Yes, there was beer at Hef’s

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STEVE FROM Bryn Mawr writes, “Enjoyed reading about your trip to the Playboy Mansion, but you never explained what the beer promo was for! ”

Steve, it should be apparent to anyone who caught Joe Sixpack’s report this week from Hugh Hefner’s sex pit, is a total beer freak. I offer an inside peek at half-naked chicks, and this guy’s asking about the suds.

And he’s not the only one!

Well, for you hopeless, beer-addled readers, the Playboy party was a roll-out of new ales and labels from Pete’s Brewing. The company, founded by hops rebel Pete Slosberg, is now owned by the Gambrinus Co., the Texas outfit better known for selling Corona, the No. 1 U.S. import.

Aiming to pump up lagging sales, the company turned to marketing consultants to redesign its look. Slosberg’s ugly mug is gone and the word “Wicked” is emphasized. And it’s adding a couple new flavors – Pete’s Wicked Red Rush and and Pete’s Wicked Helles Lager.

It all has this edgy feel to it that’s intended to attract college-educated 21- to- 34-year-old males with enough disposable income to afford a slightly upscale craftbrew. Thus, the Playboy tide-in.

How’s the beer taste? Let’s just say Miss August has more body. A lot more body.

The big (and, to me, unfortunate) development is a new recipe for its flagship, Pete’s Wicked Ale.

Purists may not agree with my taste, but I always found this hoppy, full-flavored brown ale a consistent winner. Thanks to a national distribution that rivaled Samuel Adams, you could find it in even third-rate takeout stores where the next best thing was a 40 of Genny Cream.

The previously Wicked Ale, though, has taken a nasty step backward. It’s been remade with reduced hops, for markedly less bitterness, and caramel (not chocolate) malt.

It’ll probably go over big at your next office party at TGI Fridays.

“We wanted to make the product easier to drink for the consumer,” said Greg Warwick, Pete’s brand manager. He calls it “a dramatic revitalization of the brand. ”

In other words, it’s been dumbed down.

“No, no,” Warwick says, “It’s more approachable. ”

Right. In my neighborhood, that’s the word they use to describe girls who don’t immediately laugh in your face after the first pickup line.

With beer, it’s just a slick way of saying you can drink all night without really tasting. It’s about as satisfying as spending the evening with a centerfold with a staple in her navel.

Brew it yourself

Grey Lodge Pub (6235 Frankford Ave., Mayfair), already thriving as a microbrew mecca in the Northeast, is branching out into micro-microbrews. Tomorrow, it will hold its first Home Brew Night, when it serves a tiny, 5-gallon batch of homemade almond brown ale.

“We’ve got a lot of homebrewers who come in here regularly, and we thought this would be a good way for them and others to taste their handiwork,” said Mike “Scoats” Scotese, the Grey Lodge publican.

State liquor regs prohibit the pub from actually selling homebrew, so Scoats will just give the stuff away.

The initial batch is from Jim Keaveney, who brews on his back deck in Cinaminson, N.J.

With the shelves overflowing with handcrafted ales, why would anyone bother to go to all the trouble of brewing his own? “It’s just like food,” Keaveney replies. “You can go out to a great restaurant and enjoy a great meal, but it’s not your own. I can make a beer that’s exactly the style I like. Plus, you take a lot of pride in something you create for yourself. ”

And what about that almond brown ale? “It’s based on an English-style brown ale, rich and dark [think Newcastle],” says Keaveney. “I’m not a real style guru, so some might say it’s more of a porter. It’s mild, very drinkable with just a touch of almond extract. ”

Beer radar

Congrats to Lehigh University, which is rated the No. 3 beer-drinking college in America, according to the Princeton Review survey of college students. Not sure why it’s got such a great rep, but it could have something to do with its proximity to Weyerbacher Brewing in Bethlehem. Bryn Mawr is ranked the 20th worst college for beer-drinkers. For the record, the first-place brew school is University of Tennessee-Knoxville . . .

From Heavyweight Brewing of Ocean County, N.J., comes the first-known variety four-pack. Each one contains a single 12-ounce bottle of its extraordinary strong ales: Lunacy Belgian-style golden ale, Perkuno’s Hammer Baltic-style porter, Baltus O.V.S. and Two Druids’ Gruit Ale. What about Heavyweight’s delicious Old Salty barleywine? Brewer Tom Baker is hanging onto bottles of the sacred stuff, and a few years from now he’ll release packs holding four different vintages. In the meantime, look for a new flavor from this inventive brewery: Cinderbock, a smoked doppelbock . . .

Finally got around to visiting the Beer Yard (218 East Lancaster Ave., Wayne – behind Starbucks), where suds dude Matt Guyer tempted me with the last known bottle of Victory St. Boisterous bock (now available in keg only). Check out distributor’s terrific Web site at for excellent descriptions of several hundred brands…

Speaking of Victory, the Downingtown brewery is bursting at the seams. Operating out of a former Pepperidge Farm bakery, the brewhouse will move its bottling line to a 20,000-square-foot building next door so it can expand its fermentation tanks . . .

Check out the watch on Gina Cabell, bartender at Cuvee Notredame (17th and Green streets, Fairmount). It’s her first-place prize in the recent U.S. Stella Artois beer-pouring competition. (It’s all about style and presentation; think synchronized swimming in suds. ) She’s headed to Toronto later this month for the North American finals of the Stella Artois beer-pouring competition, and if she wins that, it’s on to Belgium for the world championship. . .


Today: Yards promotion at the Khyber (2nd and Chestnut, Old City). Drain a pale ale, get a free pint glass. 5-8 p.m.

Saturday & Sunday: The 16th annual Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square, featuring beer from 20 area microbreweries. The fungus starts at 11 a.m. both days. Tix at the door: $25. Info: 610-793-3909.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Weyerbacher Quad.


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