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.

Cheers.

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.

The HBW 717 Collab Review

Collab-Beer-Logo_Final

The city of Harrisburg and the Central PA area is frequently talked about being “on the rise.” For 15 years I have lived in Central PA and for 15 years I have heard about Harrisburg city being “on the rise.” I am starting to feel like that is a bit dismissive.

Harrisburg city and the area surrounding it to a great extent has already arrived. Local politics has become stable. The city recently cut back on some draconian parking limits. The city’s previous constant state of financial exigency has eased. There is a well-established arts community. We have some excellent restaurants that have been operating for years and should continue to do so. Locally, businesses are growing and being founded all the time.

Things are good.

Craft beer gets the same type of talk: “The rise of craft beer.” This has made some people into craft beer evangelists. It has also made people treat craft beer like it is the little guy. In some places that might be true… but not in Central PA.

Craft beer in Central PA is the establishment now. It has arrived, grown and expanded. We have more brewers that I care to count. We have more breweries that I have yet to visit than I would care to admit. Hell… Troegs this summer will be drinking age.

Things are good here too.

Harrisburg Beer Week begins its fourth year as part of that establishment. It is part of both Central PA and its craft beer establishment.

Harrisburg Beer Week is a big tent with a lot of parts. The signature events are stakes in the ground and the 717 Collaboration Beer is the tent pole. 717 Collab is the first indication of the impending week-long celebration and generates for me the most interest.

This year’s 717 Collab came with a twist. The old guard of Central PA brewing (Troegs, ABC, and Pizza Boy) welcomed, comparatively a newcomer, ZerØday Brewing Company. Four years of 717 Collab and now four brewers. Also, new this year, Troegs stepped aside to let Appalachian Brewing Company’s brewhouse take over.

ZerØday’s Co-owner/Brewer Theo Armstrong named his brewery after the necessary day of rest during an Appalachian Trail through hike and this beer draws from the same well. 717 Collab references a break hikers take at Pine Grove Furnace State Park where tradition holds they eat a half gallon of ice cream to refuel for the second half of the hike. Theo ate Hershey’s vanilla with cherries.

The Harrisburg Beer Week page does a great job of telling the story of how the beer’s recipe was developed; you should check it out. As the beer came together I picked at the brewers for some insight. What I came away with was that the brewing process for a collaboration is as straight a path as the Appalachian Trail from which this one harkens. This year that winding path gave us a complex new beer.

2018’s 717 Collaboration – Extra Cream Ale with Cherries and Vanilla presents a bright pink in the glass with an ephemeral topping of pale cotton candy like foam. It looks light in body and it is. The nose is muted but clearly of cherries. It is sweet right up front at first sip and I would describe its flavor as being like a melted down cherry lollipop. The vanilla resides in a supporting role. The middle has a brief Robitussin hint but finishes clean and avoids being cloying. There is enough of a velvety mouthfeel as to hold true to the inspiring ice cream. The vanilla is where I bring a mild criticism. I would have liked more in the nose and if it came through as being more evident in the finish I would be really blown away. The Huell Melon hops seem like a brilliant choice here. The subtle honeydew and mild fruit flavors play well with the cherry. The hops in 717 are there in a supporting role and the Huell Melon plays the role well.

As it stands, this is a good beer. It is great to see the 717 brewers getting back to doing something weird that pushes the limits. The first (717) Collab from 2014 set the bar as being weird and crazy and wholly original. I believe in “fortes fortuna iuvat” and that holds true here. This beer was a bold idea, brought forth from a great story, and it is better for it.

In this fourth iteration of 717 Collab, we are no longer seeing a yearly event on the rise, it is established. It has traditions and standards to be met. This one meets them and starts a new one with the addition of a new brewery.

I think that is great.

Cheers to Craft Beer in Central PA and cheers to Harrisburg Beer Week.

Postscript:

It cannot be overstated that Harrisburg Beer Week is a nonprofit that raises a ton of money for Harrisburg River Rescue. This is good beer doing real good.

Tierney, Sara, Chelsea, Colleen, Jimi and all the other volunteers give of their time and do this for their love of the craft beer community and Central PA area. If you see them out, say thank you and buy them a beer.

I kind of like 717 as a name better when it has the parentheses around the numbers. It was a little more clear that it was in reference to the area code, IMO.

Each year the 717 Collab clocks in at 7.17% ABV. This one is the same. This year I wonder if sticking to that 7% target will be limiting on future choices. Personally, I think it would not mean much if, in some future year, they stepped outside of this characteristic.

This year’s logo is the second best 717 Collab logo. The 2017 version with the hands by Troegs was just so good. But this year’s is really great. It will be hard to develop a logo better than that 2017 one.

The speculation on who will be the fifth brewer for year five officially begins now. Early favorites in my mind are Ever Grain and Boneshire.

717 Collab this year has unique tap handles. They are sharp looking. They were done by Christopher R. Ditlow of Laser Leaf right here in Harrisburg. That is a nice touch.

Be sure to follow FridaySomewhere.com and @IFS_Podcast as we have two great shows that will be dropping this week related to everything happening in Harrisburg Beer Week.

The Rip-Off Artists

Breaking

Craft beer is developing a cultural problem. The constant and blatant process of ripping off the intellectual property of other industries is pervasive to the point of being normalized.

Today, news of

Followers of #CraftBeer on Twitter see literally a daily stream of rip-offs, plagiarism, and outright theft of intellectual property and copyright infringement. It is so constant and pervasive that it is becoming normal. Even the lampooning of other brands via tongue in cheek references and silly labels has become embarrassingly frequent.

Are some people at these brands completely bereft of a unique idea? Is craft beer where professional marketing and originality of branding has come to die?

These are serious questions.

Craft beer is a premium product. Sold to consumers as being better than the macros. Handmade with select high-quality ingredients. Made by people you can meet and know. People in your community.

But doing this low rent rip-off labeling shows that you are lowbrow, not premium. It shows that you as a brewer don’t respect other people’s hard work. That knowing you and meeting you as a brewer might not be that great for me as a customer.

A not insignificant portion of craft beer’s businesses needs to grow up and start acting like legit business entities that respect other people’s property, hard work, and the law. Because right now, too many are acting like the guys hawking imitation T-shirts in stadium parking lots before the big game and guys with card tables at NYC street corners selling knockoff Kate Spade and Louis Vuitton bags.

The story of the last three to four decades of beer is predicated on what is a revolutionary and quintessentially American product. It is founded on innovation and creativity.

What happened?

And if you think the guy selling phony gameday T-shirts and the guy slinging cheap ass imitation Birkin bags out of the back of a van is an unfair comparison just read this excellent story by Bryan D. Roth for GoodBeerHunting.com. Seriously, go read it. I’ll wait.

These games are pathetic. Moving quickly to beat claims and dropping C&D letters into the trash because your limited run of cans already sold out is an embarrassing business practice.

Modist Brewing brewed Dilly Dilly DIPA and then got owned via a then viral C&D order from ABI. Modist Brewing framed the parchment and hung it on their wall. WTF? Modist Brewing… You got clowned by the big guy, used to further their marketing campaign, and then hang it on the wall as a trophy?

Craft beer is better than this. These are gimmicks. Gimmicks are not going to be sustainable over the long run. More importantly, these gimmicks open a brewery up to lawsuits and damages that they can ill afford in a tightening market. If you think a new brewery has it tough meeting its debt payments now, tack on a treble damages award. At that point, it will be 

Post-Script:

I am starting to suspect that Greg Koch’s PR campaign lawsuit against MillerCoors is not just going to backfire on Stone Brewing Company via the countersuit. It might have the effect of shining a spotlight on the entire industry that has some pretty scummy practices related to IP.

Look at the label in the instant matter above. That chain around the deranged Hop Walter White’s neck is of a GABF medal and it states: “2016 GABF Bronze Medal American IPA” right beside it. This puts the Brewers’ Association in a tough spot. It could appear to some that they are tacitly approving of this type of copyright infringement or worse they are tangentially a part of it. This is a bad position for the BA.

When is the Brewers’ Association going to do something about it? Wake up and put your foot down.

If you think this is overly harsh… so be it. I can’t stand by and watch some of these breweries act like this anymore. It is embarrassing and bad for the industry as a whole.

Consumers need to step up here too. Stop buying these rip-offs. I am sure I have bought too many of these as well. If you go through my Untappd check-ins, I know I have bought products that are blatant rip-offs.

A shout out to Brenden Palferyman, Esq. His twitter feed is on fire these days with IP issues in craft beer and you really should be following him.

 

Long Tables vs. Long Lines

It can easily be stated that craft beer in America has been in a constant state of change and flux. Trends come and go. Growth accelerates and wanes. Styles rise to prominence only to be soon usurped by new variations. Breweries open. Breweries close. It is a near constant churn.

But there is a cultural shift that clearly has taken hold as of late. It surrounds NE IPAs.

I am not focusing so much on the fact that a hotly debated NE IPA style has shifted the culture we associate with craft beer. Even its enshrinement as a defined style was not without a lot of debate that left some on both sides seriously unhappy. There are lots of places debating this.

But the style, or more importantly the predominate way NE IPAs are distributed is shifting the way we engage with craft beer.

Can releases at breweries have brought us long lines. People lining up to buy limited four packs or maybe a case of beer. More frequently these lines are getting longer and longer and inherently people start lining up sooner in order to get to the front.

In the past, you went to a brewery or a brewpub and you sat at a long bar or maybe a long table.

Now increasingly we have people standing in long lines. Conversations become less about the enjoyment of the beer in the moment and more regarding the market value based on allotments and black markets.

High tops are replaced by folding chairs. Buying a round replaced with beer swaps in the line.

A lot of this is driven by the distribution format. A limited can release at the brewery for an in-demand short shelf life or every expensive barrel aged beer has implications. Some of this is a natural response. It can be argued this is just how it was always going to play out.

Self-distribution and limited releases as a method have been highly lucrative to many breweries. Some have seen massive or exponential growth occur in literally months.

This has not come without a cost. The lines can be disruptive to neighborhoods. Beer mules are not there for the enjoyment of the beer but to make fast cash flipping the product. Trash from sharing and swapping beers gets left behind by the few troglodytes that still litter… in 2018.

Vine Pair has a story about how this has shifted the fortunes of a number of breweries but also how it has changed the clientele.  It is not a flattering article to Vine Pair or the brewers referenced. 

One can simply say and without judgment, things have changed. To say it is the same as it ever was is beyond naive.

Therefore the question then shifts to: Is it better this way?

For me, I would rather sit at a long table in the brewery than sit in a long line outside of one, regardless of the beer in my glass.

Post Script:

This is not the end of the world.

This trend will be followed by a new one; just like the last one was.

Sitting in brewpubs are more fun than sitting in line. If you think this is a controversial statement or that opinion is out of line then I don’t know what to tell you. Just getting out ahead of what I am sure will happen with someone.

If you like sitting in lines for beer, good for you. These are truly halcyon days for you.

If you do wait in line, tell the asshole that leaves his garbage to pick it up.

VinePair really went over the edge in the piece linked above.

UPDATE: After I published my fellow podcaster Easy Pretzel had some thoughts. They are shared here for your consideration.

As the unofficial arbiter of NEIPAs, this article couldn’t have been more dead on. Listening to the neckbeard conversations about all the exclusive beer that they have tried is like listening to two world leaders discuss their nuclear capability’s: nobody cares about your small dick measuring contest. The lines are getting longer, and breweries can’t seem to understand the concept of prepaying. Get the line moving faster, so by the time everyone gets to the front of the line their beer is ready. This will allow people to stay instead of just wanting to take their beer and drive home. Some top NEIPA locations don’t even have on-site pours, which I find obnoxious.
This all could be solved if these OG brewers stopped being so stubborn and made a proper NEIPA. We are slowly starting seeing more and more embrace this great style, so much so that Tree House secondary prices alone have dropped 30% over the last 12 months. Wouldn’t it be funny that the same beer that divided the community would also be the same beer to unite us all at the long table?

That Beer Is Not An Investment Opportunity

Black Market

Two points that are the sides of the same coin:

  1. Those bottles you bought at the limited release and those NE IPA pounders you muled back by the case… They are not an investment opportunity. They just aren’t.
  2. Those closed group Facebook pages where guys are running hundreds if not thousands of dollars in daily trades are illegal and eventually, that will be a problem. I have to assume that the PLCB or some other state’s regulator would love nothing more than to make an example of one of these larger “beer traders.”

There is a reckoning coming for some Craft Beer drinkers and it is going to come painfully.

These points are as true as they are inevitable.

First the craft beer investor. He picks up 12 bottles of a very limited fruit beer sour expecting them to be the new hotness on the trading forums and then oh… look at that, no one wanted them. Now he is stuck with all these very expensive bottles of beer that he can’t unload. He dropped a couple hundred bucks on these bottles expecting to flip them and make a quick buck and then there was no market. What does he then do? He goes on social media and blasts the beer, the brewer and screams “drain pour” into all the forums. It’s low rent and is bad for Craft Beer all around.

Beer is an investment in yourself and your personal enjoyment. It is an investment in the enjoyment of your friends and the time you spend sharing a great beer with them. Beers are not for flipping like scalpers with Taylor Swift tickets. Even then scalpers know the risk. Sometimes the market goes soft, sometimes it rains and no one wants to go. If the buyers don’t want all the beer you bought, it is not the brewer’s fault. Don’t ask for a refund. That is pathetic. You should be ashamed of yourself.

If you are treating beer like an investment that is a mistreatment of the product. It is meant for consumption and sharing, not speculation. If you are buying and speculating on beer futures I sincerely hope the market goes flat on you. You deserve it.

The other half of this two-sided coin is the forums where these trades occur. Facebook apparently is the dominant market as it has private closed groups. There are plenty of other forums for beer swaps but Facebook appears, at least anecdotally, to be the most prevalent. Let us be clear… They are not a safe haven. There is no safe haven in any digital space. Facebook will not protect your illegal activity. These private groups have hundreds or thousands of traders. In the end… you don’t know them, they don’t know you, and they are not your friends.

At some point, the PLCB, or another state’s liquor control office, is going to awaken to this concept. It would be very hard for me to actually believe that they have not already. Bootlegging is an old art. Digital message boards and now Facebook are not going to suddenly make all this permissible. Who hasn’t bought a couple bottle of sales tax free wine or liquor and slung it back from Delaware to PA? But running cases and cases of beer across state lines without paying the proper tax is an illegal activity.

I can hear some readers now: “Yeah, but the PLCB does not care about a few tax dollars on only a couple cases of beer.” This can be reasonably considered yet…

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is a regulatory and control mechanism. Control is right there in the name. PLCB’s purposes is to regulate and control the distribution and by extension the consumption of alcohol within the state of Pennsylvania. Many other states have a similar agency. A review of the PLCB About page shows that their primary objective is to regulate and control “the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, and disposition of liquor, alcohol, and malt or brewed beverages in the commonwealth.” It is only after scrolling through multiple paragraphs about control and regulation that we get to the revenue generated for the Commonwealth’s coffers. Revenue generation is a secondary purpose.

Back to the instant matter… The PLCB even has a very specific FAQ addressing the “May a friend bring a case of beer for me from California when he comes to visit me?” question. You can click the link but in summary:  No… unless they apply for a Direct Malt or Brewed Beverage Shipper (DBS) License, pay $250, and jump through a bunch of hoops.

And in case you were wondering… Transporting and selling beer without a DBS License is a second-degree misdemeanor and is subject to a fine of $4 per fluid ounce for each container on premises where the sale is made.  Meaning that if you pull this in your driveway, that beer cellar you have have been building for the last six-plus years just got really, really expensive.

It is not unreasonable to state that if you are buying and selling cases and cases of very highly sought after beer that you cannot assume you will not eventually catch the eye of the people whose job it is to regulate that which you are ignoring, booze and the laws that are meant to control it.

Brewers and distributors pay thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and taxes to be legitimate. They operate in a regulated industry. Some could argue that it is highly regulated. If I was a brewer or a distributor and I looked over all the money I paid out, all the paper I filed and I must continue to file, the litany of bureaucratic hoops I am required the jump through… and then saw people slinging beers in papers bags with a massive markup I would wonder “For what is all this regulation actually being used?”

To think that this party is not going to get crashed is naive.

Postscript:

I don’t have exactly clean hands here. I have bought beer on the black market. I will likely do it again. But, I have never resold my beer for a markup. I have never profited from a beer I have bought and handed to someone else. I have traded beers with some close friends. This wasn’t flipping whales, they are friends. I have gifted many, many bottles of beer and I am much happier with those exchanges.

The PLCB is a tax agency. Taxes are social engineering and policy designed to regulate and control that on which they collect. We can discuss whether they should exist or should be controlling alcohol but that is an alternate discussion. This post is about what actually exists. I would love nothing more than to see the PLCB be shrunk from being the leviathan that it is.

If you want to yell at me in the comments or on Twitter about how the PLCB is evil that is fine but this is not a defense of the agency or what it does.

Asking for a refund on a beer is not okay. I have never asked for a refund on a beer and I never will. If you are that unhappy with the product, privately tell the brewer why, or just stop spending your money there. Would you also ask for a refund on a Manhattan that you did not think lived up your exactingly standards? The level of entitlement on the part of Craft Beer drinkers is embarrassing.  Stop it.

Ep. 14 Partly Claudy


In episode 14, 
Ed Grohl, Easy Pretzel, and Bearcat, welcome Scott Smith, founder, and owner of East End Brewing Company. In a far-ranging conversation, we discuss the brewery,  Barleywine (#BIL), the trials of starting a brewery 15 years ago, and the sad lonely death of a keg of beer.

East End Brewing Company Logo

Be sure to follow East End Brewing on Twitter, Instagram and read Scott’s very nice blog.

Also… Stick around for the After Show

What We Were Drinking:

Easy Pretzel – East End Brewing Gratitude (2015), The Veil Brewing Co. Hornswoggler — Oreo
Ed –  The Veil Brewing Co. Coalesce; 3 Taverns Brewery Rapturous; Trillium Brewing CompanyDeciduous, Funk Brewing Company Silent Disco
Bearcat – East End Brewing Homewood Reserve 2017, Founders Brewing Co. Canadian Breakfast Stout (2017)
Scott — VB Hubbards Cave Brewery

Link Dump:

Church Brew Works
Commonwealth Press
Rivertown Brewing
North Country Brewing Company
Jean Bonnet Tavern
Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewing Company
Don’t Drink Beer
PLCB
Al’s of Hampden and Pizza Boy Brewing
Pennsylvania Handshake Blog Post
Pittsburghese
Joe DiNardo
Fedko Zone
Partly Claudy
Chance A’ Shahrs
Peat Smoked Malt
Mosaic Hops
Galaxy Hops
London Ale Yeast
Troegs Independent Brewing Company
Simcoe Hops
FOMO
Gratitude Paper Overwrap (So pretty)
Mary Tremonte (Gratitude Label Artist)
Between Two Fermentors
Beerhive, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh Strip District
The Independent, Pittsburgh
Penn Brewing
Tiki Lounge Pittsburgh
Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Pittsburgh
Cure, Pittsburgh
Hitchhiker Brewing Co.
Brew Gentlemen
Dancing Gnome Brewery
The Easy Pretzel NFL Power Poll of Beer
The Neighborhoods of Pittsburgh

A big thanks to Scott Smith for giving us so much of his time. We hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as we did making it.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or the Google Play Store. If you like the show please consider leaving a review and sharing it with others, this really does help us.

Follow the show on Twitter @IFS_Podcast or send us cool stuff via email TheIFSpodcast@gmail.com.

Cheers.

This Beer Goes to 11

madelf-grandcru

Mad Elf already went to 11.

11% ABV.

11% ABV is one of the characteristics of the Mad Elf line, which include the beguiling Wild Elf and the stripped down Naked Elf.

But what if you still wanted it to be 1 louder. If you needed that extra push over the cliff. What If you wanted to take Mad Elf truly to 11 like Nigel Tufnel? To push it to 11 in every way, not just in the booze.

Then you make Mad Elf Grand Cru.

More Cherry. Specifically, Balaton cherries added to the O.G. Mad Elf’s already potent mix.

Deeper sugars. Specifically, Demerara sugar to compliment the subtle wild honey with a caramel backbone.

More Cherry. More Malt character.

This adds up to a heady mix. We get a deeper hue. A bright mahogany/blood red that just begs to be swirled in the glass. A nose of cherries that are so intense as to make you wonder “How did they do this with a beer?” The flavors are cherry on cherry but never cloying and the Balaton’s tart notes even everything out and makes everyone play nice. A stunningly long finish that shows off the complexity of the brown sugar along with some hints of pepper (a Troegs hallmark). It sips like an after dinner cordial. It is very intense but not aggressive. It soothes and relaxes.

This beer is so cherry… The question is how much more cherry could it be? And the answer is “None. None more cherry.”

Mad Elf 22oz bottles was my go-to host/hostess gift for years. I would show up at a holiday party with a couple bombers in hand and knew they would be greeted warmly. Mad Elf was just hard enough to acquire back home in Pittsburgh so as to make it really special when I sent it out as a gift. But eventually, the bombers ceased and Mad Elf became both ubiquitous and synonymous with holiday craft beer in this region.

Grand Cru brings all that back. A big 750 mL champagne bottle with a nice little black tag with a “From:” and “To:” label ready to go. (Nice work Justin) This gives Grand Cru “a bigger dressing room than the puppets. That’s refreshing.”

The beer inside is a masterstroke and the packaging communicates clearly on behalf of the beer it carries. It is special inside and out.

Grand Cru is offered as the director’s cut of Mad Elf and as a tribute to 20 years of brewing at Troegs. What a fitting description and tribute it is.

For me… I think this is the beer that finishes your evening. It’s the beer you use to toast to the chef, your host, your friends, and your loved one. This a holiday beer at its most refined and worthy of the name Grand Cru.

Happy Thanksgiving and in the words of Viv Savage: “Have … a good time… all the time.”

Cheers!

P.S. In case you cannot tell, I really love This is Spinal Tap. I also really loved Mad Elf Grand Cru.

Show All Work: Troegs at 20

scratch_300-01

In high school math courses, the solution is not the whole answer. You must show all work. Scratch paper is provided and is part of the marking. An incorrect solution with proper methodology would typically receive partial credit. Correct answers with no work are suspect. Personally, I hated showing all my work.

For ten of the Troegs Brother’s twenty years of brewing, they have been showing us their work. They have done this with their Scratch series. And those ten years have shown us 300 equations that have been worked out.

Some of those solutions live on:

Naked Elf
¿Impending Descent?
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Troegenator
Nimble Giant
First Cut

Back around Scratch 280 or so I openly wondered on Twitter “What will Troegs do for number 300?” It is not a milestone number in the traditional sense; not like 100 or 500. But a big number nonetheless for a brewery that hit 20 years old this summer past. I thought (Read: hoped) they might do a big Barleywine. Maybe even a new Flying Mouflan. Maybe Ed’s longing for a return of the Oatmeal Stout would come to pass.

I was quite off the mark. I was not thinking big enough.

They had a plan but it wasn’t just about making one big beer. I was about celebrating the hop and its harvest. Instead of one beer… We got four big Fresh Hop Ales: #295 Comet, #296 Simcoe, #298 Citra and #300 Mosaic.

#295 Comet came in a 6.8% and used Sunny Brae Hops from Carlisle, PA. A classic hop variety that this beer allows to shine. Tropical fruit with green finish.

#296 Simcoe was my favorite of the bunch. These Yakima grown wet hops gave up their piney mango and earthy flavors in abundance. This was the most dynamic of the bunch. Have I mentioned recently my love for Simcoe?

#298 Citra was a love letter to this ubiquitous hop flower. #298 just nailed down all the flavors we have come to love and expect from Citra hops: sharp grapefruit, lemon and lime rinds. A master class in Citra hops for the uninitiated.

#300 Mosaic – Could there be a more appropriate hop to cap this foursome and be number 300 than Mosaic? This hop variety is the offspring of Simcoe and Nugget. Two varieties that are found throughout their lineup over the years. This relatively new variety (circa 2012) combines the trustworthy notes of well-established Troegs beers with a look to the future as it brings forth citrus and mango with a resinous finish. Brilliant.

So here we stand… 10 years of Scratch beers. The still new Splinter Cellar, a sight to behold. A new parking lot (wink, wink). The brothers cranking out over 100 different beers a year. Fresh social media campaigns with smart, engaging content that reflect the company culture. A major expansion of capacity that will give them years of opportunity for growth and flexibility. 20 years of work.

Troegs shows all work. Tellingly, they take joy in showing it.

There is much to be excited about if you are working at Troegs or just a loyal follower.

All of this led to me hear “This is the most fun we have ever had” from John Trogner. John said this at a celebration of their 20 years down at the Warwick Hotel. I followed up and asked him what the next 20 years would look like. He looked away and thought for a second. Then he just shrugged and said “I don’t know…” with a crooked little smile.

Maybe when you are working this hard and having this much fun you don’t want to look too far ahead for fear that you will miss the joy of being right here, right now.

Cheers to 300. Cheers to 20 years.

 

HBW and Poured in PA

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April 21 – 29, 2017

Once again as we approach late April, the return of Harrisburg Beer Week is coming upon us. This year marks the third iteration of the yearly celebration of craft beer in the Central PA area. As such, now provides a great opportunity to assess the current standing of craft beer in the (717) area code.

But first, within the Commonwealth, the past year has brought at least one challenge to local brewers in their changing relationship distributors due to legislation. Across the Nation, the total number of breweries has ballooned from 5,000 just a year ago to 5,300. This rapid expansion has been tempered by a very slight downturn in consumption across the industry. The number of guests at the table grew but the size of the pie remained the same.

Locally paints a far rosier picture. We have seen an impressive number of breweries open. There are more choices for local beer drinkers than ever before and the acceleration keeps going.

Since the last HBW, we have seen Collusion Tap Works, The Vegetable Hunter, Ever Grain, Tattered Flag, Desperate Times, Millworks, and Boneshire open their doors. We have seen the expansion of Appalachian Brewing Company and watched Troegs open its new and absolutely gorgeous Splinter Cellar. There are more bars and restaurants that are featuring local brewers; often in unique and interesting ways beyond just a tap handle. Finally, we saw a massive 12 brewer collaboration at Pizza Boy Brewing Co. that put out an outstanding beer and showcased the comradery here locally.

Looking at all of this, Harrisburg Beer Week is a great time to celebrate this now mature community within the Central PA area.

Over the course of nine days, craft beer devotees will be visiting multiple breweries, bars, and restaurants to sample unique brews or raising a pint of their favorite stalwart. We will hunt down rare firkins, tip back pints of what will be an eminently quaffable new (717) Collaboration Lager, and discuss or debate the virtues of this beer or that ale. All while raising a ton of money for a great cause, the Harrisburg River Rescue.

Much like brewers work hard to keep their lineups fresh, the Harrisburg Beer Week crew have worked hard to keep the three-year-old venture fresh with new gear and some new events or “old” events in new places. The Home Brewers Competition has been moved to the Broad Street Market in Midtown. While the ballpark was a fun and an interesting location, moving to the Market will inevitably create a more “Harrisburg” vibe. There are more events than ever, at more locations than ever. They even have a mini golf outing.

Just like craft beer in Central PA and Harrisburg Beer Week have grown, so has the craft industry throughout Pennsylvania. This provides an opportunity to tell a compelling story.

A compelling story is what GK Visual brought us in their documentary Brewed in the ‘Burg. As craft beer has expanded within the area so has their vision as they take on Poured in PA; a documentary meant to highlight craft beer throughout Pennsylvania. Making a project of this size requires money, a lot of it. That is why they have turned to crowd funding. But backing this project comes with perks; some really great ones. In fact, I have backed this project with my own money and if you love PA craft beer you should back it too.

It doesn’t take much to help out the Harrisburg River Rescue or Poured in PA. Both projects are about doing something positive around something we care about, great beer.

Post Script:

If I missed a brewery that opened since April of 2016, I am sorry but I think I caught everyone. If I missed one, let me know in the comments and I will edit accordingly.

I will have a list of my “Can’t Miss Events” next week so check back.

The new label for (717) Collaboration is amazing. It is so good. I really like it.

Also, I am happy to say that Friend of the Show, Tierney Pomone will be appearing on It’s Friday Somewhere this week to discuss all things Harrisburg Beer Week.

Finally, I apologize for the lack of posts here as of late. Between launching the new podcast and writing for October now I just have not had the chance to write much for my own blog. I hope to change that soon and expect that Bearcat on Beer will now be almost entirely my thoughts on what is happening locally.

Cheers!

Ep. 20: The Operation Shutdown Shutdown

In Episode 20, the final episode (more on that below), I am joined by friends of the show Ed Grohl and Easy Pretzel (Dave).

In this episode, Ed works really hard not to say awesome four-thousand times, we discuss if Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall is greater than Thriller, Harrisburg Beer Week’s Little Big Beer Fest, Dave considers barnstorming Hunapuh Day in Tampa, and Bearcat waxes philosophic about the ephemeral nature of short lived beers and sourcing the local culture into beer.

What were we drinking:

Dave: Saison Dupont, Bourbon County Bourbon Stout (2016) by Goose Island Beer Company
Ed: Tired Hands + Omnipollo Pineapple Milkshake, Florida Ave IPA, Mega Mix IPA
Bearcat: It’s Complicated Being a Wizard by Burlington Beer Co., HopSlam Bell’s Brewing and Nugget Nectar by Troegs Independent Brewing

We held a bottle share and we drank a ton of great beers:

Who’s on First — J. Wakefield Brewing
Phantom Chair — Fremont Brewing
Native Two — Tree House Brewing Co.
I See the Vision (Prickly Pear & Passion Fruit) — Burlington Beer Company
BuiceJox 2.0 — Sole Artisan Ales
Beatitude Passion Fruit Tart Saison — Council Brewing Company
Interlude (2015) and Pettygrove’s Chance — Allagash Brewing Company
Saison Premiere — de Garde Brewing
Hell Broth — Off Color Brewing
Kaleidoscope — Birra Toccalmatto
Mad Elf (2003) — Troegs Independent Brewing
Cave-Aged Ommegang Abbey Ale (2008) — Brewery Ommegang
Parageusia2 — Tired Hands Brewing Company
Grand Cru (2014) — AleSmith Brewing Company
Thirtieth Anniversary Grand Cru (2010) — Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Twilight of The Idols — Hill Farmstead Brewery
Brush & Barrel Series Culmination — Long Trail Brewing Company
Ola Dubh 1991: Vintage Limited Edition Series — Harviestoun Brewery
Collaboration No. 6 — Barrel-Aged Blend — Boulevard Brewing Co.
Last Buffalo in the Park — Funky Buddha Brewery
Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout (2014) — Cigar City Brewing
Bourbon Barrel Cru (2016) — Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Special thanks to Joel, Chelsie and Derek, Tierney, Nicole and Tony, Darryl for coming and sharing some fantastic beers. Special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Easy Pretzel for hosting.

Link Dump:

Hunahpu Day Cigar City
#DrinkItNow
Dixie Blackened Voodoo Lager
Harrisburg Beer Week
Little Big Beer Fest (Buy your tickets now! This will sell out.)
Untappd 3.0
Derek Bell and The Operation Shutdown
October Beer
Brew Gentlemen’s Diversity
Pittsburgh Beer Fest
Voodoo Brewing — Homestead
East End Brewing Co.

Be sure to stick around for the After Show where we will be discussing: the the shutdown of Operation Shutdown, diversity in location for breweries leading to diversity of employees and customers, and our impending launch of It’s Friday Somewhere which we are very excited for and hope you follow us there.

Finally, a serious and heartfelt thank you to everyone that ever came on the show or helped me with the recording. Special thank you to Ffej Herb, Tierney of Stouts & Stilettos, Sara Bozich, Fetish Brewing, Jeff Kupko, Chelsie and Derek, Theo Armstrong, Al Kominski and Bryan D. Roth.

Also… Thank you for listening. So many of our listeners have taken the time to not only listen but to share with others and provide feedback. I cannot tell you how much this is appreciated.

Ed, Dave and I are really excited for the new podcast and we hope you are too. We are going to be doing some great new stuff and we think you will really like it.

Thank you again to everyone that listened. Please join us as we start this new podcast in the coming weeks.

Cheers!