Joe Sixpack | Today's your lucky 13th - the cask ale party at Grey Lodge

Posted: April 13, 2007

TIME FOR a little spring cleaning. Clear out those barleywines, suck in that gut and let's dust up the beer scene around town.

Friday the Firkinteenth

Everywhere else, it's an unlucky day. But each Friday the 13th, the Grey Lodge (6235 Frankford Ave., Mayfair) turns into a gloriously splashy cask ale party at which small kegs (firkins) are hoisted onto the bar and drained into waiting glasses.

These beers are naturally carbonated inside the kegs, a process called cask-conditioning. There's no need for CO2 tanks when serving from them; the bartenders just open the bungs and let gravity do the work. Without the artificial bubbles, the ales - served at cellar temperature - tend to have a full, soft feel in your mouth.

No other local fest offers so many different varieties of this so-called real ale; this year, publican Mike "Scoats" Scotese promises no fewer than 20 different firkins.

I'm looking forward to Flying Fish Farmhouse Ale, a local summertime favorite that you wouldn't normally think of as a cask-conditioned ale because it's so light and effervescent. This keg, though, has been specially aged with an extra dose of Columbus and Amarillo hops, a process called dry-hopping.

Friday the Firkinteenth kicks off at noon today, which means you'll have a buzz on before dusk. Take public transportation because - with this selection - I guarantee your designated driver will punk out and succumb to the suds.

The new brewpub in town

Triumph Brewing has finally opened its doors at 117 Chestnut St. I'll withhold any review of the place till it gets its legs, but I did want to make three quick points:

_ It's about time! The city hasn't seen a new brewpub in eight years. New blood is always welcome.

_ Excellent location. Old City is already the richest beer-drinking section of town, with the Khyber, Eulogy, Brownie's, Sugar Mom's, Charlie's Pub, City Tavern, Jager's, Skinner's, Buffalo Bill's and the underrated Race Street Cafe. Adding a brewpub to this mix makes the neighborhood a pub crawler's heaven.

_ Try the Keller Beer. Right out of the gates, award-winning brewer Patrick Jones is serving up an unfiltered pilsner that reminds me of the Paulaner Brauhaus Thomas Zwickl I enjoyed last year in Munich.

The Champagne of beers

No, I'm not talking about Miller. This is beer that's made like French Champagne, re-fermented in the bottle, aged upside down in a rack, then flash-frozen to expel a small block of yeast sediment. The process leaves you with a clean, bubbly beer that, to my taste, is even better than the real thing.

You may have already tasted Deus (Brut Des Flandres) from Belgium's Bosteels, which has been available locally for about five years.

Now, there's a second Belgian variety, Malheur Biere Brut from Brouwerij de Landtsheer. The glass I tried at Monk's Cafe tasted much like a dry wine. At 11 percent alcohol it's meant to be sipped, so don't blow this expensive ($39) bottle on poker night with the boys. Enjoy it with light appetizers at one of those fancy BYOBs.

Russian River Night

at Capone's Restaurant

If you asked me to name the hottest American craft breweries right now, Russian River would definitely make the top three. With his over-the-top hop monsters, wild ales, Belgians and wood-aged beers, brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo has emerged as one of the world's leading brewing innovators.

Thing is, beer fans in most of the country have never had a taste. Outside of his home state of California, Cilurzo's beer is available in just two places: Washington, D.C., and, lucky us, the Philadelphia area.

So, here's a chance to take advantage of Philly's good fortune. Wednesday night, Montco beer maven Matt Capone is pouring at least three draft RR's. First, try Pliny the Elder, which many now regard as the benchmark American double India pale ale; then give his son, Pliny the Younger, a try - it's a triple IPA.

Capone's (224 W. Germantown Pike, Norristown) is one of the growing number of area taverns that sell draft beer to go. So, before you leave, fill up your growler with Damnation, Russian River's tasty, strong golden ale. (And don't forget to wander back to Capone's takeout shop, one of the best single-bottle selections in the 'burbs.)

Calendar

Spring Oktoberfestz: It's the 82nd annual Stiftungsfest at Cannstatter Volksfest Verein (9130 Academy Road, Northeast Philadelphia). Expect lots of good Bavarian beer, wurst, music and folk dancing. Doors open 7 p.m. tomorrow. $10. www.gtvalmrausch.org or 215-672-9866.

Great Brews from Around the World: That's the name, but with a yawning beer selection like this (Becks, Carlsberg, Harp, Corona, Moosehead, Amstel, Heineken, Molson), they should call it the Just OK Imported Brews Festival. But if you're in the Poconos this weekend, you could do worse. Split Rock Resort, Lake Harmony, Pa. Beer pours 1 p.m. tomorrow. $20. www.splitrock

resort.com.*

"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.

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