Fresh Flick and a Fresh Beer.

Brewed in the Burg

This past weekend GK Visual and SaraBozich.com released Brewed in the Burg, a documentary now available online at Vimeo. This film debuted during Harrisburg Beer Week to resounding praise.

I caught it then but now that it is online, I wanted to take the time to really digest the film. It was an opportunity to pick up on all the nuance and ideas kicked around by the Who’s Who of the Harrisburg-area craft beer industry. It is an impressive line up of interviews:

So I hunted down the freshest local beer I could find to enjoy while watching. I found the perfect beer. It was a Crowler of Pizza Boy’s Murren River IPA; a super fresh batch tapped just two days prior (7/12/15).
The Murren River was piney and dank in the nose. Heady as hell, this straw colored American IPA is excellent from start to finish. Well bodied with a great clean mouth feel it providing a firm head that laced the glass perfectly. Murren River had a slight sweetness that was cut with balanced piney and citrus hops. The finish is of orange and a subtle hint of earth and grass. It came with a long dry finish that belies the easy drinking tones. This beer clocks in like a Cruiserweight with 7.6% ABV but drinks well below its weight class.

I loved this beer and it merges perfectly with a important quality of craft beer discussed within Brewed in the Burg. Right in the middle, it discusses the importance of freshness. This is the obvious and unassailable advantage of drinking local craft beer. It is impossible to get a beer as fresh as I did today any other way. This matters. It tastes better and you are getting the beer exactly as the brewer intended.

The other themes discussed are true of any craft beer community: supporting local business, fraternity between brewers, friendships cultivated among beer drinkers and a love for great beer.

The way this film is true to Harrisburg is the people on which it focuses. It could get easily lost that this documentary is about just craft beer brewed in Harrisburg. What Sara and GK Visual have done is weave a story about local brewers, small businessmen and women, beer drinkers and people that write about it or just enjoy drinking it. These are salt of the earth people that are doing extraordinary things in an extraordinary industry. Stick around and watch the outtakes… This was a great reminder that these are just hardworking people; many of them making good on a dream.

Craft beer becomes a conduit for telling their story. That is the take away from Brewed in the Burg. The slickly shot and edited documentary is about the people that make the local craft beer industry possible.

Please check out the video at http://vimeo.com/gkvisual/brewedintheburg and use the tip jar. Brewed in the Burg is a movie worth a couple of your bucks. This doc will give you an understanding of how a sublime Intangible Ale, a crisp Sunshine Pils or whatever you are nursing at ZerØday got into your glass. Through people’s hard work and dedication to the craft of brewing beer.

Juxtaposed Breweries Help Define Community Brewing

Even given the explosive growth of the craft beer industry it may seem strange to say that sleepy little Elizabethtown, PA has two breweries. Moo-Duck Brewery opened eight months ago and has a wonderful location a stone’s throw across from the beautiful train station. Then, this past week Cox Brewing Company opened its doors to the general public for growler fills.

A fellow beer drinker and I decided to visit the two during an especially rainy day. What we came to find is two completely different approaches to craft brewing.

Our first visit was to Cox Brewing Company. Cox is a veteran-owned brewery started by Nick Cox and Tim Kreider. Pulling up to the industrial park located brewery you immediately get a sense that these guys are passionate about their service to this country and brewing beer. The winks and nods to military service are everywhere but are not overwhelming and tastefully give it character.

Three beers were on tap: Liberty Lager, 82nd Amber Ale and CH-47 IPA. Talking with Nick and Tim about the beers showed they had put thought into their product and its place in the local market. Cox makes beer for people that may not have considered trying a craft beer. The three brews are as approachable as the men brewing them.

The Liberty Lager is a pale lager brewed for the guy that likes an ice cold Budweiser tallboy but wants something with a bit more bite, or to support a local business. The beer was dry and clean with a easy noble hops bitterness in the short finish.

82nd Amber Ale was the best of the three with a great color and a thick frothy head that sticks to the glass. Medium bodied with a proper malts and hops balance for the style. Tim put this beer as between a Yuengling and Sam Adams and that description nails it. The guy that regularly orders a “lager” at the bar would be wise to consider this one.

CH-47 IPA is a crisp ale with a easy drinking bitterness. CH-47 is not bombed out with hops but instead provides a gateway for the first time IPA drinker. Clean in the start with a slightly dry finish it would make for a nice compliment to a burger.

Brewing beer requires hard work and can be described as an investment of “blood, sweat, and tears.” For Nick and Tim this looks to be true. They are investing themselves in this business. In fact, Tim lost three fingers building a Jockey Box; due what I assume is to an accident with a saw.  Nick and Tim are committed and passionate about both beer and veteran service.

When asked if they plan to sell pints at the brewery they expressed a focus on continuing to to serve their bar and restaurant customers in the area. They do fill growlers and offer generous samples at the brewery making it well worth a visit.

Our next stop was Moo-Duck Brewery; a short five minute drive from Cox. I have visited Moo-Duck about a half-dozen times since their opening and after about eight months I feel like they are starting to hit a stride. The beers are coming into focus; as exemplified by their two seasonal beers now on tap.

Honey! Strawberry Blonde is brewed with 48 pounds of fresh local strawberries, carefully picked and cleaned by hand. By the pictures in the link you can see they are the tiny, bright red variety; these I personally favor. The only thing the beer missed was tiny seeds to pick out of your teeth. Crisp and refreshing but not overly sweet. Its soft pink hue and bubbly light body complimented the flavors well. Strawberry in the nose and slightly tart and sweet in the finish. It was wonderful and the perfect example of what is possible with local seasonal brewing. It is highly recommended.

The last beer of the day was Big Sit Summer Ale, another fruit beer made with lemon and orange peel and dosed with orange blossom honey. The citrus tones are evident in the nose and the honey comes across nicely in finish. Light and refreshing with lemon and orange coming though as equals playing well together. Eminently drinkable this is a great beer to enjoy on your back porch.

Kristen Brubaker was tending bar and again greeted me with a warm welcoming approach and was quick with a refill of my glass. Talking with her that day and with Mike previously reveals the different approach this couple has compared to their new neighbors. Mike (the brewer) and Kristen are former environmental educators. This permeates their approach to both the brewing and the business. These beers and the food they offer are based on what is local and fresh and are just outside the mainstream.

These two breweries are juxtaposed in many ways that provides a fascinating look at the different approaches available within this booming industry. Cox Brewing Company and Moo-Duck Brewery are servicing the same community in different ways; both in brewing style and business plan.

While Cox is sticking to traditional styles, Moo-Duck is trying daring variations on the classics. Cox is servicing local restaurants and only recently started selling growlers. Moo-Duck is slinging the beer at their own bar and only going into restaurants and bars cautiously; as they pointed out in a recent Beer Busters podcast.

But both are clearly committed to the community. Cox is partnered with veteran charities that they support and are doing good by those that served. Moo-Duck partners monthly with a local charity to offer a “charity brew” providing 50 cents from each pint sold.

Moo-Duck and Cox are both an example of what community brewing is capable of providing.  Breweries historically had been and should be part of the community they service.  Seeing this develop in Elizabethtown is adding to the quality of the community.  “Drink local” is not just a slogan. Drinking local beer is good for the economy and for the industry. So if you are in or near western Lancaster county or just passing through… give these two a try.

Celebrating 20 Years of Off Center Thinking and Brewing

Some people live a charmed life.  Sam Calagione always seemed like that kind of guy to me.  20 years ago this week Sam founded Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware.  Over the past two decades the brewery has grown into a 175,000 barrel behemoth in craft beer, Sam has become a spokesperson for craft brewing, and few others have done more to move the industry forward.

Everyone knows Dogfish Head.

I have the pleasure of visiting Rehoboth about two to three times a year.  I have run the Dogfish Dash, and will again this year.  The brewery in Milton is a great place to visit and I always make a stop at the brewpub. The brewpub is where to check out what strange one offs and new brews are on tap. When it comes to Dogfish… If they brew it, I will buy it.

My favorite time to visit the brewpub is during the off season on Wednesdays.  Way-back Wednesday is when they tap an aged keg of beer (at least 2 years old) and offer some tasty bottles for sale out of their cellar.  In the early spring of 2009, I purchased two 2006 bottles of 120 Minute IPA, and then I promptly put them away for a special day.

120 Minute IPA is described as “the Holy Grail for hop heads.”  Though the “whale” status on 120 Minute IPA has diminished due to ever changing tastes and wider availability, this beer still delivers a phenomenal experience.  The two hour boil while continuously being hopped and the month long dry hopped aging process leaves you with a beer that is 15-20% ABV and a palate wrecking level of bitterness.

To celebrate 20 years of off center thinking and brewing I opened the nine year old bottle of 120 Minute IPA and poured it into a DFH IPA glass.  The aging process produces significant changes in this brew.  The hazy golden hue turns to a deep mahogany.  The hop oils disappear and leave behind a sweet strong brew.  The harsh astringency of alcohol is mellowed; still boozy but more inviting.  The nose is somewhat oddly of maple and cherries with a slight orange tone.  This full bodied beer comes across as downright heavy.  Sipping brings forth rich malts with cherry and brown sugar sweetness.  This beer is sweet but without a saccharin-like finish.  It’s a proper sweetness.  Light in carbonation, and long lasting in the finish, a 12 oz. bottle will last all evening or split perfectly between two.

I have yet to find a beer that is capable of such dramatic change via aging as this one. After resting for a number of years it can take on the depth and complexity of a top shelf after dinner cordial.  A fresh 120 and a well-aged one are only discernable as the same brew by the label on the bottle.  It is a magical transformation.

The general rule is “hoppy” beers must be consumed fresh to get all their dank, resin, citrus and pine like flavors at peak.  But this beer is the exception.  I much prefer it aged 5 or more years and I am very happy that I have many more sleeping quietly in the dark waiting for their day.

Dogfish Head and Sam Calagione are champions for an entire industry.  They make great beer.  Period.  But their 20 years of success are not based on a charmed existence or good luck.  Anyone that has watched Beer Wars or the short lived series Brew Masters knows that their success is based on hard work, an exacting demand for quality, and unrelenting desire to push the envelope.  I think it is clear that this brewery is aging just as well as their top flight beer. They both are just getting better with the years.

A Beer as Prologue For My Love of Craft Beer

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About dozen years ago, when I first moved to Harrisburg from Pittsburgh I lived in downtown on North 2nd Street. I visited the bar scene along my street three to four nights a week. I worked at a beer distributor as a second job a couple weeknights and on weekends. Back then I considered myself above the average beer drinker because I preferred Guinness and spoke well of Yuengling Porter. Drinking dark beer alone a differentiator and sign of my good taste.

Then one cold afternoon more than a decade ago I wandered into Troegs Brewing Company’s tasting room; the one that used to be in Harrisburg. I had a Hopback, a Pale Ale or maybe even a Troeganator… it blew my mind. Here was beer of a completely different nature. It was flavorful in a way I did not know it could be. It was a revelation in every sense of the word.

Shortly there after, seeking out other beers of high regard I stepped into Appalachian Brewing Company (ABC) on Cameron Street. Their beers were sweeter and more approachable but no less interesting to my plebe beer tasting palate. Here again was beer brewed with care and respect. ABC’s then brewer, now owner/brewmaster of Roundabout Brewing in Pittsburgh, was my neighbor. This along with drinking regularly at Troegs helped expand my interest in craft beers.

Years later after I had given up on corporate beer and became fully committed to craft brews, a couple friends and I discovered Al’s of Hampden. This was back when he had six tables and maybe twenty or so taps. Here my world opened to styles of beer that I couldn’t have found elsewhere… Saisons, Black IPAs (remember when they were the new hotness), West Coast and triple IPAs and “What the hell is Brettanomyces?”

So last night at the Harrisburg Beer Week kickoff party, I had a beer that in many ways celebrated not just the region but my own journey to craft beer. (717) Collaboration Ale by ABC, Pizza Boy Brewing (Al’s of Hampden), and Troegs Brewing Company is my history with beer in a can. While Sara Bozich and the ladies at Stouts and Stilettos kicked off what took a ton of work to birth, I was thinking about my decade long journey with beer and the Harrisburg area; the two are woven together.

(717) Collaboration Ale is a strange beer that is brewed for a wonderfully strange area code. The area code where it gets its name holds a company town where government is the company. It is also home to some of the most fertile farmland in the country. The area has city life and Amish carriages all at once. Just as the area code is a hybrid, so is this beer. It has the character of noble hops like an IPA with the range of flavors of a Farmhouse Ale/Saison. This beer is hoppy in the front with a pronounced sweetness while providing the long dry finish and Chardonnay tang of a farmhouse brew.

Hybrid beers by their very nature are complex but this one is just uncanny in its depth. It starts with a billowy and long lasting head from a vigorous pour that provides a welcome yeast and peppery aroma along with some sweet and sour flavors in the nose. The slightly amber and completely clear and clean appearance are inviting and representative of the exacting standards these brewers demand.

The flavor profile provides for a bit of the honey sweetness up front as is typical for ABC beers in my opinion. The middle is all hops with a generous Nugget hop profile that is all Troegs. The finish is long and dry with a proper white wine and slightly sour notes clearly attributed to Pizza Boy Brewing’s history of sublime sours. The ability to definitively pick out the distinct characteristics of the three brew houses is truly unique for this collaboration. This beer is incredibly impressive on multiple levels.

The 7.17% ABV ale is easy drinking and sits comfortably in either a standard pint glass to be casually imbibed or savored in a snifter quietly with reflection. 

It is available on draft during Harrisburg Beer Week at Al’s of Hampden, ABC, and Troegs and will be released in 16 oz cans on Monday, April 27th at distributors in the area. If you get the chance, I highly recommend picking some up.

(717) Collaboration Ale gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

CSA Beer > CSA Arugula

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Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a big deal these days.  It does things like providing direct support to local and community farms and giving families season long access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  That is a good thing.  It also lets you lord over your friends with things like how you KNOW where your food comes from, “I only eat seasonally available food”, and “my home is now only farm to table.”

It’s the first step towards being an anti-GMO, anti-vaxxer truther but as long as you keep just to the CSA, we your friends, promise to not hate you too much.

The guys at Fetish Brewing Company (simply known as Aaron, Brandon, and Mike) have taken the CSA farming idea and applied it to brewing.

I did not sign up back in January when the chance appeared.  Now after finding two of their brews at The Fridge and finally giving them a try I am starting to regret it.

You see, my initial thought when I first heard about the CSA approach to brewing was: “I am aggressively promiscuous with my beers.  I have few loyalties and I don’t want to be tied down to any one brewer.”  Also there is a high level of trust here… I am buying all my beer from these guys up front; I have to hope they will still be there through the end of twelve months.

That might have been shortsighted on my part.  For two years these guy have delivered; so things appear to be working out.  In fact so much so that they are now selling commercially, although in very, very limited quantities around Lancaster.

As such, I was able to procure a bottle of Submissive (American IPA) and Spelt (Farmhouse-Style Ale); each were reasonably priced for what were 1 pint 0.9 oz bottles.

First Submissive, it pours out an amber and cloudy ale with a stark white bubbly head the provided beautiful lacing throughout the drink.  An aroma of resin from the hops is mild but pleasant.  This IPA is not bombed out in piney and citrusy hops.  This was at first strange.  I figured prior to opening that I would be calling out a safe-word while the beer levied a heavy dose of punishing bitter hops, but I was wrong. I was expecting something along the lines of Palate Wrecker, Chinookie or Hopsickle.  This was different. It was subtle and relaxed.  It was not trying to get me to bend to its will, but was instead inviting and easy sipping.  This was a submissive beer.  It was not abrasive or astringent and at 6.5% ABV was about the subtle flavors.  Hints of pine, lemongrass and a long but not overly dry finish make this beer very easy drinking. This was a good beer.

Next came Spelt; a brew presumably made with the old world grain by the same name.  A few years ago Troegs brewed Scratch Beer #118 with spelt.  Scratch #118 was a Saison but was much more inviting and easy drinking.  What Fetish has done here is make a Farmhouse ale for people that like funky ales.  The beer poured bright golden hue with a furious bubbling head that quickly dissipated.  The nose is of yeast and some bread dough along with a slight farmhouse funk as is to be expected.  The spelt grain provides a wheat like flavor and adds a level of complexity to the ever so slightly sour, crisp lemon and faint pepperiness.  The finish is long and dry with earthy tones making this 7.22% ABV a real sipper. As the beer warms to room temperature it opens up and all the flavors embolden. Spelt gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval

So would I, a proclaimed bachelor when it comes to beers be willing to be tied down to Fetish Brewing for a year?  Yeah… I could submit to that idea.

Say Hello to ZerØday Brewing Company

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Yesterday, provided the grand opening of ZerØday Brewing Company as the newest local brewery in Central PA. It was an opening with fanfare and well attended by the mayor and a Storm Trooper for the traditional ribbon cutting.

Over the past year I have attended three different opening days for local breweries (Columbia Kettle Works, Moo-Duck Brewing, and ZerØday) and without a doubt this one was the best on multiple levels.

I arrived well after the noon opening ceremonies but right into the thick of a very busy opening day.  While the crowd was heavy, the husband and wife proprietors, Brandalynn and Theo Armstrong, made sure everything ran with exceptional smoothness.

Upon arrival, I was able to quickly claim a corner spot near both the bar and the entrance.  I was very promptly greeted by a friendly bartender and plied with my first beer; no wait.  The service was impeccable.  It was hard to tell this was their opening day as the service and atmosphere made for an exceptional time free of any issues.  Theo Armstrong (the brewer) worked as bar back during my visit and made sure fresh clean glassware was always at the reach while his small but very busy team of bartenders served up his fine libations.  He also clearly took the time to talk with patrons and to politely accept congratulations from many happy customers.  Brandalynn worked the door greeting people warmly when she was not busily making sure everyone’s needs were met.

In the lead up to this opening I watched the Armstrongs via the modern wonders of social media put together their dream and I was a little worried about the volume of orange paint they were splashing about in the prospective taproom.  But the look of the place is fantastic.  The taproom is very nicely appointed and while very orange, is in no way off putting.  It has clean lines and is clearly well thought out all around.  Just a beautiful place to brew and drink a pint.

The beers were impressive even beyond first batch/smaller scale brewing standards.  ZerØday opened with five offerings on tap: Firstborn (Dry Stout), Cheap Date (American Blonde), Wits End (Belgian Inspired Witbier), Zeroday IPA – Ep.1, Dolce Vita (Chocolate and Hazelnut Sweet Stout).

My first beer was Dolce Vita.  After hearing via twitter about the soft opening this was the beer I knew I had to try.  It did not disappoint.  Served on nitro it has a silky smooth mouthfeel with a creamy luscious head built to last.  The aroma is like Nutella only somehow more inviting.  Then as it warms up the finish becomes longer lasting and deeper with a proper hazelnut and creamy chocolate that just makes this beer.  Very sweet, it would pair wonderfully with strawberries after a fine dinner.  If there is any room for improvement here… it’s that the beer was served way too cold. Dolce Vita shows off its flavors as it warms up. This beer was exceptional and is worthy of a visit.  Dolce Vita gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.

As for the other offerings: Cheap Date goes down easy like she should and will be great for hot days when you are looking for a session beer.  Wits End was nicely constructed with a proper Belgian yeast and bitterness but lacked a peppery bite that I like in Witbier.  Zeroday IPA was clearly advertised as the first iteration. It was good but at 7.4% ABV, I was expecting more flavor and aroma from the hops and more body; just a tad thin. Firstborn was my least favorite of the offering but was still an exceptional stout.  When I say it was my least favorite its almost unfair because it was rock solid.

ZerØday’s beers were all good… and were frankly great when you consider this is the first time operating on the brand new brewing system.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  This would be excellent work for even a well-established small town brewery. The ceiling here is really high for future batches and I am sure they will not disappoint.

ZerØday Brewing Company gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval

Aprihop by Dogfish Head

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A classic spring brew that I seek out ever year. With a newly deposited tax return and welcoming the vernal equinox I sprung for the rare move and purchased an entire case; I rarely buy a case of anything.

A very popular and widely available seasonal beer, it’s the fruit beer for people that don’t like fruit beer. It’s like a double IPA with a fruity nose and a balanced use of malts.

Opening the beer and pouring the rich amber libation into a glass releases the fragrance of apricots. It’s in abundance in the nose with some hint of the northwest hops which are heavily used.

A vigorous pour provides for a light tan to off white head that dissipates slowly and helps offer up a very pleasing nose. This beer smells great and is inviting.

The flavors are complex but not delicate. Hops are loaded up and offer a earthy grassiness. The apricots are here in a supporting role and they merge well by adding depth to the bitter hops and sweet malts. The fruit flavors are a faint tartness as the beer reaches room temperature and really opens up. The 7% ABV becomes evident then too. This is a big beer but not over powering. The finish is long and crisp with a bit of dryness.

The flavors are in balance and that makes it an exceptional beer. If you have not had Aprihop you should take the opportunity this year. You will find it on tap at bars with discerning selections or in 4 packs.

It gets the Bearcat Seal of Approval.