2019’s Harrisburg Beer Week 717 Collab Beer Review

2019’s 717 Collaboration Beer has finally arrived. This year the four area brewers and the Harrisburg Beer Week (HBW) team give us a Helles Bock; a proper spring lager that will last as long as the blossoms we see outside. Tröegs, ABC, ZerØday and newcomer Boneshire joined together to bring forth a new beer that captures the moment and ties together all the efforts around HBW.

2019 717 Collab Logo Square

For just the second time in five years, we get a lager; a Helles Bock that has the twist of technique by being brewed using krausening, a traditional German brewing method. In the instant case, the beer is brewed with the first two-thirds fermenting and then as John Trogner explained: “just as the yeast starts to peter out we add in the final third” of fresh wort and yeast. This causes the yeast to ferment in a stressed-out environment and under pressure; the process naturally carbonating the lager in a closed environment. Krausening accentuates the unique volatile ester notes within the creamy head. The bready/crackery malts are ever present as you down this quaffable lager; the 7.17% ABV only apparent on the marketing material. The Hersbrucker hops add a slight spicy bitterness (emphasis on slight) and the Hull Mellon hops bring a mild fruity finish that is decidedly old school. It is a beer that tastes like beer.

This is a great choice and style for year five of HBW. A beer week that has outlived or downright outclassed other PA beer weeks. Pittsburgh Beer Week turned into a dumpster fire and collapsed after it rejected those paying the bills. Philly Beer Week while still operating has gone for-profit and ceased to properly promote Philadelphia and PA brewers in favor of chasing out of market interlopers. Both are lamentable results that fail to further the interests of local brewers and consumers.

Just like 2019’s 717 Collab Beer, beer week events only come to fruition under a great deal of pressure. The pressure to put on events that bring consumers to breweries or bars to engage with the product. The pressure to help further the local industry in a real way. The pressure to raise money for a worthwhile cause. For HBW, this pressure rests upon a small group of volunteers that work nearly year-round to make Harrisburg’s beer week the best it can be. The “volatile esters” of which we get to enjoy for a fleeting 10 days of spring each year.

If pressure is part of the tale of 2019’s 717 Collab Beer the other part is fleeting. This is a short run. 2019’s version will disappear as quickly as it came. Only about 250 cases of pounders were packaged for sale. A limited number of kegs were filled and dispersed. Unlike last year’s ale, and rightfully, 2019’s 717 will likely last only as long as the extended week for which it was brewed. So, do not sleep on this one. It is worth your time and hard earned money to seek it out, either at a specific event or as a four pack of pounders to enjoy in the evening. In either case and as always with 717 Collab, this good beer tastes even better for it is supporting a good cause.

Cheers! For it is once again Harrisburg Beer Week.

Post Script:

Special thanks to all the brewers and the HBW organizers that put this together. If you want to know more about the making of 2019’s 717 Collab Beer, listen to Episode 26 of It’s Friday Somewhere. It was a great deep dive into the making of this beer.

I will be at a couple events over this week. If you are out and about and either follow this blog or listen to the show, please say hello. I will certainly be at Little Big Beer Fest and a couple E-town events.

The timing of HBW for me this year is especially poignant. Sixteen years ago, I moved to Harrisburg from Pittsburgh. I wrote about my love of craft beer and Harrisburg in my first 717 Collab Ale review from 2015. I lived downtown for four years and have worked in the capital city even after moving to Maytown in Lancaster County. Right after HBW ends, so will my time working in this city. I took a new job… one that is decidedly further east. It is an amazing opportunity and I am really excited about it. I will miss coming to Harrisburg every day for work. But I know there are two things that will keep me coming to this area even after this change, it will be the beer and the friends I have made drinking it in the breweries in and around Harrisburg. Thanks for the memories Harrisburg, I promise I will still swing by when I can for a round or two.

Disclosure: I had a couple pints of 717 for free after showing up late to try it at the media kick off event at Boneshire. I also got to shotgun a can of it; video to come. I will be buying plenty of it with my own money later today and throughout the week.

Brewer’s Alchemy Makes Golden Thing


Tröegs Independent Brewing’s newest double India Pale Ale is Golden Thing. A beer that scratches two itches for me.

First, Golden Thing is bore of a long series of Scratch Beers that were released across six months at Tröegs. I really enjoy watching these develop. Scratch 312, 318, 332, 338, and 339 show once again the inner workings of brewers refining their work via iteration and learning through doing. The breadcrumbs dropped along the way for us to pick up, consider, and track as they work towards a new release still feels like a unique opportunity within craft beer.

This path was winding but never lost. It began with Scratch 312 pairing Lemondrop hops with “Caliente hops to layer in hints of pine and stone fruit.” Next, the brewers released 318 which infused Centennial, a classic and familiar lemony hop. For me, the series appears to have come clearly into focus in the next release, 332. Here they added Denali hops; a new variety which John Trogner describes as having a “deep stone fruit” character. The Lemondrop hops now get to shine and are playing with a complementary partner that develops a harmony. As we see in the final release of Golden Thing it is here that notes of lemon from Lemondrop and Centennial become cords with the jam like favors of Denali. 338 and 339 were released alongside each other. 338 added Citra to the mix and 339 was of sweet lemon and custard (I missed trying 339). The Citra hops were a tangent in my opinion; a brief wander down a dead end path before returning to the proper trail.

The second itch is what I have called “imaginary smells or flavors” Golden Thing does not have any lemon in the brewing process. There is no fruit. The flavors and aromas are developed via the alchemy of water, malts, hops, and yeast. Therefore, these clear and recognizable notes of lemon and lemonade are a fiction written by the brewers to invoke recollections of other experiences and pull at your sensory memory. It is a beguiling illusion crafted by masters that have deftly manipulated the four basic ingredients of brewing to create something wholly new yet comfortingly familiar. In this instance, it is an elemental alchemy that created liquid gold.

Golden Thing releases notes of sweet lemon immediately as you crack the 16oz can and pour into the glass. The deep gold and clear ale offer little head even with a vigorous pour. Light in body and mildly charged it starts out and finishes as an easy drinking double IPA. While cold I get notes of lemon, sweet lemonade, and some earthiness to me. As it warms that earthiness comes through as pine. The body is light and refreshing. The label on the can says that the ABV is 8.2% but you would be forgiven if you asked Chris and John to double check their math. It is never boozy, lacks astringent and is so light and easy drinking as to belie its double IPA nature. The finish is brief and clean; inviting you back for another pull. From start to finish, Lemondrop hops are present but they are never aggressive or overwhelming.

When chatting with John Trogner about the making of this beer there was one story that really struck. He talked about the moment he “met Denali and Lemondrop while they were still in small plots and Denali was just a number out of the breeding program. The rows of the two hops happened to be planted next to each other…”

This is a bit of serendipity but for me, it also shows the nascent idea of how a beer is formed for the Trogner brothers. That John is walking through a field of hops and the aromas of these two hops wafting through the air later becomes a beer is just whimsical. It is alchemy meets serendipity. It’s almost too much to comprehend.

In Golden Thing, we have the Lemondrop hop properly executed. It is approachable but never boring. It is enjoyable by proletariats or the most cynical of beer geeks.

It is exceptional.


I referenced brewers (plural) above and I want to be clear here. The Scratch program is a team of brewers. All of them deserve credit for their work on Golding Thing and all the other beers Tröegs puts out week-after-week. The Scratch Brewers are: Tim M., Andrew D., Ben B. Shaun G., Joel B., and Matt C. (H/T to John for reaching out and ensuring his coworkers get the credit they richly deserve.)

I loved how John described when he “met Denahi and Lemondrop.” Met them. 

The glass above is the one you get when you take the tour for with Tröegs in 2018. I chose it specifically for this post. It shows the four elements: water, malts, hops, and yeast. Like I said, this beer is elemental alchemy.

What brewers can achieve in 2018 with these four basic elements of brewing is mind-blowing. I frequently reflect on Anthony Bourdain’s statement that the best food is simple, quality ingredients coupled with proper technique. That applies here too.

I have had about a half dozen different Lemondrop beers in the past by other brewers. My experience with these beers has ranged from “this feels like I am fighting to the finish,” to asking “did I pick up furniture polish by mistake?” 

That can of Golden Thing you see in the photo above was one of two given to me in advance of Tröegs releasing this beer on Friday (October 5th) as part of their Harvest Hopfest. I will be there this Saturday morning running the Hopdash 5K. If you are too, please say hello and let us toast a beer together.

A Craft Beer Fest That Helps: Lititz Craft Beer Fest

This weekend I will be attending the Lititz Craft Beer Fest (LCBF) in Lititz, PA. Lititz is as cool a small town in Lancaster County as you are going to find and that is before you stop into Bulls Head Public House; which also happens to be one of the greatest beer bars in the country.

LCBF 2018

I am very excited to check out this year’s offering at LCBF and I have some beers that I think those attending should check out…

…but first

We should consider why this fest is being thrown. While imbibing in great beer with friends on a still warm Autumn day is certainly foremost in everyone’s mind, the real reason for this event is to raise money for AMBUCS. A national non-profit with a Lititz branch that raises money to buy therapeutic tricycles for people with disabilities. In short, they help to give mobility and independence to people that could use a little help with both.

Every child should have a bike. My son is six and while we are currently working to get him off his training wheels (we are really close) he loves outpacing me as we go around the block. He loves to have the ability to outrun me on his wheels. That is independence. Every child should have that feeling.

AMBUCS helps so that every child can have that feeling by either providing specialty tricycles or hand/foot bikes. Every child should have the feeling of outrunning their dad/mom and every dad/mom should have the joy of chasing his/her child.

That means this Sunday while we are drinking beers, the Lititz branch of AMBUCS will be adding to their pile of over $230,000 dollars raised via this event in years past. This is awesome stuff. Cheers to AMBUCS and I hope they continue to raise a truckload of money for this cause. Another case of good beer doing real good.

Back to the beers… There are going to be over 200 different beers poured this Sunday based on a list that the organizers were kind enough to share with me after repeated hounding.

Here are some of the ones I plan to seek out:

Vanilla Barrel-Aged Framinghammer — Baltic Porter (10% ABV) by Jack’s Abby Brewing Everyone who follows this blog or the IFS Podcast knows I love the big beers and this one looks like it checks that box and a couple others.

Tears of Green — NE IPA (7.5% ABV) by Captain Lawrence Brewing Company
Imperial IPA dry hopped with Motueka and Citra and said to be silky smooth.

Maduro Brown Ale — Brown Ale (5.5% ABV) English by Cigar City Brewing Company
I have had this beer before but it just won Gold for Brown Ale at GABF. If you have not had this beer, you have got to try it. I will be looking to have a taste of it again!

Goin’ Broke IPA — IPA (7.0% ABV) by Pour Man’s Brewing Co.
Pour Man’s is brand new to the area so this will be my first time checking out their offerings. They will be sharing this and their Oatmeal Stout.

COCOa: Mocha — Imperial Stout (10.1% ABV) by Rotunda Brewing Company
As shameful as it is to say, I have yet to get to this up and coming Annville brewer. This is a big one, so naturally, I must have it.

PV Fest — Marzen (6.0% ABV) by Free Will Brewing Co.
It is October and that means it is time to drink Marzens. There are going to be a couple at this fest, drink one. It is the right thing to do.

Haze NEIPA — NE IPA (5.0% ABV) by FETISH* Brewing
FETISH* is a Lititz brewer attending the Lititz Craft Beer Fest. They have to bring some good stuff. This ale is a little light in the ABV for my taste in this style but I am curious to see if they can bring the flavor and the body.

Straw — NE IPA (8.0% ABV) by Levante Brewing Company
Straw will be poured in the same tent as FETISH*. It will be cool to drink this and the last one I mention back-to-back to see how different approaches make different results.

Edgar — IPA (7.5% ABV) by Bullfrog Brewery
Edgar is a beer that every PA Craft Beer fan should check off the list. This is a classic IPA that too often gets overlooked. I have made the journey to Williamsport just to have a couple beers at Bullfrog and when this is on the board it is my first beer. Every time.

Green Machine — IPA (7.2%) by Boneshire Brew Works
Head Brewer/Owner Alan Miller makes some amazing beers. Green Machine is one of them. Drink this and do not miss Dark of the Forest. Alan always nails his RIS.

Blanket Party — DIPA (7.6% ABV) by Cox Brewing Company
Cox in Elizabethtown PA will be there with the greatest jockey box in the history of Central PA Craft Beer. One of their brewers nearly lost his entire hand building it. Every brewer pours their blood, sweat, and tears into their business; for these guys, that is not a metaphor. Always love visiting with them. Don’t miss their offerings.

Peach Novelty — Fruit Beer (6.5% ABV) by Zeroday Brewing Company
Ed from the show raved about this beer. He has yet to steer me wrong. So naturally, I have to check out what Theo, Brandalynn, and company have cooked up.

FestiFall — Marzen (5.1% ABV) by South County Brewing Company
Like I said… this is Marzen season. I want to see what JR Heaps has brewed for us.

Flux — Unfiltered IPA Single Hop, Citra (6.8% ABV) by Root Down Brewing Co.
Root Down Brewing won Gold at GABF for their IPA Bine. That is a highly contested category and they won it. They also won Silver for their Gose and maybe most impressive of all they won for Mid-Size Brewpub and Mid-Size Brewpub Brewer of the Year. Swing by their tent, get a pour of this beer and congratulate them on a very impressive showing at the Great American Beer Festival.

If you are there on Sunday and you see me about, please say hello. It is always great to see readers and friends of the podcast.



Please know that the list of beers a brewer brings is subject to change. Just because a brewer said they would bring a beer does not mean it is carved in stone that it will be there.

It is important to note also that the trykes I mentioned above represent only one pillar of the organization. AMBUCS does a lot of good in a lot of areas. For example, AMBUCS also provides scholarship money to budding therapists, recognizing their important role in making independence and mobility a possibility or reality for those living with disabilities. To learn more about AMBUCS please check out their website, AMBUCS.org.

Also of note: This event is currently sold out, so if you cannot attend this year, be sure to come next. Also, keep an eye out because this event sells out quick. If you really want to go this year and you totally should, some people may be selling their tickets on the LCBF Facebook page.

Special thanks to Lititz Craft Beer Fest for hooking me up with a ticket to this event along with an early look at the list of beers to be poured. A full list and a very helpful map of the tents will be released at some point on Saturday. Follow their twitter feed or back here for a link to the list and map.

Rebrand the Old Beer New

Slapping a new sticker on a tweaked beer recipe is becoming a common concern among some beer drinkers.

Some brewers release a seemingly endless stream of unique beers into a crowd of thirsty craft beer devotees with chronic FOMO that they can’t shake. No sympathy here from me. I do it too. We know what we are getting into when we get on the Veil train. We know it’s always a “new” beer. Beer after beer after beer is kind of the same. Usually, all pretty good but the repetition is there.

Buy. Drink. Check-in. Rinse. Repeat.

It is a concerning trend in Craft Beer sure, but it is giving a segment of the consumer base what they are asking for… a constant stream of new beers.

But what if the beer you are selling just sits. You brewed it. You sold some. Then it is 120 or 130 days since release and the kegs are not turning over. What do you do?

How about slapping a new label on it and rebrand the tired old beer with a fresh new name?

On August 31st Appalachian Brewing Company (ABC) had 717 Collaboration Ale on draft at their downtown Cameron Street location.

717 Signage at ABC on August 31, 2018

When I visited ABC on September 6th, 717’s signage and tap had been replaced with “Cherry Sweet Tart.”

Cherry Sweet Tart
Cherry Sweet Tart Signage at ABC, September 6, 2018

I ordered one.

I asked the bartender “Is this the 717 Collab beer?” she responded “No. We tweaked it. Made a small change.”

Sensory permanence is a weird thing and I could have been wrong but to me, it was the exact same beer. I was sitting there thinking: ABC was selling the 717 the week before and now they are slingling the seemingly same beer or nearly the same beer, rebrewed and “tweaked?” They even kept the 7.17% ABV tag that is so closely associated with the Harrisburg Beer Week ale.

This did not make sense to me.

Cherry Sweet Tart Tap Handle
The Cherry Sweet Tart Tap Handle

I did some research, I spoke with friends, people in the industry, hell I even checked the TTB for a label. Nobody knew about this new beer.

This led me to reach out to ABC directly. I got a prompt response. Here it is in full:

Hi Bill,

Very simply, it is the 717.  We rebranded it to a name that better reflected the flavor. The beer wasn’t selling outside of the 717 area code. Most people didn’t understand the name.  We just made it more descriptive of the flavor to move the beer.

We made it clear to management that there was to be no deception. This is 717 rebranded!

Thank you.

[Name Redacted Per Request]

This probably goes without saying but I don’t want this to get lost: Brewers rebrand beers all the time and that is generally an acceptable business decision in many cases. Further, the flipping of labels on an increasing number of progressively more difficult to distinguish beers in Craft Beer, in general, is a weird but predictable business response to a consumer culture driven by social media and always chasing something new. This rebranding by ABC is not that.

In this case, 717 is not just an ABC beer. It is a specific collaboration that includes three other brewers and is tied to Harrisburg Beer Week. ABC is not operating in a vacuum on this one.

What ABC’s response tells me is that they believe Cherry Sweet Tart is a rebrand of a beer that did not engage with consumers outside of the what should have been a limited market.  717 Collab was a beer for Harrisburg by Harrisburg brewers. If people outside the 717 area code could not identify with the branding over the last four months, that was because the branding was not designed for them. Objectively, the branding should not be for those outside of the 717 area codes and the greater Harrisburg area specifically.

If this beer is not selling, yank it off the tap. Don’t just put a new sticker on the tap handle. That is a gross business decision. Frankly, I feel like this is dishonest to customers and at best dismissive of the work of others.


When I checked in the Cherry Sweet Tart Ale via Untappd on September 6th, an individual associated with the collaboration reached out to me and expressed their serious concerns with this rebranding. I think their concerns are legitimate.

Keeping the 7.17% alcohol by volume tag on Cherry Sweet Tart is not okay. 7.17% ABV is a nice wink to Harrisburg as part of HBW’s collaboration beer. It should be theirs alone. Using it as part of another beer seems like borrowing from your neighbor’s answers in math class. No one realistically thinks ABC is measuring a beer’s alcohol down to the hundredths place. Besides, those three numbers are the branding problem according to their own response.

The constant stream of newly labeled indistinguishably different beers from some brewers is not a sustainable business model. Eventually, the FOMO will wear out or a new brewery will be the hottest one on the block.

Takedown the Heat and Score on the Remake


Michael Mann’s greatest work is arguably the 1995 bank robbery movie Heat. Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Wes Studi, Val Kilmer, a very young Natalie Portman, and Ashley Judd; plus a bunch of other guys who make you go… “Oh yeah, he is also in [Insert Movie You Like].”

Heat is a remake. A remake of Mann’s own work, specifically L.A. Takedown a lackluster made for T.V. movie that never got much attention. But it allowed for Mann practice. To perfect it.

L.A. Takedown has rough edges, and low budget elements that belie a tight but limited script.

Heat expands the story to nearly three hours and opens the characters and stories that sit alongside heart-pounding action sequences that are absolutely perfect in execution.

It is the opportunity to do the same story again that I think makes Heat such a fantastic movie. L.A. Takedown gets ignored as a made for TV movie and Heat stands tall as a classic film.

With Pizza Boy Brewing Co.’s Mango Bomb we get another remake. One that I was quite dismissive of during the first iteration. But with this new release, we have a more focused product. The beer’s breadth has widened and its focus more clear.

The flavors are all mango all the time; this is welcomed. The body is light and the finish is long. As it warms the fruit gives way to a vigorous hoppiness that in the world of ever-expanding soft NE IPAs is welcome. HazyBros conditioned to having their palates coddled need not chime in here. This beer is not for you. This is a beer for the craft beer drinker that “takes down scores.” This beer is not “a regular type of life. It is not barbeques and ballgames.”

The Citra and Simcoe of this Triple IPA are beyond assertive. They are guns blazing through the brutal rush hour traffic of 15 pounds of Alphonso Mango puree per barrel screaming “Where is the fucking van?!?!”

The booziness is where I held my exit strategy. I was not going to let myself get attached to this beer. If I felt the heat, I was going to walk out in 30 seconds flat. In 2016, the 14% ABV hung on the ale like something of a bum wine. Now dialed down to 12% it remains boozy but without the astringency and plastic explosive door key to the mouth.

The flavors give you a very long finish that lasts like echoing gunfire through the canyon of downtown Los Angeles.

The mango is sweet and rich. The color is a creamy yellow and orange buttercup with saffron at the edges. It almost appears illuminated in the glass and the head is bright like an icy lemonade.

As I reached the end of the Crowler, yes I drank an entire Crowler of this on my own, the biting hops got more aggressive. As I closed in around the end, they pushed back harder. Caged in at the bottom they finished assertively but I loved it.

2016 Mango Bomb was Waingro. Unpredictable and a liability. It was there not just to take scores but to settle some due to a chip on his shoulder and an obvious psychopathy.

2018 Mango Bomb is Neil McCauley. Planned. Rational. Dangerous but generally in control.

What has happened here? Pizza Boy flipped the script. In regards to the 2016 version, I summed up my feeling about the beer saying: “As a study for what is possible when pushing flavors to the extreme this beer achieves, but little else as it is nearly undrinkable.”

Having seen what was possible, now this beer achieves not only what extreme beers can be, but also works as it is thoroughly enjoyable.

2018 Mango Bomb is dangerous, dialed way up, and unrelenting but always in control. I loved it.



The use of Alphonso Mangos should not be ignored. These are the king of mangos. They remain very hard to acquire here in the US even after the lifting of a long-held ban, their use here is a statement by Pizza Boy about acquiring the finest ingredients, regardless of efforts or cost. This is a big deal.

I linked above but here is the link for my 2016 Mango Bomb Review: Total Mango Bomb.

The other great work by Michael Mann is The Last of the Mohicans. I would actually find it easier to argue that it is the finer film.

The changes between 2016 and 2018 appear to be minor tweaks in some cases but their impact has been incredible. I have to assume that this is what it is like playing at the edges and making extreme beers. Small shifts create incredible changes.

Each time I do a Pizza Boy review I end up coupling it with a movie. This is really fun.

NE IPA and the GTM Problem

Tree House Brewing Can Line
The now-famous Tree House Brewing Co. can line.

Go-to-market (GTM) is NE IPAs lingering problem and not only has it not been properly solved, it is now causing a narrative problem for the rest of craft beer.

Paraphrasing Wikipedia and other sources: GTM is a strategy for a company utilizing inside and outside resources to deliver a unique value proposition to customers to achieve competitive advantages.

Thus far NE IPAs GTM strategy has brought us direct sales of cans, almost exclusively pounders. Right around when everyone started to wake up to the fact that cans actually were the right container for beers, the one style that needed it most was nascent.

These fragile beers were brewed by small breweries in small quantities that needed to be sold and consumer “fresh.” Their turbid appearance and the bold yet ephemeral flavors of the style meant they needed to be stored cold, only briefly, and sold quickly to a consumer. Self-distribution as GTM answered all these issues. It was a natural result.

The GTM of NE IPAs is clear in hindsight. Limited runs of cans that are stored cold (if they don’t sell out within hours) and sold on location. Limited releases to thirsty bros that would either drink them up fresh or flip them into a fast-paced social media driven market that moved them to interested buyers quickly.

This has resulted in people drinking beer that is incredibly fresh, measured in weeks or even days, which is great. Really fresh NE IPAs are amazing. But the concept of freshness for NE IPAs is now being stretched into the broader market.

A West Coast IPA may remain fresh for three months without significant alteration in flavor. There is no reason why anyone should turn their nose up to a two-month-old Sierra Nevada Torpedo, but recently I saw just that. “Nah, I don’t drink anything older than a month” responded one craft beer drinker.

The rightful insistence on beer being exceedingly fresh for NE IPAs exists due to the nature of the beer and the methodology for the distribution. Small brewers needed to flip beers quickly. The Veil Brewing Co. seems to hardly make the same beer twice because it has a GTM self-distribution strategy for getting their beer out the door. But those rules do not apply to the broader craft beer market which is widely predicated on the three-tier system. Don’t @ me about the three-tier system, that is another post entirely.

This is not a defense of stale beer. I hate the off-putting flavor of a seemingly wet cardboard infused shelf turd as much as the next guy. The issue here is: Do we want to see a scenario where many breweries have logistical nightmares because what applies to NE IPAs suddenly is demanded of Brown Ales?

Tilting away from the broader impact on Craft Beer… What are NE IPAs producers going to do about their distribution problem?

Their GTM strategy does not scale.

Tree House Brewing Co has an amazing facility that I was lucky enough to witness first hand, but hour-long lines for six packs and cases have a ceiling. Lots of people will tolerate the wait and effort that but even more people will refuse to so much as make the drive. Tree House has a ceiling and they will reach it.

Tree House is not alone. Veil, Dancing Gnome, Trillium, Monkish… the list goes on. None of these guys distribute. Their product cannot or should not go into the distribution chain as they currently exist.

How long will can lines sustain these brewers? People, many of them brewers, dismiss NE IPA as a fad and in some ways, it looks like one. Watch this short video about Ty Beanie Babies and try to tell me you don’t see parallels. (Tip o’ the hat to Ed for finding this connection.) The standing in line for what is an endless stream of different labels on beers that are harder and harder to differentiate is going to burn some people out. Saturation of the thirstybros’ FOMO is not just possible it will be a reality. Waiting in line for two hours outside Dancing Gnome will not be a thing at some point.

I am not saying the GTM of self-distribution is unworkable. It is a great business plan as long as you can live under your ceiling. Maybe that is the long-term business plan.

But… If a major brewer can find a new GTM strategy for truly great NE IPAs, that would really be disruptive. But who can find it? So far, no one. Not Sam Adams. Not Blue Point. Not Sierra Nevada. We have hazy and juicy IPAs, but the true NE IPAs have evaded the big guys. Therefore we are seemingly left with but one method into the market, and that places a ceiling on the style and the businesses that trade in them.  

Post Script:

Easy Pretzel jumping in to offer his comments: Few breweries are putting out quality NE IPAs like Treehouse. Treehouse is the exception rather than the rule for breweries to even scale to the size that Treehouse is now. Treehouse recently said they are cranking out 1,000 bbls per week and growing, that is a ceiling that many breweries would love to approach. But does this style need to scale? Small quality NE IPA breweries can crank out some wonderful beer, self-distribute in the can game, and make a ton of cash (If they don’t load up on debt and try to scale too fast). The biggest competition (other than an economic recession with higher taxes and less disposable income) in this space is other local breweries because I don’t think this style can handle the current distribution chain. Not everything needs to be scalable. Thomas Keller can have great restaurants all over the world without worrying what Applebee’s is doing in their distribution chain.

Bearcat here again: Did you watch that video I linked above? Tell me it is not really on point in so many ways with what we are seeing in craft beer as it relates to NE IPAs and Pastry Stouts.

The self-distribution GTM is not just for NE IPAs. Lots of brewers are using this strategy and not brewing NE IPAs.

Personally, I think self-distribution is a brilliant method of selling beer, but it is far from perfect.

The more I consider it, the more impressed I am with Brew Gentlemen and the fact that they do not can their beers. I think it is a bit of a differentiator and a good one.

Mobile canning has had an amazing impact on Craft Beer. Someone should write about this. It should definitely be Bryan D. Roth. BTW — Bryan has been killing it over GBH.

I was drinking weak ass coffee while writing this but I wish it was a Doubleganger.

The Splinter Tour

Tröegs Independent Brewing has been expanding its Splinter line of beers over the past few years. It is a very diverse line up of super premium but accessible barrel aged beers. It includes Bourbon Barrel Aged (BBA) Stouts and Barleywines, Wild Ales predicated on their Pennsylvania roots and Sours.

If Hopback, Troegenator, Dreamweaver and Sunshine Pils are the undergraduate work of drinking Tröegs, then Splinter is the post-graduate work. To help with completion of your Masters, Tröegs will soon be launching a Splinter Tour.

Image result for splinter beer

Disclosure: Tröegs invited me to get a preview of the Splinter Tour. The tour was provided to me at no cost in exchange for about 10-15 minutes of my time after the tour so that they could pick my brain about the experience and offer feedback. They did not ask me to attend so as to write about my experience. I did leave with some thoughts about the new tour and decided to share it.

The Splinter Tour started like any Tröegs tour, in the Splinter Cellar; a commanding but inviting space. It dominates the building from the moment you arrive at Tröegs and is a natural and obvious place to begin. I checked in with my guide, Christie. She gave me a paper wristband and offered either Sunshine Pilsner or Dreamweaver. I went with a half pour of the Pils.

Shortly, the dozen members of our tour had all arrived and we were then handed a half pour of Mad Elf while Christie explained what we would be covering over the next 90 minutes or so. (Pro Tip: Hit up the restroom before things get started.)

Christie began the tour by diving right in to explain those massive foeders that have come to dominate the image of Tröegs as you come to the brewery. It was there that we got our first special treat. It was so unexpected and cool that it was an absolute delight. Christie pulled small samples of Wild Elf right out of the foeder for each guest. This would not be the only time this was done on the tour either.

We talked about how Wild Elf was different from its mother beer we had just enjoyed. The dozen of us asked questions and discussed the nuances of this still forming wild ale.

We then headed into the depths of the brewery visiting familiar spots from the regular tour. Quickly past the grain mill and a brief stop in the chilly Hop Cooler to take a deep smell of what my kids like to call “beer flowers.”  Next, we found more foeders and barrels after barrels after barrels of beer.

We learned about the proper IBU level for lactobacillus growth, the “three-sip method” of beer tasting, what it is like at Tröegs to be all hands on deck de-pitting 3,000 pounds of fruit, and “wedding beers.”

We sipped from bottles along the way and saw and enjoyed some surprises that I don’t want to spoil.

We were joyfully plyed with stories about the beers we were tasting. How they came to be. Where the ingredients originate. We even got to visit Christie’s “zoo” of yeast and bacteria. It was a great analogy that cemented each one’s unique role in developing a beer. Christie, while we were tasting the beers, offered a gentle guiding hand; never telling us what to find but offering ways to develop our own understandings of the flavors for each.

Normally on a brewery tour, there is no discussion between the various groups on the tour. It is like a subway during rush hour. We are all together but no one talks amongst themselves; only the guide speaks. On this tour, everyone was discussing with one another. We were strangers when we started but friends taking a jaunt once we began. I knew only one of the 12. We never shared our names but we all shared our thoughts, questions and new ideas as we went through. It was intimate in the shared experience. This was a big part of the learning process. It was a trip we took together. I really liked that.

The tour ends with a final round of tasting in the Barrel Room behind the company store. A private space with a very large table and beautiful barrels of beer befitting the journey. There, we paired oaked beers with house-made salted caramels that opened new and more vibrant flavors from the ales.

Touring a brewery is a great way to learn how beer is made. Doing the brewery tour that is offered daily at Tröegs is a great way to learn just that. But if you are seeking to understand how specifically Splinter beers are made, the Splinter Tour is there to help the beer geek in leveling up. That is obvious on the surface.

But maybe what is the long-term lesson from the Splinter Tour is understanding how Tröegs beer is made. Why certain choices have been made over 21 years of brewing. How Chris and John think of beer, brewing, flavors, and even being an employer. The Splinter Tour pulls the curtain back on not just how Tröegs makes barrel aged beers but on the whole company itself. For me, learning those lessons will age better than any barrel of beer.


Post Script:

The Splinter Tour will be debuting soon. I was told they hope to hold their first one in July. It will be offered sparingly, about once a month to start.

Tours will be intimate. (There is that word again.) Only about a dozen guests at a time. For me, it was obvious that 10 to 12 on the tour is the right number.

They really want people to come asking questions. This is highly interactive. Don’t worry, you will have questions.

Tierney Pomone of Stouts and Stilettos was on my tour as well. She commented about how nice it was to have a woman lead the group. I did not think of it during the tour but in retrospect it was nice. Christie has this perfect personality and deep understanding and love for the job. It was nice. I hope you get to hear her tell you about her zoo.

Further disclosure, I am holding back some elements of the tour because the delight of these little surprises should not be spoiled by me. Nothing on this tour was off the record, this is an editorial choice.

I drank a When in Doubt while writing this. I am now going to have another.