Joe Sixpack: McKenzie Brew House wins a gold in Denver

TROEGENATOR . . . Midas Touch . . . Pikeland Pils. They're among the region's most popular labels, boasting national reputations partly because of the medals they've won over the years at the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Now you can add another name to that list - one that is considerably more obscure: Saison Vautour.

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Iron Hill's dark ale picked up its third gold medal.

The farmhouse ale from McKenzie Brew House in Malvern and Chadds Ford picked up its third gold medal in the past four years last month at the festival, the world's largest and most prestigious beer competition.

Good luck trying to find it.

While Saison Vautour is part of the brewpubs' regular tap lineup, it's the unfiltered bottled version that's won all those awards.

And it's bottled only after it's been properly conditioned in wood barrels.

Upon returning from Denver, brewer Ryan Michaels discovered his bottle supply had bottomed out.

Give him another week, though, and you should be able to pick up the gold medalist at either brewpub for $13.95.

It's totally worth the price.

Unfiltered with a touch of funk from the use of a unique bacteria strain, the Belgian-style saison (6.5 percent alcohol) is lightly spiced and makes a great partner with seafood or Thai.

And the name? It's French for "vulture," a species that apparently hangs out near the Malvern brewery.

Another local brewpub favorite returned to the medals podium this year:

Iron Hill Russian Imperial Stout. The strong (9.5 percent alcohol), dark ale picked up its third gold medal, the first since 2006. Look for it in 750ml bottles at some Iron Hill locations.

A few other post-GABF observations.

_ Overall, the medal count (10) for Philadelphia-area breweries was its lowest since 2006.

_ For the second consecutive year, regional breweries were shut out in the pilsner categories. It's been one of the area's most notable specialties, with no fewer than nine medals in the past decade.

_ Troegs Brewery of Harrisburg led all Pennsylvania breweries with three medals for Flying Mouflan barleywine, Troegenator double bock and Hop Back Amber Ale.

_ Weyerbacher, which has been brewing since 1995, finally won its first GABF medal, a bronze for its Imperial Pumpkin Ale.

_ TAPS Fish House & Brewery chain in California, led by brewmaster Victor Novak, was named Brewpub Group of the Year. Locals may recall that Novak was a brewer at the old Dock Street brewpub at Logan Square in the '90s.

_ This year's festival was remarkable for some of the big names that didn't win, including perennial favorites AleSmith, Avery, Brooklyn and Dogfish Head.

 

By the book

 

Beer writer Lew Bryson is out with the completely revised fourth edition of "Pennsylvania Breweries" (Stackpole Books, $19.95).

I asked him what's changed since his first look at the state's beer scene in 1998.

"The most interesting - hell, amazing - trend is where they're popping up," he said.

"The busiest place in the state right now is the arc between Wilkes-Barre and State College. Ten years ago, there was Otto's, Selin's Grove, Bullfrog and The Lion.

Now there's 11 breweries or brewpubs through there, with four more probably going to open before the end of the year.

" . . . Almost any place with the population to support a brewery in Pennsylvania has one now."

Want to explore the frontier beer scene?

Bryson suggests taking a day trip to Williamsport, Pa., where (after a quick stop at the Woolrich Factory Store) you can check out the Bullfrog Brewery, Franco's Lounge and Rumrunners. Then find a designated driver for a scenic drive to Old Forge Brewing in nearby Danville, Selin's Grove Brewing Co. in Selinsgrove, and Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks in Millheim.

 

Beer radar

 

Here's your chance to bend an elbow with Joe Sixpack.

I'll be hanging out and pouring samples at P.J. Whelihan's (799 Dekalb Pike, Blue Bell) on Thursday from 5-7 p.m.

On Oct. 8, I'll be behind the bar at Bell Beverage (2809 S. Front St., South Philly, across from the I-95 ramp) with free samples from Flying Dog Brewing . . . Yet another website is taking a crack at monitoring area draft beer selections.

This one is www.phillytapfinder.com, with a very nice user interface that will help you locate elusive kegs. It claims to be on top of the draft lists of about 60 city bars . . . Bring a book to Sunday's Docktoberfest at Dock Street Brewery (50th Street and Baltimore Avenue, Cedar Park). The donation will go to prisoners through the local nonprofit, Books Through Bars. It'll make you feel even better while you're enjoying live music and Dock Street's craft beers. Kegs tap at 2 p.m. . . .

Can craft beer work its charm on East Falls? The owners of the new Fork and Barrel (4213 Ridge Ave., at the site of the former Pour House) are going to give it a stab with a very atmospheric candlelit gastropub. The menu is hearty, including braised rabbit cooked in abbey-style ale and wild boar bratwurst and braised cabbage. But it's the beer selection that's really pushing it, with a lineup of notably pricey taps. On its first weekend, I spotted Italy's Del Ducato Chimera dark ale and Denmark's Amager Hr. Frederickson imperial stout, both $9. The cheapest glass is 7 bucks, and the bottle selection tops out at $49 for a 25-ounce bottle of Belgium's outstanding Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek . . .

Meanwhile, put these new joints on your must-visit list:

_ Terrace Taproom (3847 Terrace St., Manayunk), just down the street from the Old Eagle, seems to be improving its tap list every week.

_ Watkins Drinkery (1712 S. 10th St., South Philly), from the same folks behind The Dive, opened last week with a pool table, dart board, a vintage '80s arcade and a very healthy beer lineup and half-price happy hour.

_ Hop Angel Brauhaus (7980 Oxford Ave., Fox Chase) opened just in time to tap all those great German Oktoberfest beers. The schweinshaxe (pork shank) in dark beer is as good as anything I've tasted in Munich.

_ The Beer Store (488 Second St. Pike, Southampton), with 18 cooler doors stocked with about 1,000 varieties. They grabbed my attention with high-tech LED lighting and a mix-a-six selection of $2.50 bottles. Also new in the takeout scene: Beer Heaven: The Craft Beer Store (Delaware Avenue above Reed, South Philly).

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to joesixpack@phillynews.com.