Ladies Beer Circle: Beer Notes from Sharp Edge

Last week at the Sharp Edge, we got some bad news. Alas, but the popular Half Off Craft Drafts, the virtues of which we have much extolled, has been reduced to a single draft at half off on Wednesdays. Apparently, the PLCB has determined that having all the craft drafts on sale at one time is simply too much cheap beer available to the public, and so Sharp Edge is only allowed to offer ONE beer at half off on Wednesdays.

Watch out, PLCB… home-brewing may be on the horizon.

But in the meantime, the Ladies Beer Circle has been contemplating its brews with a little more depth. I have been soliciting the opinions and observations of our members as they sip their beers in effort to develop a more concrete narrative of our experience.

Oh, and so we remember what beers we liked and didn’t.

Last week, when the half-priced drafts were still flowing freely, we tried a variety of brews. For the first round, Dayle had the Abita Satsuma Harvest. She said that it had a nice wheatiness and a light body, but that the orange flavor made it a bit sour. I had the Duck Rabbit Milk Stout, which is one of my favorites at Sharp Edge. I like that it has body that is somehow at once full and light, it is crisp and yet smooth… full of contradictions, I suppose. Sabrina had the Weyerbacher Merry Monks, which she finds to be a great approximation of a “Belgian-style” golden ale (i.e. because it’s not actually made in Beligium) with a good kick and mouth-feel, and she enjoyed the foaminess.

Then I asked Ted about his beer… and my hand got tired writing.

Ted is Sabrina’s husband, and President of our Men’s Auxiliary to the Ladies Beer Circle. He is also very verbose and thorough in describing his beers, and so I think he forced us all to step up our game in beer description thenceforward.

Ted’s first beer was the Stone Imperial Stout. He decreed that it has a nice head, it’s malty with hints of chocolate and smoke. It has more carbonation that you might ordinarily expect from a stout. It had a chalky finish and Ted found it bitter at the back of the tongue. All in all, a little too sweet for his taste.

Next up, Ted had the Dogfish Head Chicory Stout. Ted found it to be a pleasant but not great stout. To its credit, it had a nice balance between the typical stout heaviness and a spiciness. Overall it was not too heavy, and had a somewhat clean, predominantly coffee flavor, but was ultimately not very complex. If given the opportunity to drink this one again, Ted would pass.

Phew… I guess the next round came while I was still jotting down Ted’s observations. No wonder he’s president of the Men’s Auxiliary.

Next up, Dayle got a Horny Goat Belgian Wheat. She observed that it didn’t have much head, tasting very light, clean and crisp. She detected hints of ginger underlying the traditional wheat flavor and said it hits the spot if you’re looking for something light.

So that Dayle would not be alone in the lasciviousness of her brew, I ordered the Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA. It had a medium head, and the flavor balanced bitterness with a crisp citrus quality. Typically I enjoy a softer IPA, and this one wasn’t especially soft, but I also did not find it abrasive in the way that I sometimes do when I dislike an IPA.

Sabrina continued drinking her Merry Monks, while Ted moved on to a 21st Amendment Saison (anyone else notice that Ted’s getting ahead of us, here?). He found it to be a light saison, a little watery in terms of mouth feel, and the taste “kinda pleasant.” He also observed that a touch of ginger works well in the front end of this beer (perhaps a trend, the ginger?), and that finally it had an aggressive carbonation… not sure if that was a good thing?

Finally Ted had a Troeg’s Sunshine Pils (it should be noted that while it seems like Ted is drinking more than the Ladies, Sabrina was matching him round-for-round, but they were all Merry Monks). Perhaps his observational skills were petering out by this point, because the best I could get out of him work a while was that he fond the flavor “sunshiney,” but finally he said it was medium bodied and citrusy with more lemon than orange flavor. He liked the sharpness in its finish, and he would give it a thumbs up in any circumstance where you could get it at $3 or less.

We returned to Sharp Edge the following week, but to our dismay, discovered that the half priced craft special had been reduced to one beer! Luckily the mystery beer was also on special, so we had more than one option. In some ways, for the sake of beer notes it turned out to be boon, because I could collect everyone’s observations on two beers.

The craft draft was Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. Sabrina, in general, is a fan of Bell’s, in part from the time she spent in Michigan. She calls the Two Hearted her go-to-IPA. It has all the hoppy bitterness you’d expect from an IPA, but without being over-powering. She described it by saying you don’t get a “sucked-in face” from drinking it. To boot, she says it’s one of the most beautiful beer labels around. It was a little on the hoppy side for my preference, but palatable and drinkable.

More folks weighed-in on the mystery beer. Nik, another member of our Men’s Auxiliary, found it to be a wonderful, slightly light porter with a little bit of a nutty flavor. Overall he said that it made his “stomach happy.” Ted called it a more carbonated than typical porter, watery at first with a good mouth feel, and confirmed a flavor of nuttiness in the finish.

Dayle said it had a light coffee taste, a nice aroma, light-bodied, light flavored and over all a nice porter. Sabrina agreed on the coffee flavor upfront, and ends with maple notes. The taste, she said, changes front to back and declared it to be a good porter for the summer.

Hopefully the keg will kick soon so we can find out what it is!

Late Night Bites: Sidelines with the Ladies’ Beer Circle

Our second regular haunt for the Ladies’ Beer Circle is Sidelines Bar in Millvale on Monday Nights. Unlike our Wednesday night option, the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Friendship, you’ve probably never heard of Sidelines unless you live in Millvale or know somebody who is a regular there. Sidelines notoriety may be on the rise, now that they have added a location in Sewickley, but I have known about Sidelines for years precisely because the Spiher/Robinson household have been such dedicated regulars.

“Regulars” may be understating it.

One of the main features of Sidelines is its beer club. Upon joining the club, one gets a cardstock beer list, which is kept on file at the bar until it is filled out. The list contains various categories, such as domestic beers, European beers, draft beers and beers “from everywhere else.” All beers at Sidelines count for the list, but you can’t drink the same beer twice while working on one particular list (with the exception of using up your five “freebie” slots), and you have to fill up each category entirely for the list to be considered complete. I suspect the beer list choices become more challenging as the list narrows; I only started a list a few months ago, so pretty much everything and anything I want to drink counts.

Sabrina and Ted, however, are beer list veterans. I don’t even remember what list, precisely, Sabrina is on right now. 13? 15? Keep in mind that it takes 50 beers to fill each list. The bar offers a diminishing system of rewards for completing lists. The first list complete earns the patron a t-shirt commemorating the event. The second list garners the beer aficionado a personalized beer mug. This mug is kept at the bar and the patron is served drafts from it. The mug is a little bigger than the standard pint, so beer club accomplishment means heartier drafts. Ten lists in, the Sidelines bar fly gets the all-coveted black mug, which affords all the advantages of the first mug, but with the added status it conveys (and at this point the patron gets to take the first mug home).

Both Sabrina and Ted have black mugs and they are working toward a new reward at 20 lists (that’s 1000 beers, folks) that hasn’t entirely been determined because so few people ever make it that far.

And that is why we go to Sidelines on Monday for Ladies’ Beer Circle, because it’s beer club special night. Every beer we drink that counts for the list is $1 off. Now, this special might not be so great at a lot of bars. In fact, a $1 off beers as Sharp Edge wouldn’t be so impressive a special at all; but Sidelines has a ton of beers in the $3 to $4 range, as well as more expensive beers, and beers for $2.50 and $2.75. A dollar off makes a big difference on those cheap brews. Apparently there are also $2.50 well drinks on Monday nights, but we’ve been so dedicated to our beer lists we haven’t taken advantage, but there is also a 1/2 off appetizer special from 10 to midnight, and we frequently take advantage of that.

The appetizers at Sidelines definitely win out over the appetizers at Sharp Edge. For starters, the appetizer prices range from $3 to $6, so getting half off is an attractive special. The appetizers are also just better. The stuffed pretzel is a good one because it is hearty for sopping up beer in the belly, but also relatively cheap ($3.99, regular price); Dayle and I have enjoyed it on a few occasions. The provolone sticks are a favorite all around. I have enjoyed the fried zucchini on many occasions, and it’s always a generous portion (seriously, it may be a whole zucchini, or at least half of a large one). The beer cheese in bread bowl is fun and tasty. The only appetizer I’ve been a little disappointed in was the chicken strips, not because they weren’t tasty, but because it’s only four strips and they aren’t terribly large. I was hungrier at the end of my strips basket than when I walked in. On occasions past, Sabrina and Ted have enjoyed the quesadillas and give good credit to the tastiness of the wings. I’m not a wing person, myself, so I wouldn’t know.

When it comes right down to it, Sidelines is definitely a comparable spot to Sharp Edge in terms of beer value. The beer special on Mondays isn’t quite as good as the Sharp Edge half off drafts on Wednesdays, but the appetizers and wider selection of bargain beers makes up for it. The promise of beer club glory also adds a fun dimension to the bar, as it actively encourages us to try new beers at every turn. Admittedly, Sidelines may be a trek from points south, but for those living in northern areas of the city, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, East End, it may just be the best bar you’re completely unaware of!

Late Night Bites: Sharp Edge with the Ladies Beer Circle

Earlier this summer, while looking for a place where we could enjoy quality brews after work, our Ladies’ Beer Circle discovered Sharp Edge Wednesdays.

Of course, we all knew about the Sharp Edge previously; anyone who lives in the city and even remotely qualifies as an occasional beer aficionado has heard of the Sharp Edge. Known for its plethora of drafts, augmented by an extensive selection of bottles, the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Friendship has a long-standing reputation among beer lovers in the city.

What I didn’t realize was that since the last time I found my way to the Sharp Edge, they have since opened several additional locations throughout our metro area, and have instituted a half priced craft drafts special on Wednesdays.

That’s right, Wednesdays. Not happy hour on Wednesdays, or for some limited number of weird hours on Wednesdays, but all day Wednesdays. And that’s a full half price off every draft on their craft list. That makes it the single best beer special we’ve found.

The craft list features upwards of thirty beers (check out the current beer menu online); in the time since we’ve been going there it appears that some beers (perhaps the most popular) are kept on tap perennially, whereas other beers show up seasonally and/or occasionally and then are replaced by new selections when the keg runs out. The drafts on the craft list at regular price are not cheap, ranging from $4.50 (for Yuengling? That’s extortion) to $6.50 for the bulk of their selections, with some special beers being as much as $8, $9 or even over $10. Thus, one can see why half price nights are such a find. We can enjoy some pretty awesome craft brews at what is fundamentally 2 for 1 (and two is usually all I can drink since they close at midnight during the week)!

When we go to Sharp Edge on Wednesdays, we usually meet up when I get off work, which means around 10 or 10:30pm. This means that our meetings of the Ladies’ Beer Circle typically fall during the Sharp Edge’s nightly half priced food specials, including deals on wings, appetizers and pizzas. And a good thing, too, as many of their munchies are also pretty darn expensive at regular price.

As far as beer specials are concerned, the Sharp Edge wins hands down in terms of quality for the price. The food specials… well, it’s not quite as enthusiastic a recommendation. As I mentioned, the appetizer prices are rather expensive to begin with, so the half price special takes them down to what I consider ordinary prices for bar food.

Some of the appetizers we’ve found enjoyable, if nothing to write home about. The Mediterranean nachos (basically a spinach artichoke dip) and the Double Dipper plate have served us well, especially the later when ordered with the option of avocado salsa (which is fundamentally a tasty guacamole). The fried appetizers haven’t been as great. We’ve had bad experiences with the boneless chicken wings and the fried provolone wedges. Other fried items have been okay; the fried pita wedges that come with dips have never given us trouble, and I recently had an order of sweet potato fries with no ill consequences.. but we are left reluctant to order chicken bites or provolone again.

But our Ladies’ Beer Circle is looking for precisely that: beer, not dinner. We keep going back to enjoy the best beer special in town!

Sharp Edge Beer Emporium on Urbanspoon

The Ladies’ Beer Circle

Earlier this summer, an important cultural institution formed right under my nose. It was a balmy Thursday night in mid-May; accompanied by very little fanfare, I met up with Sabrina, one of my best friends from college, and Dayle, one of my best friends from high school, at Sidelines for a beer. Unbeknownst to any of the three of us, a tradition was born… thenceforward we would look back on that day as the very first meeting of the Ladies’ Beer Circle.

Except that Ted came along, too… and I drank whiskey and diet… but it was the first time the three of us met up for drinks…

And we vowed that night to meet up again at the Sharp Edge, and thus I count it as the snowball’s roll in the venerable tradition that is now the Ladies’ Beer Circle.

The mission of the Ladies’ Beer Circle is to cultivate among the three of us opportunities for the appreciation of good beer… hopefully at cheap prices. The Ladies’ Beer Circle, however, is not an exclusive organization, and we do not discriminate against men (whew! right?). Ted is a frequent attache to the Ladies’ Beer Circle, Nik has shown up on occasion, even Roger came along once (though, mostly against his will because circumstances of transportation required his presence). Other ladies are more than welcome to participate in the circle, and men are always welcome to show up and chime in their opinions on beer… though, they can never truly be part of the Ladies’ Beer Circle by virtue of its very nature and founding principles.

Well, okay… we don’t really have a mission statement, or any founding principles contingent on our being ladies… but we came up with a moderately cool name, right? And we’re not going to change it just because some men want to show up and drink with us sometimes; we’re certainly not going to discourage men from showing up, though, since in most documented cases the presence of men we know does not decrease our enjoyment of beer, and on select occasions has been known to increase our enjoyment of beer.

So far, we have two regular haunts for meetings of the Ladies’ Beer Circle: The Sharp Edge on Wednesdays and Sidelines on Mondays. Each week, a consensus of us three core members determines where we will meet. Why, then, is there a particular day associated with a particular location? Because that’s when the bar has discounts and specials enabling us to enjoy great beer at a reasonable price (we aren’t wealthy Ladies of Leisure, after all). Such things are easy enough to find around happy hour, but all three of us work odd hours and often aren’t able to get to the bar early enough for happy hour specials. Most other beer appreciation societies we’ve found schedule their outings during hours when at least one of us is at work. And so our remedy has been the de facto founding our illustrious Ladies’ Beer Circle.

Stay tuned for more details on our adventures in beer!