I love a good dive bar. Nothing beats slipping into an old watering hole during a late weeknight or dreary day to lift your spirits with a pint. There’s never a shortage of High Life specials, the burgers are always the best in town— and regardless at a dive bar you’re either a regular or an outsider (regulars consistently get reminded about the time they passed out atop the Beer Nuts). So when I say the old Baxter’s in downtown West Chester was a dive bar . . . you can just piss all over that warm cozy image I just painted. In fact, a faint hint of urine and stale beer complimented the ragging testosterone filled sweat that hung heavy in the air. The last memory I have from Baxter’s consisted of me making out with some random hussy while my buddy puked next to the DJ booth; I’ve always been known as the romantic type.
So when the doors closed for good, and construction crews began to disembowel the Baxter interior, a small twinkle of hope flickered in my heart. Then, SHAPOW *Jazz Hands*, Ram’s Head opens up, inserts a fist into my chest, and rips out my twinkly heart like that Kali Ma scene in Indian Jones. It was instantly a refreshing new fit, to an old and overlooked corner. It retains all the old character a legitimate corner bar would need, with a well aged horseshoe wood bar, bright brass taps, yet it embraces a bit of intimacy with cozy tables alongside floor to ceiling street side windows. Ram’s Head does a wonderful job at balancing an atmosphere capable of watching the game with a few of your friends, a lively bite to eat with the family, or a fun casual date. It’s a bar that knows its roll and is perfectly comfortable and confident in its service and product.
But the real success is scribbled across its chalkboard painted walls. With creative takes on bar classics and my favorite Canadian dish, Poutine, the menu is progressively creative while maintaining a certain simplicity that leaves you confident in anything you chose. And then the beer, cause let’s be honest here, when your face is buried in a big ol’ plate of Poutine, you better serve a damn good beer to wash that edible cardiac arrest down!
Though Ram’s Head always has heavy hitters and rare finds on tap or bottle, one amazing and elusive beer brought us out this evening. In attending Ram’s Heads tapping of Bell’s Brewery “Hopslam Ale”, I learned two interesting facts. 1) 10% ABV beer does not sneak up on you; it drop kicks you in the face —after four pints your friends will need to guide you home, and 2) “Hopslam” is a Michigan made wet dream. The smell is like is like a tropical fruit platter drizzled with honey. It has well balanced hints of pineapple, apricot, and honey sitting at the base of its scent and a light citrus note to lift your nose. And then the taste . . . ahhhhhhh yes, the sweet sweet nectar of love. I can imagine the only places other then the Bell’s brewery that could create such divine flavors would be the tears from a unicorn or Jesus himself. It has a taste that’s an amplification of the nose, with a nice sweet malty undertone. Although the ABV and honey give this beer some legs, it has a refreshing effervescence from the citrus and hops— dangerously hideing the alcohol. For its complexity, composition, and balance of such dominating ingredients. I give this beer and A, hell I’m sure my grandma would give this beer an A, and www.BeerAdvocate.com gives it a 99 our of a possible 100 . . . a coveted and rare rating. But not nearly as rare as the beer itself, which is only selectively available throughout the winter months.
True confession: I loved Ram’s Head well before we went there on Friday. I love pretty much everything on their menu, and I’ve probably tried it all—including the Don’t Judge Me Burger. In addition to fantastic food they’ve also got an amazing atmosphere . . . it calms me down and makes me smile after a long work week. In short, I didn’t need the Hopslam to convince me to clear my schedule.
One sip of Bell’s Hopslam, and I had found one more reason to love Ram’s Head and their diverse beer menu. While Bell’s may have had Evan reminiscing about Michigan, I found myself dreaming about my own childhood right here in Pennsylvania— running around barefoot in the summers, playing baseball with my cousins, and honeysuckle straight from the vine. The Honeysuckle . . . Bell’s Hopslam reminds me of Honeysuckle summers. It took me back, right to where I needed to be, forgetting about today and remembering the dreams that have brought me here. You might think that’s too sentimental for a beer; you also haven’t tried Hopslam. It wasn’t too heavy; it wasn’t too light; it was perfect—certainly a beer not to miss if you have the chance.
As our good friend and Shangys beer rep David, headed to his car for a nap, Average Enthusiast walked back through West Chester. It was easy to concede to the night, as everything our heart longs for . . . home, simplicity, and warmth. We were smitten to find a beer and a bar that could provide us both.