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How I turned hardwood floors into guilt-free beer ratings
Beer Travels August 12, 2004      
Written by MilkmanDan


Introductory point #1:

When my wife and I bought our house four years ago, it needed huge amounts of work. In those last four years, we’ve gotten the roof replaced, done siding and windows, put two different roofs on the deck (one of which actually didn’t leak), refaced the kitchen cabinets, replaced almost every light, socket, and switch in the house, redone bathrooms, painted extensively, and basically tried to invent new ways to spend money. At this point, we’re actually running out of things to redo. Recently, with the kitchen floors and counters being done and the dining room, entryway, and master bedroom getting painted, I was looking forward to a break in the work. The only thing glaringly needing work were the scuffed and gouged hardwoord floors, which my wife wanted redone immediately.

Introductory point #2:

My wife is seven and a half months pregnant

Introductory point #3:

It is clinically impossible to win an argument with a woman who is seven months pregnant. You can conceivably get your way, but it’s not a “win”. There is a price to pay, and it’s just not worth it.

So, obviously, the floors got done. However, we came to a happy compromise. If I was going to be forced out of my house for three days in the middle of the week, dragging along a badly-tempered two-year-old, I darn well was going to get something out of the deal. I got to pick the location. We were off to one night near Rehoboth Beach, DE, and two nights west of Philadelphia. She got her floors. I got beer. The boy got to be a two-year-old, which means he was able to show off bad behavior in public on as many occasions as possible.


People who redo floors don’t move furniture. We move it with a few friends, one of whom begins showing interest in good beer. Geoff, time to join the site.


A full day of work. We meet at the house after work, and glance inside and the sanded floors with their first coat of stain. Quite nice. Then, into the car, around the Beltway and east towards Rehoboth. We stay in Seaford, which is all the way across the state from Rehoboth. OK, it’s Delaware. It’s like 25 miles or something.


A billboard for a local liquor shop promised the best beer and wine selection in the state. Again, it’s Delaware. Selection is decent at Liquid Assets (Yard’s, Flying Fish, Magic Hat, and, of course, DFH), though the only thing they get that I can’t is Flying Fish. Flying Fish is inevitably decent if unspectacular, so I get the porter, which I’ve never had before.

We get to Rehoboth and attempt to show the two-year-old the wonders of the beach. He refuses to get out of his stroller and, though he’s seeing the ocean for the first time, he spends all of his time staring at the pizza shops and stores on the other side of the boardwalk. He couldn’t care less about the beach. I pretty much agree with him. Sand, water, sky. I fail to see the big deal.

Dogfish Head (or not):

Dogfish Head is right up the road and parking seemed challenging, so we walk the few blocks. “Few blocks” turns into a mile or so, as we weren’t paying attention. Speaking of not paying attention, we get to DFH for lunch at around 1:00. And discover it opens at 4:00. I make unhappy noises. I could hang around for three hours, but Garrett is needing a nap and we’d rather he takes it in the car driving towards Philly than cruising around Rehoboth waiting for DFH to open up.

Ram’s Head:

Instead, I drive until I find the Ram’s Head Tavern nearby. Garrett is asleep by now, so Tia takes the wheel and drives around for 15 minutes while I zip through their six beer sampler. Some OK things, and a light beer that is actually not foul. There’s somebody in the bar drinking a Beck’s Dark and talking about how he likes his good beer. I figure I’ve only got 15 minutes and that’s probably not enough time to fully crank up the beer snobbage, so I just let it go.

Then, we’re off to West Chester. On the way into the area, we pass right by McKenzie’s. Tia, G, and I all headed to State College, PA, July 2003 for their brewing festival and we pushed the boy around in the stroller inside the festival hall. When we were there, we met the people from McKenzie’s. They played with the boy, took pictures of us, and got our addresses so they could send us the pictures (they did). Incredibly nice people.

When we get to the Holiday Inn, the wife needs a nap and the boy gets an Elmo DVD in the laptop to watch, which means I have a free hour, and, thanks to the free broadband in the room, I’m able to find a map to the Iron Hill brewpub in downtown West Chester a mile away.

Iron Hill:

Nice place, nice location. I have to say upfront that West Chester is a darn nice town, lots of big, old houses, and a downtown with some interesting stuff. College town, rather liked it. Anyways, Iron Hill shows off nicely. They serve me the best light beer I’ve ever had (3.4) and their Ironbound Ale, an excellent APA (4.3). The APA was served both draft and cask, and the draft was quite superior. APA isn’t a style to me that exactly screams “cask me”, but at least they’re trying. Iron Hill’s other beers are, with the exception of a forgettable raspberry wheat, pretty good. I do get into two separate conversations with other patrons and push them towards Ratebeer, but don’t think I had any luck recruiting new cult members.


For dinner, back up the road to McKenzie’s. Dinner at McKenzie’s is OK, food-wise. The beer is quite good, particularly an excellent raspberry wheat which is so authentically fruity I keep expecting to feel the seeds in my teeth. It’s a mite sour and tart, just like real raspberries, and isn’t just an obnoxiously sweet pinkish beer-esque concoction a brewer threw out in order to get wine cooler drinkers to try their beer. Anyone who ever wants to brew a raspberry wheat should be forced to come to McKenzie’s to get a few ideas. A good stout as well, and I get a bottle of the saison to take home with me.


A big day. I hop on Ratebeer to find brewpubs to visit. Two brewpubs in Wayne 10 miles up the road are the lunchtime goal. Garrett begins to fall asleep as we near Wayne, so we cruise around Valley Forge to soak in all the history we possibly can while driving a station wagon at 25 miles an hour through a national monument. It is, understandably, perhaps not a particularly authentic experience. At any rate, we run to the aptly named Valley Forge Brewing Company brewpub, so it’s a repeat of Ram’s Head—I run in for a sampler while she drives around.

Valley Forge:

Highlights include an excellent APA (Regiment Pale, 4.3) and their Lincoln Lager (4.2). The brewer starts talking to me about my ratings, and I compliment him on his great Vienna. He says it’s supposed to be a marzen. Does it count as an insult if you compliment the beer but say it’s the wrong style? Loads of caramel malts, a bit sweet, darn good regardless of what he calls it. At any rate, I’ll visit here again if I’m in the area. It’s in an unassuming location stuck in a strip mall, but worth finding.

John Harvard’s:

For lunch, we’re off to the John Harvard’s in Wayne. The moment we get in, Garrett starts fussing and kicking. The waitress, bless her heart, offers to sit us in the back room where nobody else is (it’s usually closed for lunch). This gives everyone else a lunch in peace, while the boy screams in his high chair while we eat. Have I mentioned that this trip wasn’t my idea? Anyways, I enjoy the IPA (4.1), but most of the rest leaves me a bit flat. As for the Strawberry Blonde, let us never speak of it again.

Wednesday evening we planned to make a pilgrimage to the Holiest of Holies. OK, we were going to Victory for dinner. Not that I hold Victory in high regard or anything. At any rate, we plan to meet Eric (egajdzis) for dinner, and then the wife and boy are to head back to the hotel while Eric takes me to a few more stops.


To get my prejudices out of the way, I happen to think Victory is the single best brewery on the planet. You can certainly argue that other brewers do some things near perfectly, but nobody has a consistency in quality across so many varied styles as Victory does. I can (and often do) make the argument that they have the best barleywine and imperial stout around, and their IPA, tripel, pilsner, and weizenbock are also world-class. My love for big beers started the first time Storm King ever touched my lips, and it’s still one of the perfect beers in existence to me.

Fawning adoration aside, the pizza at Victory is good as promised, though the wife’s fish and chips aren’t too good. The boy, appropriately dressed in his new Oscar the Grouch T-shirt, runs around the mostly-empty seating area laughing and playing and, since hardly anyone’s there, we let him. It’s not worth it.

For the beer: I thought Victory was the best brewery in the world before getting to the brewpub. I still think Victory is the best brewery in the world. The things they have there are simply amazing. I’m in love with the St. Boisterous Hellerbock (4.4), the Milltown Mild (4.3), and the ESB (4.3), and while the Braumeister Pils (3.9) is less hoppy than the Prima, I like it better that way. Surprisingly, the Workhorse Porter is pretty forgettable (2.9), just nothing going on, an oddity. Depressingly, they’d just run out of the Vienna Lager, so I don’t get a chance to try that.

The Drafting Room:

Eric next takes me off to the Drafting Room, a beer bar. They don’t actually brew, but Troegs has brewed a 10th Anniversary Ale for them. It’s an IIPA and a damn good one. I gave it a 4.5, and, in retrospect, I might have lowballed it. Huge hops, huge malts, very nicely balanced. Troegs is getting better and better over time. A Troegs IIPA (Nugget Nectar) is supposed to be coming along at some point and it’s supposed to be similar to the 10th Anniversary Ale. Good stuff, particularly so if they get inspired to bottle it.

While at the Drafting Room, Eric and I strike up a conversation with a gentleman at the bar. He’s a doctor, 50 years old, and a huge beer geek with a big beer cellar. The three of us have an hour or so of incredibly deep, over-the-top beer geek discussion. He mentions some small pub in Reading that has a great selection, but it’s too far out of the way.

Regardless, it’s moments like this that make me truly appreciate Ratebeer. Through Ratebeer, I planned my trip. I met up with Eric who agreed to take me around. I learned about all sorts of beers I’d never have known about, and I was able to have good beer conversation with a total stranger because of it. Without Ratebeer, none of it would have happened.

Sly Fox:

Final stop of the evening is Sly Fox. 12 beers on tap, 10 new, and a couple old guys playing Irish drinking tunes. They have a nitro-poured Irish Stout that keeps good flavor and body (4.0), a nice dopplebock (4.3), and a very good Simcoe IPA (4.3). It’s a decent place, though I can always do without old guys playing Irish drinking tunes. I’ve enjoyed both Sly Fox’s Simcoe and Target IPAs, and I’d really like to try their whole line of single-hop IPAs, but I’m thinking I probably won’t get that chance.


Time to make the 2 1/2-3 hour trip home to Northern VA. There’s only one planned stop for the day. I’ve heard rave reviews of State Line Liquors in Elkton, MD, and it’s conveniently a mile off I-95 (it tends to be much more convenient if you, say, head the right way off I-95 and don’t spend 20 minutes driving around Elkton like an idiot looking for the place). State Line Liquors has a very good selection. Micro-wise, there’s not a lot we don’t get around D.C., but there’s a good selection of some Belgian, French, and British beers I haven’t had as of yet. While browsing the micros in the cooler, I do notice the very nice-looking bottles of Magic Hat’s barleywine and imperial stout. I tend to kind of like Magic Hat but not really enough to justify the $19 for the barleywine, cool bottle or no. As I stand pondering, my wife comes over, starting the following conversation:

Her: “What are you looking at?”

Me: “Magic Hat’s barleywine, Chaotic Chemistry. Really cool bottle, but I’m generally not that excited by Magic Hat. Plus, it’s $19.”

Her: “Can you get it back home?”

Me: “Nope. Never seen it around our area.”

Her: “You should buy it, then. You should buy anything you can’t get back home.”

Me: *blink* *blink*

23 beers, two bottles of wine, one new Hennepin glass, and $137 later, I’d clearly taken her advice to heart.

As an aside, there’s a fruit and vegetable stand next to State Line Liquors. If such a thing as perfect blackberries exists in this world, they’re sold at that stand. Plus, by buying them, your beer run therefore becomes a nutritious quest, justifying any adverse health effects that several gallons of beer might have. It’s kind of like ordering two bacon cheeseburgers and a large fries at a fast food restaurant, and then pairing it with a Diet Coke. In the end, it all evens out.

Anyways, the final tally for the trip was 51 beers tried and seven pubs visited. Thanks again to Eric for the escort and for helping show me the beer wonders of the West Philly area. I always knew Philadelphia had a good beer scene, but my trip there makes it seem even better. I visited four brewpubs plus the Drafting Room (with lots of taps) in two days, trying an amazing selection of beers, and I never got within a half-hour of the city itself. Adding in the options in the city like Monk’s, Nodding Head, and Yard’s and Philadelphia has to be considered one of the great beer cities of the world (and an excellent candidate for RBSG 2005, hint hint).

The floors, incidentally, really do look spectacular.


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start quote It is clinically impossible to win an argument with a woman who is seven months pregnant. You can conceivably get your way, but it’s not a “win”. There is a price to pay, and it’s just not worth it. end quote