Ep. 8 : The Central PA Six-Pack

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In this episode of the Operation Shutdown, I am joined again by special guest Tierney from StoutsandStilettos.com. This time we discuss former guest Bryan D. Roth’s The Six-Pack Project and offer our take on a Central PA version.

The point of The Six-Pack Project is to identify six local beers that best represent our area’s craft beer offerings. Bryan lays down a couple rules:

1. This isn’t simply a “best of” list. The goal is to pick a collection of six beers that represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
2. Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
3. Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
4. Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred. Specialty or one-off brews are not allowed.

Be sure to check out Bryan’s blog This Is Why I’m Drunk and the other lists on from his Six-Pack Project.

After you listen, if you want to flame Tierney or I for the our selections, be sure to yell at us on Twitter: @tyrannytierney and @BearcatOnBeer. We are ready to defend our hot takes!

What we were drinking:

Troegs Independent Brewing Scratch 256
Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co. Shape of Hops to Come
WeyerbacherBrewing  Imperial Pumpkin Ale (2015)
Pizza Boy Brewing Co. Sunny Side Up Stout BBA

The Central PA Six-Pack:

Troegs Independant Brewing Dreamweaver
Victory Brewing Company Prima Pils
Yuengling Porter
Stoudts Scarlet Lady ESB
Troegs Perpetual IPA
PizzaBoy Brewing Co. Sunny Side Up Stout

Honorable Mentions:
Victory Brewing Company Dirtwolf
Selin’s Grove Brewing (Sasion De Peche)
ZerOday Brewing Company Mango Hab
Liquid Hero Brewery Juste Le Bout Saison

Other mentioned beers/links —
Victory’s Parkesburg location
The Shape of Jazz to Come
The Shape of Punk to Come
Troegs’ Open Top Fermentation (This is a cool video)
Elysian Brewing Pumpking Punkuccino
Southern Tier Brewing Co. Pumpking Cold Press
Stone Brewing Crime and Punishment
Tattered Flag in Middletown, PA
Millworks, Harrisburg PA

Be sure to stick around for the After Show. Special thanks to Tierney for coming on the show.

You can listen by clicking above or find The Operation Shutdown on iTunes. If you use iTunes, please consider subscribing. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider leaving a review and sharing it with a friend.

Cheers!

Napster, Music with Daddy Issues, and NE IPAs

Napster Bad Beer Good
Lars Ulrich can go to hell.

There are two pieces of technology in my lifetime that immediately after I saw them I understood everything would be different going forward.

The first was Napster.* The summer before Napster turned all of Gen X into pirates, my college strung all the dormitories with high speed internet lines in every room. It was uncanny.

I will never forget the awe of watching Heart of Glass download onto a computer in 30 seconds and then playing it out the booming speakers of my roommates DJ level audio equipment. The Internet officially grew up in that instant for me. Connectivity was real and it was profound.

At that moment everything changed. The music industry in this country can be broken into pre-Napster and post-Napster eras. Nothing was ever the same once music could be stolen.

Similarly, the first time I got to try a North-East Style IPA I knew this would be a shift.

For me, it started like it does for many people coming to this style, with Heady Topper. Here was a beer with moderately high ABV, hazy looks, solid mouth feel and juicy crushable flavors that makes it quaffable. It was unlike anything I had experienced before in an IPA.

The West Coast style IPA hop bomb had been put on notice. We have a new player in town.

Since then Tired Hands, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Maine Brewing Company and Hill Farmstead Brewery have crossed my lips. I am now actively seeking Tree House Brewing Company, Trillium Brewing Company, 14th Star Brewing Co.,and others.

West Coast IPA still have their place. In years past, I made a special trips for Blind Pig and Pliny the Elder and the Younger. I love Racer 5 and Sculpin. Sierra Nevada Torpedo is a widely available classic. I have sought out some of the greatest of these hoppy, bitter, and floral beers and plan to continue to enjoy them. But… its the NE style that gets me excited now.

This past weekend I saw Everclear in concert at The Vineyard at Hershey for their annual Merlot and Flash Gord’n release party. It was nostalgic listening to music from my high school years. Music that pumped from my beloved Sony Discman into my car stereo through a cassette tape adapter.

Everclear is both pre and post-Napster. Pre-Napster, the music industry was in balance. Music labels controlled the distribution, consumers paid too much, and artists got screwed by management. It worked…in a sense. After the Napster revolution the revenue plummeted, control by the labels went to hell, and artists still got screwed.

While I was standing there listening to Art Alexakis embody the North West grudge sound and singing about his deadbeat dad, I sipped on a solo cup of Hippie Ki-Yay! by Brewmaster Ryan DeLutis for The Brewery at Hershey. Its a juicy and fruity NE Style IPA, as hazy as it is crushable.  As such, Hippie Ki-Yay! rises with this newest wave of craft beers.

Is the NE IPA here to break up the West Coast IPA’s reign of dominance? Unlikely and only time will tell. Yet, the differences between the two styles of IPA is stark. A well done West Coast IPA is floral, bitter, and in its most extreme, punishing to the palate. NE IPAs are crushable, easy drinking with low bitterness and a subtle sweetness boosting the citrus of copious hops.

Everclear’s second album So Much For the Afterglow was their biggest success.  Debuting after the MP3 file sharing revolution, the album’s title could have been a send off for the height of a once dominate industry. Unlike Napster crumbling the foundation of music, NE IPAs should be welcomed as a buttress to a growing movement.

Ryan DeLutis’ Hippy Ki-Yay! shows a brewer coming into his own after several years of plying his trade professionally. While not quite to the standard of the stalwarts of this burgeoning style it is very good nonetheless. In Hippy Ki-Yay!, the Citra and Mosaic hops come through but minus the punishing bitters of the west coast style variants while having that full bodied mouth feel. More importantly it is a way to try the NE IPA style minus the hundreds of miles and days stalking around New England bottle shops and breweries.

It is a very good beer that shows even the small local breweries can push a revolution.

Post-Script:

*The second of the two pieces of tech was when Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone. No one had any way of knowing that it would become the most successful piece of hardware in tech history. What I did understand immediately was the power of having the Internet in your pocket. I assumed it would change everything and I had to have one. I still love my iPhone(s) more than any other piece of tech I own. They are personal.

I am also a Apple Fanboy so take all that with the biases regularly associated with this disclaimer.

If you are a Gen Xer you really should watch Downloaded a 2013 documentary about the rise and fall of Napster. It is very, very good and a great run through the music of our youth. Also it has a bunch of Kurt Loder MTV news clips.

Listening to Everclear these days it is easy to assume that they have more daddy issues than can be found on a porn set.

The first time I had Blind Pig down at Monk’s Cafe in 2012 it was easy to see how this beer sparked the West Coast IPA. Years later I would get to enjoy Russian Rivers’ Pliny the Elder and the Younger. Transcendent beers still to this day. The West Coast IPA style is not in decline in my opinion but the NE style is making waves.

Vineyard at Hershey had 10,000 people come out to see Everclear. I never would have thought they would get that many. I don’t think they did either. Beer lines were very long. But word is they plan to deal with it next year with more taps to get shorter lines.

Hippie Ki-Yay! is better than Hoppy Ki Yay by Lonerider Brewing Company out of Raliegh, NC, which I also liked. But the name with the “Hoppy” works way better than Hippie. Sometimes being first pays big dividends.

Also the art work for Hippie Ki-Yay! just does not work for me. Is that a hippie Bruce Willis/John McClain? That is just wrong on so many levels. But it is way better than the stupid meme at the top of this post.

Die Hard is a Top 5 movie of all time and it is the greatest Christmas movie of all time. Period.

Playing To Your Strengths

Playing to your strengths is generally good advice. It lets you play the game or do the work with the greatest chance of success. During a recent visit to Moo-Duck Brewery in Elizabethtown, PA that concept of “playing to one’s strengths” came to mind.

 

I had ordered a glass of Moo-Duck’s 291 Experimental IPA. This slightly hazy, light bodied, 5.8% IPA was unusual. It had a bit of citrus in the nose along with sweet smelling flowers. I was expecting it to be a mosaic hopped beer as I took my first sip but this was herbal and earthy. While it had floral notes, as the beer warmed up in the glass the floral quelled and herbal notes took complete control by adding a slight spiciness to the front and a long finish of faint eucalyptus and mild mint. I liked it.

The name of this beer is in reference to the hops that give it the distinct flavors, Experimental Hop 291, or LORAL as it has been branded. Moo-Duck’s newest small batch IPA beautifully showcases this relatively new hop variety.

What brewer Mike Brubaker has done here is play to his strengths. I have said it before when describing Moo-Duck and it is just as true today: Moo Duck’s beers are best when they are playing with earthy, flowery, and herbal flavors; the flavors of the outdoors.

291 Experimental IPA does just that.

You would be hard pressed to find a guy more down to Earth than Mike or his wife Kristen. So it makes sense that their beers should also reflect this. 291 Experimental IPA plays to their strengths and in the little I know them, their personalities. Easy drinking but earthy, it is a unique IPA that nicely showcases a new hop profile you probably have yet to meet.

Cheers!

Post Script:

Moo-Duck currently has The Remedy on tap as well. If you are looking for an herbal and flowery beer, brewed locally, you will be unlikely to find one more daring or interesting one. This wheat beer is brewed with local honey and an insane amount of Chamomile.

There are times where certain styles just work for a brewery. A great example of this is Victory Brewing Co. and pilsner. It a style of beer they work with well. They make many other fine beers but if its a pilsner, you can take it to the bank that it will be a world beater.

I have dropped some hints to it on Twitter, but tomorrow night I am recording Ep. 4 of The Operation Shutdown Podcast… and I really think this one will be gangbusters. Expect it to post sometime over the weekend. If I am lucky, it will be done by Friday night.

Don’t Overthink It. Just Drink The Damn Beer

Some beers are for sipping quietly late at night as a finish to the evening. These beers are subtle, deep, and complex. They are best enjoyed with quiet contemplation and either a book or a cigar.

Some beers are for drinking with a fine meal. They are built to cut through rich foods with flavors curated to compliment.

Some beers are a transcendent experience that can change the way you enjoy and/or think about beer in general. Beers that are to be celebrated by themselves, just as they are and as an achievement. These are beers that can go beyond just mere “whalez” status.

Then there are beers for drinking. These are my favorite. The ones that are not pretension. That are packed with hard, easy to define flavors, and come packing heat. These are beers for cracking open while lighting up the grill or starting the camp fire.

I am drinking these beers because I have nowhere to be, I have no work left to complete. The grass is mowed. The day is done and its only 3 pm. I am day drinking and I am proud of it.

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Troegs Independent Brewing’s Nimble Giant is that beer.

Troeg’s newest once-a-year offering is a double IPA and is slightly outside their wheelhouse* while still being a thoroughly impressive IPA packed with citrus, tangerine, papaya and apricot flavors. It has a bit of pepper in the middle and the finish is peaches with a hint of alcohol that reminds you that this weighs in at a not subtle 9.0% ABV.

Troegs had the bollocks to put this heavy hitter into pounder cans. It’s a statement. This beer is for drinking. This is not a whale that you sip at your friend’s bottle share. This is a beer that tastes just fine right from the can, in the summer heat, quaffed boldly.

This is not a sipper even at 9%. Buy a four pack. Throw it on ice and sit on the deck and drink it. Enjoy the hell out of a big, boozy, tasty beer that tastes like Saturday afternoons in July feel.

Just drink the damn beer. It’s good.

Post Script:

I purchased a case of Nimble Giant in the summer of 2015 and it was really great but the body and the flavors on it this year is just fantastic. It seems like over the past year they took what they learned in making the small run and just took it all up a notch for this wider release.

If you want a fruit flavored filled double IPA this is the one. You don’t need to buy some fruit infused beer to get these flavors.

Yes…A four-pack (or six) of these is quite an afternoon. So what? Where else you got to be?

*Credit to @EdGrohl for this. You can hear his take on this beer in the pilot episode of Operation Shutdown.

 

Total Mango Bomb Recall

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Total Recall is a fantastic movie. I love the original. It is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best movies. It is a fantastically crafted original story by Philip K. Dick, brought to life on the screen and has aged pretty well for a sci-fi flick from 1990.

The 2012 remake was an absolute mess and it bombed at the box office.

Pizza Boy recently attempted their own remake of a classic.

Al Kominski had a hand in brewing at least two Tröegs Scratch beers by my recollection: Scratch 58 and 98. Those Scratch Triple Mango IPAs, were high gravity beers with mango and hops in massive quantities. They were great. Classics of the Central PA craft brewing revolution.

Fast forward to 2016 and Mango Bomb was touted as an “extreme beer,” this time by Pizza Boy. It too was brewed with an insane amount of mango and hops to go along with its 14% ABV.

This beer is bombed out in every sense.

I was excited to try it. I recalled the first two Mango Triple IPAs. I even pulled a cellared Scratch 98 out for #DrinkItNow in February. These were great beers. I was hoping for a great remake but I got something else.

The beer is totally opaque and sits thick in the glass. Mouth feel is akin to a thin, lightly carbonated tomato juice. The smell is mangos, dank hops, and booze. This beer is boozy from start to finish; and not pleasantly.

The flavors are of mango puree and mango rind. The hops are aggressive and punishing. The alpha acid bitterness, off the charts and lacking a balance of sweetness or malts to make it tolerable. The finish is that of Everclear and rubbing alcohol. This beer is bombed out so the name is appropriate. As a study for what is possible when pushing flavors to the extreme this beer achieves, but little else as it is nearly undrinkable.

Mango Bomb is like the three breasted mutant hooker from Total Recall. That sounds awesome. I wanted to see that.

But three tits are just weird and I only have two hands. So why was I so excited in the first place? More can sometimes just be more; not better.

Also the remakes rarely live up to the original. This remake was a bomb in name and result.

Post Script:

I have praised Al and Terry many times here on this blog and elsewhere. Unquestionably, they make great beers. Hell, they brewed a phenomenal beer with Boo-Berry cereal. But this one was a mess and just awful. That was a first for these guys. If they go another five years without putting out a bad beer, who could find much fault in that?

I was slow to post this, so now the beer is off the tap list at Al’s. I hope it gets toned down before making another appearance.

I hate ripping a beer. I don’t particularly like doing it.

 

“I Smell An Imaginary Smell.”

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I sometimes let my five-year-old daughter take a smell of my beers. I generally do this with beers that have a strong aroma. I like to see her thinking about the different things that she can pick up just from taking a whiff.

Recently, she took a sniff of RAR’s Naniticoke Nectar, a hazy IPA with bold citrus and nectar flavors. When she took a deep inhale her response was “I smell an imaginary smell.”

Imaginary smells…

That sums up so much of what makes many beers great. We inhale deeply and savor IPAs with citrus and tropical notes, or piney dankness. We drink grassy farmhouse ales which harken to the earthiness of the barn and the smell of horse blankets. Russian imperial stouts can have vanilla, coffee, and toffee aromas.

These nuanced flavors are often achieved by carefully extracting them from raw ingredients that individually and before manipulation by the brewer do not appear. What we sense are molecular compounds that in their make-up smell and taste like other familiar foods and flavors (i.g. Beer brewed with Citra hops have flavors akin to grapefruit along with lemon and orange zest.) These analogous compounds are described when we talk about craft beer.

They are “imaginary smells.” We are sensing aromas and flavors of things that don’t actually exist within the beer. They often were not used in the brewing process and instead we use widely understood examples to describe what we sense. What a cool concept. It really does make the brewer’s work seem like alchemy.

This leads me to a terrible opinion:

I am already tired of these fruit infused IPAs.

I did not always feel this way. Just over year ago I was praising the return of Aprihop by Dogfish Head as one of my favorite beers and one of the few worthy of purchasing an entire case. I loved Aprihop and now… well… Dogfish replaced it with an even fruitier beer. It’s not bad. It’s not great either.

Full disclosure… I have a difficult relationship with most fruit beers. They are, in general, just not to my taste. Fruity beer leaves me conflicted at best and very unsatisfied at worst.

Mostly, fruit in an IPA is one of those “less is more” ideas. The less it is leveraged via the use of actual fruit the more likely I am to enjoy it. If there are fruit flavors to be had in a beer I believe the best way to achieve them via the proper use of grains, hops, yeast and other traditional ingredients. Bombing out a beer with fruits (or so help me an EXTRACT) is always fraught with danger. To do so with an IPA is even more suspect.

We are on the cusp of fruit IPAs taking over this summer. We are going to get orange and blood orange, grapefruit, apricot, peach, watermelonpineapple, pineapple, and pineapple IPAs out the ears this summer. They will be everywhere. Everyone is making them. It is going to be overwhelming.

I am already tired of it.

This is trend is hitting harder and faster than pumpkin beers during the third week of July.

When Grapefruit Sculpin first hit taps and later cans… I jumped in line to give it a try and I liked it. McGrath’s in downtown HBG got it on Nitro? I had to get down there. It was a great beer. Still is. It is just no longer novel and was simply existing as the crest of a giant wave.

The niche became a trend and soon, if not already, it is a fad run amuck.

I was interested and intrigued by the concept of a fruit infused IPAs when it was novel but now that they are downright ubiquitous they are uninteresting. Some taste like nothing but fruit juice mixed with a slightly hopped beer. Most seem to me more fruit than IPA. I think they are generally, overly sweet, lack subtly and are above all derivative.

The citrus, fruit or “tropical” and IPAs which use massive quantities of fruit to achieve their distinct flavor are going to burn hot and fast. I suspect it will pass through the industry in short order. Then on to the next trend.

Post Script:

/chugs Haterade

I regret nothing.

Is this a sign of an “organic homogenization” of craft brewing? I hope not but with the industry in an interesting state of flux, competition getting hot, and buyouts at every turn this might be part of the fall out. Everyone chasing trends and a bit less diversity in offerings.

The Craft Beer Industry has been chasing trends for a long time but these days they seem to come faster and faster. Additionally, there is little to differentiate each beer when these trends take hold.

I admit that initially the trend was intriguing, I quickly turned against that feeling. These beers are just not all that interesting. Doubly true for the pineapple and watermelon IPAs; they make no sense to me.

The only thing worse than pineapple beers is watermelon beers. The only thing worse than watermelon beers is pumpkin beers.

The only thing worse than that is pumpkin beers in July. Look at this. Southern Tier advertises that Pumking is availble in JULY.

JULY!

Extra special thanks to lil’ Ms. Bearcat for being my muse on this one.

 

My 2016 (717) Collaboration Ale Review

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For the 2nd annual Harrisburg Beer Week, the guys at Appalachian Brewing Company, Tröegs Independent Brewing and Pizza Boy Brewing came together to brew a special collaborative beer. Last year’s (717) beer was a crazy brew that inspired a full review and deep musings on my part about my journey to craft beer.

This year’s collaboration beer has me thinking less about my journey to enjoying and now writing about craft beer. Instead I am thinking about the position of craft beer in Central PA and what it tells us about brewing decisions.

Before I even had my first sip of (717) on opening night, I was gathering thoughts about the brew as word slowly leaked out. I heard some rumors early on that this year’s collab brew would be draft only. Two theories swirled around this rumor: 1. Last year’s (717) did not sell well. It wasn’t well received and some cases languished on shelves. 2. It’s hard to get cans.

The later reasoning came from a more reliable source and it is the one I believe. I can understand not getting pounders, everyone but for the very biggest of contracts is getting squeezed by that issue. Even getting 12oz cans printed and ready on short notice can be nearly impossible.

The former was speculation with a halo of truthiness and at least had anecdotal support. While I enjoyed last year’s HBG Beer Week ale it was not widely loved and many people openly derided it as being a “hot mess.”

So maybe the brewers played it a little safe this year. They made a big, tasty ale but one that is more approachable and in line with a current and rising trend (e.g. citrus IPAs).

The 2016 version of (717) is an American IPA brewed with Citra, Nugget, and Azacca hops and the zest of 400 oranges. The opening aroma is nothing but orange. You pick up the oranges as the beer is pouring from the tap in front of you. They are abundant and wonderful. The hops fill out the middle with citrus, mango, and other tropical fruits. This is an IPA but it is not a bombed out bitter west coaster. The finish is long and leaves you with orange oils. This is an easy drinking IPA that belies the 7.17% ABV. The red hue of the medium bodied ale is really great and kind of mystifies the style and taste.

2016’s (717) is a beer that will not be challenged in finding happy imbibers. This is a double edged sword for me. I like this beer and I like it a lot. Yet I personally enjoyed last year’s “hot mess” more. It was pushing boundaries and challenged the craft beer drinker. It was a bold beer that played with clashing styles. It’s various and competing flavors borrowed heavily from the three brew houses. 2015’s (717) made for a more dynamic beer with multiple layers of stratified flavors.

I like to think that those that did not favor the 2015 version were saying “There are simply too many notes.” But that would be dismissive of them.

I believe in “fortes fortuna iuvat.” 2016’s (717) is bold in flavor but lacks the daring of 2015.

This year’s (717) is riding at the crest of a wave of tropical and citrus IPAs that are washing over the craft beer market and should make for a very popular beer during Harrisburg Beer Week and beyond… until it sells out. Go grab one and tell me what you think.

Cheers.

Post Script:

At the opening of Harrisburg Beer Week, Tierney and I shared a can of the 2015 (717). I can tell you that it hasn’t aged well. After spending a year in the Bearcat cellar it acquired an impressively strong “nail polish remover” note. Just because it was daring does not mean it had staying power. 2015 (717) crashed harder than a ’72 Ford Pinto. 

“The 16oz Can Crunch of 2016” is a real problem. I get it. There is a shortage of cans, specifically the 16oz cans, but that does not mean I have to just quietly accept this disappointment.

I am overly proud of myself for coming up with “The 16oz Can Crunch of 2016.” #NotSorry