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.

 

Defining Craft Beer

Reinheitsgebot

A lot of hay is being made these days over the definition of “craft beer” and “craft brewer.”  Recently it appears most of these arguments stem from opposing legislation called the Fair BEER and Small BREW Acts. When boiled down, these are tax bills. Seeking to create tax relief for either small brewers (what you typically think of as craft) and big brewers (AB, MillerCoors, or The Macros). As much as I would like to wax public policy and argue that “one man’s tax relief is another man’s tax loophole” this specific issue is moot as the legislation is all but dead.

But these bills did leave the beer community with one interesting question: “Is The Boston Beer Company (AKA: Samuel Adams) a Craft Brewer?”

The question is born out of the proposed legislation’s definition of “craft brewer” being set at less than six million barrels annually.  Assuming the continuation of their current rate of growth, Boston Beer would be a macro by definition sometime in or around 2018 when it is projected to produce more than six million barrels annually.

Bryan Roth over at This Is Why I’m Drunk postulated, reasonably so, that the volume of hard tea and hard cider produced by Boston Beer has resulted in it no longer being just a beer company. Simply stated, beverages other than beer are boosting the profit margins, significantly so, that the craft brewer distinction is reasonably in question. He makes an interesting and valid point in regards to The Boston Beer Company.

But I think the question still remains… What makes a brewery “craft?”

I am going out on a limb here but I don’t think it is based on volume. It is not based on an arbitrary number of barrels produced per year. That is exactly what the figure six million barrels is, arbitrary.

To me craft brewing is about the art of brewing and a philosophy. It is about being committed to the product and the customers who buy the product. There is an entire community of beer drinkers in this country that are committed to drinking real beer. This sub-culture is made up of beer snobs, beer geeks, beer evangelists, home brewers, and community and regional breweries. In many cases once regional breweries now have bi-coastal operations and/or nationwide distribution. If there is one thing all these players have in common it’s a stake in the industry they love.

To define this fine libation and the people that make it as being craft or not craft based on arbitrary volume numbers does nothing to help understand the product nor the people making and consuming it.

So I offer this definition:

Craft Beer (krăft bîr)

n.

A fermented alcoholic beverage brewed by practitioners with the best ingredients, skilled artistry, manual dexterity, ingenuity, and exceptional quality.

Is this definition perfect? Probably not. I am not quite that arrogant and I am sure Budweiser would say their adjunct lager swill fit that definition to a T.

So maybe this is just a start to having a serious discussion about what makes craft beer, craft brewers and craft beer drinkers the incredible movement it has become. Because arguing it’s about volume says nothing about what is really important…making and drinking good beer.

Postscript:  As I wrote this I really tried to develop in as few words as possible what defines craft beer. But this is just one guy’s musing about beer and brewing. What you see above is my best shot at it. Others certainly can do better. What may be necessary is for American craft brewers to adopt their own version of the Reinheitsgebot, The German Beer Purity Law. This could be a way for the craft beer industry to define itself. 

It would be up to brewers to determine what it means to be craft and to do so with intent. This should be done as a recognized understanding and commitment for the sake of the consumer.

The incredible limitations of the German Purity Laws obviously do not fit for the American craft beer industry but the intent at its heart does. An incorporation of guild regulations, adhered to by brewers in the collective, could help an industry experiencing skyrocketing growth and stave off the potential fallout of a bursting bubble in the years to come. It would be a promise to the consumer that the product adheres to strict and exacting standards and that it is of the highest quality.

Is doing this very, very difficult? Yes. But as Nicolas Winton said “I work on the motto that if something is not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.” This is not impossible.

Toasting Harrisburg Beer Week’s Grand Success

HBW

Harrisburg Beer Week was by all accounts from everyone I have talked to an unqualified success.

Tierney, Sara, Chelsie and Colleen worked hard and delivered a series of events that were one right after another impressive examples of both their hard work and the state of the craft beer business here in Central PA. I am greatly appreciative of this.

There were too many great events for anyone to attend them all. My personal highlights were the kick off event at ABC and the sublime (717) Collaboration Ale release, Victory Brewing firkins showing up outside their natural habitat, Moo-Duck Brewery tapping their Just for Fun ginger infused Saison, ZerØday debuting the fantastically funky and dry Sasion 28, The Little Big Beer Fest, and the Evolution Brewing party at Sturges Speakeasy.

I got to jump on with the Beer Busters Podcast; that was surreal and fun. I got to see my “beer friends” and to raise a glass with them. It goes without saying that I had the chance to try some fantastic beers. Everything about the week was a celebration in the truest sense.

It’s easy for people to be dismissive of this area and to say “Nothing happens around here.” That is bullshit. There are plenty of great things happening around here. Harrisburg Beer Week was only one example of all the great things happening here. It was a celebration of the great work people in this area doing in just one industry.  It was impressive even to someone who watches closely all that is going on in and around craft beer.

I hope that is one of the lasting effects from this past week. That people were exposed to a new brewery that they had yet to visit or experience. The great lasting effect would be for breweries like The Brewery at Hershey, St. Boniface, Crystal Ball, and Free Will to have earned new loyal customers.

The good news is Harrisburg Beer Week will be back next year around the same time. So the good news is, although it is over we get to do it all again next year.

Cheers!