Without intent, I have collected well over 1,000 beer bottles since the early 70s. When something finally had to be done about the cheap paneling in this old modular, I had a choice. Tear down the walls while, oh, so carefully, replacing the often rotted 1X3s. Or: cover them with… The Bottle Collection.
Written by Ken Carman
The growler you see above is from a brewpub that went dark: and I don’t mean “dark beer,” and then reopened as “Blue Canoe.” I haven’t been back and I’ve been told there’s a new brewer who is still getting use to the concept of brewing.
Yes there is a smudge in the growler I couldn’t get out. I bought it as a collector’s item so, like a lot of my growlers, it has never had beer in it.
Below you will find a review I did, I believe it was in the 2006 Fall edition of the Score; a publication of The Music City Brewers .
Brew Biz: Werts and All
by Ken Carman
Four Sons Brewery
113 S. Franklin Street
Titusville, PA 16354
Brewer: Doug Caldwell
Heavy K (Wee Heavy)
Rebecca’s Revenge (Schwartzbier)
Other beers sampled that day…
(peat) Rye PA, smoked Amber (YUM!), Oat Coffee Stout
Where the hell is Titusville, PA?
Excuse me. Kids may be reading this. Guess I’ll have to say it like they might say it, from the back seat while sailing over steep hills, diving down into deep valleys, and screeching around sharp, bumpy corners…
“Where the HELL is Titusville, PA?”
And that’s probably the nicest thing they would say. The worst thing they might “say?” Well, let’s just leave that their parents would have to stop and clean up what would almost smell as bad as beer with a bacterial infection… almost.
The roads to Titusville really are that twist-y, and turn-y and filled with bumps. You pass mostly cows meandering through scenic pastures and forest creatures shaking their fists at you; demanding that you bring them back some beer. Well, maybe I made that last one up, although don’t tell that to that big splotch of porcupine left on my Honda Big Ruckus scooter. Hmm… guess porky was… pine-ing… for a pint, too.
Sitting in a nice little valley, about 80 miles from the far southwestern end of New York, 30 miles east of Meadville, and pretty much in the middle of bloody no where, is the small city: Titusville, a cute little ex-oil town. In the center of Titusville, in what used to be the Rockefeller Transit Building, is Four Sons Brewing, named after the owner’s four sons.
The building is unassuming, red brick topped, with a first floor with a multiple white arched front. The inside has high ceilings, simple decor, with a little beer paraphernalia added to spice up the place. Part of the brewery is to your right as you walk in and the bar with multiple taps protrudes into the room from the left, giving the beer selection your full attention as you walk into Four Sons. The rest of the brewery is downstairs in a catacomb-like cellar. Despite being a cellar it is kept clean and sterile for brewing purposes. No stray hairs from cat… a… combs… here.
Enough of the pussycat jokes. I don’t get paid for per punch line anyway. (Would that qualify as a FEE… line?) Let’s get to the beer. The Scotch Ale had just a tad banana nose, enough to make Jimmy Durante smile, but not enough to distract for the malt accent and the caramelization so crucial to the style, especially for their brewer who willingly admits he loves to merge styles. We both agreed that the Plissken Pale Ale had a definite Belgium twist to the yeast that distracted from the more important hop focus, style-wise. Doug said, “That’s going to change. I’m not happy with it.”
Every beer name “has a history,” Doug explained, “just like the menu selections.” Rebecca’s Revenge was named after Rebecca Nurse, of Salem Witch Trial fame, a distant relative to the owner’s wife. I thought this Schwartzbier was a nice, dark, lager with some coffee overtones to the taste. When one of their annual events was canceled by the city in an awkward way they named a beer, “Mary Moose.” There’s an insult inherent to the name that I promised Doug I wouldn’t mention. Let’s just say that even a moose might understand that decisions made by politicians and political appointees might make even Bullwinkle seem to be a genius. Besides, Mary Moose has a delightful aroma due to smoked Beechwood, less to taste. I’d be proud to have it named after me.
Doug says he likes to do what he refers to as “Frankenstein beers,” where he merges styles and goes where few pro-brewers have gone before. (Cue up the Bill Shatner singing “In Heaven There is No Beer?” Nah, that’s
going a little TOO far! Sounds worse than all those cats being combed.)
Doug recommended that homebrewers keep their grain beds level, or even better; concave. “Water will follow the path of least resistance and the resulting wort won’t have taken full advantage of the grain’s sugar potential, especially if it follows any cracks in the grain bed: which it naturally will do.” Their Titusville Lager had a nice hop profile and slight DMS: appropriate to the style. The Oat Coffee Stout had 48 ounces of French Roast in it and 38 of Hazelnut coffee. Quite tasty. The coffee twist was so obvious I thought Juan Valdez was sitting right next to me. Better than the Exxon Valdez, I suppose. Maybe that was down the road in the, unfortunately, aptly named Oil City, where Doug was raised. We both agreed that, while both were in scenic valleys, unlike Titusville, Oil City has slowly turned unsightly: unkempt and falling apart. Such are the fortunes of towns built upon oil or steel-based economies; towns that used to grace picturesque northwestern Pennsylvania and nearby Ohio hills; hills that go, west to east, from a slow to rapid roll as if they too were wort inside a quickly heated brew kettle. Now too many of these small cities seem to simply stain the landscape.
Gold steel rimmed glasses and, like the pints at Four Sons, filled to the brim… with enthusiasm, only 29, Doug has done just about everything: roofing, construction; he’s even studied to be a paralegal. One day he was talking to Matt Allen, the first and former brewer at Four Sons, who was looking to open other pubs and expand his own experience beyond Titusville. Doug happened to make the remark, “Man, I gotta get another job other than what I’m doing.” Though he had never brewed before, and his experience was limited to liking good beer, Matt suggested that he become a brewer. Why? “Because I can train you to brew beer like I brew beer.” I find this common in the brewpub business. Brewers, concerned with a solid customer base, don’t wish to hire someone with preconceived notions about brewing. Despite being trained, at first, to brew as just one brewer makes beer, Doug says he’s annoyed by brewers who won’t try certain things because they consider it “beneath them.”
He uses the Pub System and “no whole hops,” because, “They get stuck in the pumps.”
After the interview, and a few pints, he led me downstairs to the most amazing part of the brewery. His cellar, an alcove littered space, has all the potential of being a yeast, mold and fungus factory that could serve as a great stage for a Gremlins sequel. But the attention to sanitation and brewing perfection is so obvious even the cats must stop yowling in amazement as… their being… combed.
Didn’t I promise I’d stop with the cat jokes?
For my meal I had what they call a “Zea;” their version of a pizza. Unlike those pubs who sell paper-thin crusted, small, over-priced pizzas, there was a lot to chew on here. I choose the Burgundy steak Zea with “hearty pieces of prime rib, Burgundy wine, Pennsylvania mushrooms and ‘cheeses.'” All accurate except I’d rather they tell me WHAT cheeses and… more Burgundy, please! I couldn’t taste a drop.
The menu had some interesting selections like “Stick it to the Man Breadsticks, “High Roller Clams” (clams casino) and “Villa Giovanni Club:” toasted Ciabata bun, tomatoes, Asiago cheese and red pepper-mayo. And, yes, yes, YES! …you can get nachos. Too many pubs get so obsessed with their culinary art skills, or imaginary culinary art skills, they forget the average pub crawler who may just wish to sip, munch, sip, munch and sip some more.
So if you happen to be in the middle of no where, in Western Pennsylvania, near the south-western tip of New York, swoop and swing your tires over a few hills and stop by Four Sons. Chat with Doug. Be amazed at how brewpubs slip into the character of small town America and brighten up their main streets with foam filled delight. Four Sons really is worth the roller coaster ride into the tiny city buried deep in the hills of northwestern Pennsylvania: Titusville. I hope even a Mary Moose would be happy Four Sons has a home in downtown Titusville.
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”
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