IPA's, it offered an interesting cascade of flavors. Lafayette also offered a stout called Black Angus Stout, no connection to the hosts' famous restaurant. High heat and humidity, however, did not put the PubScout in a stout frame of mind this day.

But he's always in a Stoudt's frame of mind. Stoudt's Honey Double Maibock, Scarlet Lady, American Pale Ale and the Weizen are always must-tries when in Adamstown. So are Ed's Breads, offered for sampling with the Best of the Wurst Luncheon in the Beer Garden that comes with admission. Just looking at the array of sausages and beers is enough to stir the salivary glands of any true beer nut. If it's beer fun and food you want, get out to Stoudt's. The next microbrewery festival is set for August 5.

And if some of the Stoudt Sausages taste a bit different in August, I'm checking the ostrich pen.

Because when it comes to food and beer trends, the PubScout is not one to hide his head in the sand.

®Kurt E. Epps 2000 All Rights Reserved

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Kurt Epps