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.

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