As we close out the calendar year, Tröegs has given us one last gift for the year, the annual return of Nugget Nectar.
The once-a-year imperial amber dropped this week at the brewery and then across much of the Central PA area. Supplies will be showing up across all the rest of the Tröegs map in the coming days and weeks.
Shortly after this beer drops, we will see folks on Untappd, Twitter, and various Facebook groups say: “This beer was better last year” and “I wish they would make it like they used to make it.”
Somehow these folks think they are the arbiter of both what it “used to be” and that it was somehow “better” in years gone by.
As we turn the calendar, we often use the moment to consider the passage of time and to mark the changes in our lives. Those people and events that touched us in some profound way, those family and friends that we lost over the last year, and those moments that we will always carry with us going forward. The marking of time is important. These journeys around the sun are finite for each of us and marking the change helps to define our life in this time and space. It would be humble and reflective to consider how we changed as well.
Bringing it back to beer… that brew has changed. Beer is an agricultural product. It is of the stuff that makes it. That stuff changes. It changes based on weather and climate. It changes for reasons we do and do not fully understand. So yeah… That beer that you think you liked better last year is probably different than it was in years past but so are you. In fact, I think you are likely a whole lot different than you were that last time you had a Nugget Nectar. You and your tastes have changed.
2500 years ago, Heraclitus posed that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he’s not the same man.” When sipping your beer this too is true.
In this case, I would also add that sensory permanence is really loose. What your senses tell you changes… a lot. Even folks who use their senses for wine and food know that they experience these things in very different ways based on a lot of factors.
Therefore, let us never say: “It was better last year.” Instead… let us say, “I felt differently about this beer in the past.” For no man sips the same beer twice.
Yeah… this blog still exists. Maybe 2022 will be the year I recommit to writing about beer.
The It’s Friday Somewhere Podcast is back again. Recorded last night, December 30, 2021. Will drop it in your podcast player on New Year’s Eve or this weekend.
Recently several brewers from outside PA began a process of dropping shipments on PA resident doorsteps with just a couple clicks. These are what I would typically consider “hype brewers.”
Before I go further, I think I need to explain what I consider to be the “hype brewers” and by extension the “hype train.”
Hype Brewery: Typically brewing NE IPAs in an ever-revolving number of variants and with creative labels sometimes crossing the line on intellectual property so as to keep the FOMO going for consumers. Instagram and Untappd fuel the fire as well as trade groups. Have expanded this method to include sours, pastry stouts, and occasionally bourbon/barrel-aged or coffee beers.
Hype Train: “Getting caught up in the ever-revolving release schedule of a hype brewer to the point where you are asking yourself if this beer is different from the last one you bought from them. Expensive. See also: FOMO Effects”
At the end, you are free to accept or reject the above definitions but stick with me for a bit here.
There are lots of brewers that have engaged in hype: Monkish, Trillium, The Veil, Other Half, Three Chiefs, Tired Hands, Tree House, Angry Chair, Equilibrium, Aslin, and others that I am surely forgetting or have not yet heard of because the hype has not reached me yet.
Four of the above began shipping to PA residents this week past or will do so soon: Trillium, Other Half, Aslin, and The Veil.
Others are likely to follow.
Long time listeners to the podcast may recall Ed, Easy Pretzel, and I traveling together to Tree House, my journey to Tired Hands, and (most importantly) the three of us riding “The Veil train” for nearly a year. Ed is still working to financially recover. Thoughts and prayers.
For us, the result was important to learn and understand as a beer podcast and for me as a beer consumer. The hype is based in part on exploiting the #CraftBeer FOMO and on leveraging social media. Is the beer good? Yes. Unquestionably those brewers produce beers I like to drink. They are good. But is The Veil’s Blue Ferrari IPA any different from the White Ferrari they released only a couple of months beforehand? How the hell can anyone tell? All of these brewers release an unending stream of nearly identical beers that offer so nuanced a tweak in hops, or methods to legitimately be different but without distinction.
Now some brewers are engaged in asymmetric warfare going over the top directly to consumers while other brewers move into markets heretofore not even remotely on their map (i.e. Dancing Gnome going to Columbus and Lawson’s dropping Liquid Sunshine over so many random PA distributors that checking dates on their cans is really necessary).
All of this may be due to the constraints of the pandemic or the natural evolution of smaller brewers feeling forced to use their nimbleness to find new and/or direct methods to sling the cans. To me, it all feels a little weird and disjointed.
While all of this is happening, Tröegs does a Double Nugget Nectar release that catches the eye of many… many in this case fans of hyped beer. The juxtaposition of these events in the timeline is a little strange and for my favorite brewery in Hershey, unfortunate.
Double Nugget Nectar being a small, limited brewery-only release had impacts not intended. I consider Tröegs to be a brewery of intent. They work to clearly communicate their intent and they generally hit the mark. Tell folks what you are going to do and then do it. It is honest. But here the messaging got away from them in a hurry as the interwebs got very excited for a limited release without purchase limits.
Tröegs brewed a volume of Double Nugget that was intended to last two weeks. As I witnessed and as I described on the podcast it essentially lasted minutes. The hype, coupled with a lack of understanding as to the vigor of that hype, drove the beer out the door so fast as to leave the brewery shocked.
Some folks online took this more seriously than they should and got angry about it. Weird, but that is how some folks are. People being angry and disappointed bothered Tröegs and I know… They told me.
Tröegs is a brewery that is accessible. Their beers are widely distributed in their network of states, they have lots of tap handles in bars and restaurants (remember those). They work hard with their partners and strive to keep those relationships. On the consumer end, they have a brewery that is open and airy, highly accessible and they love for you to visit and see everything. Their best piece of online work the “We Taste…” series is about being inviting and opening up their beer’s flavors and experience to consumers. It’s very good and Tröegs co-worker Christie is the perfect person to invite us in for a sip. It is the best way to educate folks about their beers and again… accessible.
The events of the Double Nugget release does not fit their way of doing business. They missed the mark and they apologized. I think the long-term impacts here are still to be fully sussed out; maybe just in my mind. If you missed the release, take heart. It will be back in 2022… no doubt.
Until then, try to avoid getting hit by the Hype Train.
Brief Double Nugget Nectar Review: I liked it… a lot. I appreciated the boozy character and Simcoe coming through in spades. The malts are a solid platform for the hops and provide a finish that has bready sweetness. When it comes back next year, I will buy a case, but it will not replace Nugget Nectar for me. I think it is a nice companion in the line-up. A good very fun beer, but in the end, the boozier, bigger beer ends up not besting the original; and that is okay… it shouldn’t.
The biggest Tröegs release for 2021 will be Triple Nator… I am more than hyped for this beer release. For this one, you will want to buy a few bottles and lay them down to taste as it develops over years. This is going to be special.
I think the influence of Breweries in PA is really interesting. They were a big part of moving the needle for Double Nugget Nectar in my opinion, exactly how much is pretty hard to tell.
People pillorying Troegs for the Double Nugget release online were really over the top. They do not deserve that.
Folks assuming I was not rating Double Nugget Nectar on Untappd because I was going to write about it were correct. There were like three different versions of this post before I settled on what you read above.
Recording another episode of the IFS podcast this week. Might have a friend of the show on… TBD. (It’s Jeff Kupko)
While writing this I drank a Double Nugget Nectar, a Joyous IPA and Horizon Dry Hopped Pilsner by New Trail and Human Robot. A couple of thoughts:
Pilsner is nice. Crisp. Easy. Super clean. Very good.
Joyous IPA is a good fruity IPA perfect for spring and dropping into folks’ hands maybe just a little bit early. I do think that timing for beers can make a big difference. We are currently in the winter of our discontent. It’s cold, Arctic cold. Snow is cycling in regularly. The days are still dark, gray, brutal, and short. It’s like Hobbesian climate hell. Here comes an IPA that is bright, fruity, and asking for sunshine. I’m not sure I am ready for it yet. It’s aspirational in a time where I am just trying to hold on and beat back the seasonal depression that is dog-piling on top of my pandemic cabin fever. This beer is good… the yeast is doing yeoman’s work and I am not in a place right now to fully appreciate it. I recommend it as soon as the sunshine calls for it. Also… amazing label and branding by Troegs; up there with Haze Charmer.
Disclaimer: Troegs was kind enough to send me two cans of Joyous. I already had purchased a case of it when it dropped at my local distributor. I would still gladly spend my own hard-earned money on the beer.
For me… truly great beers are defined by their balance. The even application of malt, hops, water, yeast, and technique can elevate a beer beyond the mere sum of their ingredients. Balance is hard to find. It’s delicate, often on seemingly a knife’s edge. Once lost, it can be hard to regain. World-class brewers find the balance and then hone that edge for years, generations… centuries. This is not whale chasing, FOMO releases, trading, or IP theft running ahead of the baited C&D. This is beer as culture.
The culture around beer in Harrisburg got a big step forward when Tierney, Sara, Colleen, Chelsie, and later professional intern Jimi and others started Harrisburg Beer Week. More than half a decade ago a well-documented beer fueled idea took shape and a regular Spring cadence developed around Central PA breweries, bars, outdoor events, and the local culture of Craft Beer. The story of Craft Beer in Pennsylvania has a chapter for this 10 day “week.” But when COVID-19 destroyed the national norm, Harrisburg Beer Week (HBW) naturally went with it; it never had a chance. HBW is a gathering when gathering is the danger.
HBW despite having no 717 Collab Release, no events, and a bar and brewery economy which was as hard hit as anything these days, still managed to raise $25,000 this year for the Harrisburg River Rescue; the long time beneficiary. How the hell did they manage that? Tremendous.
When notice of the generous benefit was made, the PR materials had no mention of the 2021 HBW and its scheduled dates…my heart sank. I knew what was coming. Several days later, the news. HBW was folding its tent and not just for 2020. They thanked everyone and a couple of posts by some of the founders filled in some of the gaps.
I liked HBW… like REALLY liked it. I went to events. I scoped out the breweries dropping unique one-offs. I tried to be the first ticket purchased for Little Big Beer Fest every year. My podcast held a live recording and people paid money to hear us talk with friends and the CTO of Untappd! We raised $500 for HRR and I was over the moon. (Never mind that this is a drop in the nearly $200,000 bucket that HBW raised over the years.) I spied and traded local industry gossip with brewers getting the inside track on each year’s 717 Collab like I was trying to beat and corner the market; sometimes to less than happy responses from folks. I defended their work when I thought it necessary though it was never asked for and probably not needed. I reviewed the 717 Collab beer each year and considered the event one of my few “beats” for this generally fallow blog space.
So what happened? Well, the founders can and did speak to that far more closely than I can but I think the balance was never truly found. Which is not for lack of effort, good intent, or commitment… everyone there had those in droves; at the cost of their own personal time and lives.
HBW was a big event. 11 months of planning. Hundreds of events that would put larger cities to shame. Huge productions for the marquee events (i.e. VIP, LLBF, LBBF, Homebrew Contest, etc…). It lasted 10 days… which sometimes had to feel like a marathon. Governmental support for HBW which would have been reasonable given the contributions of the industry locally and across the state never materialized and instead went to (in my opinion) less worthy causes. The team was small, the work was for a non-profit, the effort was enormous and growing. Events never seemed to be cut… they only were added.
Looking back, it makes me wonder if the beauty of it as a non-profit, of it being run by volunteers, who were not brewers and therefore not directly seeing the benefits other than good grace, made it more difficult? Can a large beer week be a non-profit? Given the scope, the hours, the effort, and the stress, the answer might be “No.” Which is sad. The founders were idealistic, daring, and really important for Central PA’s beer culture. It ends up being a bit of a loss to the brewers and beer drinkers. Harrisburg and Central PA brewers and beer drinkers owe a debt to them. For that, I raise my glass.
Cheers to HBW… Beer for Good.
While writing this I am slinging back a couple of Lucky Holler by Tröegs. This beer replaces Hop Knife in the Tröegs line up. The limits on the number of SKUs a brewery can reasonably have puts a market limit on their portfolio. It forces a brewery to make changes to certain parts of their line up to keep it fresh. In this case, Hop Knife got cut for Lucky Holler as the fall release for the hop cycle beers. It’s a change that at first left me disappointed but Chris & John Trogner was kind enough to perk my mood by letting us know that Hop Knife will be a brewery-only limited release next Thursday. You will find me in line.
Disclosure: Troegs was kind enough to send me two cans of Lucky Holler. I liked it enough to spend my own hard-earned money on a case of it. I think you will too.
Eventually, a new HBW of some sort will emerge. There are too many great breweries in this area, too many dedicated beer drinkers, and too much pent up demand for one to not reemerge. How, will be tough. This was an event developed and led by women (but for Jimi), in a space that has been white male-dominated for … well forever. How do they hand it off? What if a group of strong women does not step up to take this specific mantle? Therefore, to whom do they hand it off? HBW’s leaders own the IP around the events. You can change names sure, but do you want to? How this gets handed off may be very delicate. In the end, I hope a Central PA Brewer Guild would form and assume the work and effort. It could still be a non-profit, would continue to have brewer investment, and could result in a more welcome transition… at least in my opinion.
What will not and should not happen, is some folks “gauging interest” before the body is even cold and using the same event names. Stop it. Regardless of intent, this was badly handled from the word go.
Can the breweries still do a 717 Collab and keep the proceeds doing good in the area? Because that would be cool and would give me something to write about. The drama around one particular version fueled my blog and Twitter for nearly a year. Also, I liked getting weird beers.
Rumor Report: It is sort of fitting that a very specific apocalyptic beer is returning in non-barrel aged form later this year. When it can feel like 2020 is the end times, maybe the Mayan calendar was just off by about 8 years…
Authenticity is critical to craft beer. It is fundamental to the product. We see it in branding, product positioning, methodology/techniques, and raw material/ingredients.
All summer the news around craft beer seemed to more revolve around spiked seltzer. The trend was so pervasive that news stories of varying worth declared that White Claw outsold Bud this summer (#FakeNews). The response as I saw or heard was a backlash, backlash to the insufficient backlash, and finally stunned surprise at the numbers couple with more backlash. It was enough backlash to give you whiplash. In my opinion, a good bit of that backlash seemed to teeter towards it being inauthentic and artificial; an interloper in the backyard cooler.
Naturally, some brewers jump on the trend. This caused its own trend of outrage by craft devotees that are more interested in demanding brewers cater to their hyper particular and irrational needs for what constitutes “craft beer.” I was dismissive of the hard seltzer trend because it did not particularly interest me.
But people like Easy Pretzel basked in the warm sun poolside and declared there was no law with White Claw. Angry beer drinkers screamed like a beverage could be as illegitimate as a three dollar bill. It was… weird and a little exhausting.
In private conversations, I stated that I thought it was a fad. One that would fade as quickly as my farmer’s tan come the crisp nights of autumn, if not sooner. But as we race to Halloween the “fad” holds, maybe even continues to grow. A local brewer with which I have the privilege of conversing from time-to-time has been brewing hard seltzer. He expressed that it was both not an easy process and a very profitable one. Brewers are paying attention to non-beer like substances pretty closely according to stories out of GABF.
I know quite a few people that would be disappointed to downright angry if their local brewery went down this path. They think it is not “authentic.” That it diminishes the brewery to make something so pedestrian. This makes me wonder, why would they not want their brewery to succeed? Brewers have to sell product. Breweries do not exist to appease the Twitter #CraftBeer crowd, traders, or those that consider themselves “influences.” It is clear to me that by and large, most beer buyers neither use Untappd nor discuss beer on Twitter. Most people can drink their beer without taking a picture of it first. Stunning revelation, I know!
Authenticity is important. But making a seltzer does not dilute that which makes a brewery authentic. More importantly, if selling some seltzer makes a brewery free to take more risks with other products like a new beer, then we should all be happy for it.
Seltzer is inauthentic but making a 2,000 calorie per can stout with 100 boxes of Capt’n Crunch is… right.
Links and Other Stuff:
Chelsie from It’s a Brew Life and Harrisburg Beer Week wrote a heartbreaking story about, I will say “pausing” her beer journey. Give it a read and keep her in your thoughts. Chelsie was a founding member of the Harrisburg Beer Week and was and will remain important to the Central PA Beer community. I wish her good health in the future.
PA Passed a New Tax on Craft Beer… it adds up the about nine cents on a $6 pint. But the part that really has me scratching my head is that brewers are not permitted to show the tax on receipts to customers. Is this a result of bars and taprooms putting the “Onorato Pour Tax” on receipts in Allegheny County?
A little birdie filled me in on some plans brewing at Tröegs. The next three months and through late winter appear to be lining up to bring some huge changes. Even for a brewery in a perpetual state of change and evolution, this stuff sounds intense. I cannot share more right now but the wind of change is blowing. Tröegs is a brewery with a philosophy. Over the years they have become better as sharing that philosophy as they become better storytellers. This is a story I look forward to hearing and drinking.
The Tröegs brothers get right to the point when discussing the Art of Tröegs. They “like people who make things.” It couldn’t be simpler. A genuine appreciation for the process of making something.
The Art of Tröegs event and the perpetual and yearly evolving gallery in which it takes place is a testament to that simple premise. It is Tröegs opening their most intimate space, the Splinter Cellar, to those that “make things” to show off their work by drawing inspiration from the Hershey brewery.
During a podcast interview, I asked John Trogner how he balanced the right and left brain sides of brewing. Hearing him describe brewing as both a technical/engineering problem to be solved and in artistic terms as the birth of specific flavors that are expressive in his mind. John did not accept the premise, that is was two halves. It was all part of the same process.
When I was discussing with Kayla Bryer how her embroidered banner of Freaky Peach came to be she described both the inspiration and the technical process. The work it took for taking the drawing from her iPad to printing on linen to its embroidery and final touches that bring it all together. It’s not left brain and right brain… Here again, it is the process of thinking out how to make something. Both halves of the brain working hand-in-hand.
Kayla’s work like the others at the intimate second-floor gallery, invite you to get close. To walk right up to a piece after looking at it from a few feet away. Drawing you in to get right on top of it and see either how a brush was stroked or how two corners come together. You are drawn into the details; to see how it is made.
The gallery is a quiet corner in what is frequently a bustling brewery. It is an opportunity to sip your beer and be reflective. You can take a few moments and contemplate what an artist was thinking or how they expressed their idea of “The Troegenator” and then wonder “How as that made?”
The mild semi-hard cheese has a slight fruity tang with a nice nuttiness and a sweet finish. Troegenator Beer Cheese is both expressive of the double bock with which it was made and also developed independent deep flavors of its own from the cultures and milk. The cheese paired perfectly with my can of Troegenator by itself. The cheese is complex and brings out new flavors from its mother beer. I plan to buy another wedge of this beer and I think it will pair beautifully with some crisp apple slices. It is stunningly good.
Troegenator Beer Cheese is available at all Giant brand stores on August 5, 2019. Act quickly because unlike other pieces of art which can be found within the Tröegs gallery… this one is available for only a limited time.
Making things with your hands; a tangible expression of an idea that can be shared. It’s very humanistic.
Chuck Noll once said, “The thrill isn’t in the winning, it’s in the doing.” I think that applies to a lot of life but certainly in the case of the artists I met/heard at the gallery event. They loved describing the process.
We as a society would be well served by making more things with our hands.
Living in Lancaster County I live near many dairy farmers. It is a tough business. Milk prices are low, the economics are not all working out. Caputo Brothers pay a premium for the milk they use to make this local cheese with local milk to be sold in stores close to both. Buying this cheese and pairing it with a Troegenator supports local farmers and local businesses. It is beer and cheese for good.
I attended the Art of Tröegs event by invitation. There I was plied me with a couple of beers and some nice hors d’ oeuvres. It was a beautiful event that I was privileged and thankful to attend.
I received a sample of Troegenator Beer Cheese and a can of Troegenator in the mail ahead of its release. Thank you to Tröegs, Caputo Brothers, and Giant Food Stores for sharing.
Being provocative has been a staple of artists since time immemorial. Mockery was likely not far behind as a method of provoking one’s audience. The best example I can easily recall is Marcel Duchamp visiting a plumbing supply store and entering a urinal titled “Fountain” signed R. Mutt into an exhibit. The message seems clear: Piss on art.
Anyone looking at it and giving a deeper meaning to “the piece” by describing the urinal’s orientation and “flowing lines” is at best stretching and most likely just trying to sound important. A urinal was precisely chosen. This choice mocks the exhibit, the viewer, the critic, and the concept of art itself.
Because this is a Pizza Boy Co. review, there has to be a movie connection and discussing “Fountain” takes me toExit Through the Gift Shop. Stick with me… I promise this work out at least a little bit. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary that after watching left me furious. I was genuinely angry because I saw it as a fraud, with Mr. Brainwash being a talentless maroon who used his bizarre nature to create a gimmick. It mocked the concept of who is and can be an artist, it mocked documentary filmmaking, art itself, and it mocked me the viewer in real-time. It was outrageous and it created such a visceral response within me that I had to eventually come to the realization that its ability to drive me to such an extreme reaction was to its credit. It was great in spite of being fraud to me the viewer as it was powerfully effective in such a unique and stirring way.
Will I ever watch it again. Fuck. And. No. Was I glad that I sat through it the one time and was so pissed off at it? Surprisingly, yes.
One of the ways art can be great, in my opinion, is when it takes control of your response. When you are not necessarily fully in control of how you feel about it. When you look at a piece and you feel discomfort, or happiness, or longing, or whatever… When the art takes you someplace you did not expect or particularly want to go. That control over the viewer can be powerful and when done well, masterful. Mockery can be a hard one to use for this purpose.
It’s got a ton of grain: Pils, Oats, Flaked Oat and Spelt getting smashed with Amarillo, Mosaic, Simcoe, and Hull Melon hops. 9% ABV and as easy-drinking as anything Al and Terry have ever dropped in a pounder can. It’s a great beer and if you had the chance to drink one, I’m sure you would agree. It’s awash in passion fruit, mango, and the standard-issue orange flavors. There is a bit of pine for the long finish. At $20 a six-pack, it was also well priced.
But… that name…
I love hazy IPAs. I do. I crap on them from time to time and then go and buy them like some kind of hypocritical dope.
Was this label mocking me even as I bought it? It’s not like Al and Terry are above sticking their opinions in people’s faces, right or wrong.
Is this beer self-mockery? Is it mocking #CraftBeer? Is it telling me to fuck off? Do I deserve that? (Spoiler: I do.) Is this label telling craft beer what Duchamp clearly conveyed with “Fountain?” Piss on craft beer and piss on you?
It is as engaging as it is outrageous. Would I do this if I owned a brewery? No. But that is part of what makes Pizza Boy, Pizza Boy. They take no prisoners. They throw their opinions and beer out on the shelf in the west shore and dare you to ignore them. You can’t. You will see their work and you will have an opinion about it. You are not completely in control and that is art. It’s engagement but not without cost; in this case at least $20 a sixer.
When this beer hit the shelves a lot of people were freaking out about the TTB letting this label pass approval. But it did not get Federal approval and I do not believe it was sought as this beer was only sold on-premise, not in distribution.
On the IG page for Worst Beer Blog, which picked this up with surprising speed, one guy simply wrote “ISO” in the comments. Typical. Somewhat ironic given what the label conveyed to me. I couldn’t help but laugh.
My whole thinking as described above may be me thinking way too deeply about this shit. If I see Al or Terry soon and they have read this they might tell me to pull my head out of my ass. That might be well deserved in this case. Maybe this is all nonsense on my part.
It is totally possible that you believe I completely missed the point of both “Fountain” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” That is part of art too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 BrewingEveryone 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.
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.
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.
When I visited ABC on September 6th, 717’s signage and tap had been replaced with “Cherry Sweet Tart.”
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.
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:
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!
[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.
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.