Book Review: Growing Your Own Cocktails, Mocktails, Teas & Infusions

From garden to glass!

Now that Mother’s Day has come and gone, the gardening season is in full swing. If you have a traditional kitchen garden like me, you are waiting with anticipation…wondering if your tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and a handful of herbs will be successful enough to make a salad and some garnish later this Summer. But other than salad, what else could you grow to make your days tastier?  Jodi Helmer’s “Growing Your Own Cocktails, Mocktails, Teas & Infusions” answers just that question.

While not an expansive reference book, the five chapters of “Growing Your Own” provide a solid foundation for the development of a beverage that you can grow from scratch.  Helmer opens with a  “brief history of your favorite drinks” and then launches into a lengthy chapter on plants that can help make a cocktail special, describing “leaves”, “flowers”, “fruits and vegetables”, and “roots.”  What is especially helpful is that Helmer provides the suggested growing zone for each variety (and the growing zone map for North America) so that you don’t accidentally choose a tropical plant that couldn’t survive your garden in Pennsylvania!

Helmer continues by providing tips for every aspect of bringing your garden into your glass (and your mouth!).  From garden planning to harvesting to proper glassware, everything you need to make your first artisanal beverage can be found in these chapters – including recipes for simple syrups enhanced with herbs, cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks.

Making a simple syrup with mint

To put Helmer to the test, I harvested fresh spearmint from my garden and made a simple mint syrup, following the instructions on page 125.  With the mint syrup in hand, I gathered the ingredients for the Mojito recipe on page 133.  It was a delicious, summer cocktail, to celebrate Memorial Day Weekend and the informal beginning of summer. I would definitely consider this “experiment” a success; the libation was tasty, especially because I knew that the mint had been growing outside my back door only a short time ago.

Artisanal Mojito!

Overall, “Growing Your Own Cocktails, Mocktails, Teas & Infusions” is a solid introductory book for home gardeners and bartenders alike.  With the word “Cocktails” in the forefront of the title, I expected to see more recipes, but as I noted above, the recipe for the Mojito was excellent, so I’ll take quality over quantity in this case.  And one note – the chapter on cocktails was written by Jeanette Hurt, author of “Drink Like A Woman,” so check that book out if it is more recipes you need! In addition to Helmer’s gardening expertise, the photography in the book is bright and enticing; it motivates the reader to plant that garden and get ready to enjoy a homegrown cocktail some evening later this summer!

“Growing Your Own Cocktails, Mocktails, Teas & Infusions“ was published in April 2020 by Fox Chapel Publishing.  It is available on Amazon and retails for $18.99.  


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Copyright 2020 – all rights reserved

A Vacation at Home with the Shower Beer Holder

For many people, an important tradition for Memorial Day Weekend and summer vacation is having a beer in an outdoor shower.  Whether coming back to a beach house after a day in the sun and sand, or returning to a cabin after boating on a crystal lake, a crisp, cold beer in an outdoor shower is one of the most relaxing events of your time off.  So what if you could have that feeling all year round, from the privacy of your indoor shower at home?

Recently I was asked to review the Sudski Shower Beer Holder by 30Watt.  Does it seem simple? Yes.  Is it something that you must have?  No.  But in this time of quarantine and questionable vacation plans, is it a nice reminder of better times (in the past and to come)? Undoubtably YES.

The Shower Beer Holder is made of “space age” materials and sticks to shiny surfaces.  Luckily I have a glass door and wall, so my Shower Beer Holder stuck just fine there.  It can hold both 12 oz and 16 oz cans (in case you want to enjoy a hazy NE IPA pounder in the shower).  I chose a 16 oz. Hip Czech Lager by Victory Brewing Company for my test, and it held up perfectly!

One note – you need to install the Shower Beer Holder 24 hours before you use it, and make sure you remove any air bubbles…or else your beer will fall and pour down the drain.  Once you’ve taken care of those 2 steps, all you need is hot water, maybe some good tunes, and the vision of your favorite outdoor shower – and it’s a vacation at home!

The Shower Beer Holder is available online at various locations – on Amazon it sells for $24.47.  I thoroughly enjoyed testing this product and am considering purchasing the companion product, the Shower Wine Holder soon!  


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Copyright 2020 – all rights reserved

Book Review – “How To Drink”: A Lesson For the Ages

“How To Drink – A Classical Guide to the Art of Imbibing” is a modern translation of a social commentary written by Vincent Obsopoeus in 1536.  Alarmed by the rise of binge drinking, peer pressure and competitive drinking in sixteenth-century Germany, Obsopoeus (pronounced “Jobs? So pay us!”) argues that “moderation, not abstinence is the key to lasting sobriety, and that drinking can be a virtue if it is done with rules and limits” in a text inspired by the Roman poet Ovid’s “Art of Love.” 

This version of “How to Drink” was translated and edited by Cornell University Professor of Classics Michael Fontaine.  In the book’s introduction, Fontaine defines the meaning of critical words found in the book (“Bacchus,” “Flanerian,” and the names of drinking vessels used in 1536), and also provides context around who Obsopoeus was and the wine soaked world in which he lived.

Based on the foregoing description, you might assume that “How to Drink” is a judgy, academic text best placed on the reference shelf for another time.  But make no mistake – when you read Fontaine’s translation you will realize that when it comes to drinking, there is a striking similarity between America’s “drinking bro culture” and the society described by Obsopoeus almost 500 years ago. For example, I was surprised and amused by  Obsopoeus’s inflammatory descriptions of people you shouldn’t drink with – Buzzkills, Belligerents, Blowhards, Gossips, to name a few – and realized his words are just as applicable today as they were in sixteenth-century Germany. 

I found this book fascinating because Obsopoeus discusses social situations that he observed (and participated) in the 1500s – but his descriptions could be that of parties I’ve attended in the past 20 years!  I also enjoyed reading How to Drink because it stands for a simple concept proposed by the Craft Beer industry in their battle against macrobrew: beer should be enjoyed by all and in moderation (with occasional slip-ups forgiven) – not “pounded”, “shotgunned,” or “funneled” in excess to prove masculinity.

While I throughly enjoyed “How to Drink,” don’t worry if you don’t – Obsopoeus anticipated that some may disagree with his thoughts and provided his critics with this message:  “May the Bacchus (wine) you drink with that stupid, obscene mouth of yours prove joyless and unfun, you bastard!”  Man, I would’ve loved to chat with Obsopoeus over a few beers!

I recommend “How to Drink” for anyone who enjoys history, the social aspects of alcohol, and the fact that some things never seem to change through the ages!  “How to Drink” will be available from Princeton University Press on April 14, 2020 for $16.95 – order your copy here.


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Copyright 2020 – all rights reserved

A Sad Day in Pennsylvania – Stoudts Brewing To Cease Production

It was a sad announcement that was just released – one of the pillars of Pennsylvania’s craft beer community is ceasing operations.  Read the press release here

The press release explains that Carol Stoudt, the first female brewmaster since Prohibition, is retiring after years of helping the Pennsylvania craft beer industry to grow into what it is today.  While Carol is stepping away, it seems she might be interested in the right opportunity to continue the Stoudt’s legacy however, as she explained in the press release, “This was a difficult decision to make,” says Carol, “but we’re not moving enough volume to justify the expense of keeping the brewery open. However, we’re not closing the doors to any business opportunities that could help the Stoudts brand live on.”

I personally have many great memories of Stoudts – attending a beer festival there in 2003, annual dinners (and flights) at the Black Angus in December after finding the “perfect” Christmas tree in Lititz, and meeting Carol during the CBC in Philadelphia 2015 while enjoying an imported Pilsner Urquell.  Of course, I will truly miss her perfect German style beers like Stoudts “Munich Gold” and Stoudts “Oktoberfest,” as well as her specialty brews made for McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Philadelphia – McGillin’s Genuine Lager, McGillin’s Real Ale, and 1860 IPA.

Thank you Carol, and thank you Stoudts, for years of making traditional German beer accessible here in the Philadelphia area.  You will truly be missed.


The Brewholder

Copyright 2020 – all rights reserved

Big Game Choices – Forget Andy Reid

Time is yours.

As most of my readers know, I am located in the Philadelphia area and love my Philly beer scene.  I also love my Iggles.  So what am I supposed to do as an Eagles fan during Super Bowl 54 – who should we root for?  First of all, let’s all remember that the Eagles are not playing today – so as an Eagles fan, I don’t really care who wins, as long as there is a good, Philly craft beer in my hand while I watch the last football game of the season. 

But let’s  get into it: Since the Eagles lost to the Seahawks a few weeks ago, there has been a lot of talk by Eagles fans about supporting the Chiefs for “good ole Andy Reid; he deserves a Super Bowl win, right?” NO. (Take a sip of a Yards Loyal Lager, here)

Listen – I’m generally a nice guy, but my problem is that if Andy Reid wins a Super Bowl today, that means that he wasn’t “burned out,” “cooked”, or “not a HOF coach” – which was the narrative when the Eagles let him go.  A Chiefs win today would mean that once again, the small minded national media can point to Philadelphia and continue their cheap storyline: “see – they don’t know what they are doing; they are idiots, Neanderthals, they are terrible people,” yadda yadda yadda.  (Take a sip of a McAllister Skook Water here).

With all that being said, I’m still rooting for the Chiefs today.  Not because I want Andy to win, but for the following breakdown:

  1. If not for Andy leaving, both Doug Peterson and Nick Foles would not have come to Philly…and our Super Bowl VII either.
  2. LeShaun McCoy would get a ring.  I still hate how the “coach whose name shall not be spoken” let him go and he deserves a championship for what he gave us during his years in Philly.
  3. How can you not enjoy watching Travis Kelce?
  4. The Chiefs haven’t been in the Super Bowl for 50 years…and the 49ers have 5 rings.  I still appreciate the underdog story.
  5. Patrick Mahomes is pretty freakin amazing.
  6. “Jimmy G” was a Patriot, backing up Philly Enemy #2.  (#1 is the master of cheating, Belichek).  Nuff said.

(Tilt back a Conshohocken Blood money IPA here).

So there it is.  That’s how one fan is looking at it, and wondering what my next Philly beer will be.  And wondering how much of a debacle the halftime show will be!  Go birds!


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Copyright 2020 – all rights reserved

2019 Year in Review – Happy New Year!

2019, done, just like that! Wow! And what a great year for beer, especially in Eastern Pennsylvania! A ton of new breweries opened in the area – making some great beer – and there are still several that I need to visit in 2020!

So let’s get into The Brewholder stats for 2019. According to Untappd, I tried 461 unique beers from 174 different breweries. Based on my notes, I visited 47 different breweries, with 38 of them being first time visits for me. Eighteen of the breweries were in Eastern PA, 14 were in Denver, Golden, and Fort Collins, CO, 4 in Cincinnati, 3 on the North Carolina Coast, 3 in Chicago, 3 in the Atlanta area, and 1 in NYC that I hesitate to mention.

So with all those visits, we’ll move on to my Best of 2019 rankings, keeping in mind that these rankings are limited to the beers I tasted and places I’ve been…and not just the hype on the social media feeds….

Best Brewery Tour: New Belgium, Fort Collins, CO (prior to the sellout to Kirin)

Best Brewery Event: New Terrain, Golden, CO – Third Anniversary Party
Honorable mention: Susquehanna Brewing Company’s “Bigfoot and Brews” event last February was awesome and tons of fun!

Most Surprising Beer: New Belgium Citradelic, canned a few hours before drinking it, while on the brewery tour. It NEVER tastes this good when you get it in Eastern, PA. A striking reminder of how important it is to “drink fresh!”

Most Surprising Brewery: Rhinegeist! For a brewery that opened in 2013, it’s size is shocking. AND their lagers and pilsners are OUTSTANDING. I plan to revisit Rhinegeist again and again in 2020.

Top 3 Coolest Brewery locations:

Torched Hop – Awesome historical building renovated for a cool brewery scene!

Purpose – it’s in a strip mall…until you step inside. Then you’d never know you are in a strip mall. New brewers opening in a strip mall would be well served to visit Purpose. And their beer is pretty damn fantastic too!

Funkwerks – an outdoor beer garden space with that beautiful Colorado sun leads to a great beer drinking experience. Check out the pic and I’ll say no more…

Best Beer & Music at a Brewery: Hands down, without a doubt, The Dirk Quinn Band, solo acoustic at Track 3 Brewing, in June. What a performer, and paired with Track 3’s Panama Pale Ale, it was a great summer show!

Best Seasonal Beer: Track 3 Microbrewery’s “Night Train Harvest Porter”, brewed with locally grown Chinook Hops (and yes, I’m biased because I grew the hops!)

Best Beer in Eastern PA: Imprint “I Was in The Pool” NE IPA. These folks know what they are doing. Say no more.

Best Beer in my Travels: Purpose, “Floof”. An outstanding craft lager that is soft and refreshing. More breweries would do well to learn from Floof!

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the best homebrew I tasted this year, by default, was the “Ginger Sap Ale” by Matt Hartman, winner of The Brewholder Tournament in June! All Hail, Lord of the Wort 2019!

As we count down to 2020, and another year of beer exploration, I say “cheers again” to everyone I had a beer with this year, and look forward to enjoying more with you in locations like Austin, Phoenix, Orlando, Albuquerque, NC, DC and right here in Eastern Pennsylvania! Cheers, Prost, Slainte, and all the best in 2020!
And here is where I went in 2019….

Brewery Visits in 2019


  1. Imprint*
  2. Workhorse*
  3. Susquehanna Brewing Company* (Bigfoot!)
  4. Track 3*
  5. Forest & Main
  6. Moss Mill*
  7. Naked*
  8. Victory (Downingtown)
  9. 2d Story
  10. Tannery Run*
  11. Bills Best*
  12. Manayunk
  13. Iron Hill – North Wales, 
  14. Iron Hill – Philadelphia*
  15. Sage Alley*
  16. Fegleys
  17. Brothers Kershner*
  18. Stoudts


  1. Cherry Street*
  2. Torched Hop*
  3. Scofflaw*


  1. Rhinegeist*
  2. 3 Points*
  3. Tafts*
  4. Mohrlein Lager House*


  1. Weeping Radish
  2. 1718 Brewing*
  3. Crystal Coast


  1. Heartland Brewing*


  1. Revolution*
  2. Maplewood*
  3. Half Acre*


  1. TRVE
  2. Epic*
  3. Odell*
  4. Bierstadt lager house*
  5. Ratio
  6. 14er Brewing*


  1. Cannonball*
  2. New Terrain*


  1. Coopersmith*
  2. Black Bottle*
  3. New Belgium*
  4. Snowbank*
  5. Funkwerks*
  6. Purpose*
  7. Prost*

*=1st visit


The Brewholder

Copyright 2019 – all rights reserved

Book Review – The Beer Lover’s Table

The Beer Lover’s Table – a fantastic addition to your beer pairing recipe library!

Nothing brings joy to the holidays more than a delicious meal with family and friends – paired of course with fantastic beer!  “The Beer Lover’s Table,” by Claire Bullen with Jen Ferguson, is a new take on the traditional beer pairing recipe book that will help you set the perfect table this holiday season.  This hard backed, beautifully photographed collection of mouth watering ideas provides plenty of inspiration for your next gathering of craft beer lovers.

Written by Claire Bullen, a London-based beer lover and food writer; and featuring Jen Ferguson, co-owner of the London-based craft beer shop Hop Burns & Black, the book’s recipes were carefully selected by Bullen to pair with brews that are available to readers in the UK, U.S., and New Zealand.  Rather than arranging the chapters by meal course, The Beer Lover’s Table is built by beer style, from Sours & Saisons to Dark Beers, and provide at least three beers for pairing with each recipe.

Any attempt at a quick perusal of the book will be foiled by the titles of the dishes and their associated photographs, which invite you to sit and read more, and lead you to imagine yourself hosting a beer pairing dinner where you serve Vietnamese Pork Belly with Noodles, Frizzled Shallots and Watermelon Salad, paired with a Bavarian Pilsner like Victory “Prima Pils.”   Other pairings that jump off the pages include Dutch Baby Pancake, Strawberry Compote, and Whipped Basil Cream paired with 21st Amendment “Hell or High Watermelon,” Schlafly “Raspberry Hefeweizen,” or Two Roads “Road Jam;” or Shawarma-spiced Cauliflower with Pomegranate and Tahini Sauce paired with Dogfish Head “Carobock” or Ayinger “Urweisse.”  

Interlaced within the recipes are helpful articles on hop varieties, beer style descriptions, pairing tips and overviews of the authors’s favorite breweries.  Available on Amazon for around $13, The Beer Lover’s Table is a fantastic addition to the library of those craft beer fans who appreciate the magic of a perfectly paired beer and meal, and is a great gift idea!  


The Brewholder

Copyright 2019 – all rights reserved

Book review: Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out

For those of you who were drinking craft beer in March of 2011, you probably recall a news article announcing that a Chicago brewery named Goose Island had agreed to sell a portion of itself to mega-brewery Anheuser-Busch.  To say that this announcement created “a stir” would be a serious understatement of the emotional reaction elicited from the craft beer drinking public.  Because I too had a reaction to the sale, the book “Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out – Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business,” by Josh Noel, published 2018 by Chicago Review Press, was an outstanding read for me.  

Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out – a great read for fans of Goose Island and the beer industry in the 2000s.

In “Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out,” Josh Noel, a beer journalist who writes about beer and travel for the Chicago Tribune, artfully weaves together the story of John Hall, the founder of Goose Island, who saw an opportunity in a growing industry in 1988 and took it; his son Greg Hall who blossomed into a visionary brewer and THE voice of Chicago beer; and how In-Bev / Anheuser-Busch worked tirelessly to compete with and then acquire the craft beer upstart.

This book is a fantastic read for anyone who is curious about why – and how – a craft brewer who embraces the concept of “drink local” would decide to sell out and risk losing its local following.  If you witnessed the Twitter,  Facebook and Youtube explosion of reactions to the sale in 2011, “Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out” provides a revealing, behind the scenes expose on the decisions made – by the Halls as well as Anheuser-Busch executives – before and after the sale.  In fact, Noel’s story does not end in 2012, but continues through 2017, documenting Goose Island’s imperial march to expand distribution across the United States. 

I strongly recommend “Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out” – it was truly a “page turner” for me; the only time I put it down was to go to the fridge for another brew!  Available on Amazon in paperback ($14.99) and Kindle ($10.99).


The Brewholder

Copyright 2019 – all rights reserved

Book Review – Artisanal Small-Batch Brewing: Easy Homemade Wines, Beers, Meads and Ciders by Amber Shehan


Artisanal Small-Batch Brewing by Amber Shehan. Photo by Matt Brasch.

As a home brewer of beer for several years now, I have had my share of success, failure and mediocre 5 gallon batches.  And what happens when you are not happy with your creation?  You are stuck between drain pouring and feeling obligated to drink 5 gallons of a beverage you’re not really happy with.

Amber Shehan’s “Artisanal Small-Batch Brewing: Easy Homemade Wines, Beers, Meads and Ciders” was released on June 4, 2019 and provides several beer recipes scaled for 1 gallon batches.  Admittedly, I first scanned the index of the chapter entitled, “Grains and Gruits and Hops, Oh My!” The simple yet intriguing recipes in this chapter – including “Lemon-Pepper IPA” and “Blueberry Porter” – immediately caught my interest and had me thinking, “If I used a 1 gallon carboy, I’d be more excited for brewing experimentation!”

After reviewing the rest of the index, I jumped into the book at page 1.  While generally a recipe book, Amber’s passion for her craft seeps through the words and had me excited to try her mead, wine and cider recipes.   Compared to beer brewing, the other beverages are less labor and time intense, but allow for just as much creativity as beer.  

Several of the recipes shared by Amber made this homebrewer sit up in my chair and think, “I’m going to try this tomorrow!”  “Vanilla Bean and Chamomile Mead,” “Scarborough Fair Wine”, and “Dry-hopped Cider” are now on my short list of experiments in 2019.   In addition to recipes, the book also includes chapters on basic brewing techniques and non-alcohol recipes for spent grains, simple sugars, and vinegars. The superb photography of each beverage provides an encouraging invitation to the eye – “Come on, try to make this and you can drink it too!” 

I would highly recommend this book to both new brewers as well as experienced homebrewers who are looking for recipe inspiration.  Available on Amazon on Kindle (around $10) and paperback formats (around $20), this will be a great addition to your brewing library. 


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Copyright 2019 – all rights reserved

Tannery Run Brew Works Holds Soft Opening In Ambler, PA

Tannery Run Brew Works held their soft opening this weekend in Ambler, PA.  Named for the waterway that runs under the town, Tannery Run Brew Works has been long awaited by Ambler locals, being highly visible and serving samples of their brews during recent local events.

Tannery Run is located in the old Twisters studio on Butler Avenue in the heart of Ambler.   The redesigned space is filled with warmth, from the antique style lighting to the wood highlights throughout.   A mural depicting a water mill on one of the walls evokes memories of simpler times and the beginnings of Ambler Borough.  In anticipation of warmer weather, a garage door has been installed in the front wall, but for now it enhances the welcome feel of the space by bringing in more natural light to the room.

On the evening I visited, Tannery Run served six varieties of their beer – “Wild Horses” German Pilsner, “Premier” Pale Ale, “Blue Dragon” Belgian IPA, “Sympathy For The Devil” Belgian Tripel, “Leeloo Dallas” multigrain Pale Ale, and “Radio Diva” multigrain Belgian Ale.  Taken as a whole, the beers were enjoyable and lent themselves well to hearty discussions with friends over the course of an evening.  There were no experimental beer styles or strong flavors on the menu, which is understandable for a soft opening, but I would liked to have seen at least one adventurous brew.

Also on the menu for the evening were a variety of cocktails and wines, however, I  only drank their beer so I will defer any opinions to liquor and wine bloggers!

Tannery Run has a full kitchen and will offer items that complement their brews.   I tried two flatbreads – one had pork belly, onions, sesame, and pineapple with an Asian style sauce, and the other had goat cheese, figs, and balsamic onions.  Both had the right amount of flavor to enhance the beer – and make me want more!

All in all, Tannery Run Brew Works’s soft opening left me optimistic that there is space in Ambler for more than one brewery.   With some fine tuning on their food menu and brews, there is no doubt that Tannery Run will be able to carve out a comfortable place for itself in Ambler’s vibrant restaurant scene.  I look forward to returning soon to see the finished product!

Tannery Run Brew Works is located 131 East Butler Avenue, Ambler, PA. Their Grand Opening will be held on Friday, March 15, 2019, beginning at 12 noon.


The Brewholder

Copyright 2019 – all rights reserved