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

Lando, Crowlers, and Sour IPAs.

Lacto CalrissianTrust Lando Calrissian himself Mr. Billy Dee Williams:
“Pizza Boy Crowlers work every time!”

Before we begin… This post is about three things: The shelf life of Crowlers, Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), and Sour IPAs. I swear by the end this will all make sense and the three actually belong together.

The Crowler is wildly popular. It should be, they are great. I love picking up a new Crowler from either Al’s of Hampden or from ZerØday Brewing. I have purchased a Crowler from East End Brewing co. in  Pittsburgh and from St. Boniface Brewing in Ephrata. I generally keep a 32oz growler in my car. But with Crowlers, the need to keep a glass bottle rolling around the floor in the back of the car is somewhat abated.

Al’s of Hampden was the first in Central PA to get a Crowler, instantly it was a hit. The popularity of Crowlers became very apparent to me when Al’s Pizza Boy Brewing released Bourbon Barrel Aged Sunny Side Up Stout. It was a phenomenal beer. BBA Sunny Side Up was only sold on draft, which meant that you could have a glass at the bar or get a Crowler of it to take home. That was until Al sold out of all his cans. This led to some really pathetic bitching on social media by entitled beer drinkers.

Part of why the Crowlers sold out was a number of people buying 6, 8, 10, or 12 Crowlers to horde in stock or to trade. In December, I got into a bit of snit with some guys on Twitter that were talking about still having cans of BBA Sunny Side Up in their fridge. What are you holding on to beer in a Crowler for?

If you look today over at Beer Advocate you can see two people are still offering this beer for trade. In February it was four. FOUR. This beer was tapped nine months ago. These Crowlers have been sitting for nine months.

A quick check of Untappd shows that people are still regularly enjoying this beer at a bottle share or just pulling it out of the back of the fridge. This is nuts. These cans are sold as means by which to enjoy take home beer within a reasonable period of time (i.e. a couple days at most). Anyone that tells you they can go longer than a week or maybe two is just flat out lying. They are not for cellaring, storing long term, or used as a storage device to sustain a limited run beer for long periods of time until you can “win the trade” by getting some Bro’s “whalez.”  (THIS is my favorite link ever on the site.)

Buy the beer, take it home and then drink it. Enjoy it.

Crowlers are not like the beer version of freezing Han in Carbonite.

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“Yes. He is alive and in perfect hibernation. 

He will stay very fresh.”

Speaking of Lando… I wonder what it would cost for Billy Dee Williams to cut a Colt 45 like promo for Lacto Calrissian. It is a sour double IPA, also by Pizza Boy, and one of the best damn beers I have had so far in 2016. This lactobacillus bacteria “infected” ale has a depth of flavor few beers can match. There is citrus peel in the front end then a subtle alpha acid hoppiness along with some unique lime in the middle. The finish is both creamy and slightly sour as the lactic acid is more than evident in the beautifully bodied brew. The finish is strong and long lastingly pleasant, which is good because this 8.2 ABV ale has no alcohol burn and could sneak up on you like Greedo.

If you have a chance to swing by Al’s and get a draft of Lacto Calrissian I doubt you will be disappointed. And if you choose to take a Crowler of it home… Don’t sit on it.

Post Script Thoughts: Sour IPAs, like Tropical or Citrus IPAs, are hot right now; like Tatooine and her two suns hot. These twists on the the craft beer lover’s old stand by are showing that we are a long way from brewers running out of innovative ways to give us new and exciting styles. It is also a way to introduce sour beer to the skeptic. Both are good things.

In regards to the above mentioned people buying 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 Crowlers of BBA Sunny Side Up: Do what ever you want with your money. I have no complaint with you purchasing all that beer. I just find it ridiculous to horde a Crowler. That stuff has a serious risk of going bad. It has to be at risk of going flat. Please… don’t horde Crowlers.

Han shot first. There is no debate.

MS Paint FTW! I mean, just take in the work at the top of this page. Just look at it!

I am bit of a Star War’s geek… so this post was more fun than you can possibly imagine.

Harrisburg Beer Week 2.0

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April 22-30, 2016

This Friday represents the start of Harrisburg Beer Week. There are 200+ events in Harrisburg and the surrounding Central PA area. Every day there are multiple events. Nearly all of which are offering either a special on craft beers or tapping sought after rarities. Here is a quick rundown of what I think are the some of the events worth your time. These are both some of the signature events and a couple “deep tracks.”

April 22: Day 1

Sturges Speakeasy Firkin Kick-Off: Every devoted beer drinker knows that before the party starts you have to pre-game. Before the VIP Kick-Off Party swing by Sturges for a Victory Brewing Company firkin.  Victory rarely sends firkins out of their brewery so getting one is kind of a big deal.  Tapping is at 4.

HBG Beer Week VIP Kick-Off Party: The official start of Harrisburg Beer Week actually starts with the VIP Kick-Off at Appalachian Brewing Company. Tickets are limited and this is your first chance to get a sip of the 2016 (717) Collaboration Ale.  I will be at this event even though that seriously damages the VIP cred. I am more of a VMP (Very Mediocre Person). Expect a write up about the (717) Collaboration Ale the next day. I am really looking forward to this beer.

Goose Island BCS & Sushi Pairing: Rich, greasy stouts pair beautifully with oysters; this is true. Bourbon County Stout by Goose Island is a world class beer and finding it can sometimes feel like looking for a snowflake in hell; this is true.  Does Wegman’s pairing BCS with Sushi taste good? Find out if that is true at this event.

April 23: Day 2

Al’s of Hampden Founders Breakfast Stout Tapping: Look, you can’t drink all day unless you start first thing and there are few beers that taste better while you still have bed head than Founders Breakfast Stout. Tapping is at 9 am.

HBG Beer Week Maybe 5K:  This is a race, sort of.  You see you run as far as you want over 60 minutes which is plenty for a very, light stroll to 5K or a respectable 10K pace.  Either way it’s a great way to “Earn your Beer.” Plus you get to support the PA Beer Alliance and Zeroday is hosting. It’s cool… I promise.

April 24, Day 3:

Pizza Boy Brewing Permasmile Bottle Release:  This beer needs little introduction. Permasmile is world class and highly sought after.  This new release is going to be big.

Scotzin Bros Battle of the Homebrew Clubs: Big event last year going to be even bigger at this time I moves to the baseball stadium on City Island. These are serious brewers and they will all be bringing their best work to win the crown.

April 25, Day 4:

Beer vs. Wine Chocolate Tasting: The Black Gryphon in Elizabethtown is a secretly good beer bar that also has great food. In the home of Dove Chocolate, watch beer and wine go head-to-head in pairings with artisan chocolates.

April 26, Day 5:

Battle of the Brewers at Grain + Verse: Local welterweight Zeroday goes toe-to-toe with Mid-Atlantic heavyweight DuClaw Brewing to see who the crowd favorite is.

Meet the Owner Beer Dinner at Funk Brewing Co.: Elizabethtown’s Funk Brewing opened less than a year ago and has already gathered quite the following in my neck of the woods. This event is a chance to sample their beers and enjoy a four course meal while meeting the owner, Jon “Norm” Norman.

April 27, Day 6:

ZerØday Brewing Co. Firkin Event: Many firkin sometimes just taste involve tasting the beer with some crazy shit put into the “can.” ZerØday firkins tend to have a little more thought behind them. Expect something great when Theo & Brandalynn Armstrong are tapping one. This will also be a “Keep the Glass Event.” Should be great.

HBG River Rescue Open House: While celebrating and drinking beer are the method, the purpose of HBG Beer Week is to support the Harrisburg River Rescue. Do a little more of the later by visiting the Rescue and enjoying a glass of Bent Propeller IPA, some BBQ and some home brew version of Bent Propeller.

April 28, Day 7:

Moo-Duck Brewery’s Jack Daniels Cherry Wine Imperial Porter Release:  Moo-Duck Brewery in Elizabethtown took their Imperial Pops Porter and aged in a Jack Daniels barrel that previously held a cherry wine by The Vineyard at Grandview.  It will be on tap along with Fifty (50) bottle available to take home. Mike Brubaker is really gunning for a unique beer on this one, should be great.

April 29, Day 8:

Aroogas 2nd Street Session IPA Release: Aroogas, Hop Hedz and St. Boniface brewed up this special session IPA just for this week and this is your chance to get it as God intended all beer to be, fresh and on firkin. Tapping is 6 pm.

April 30, Day 9:

Little Big Beer Fest:  This is the signature event of the HBG Beer Week in my opinion If you can go to only one event all week, this is the one you want to be attending. Little runs of some absolutely devastatingly good beers with massive ABVs.  I went last year and it was by far the best event of the week. Tickets will sell out… get yours soon.

Post Script: I mention this above but it demands further attention. While celebrating the wealth of great beers we have access to and are producing in Central PA, it can’t be forgotten that HBG Beer Week supports the Harrisburg River Rescue. Many of these events directly and the through the purchase of HBW merchandise support the River Rescue.

In advance a big thank you should be made to the girls from Stouts and Stilettos (ChelseaSweet Colleen and specifically, Tierney… This is her baby.) Sara Bozich, and Jimi the Intern; along with all their volunteers. Big local events like this take a ton of work and heavy lifting.  If you see them out, thank them and buy’em a beer.

Support the River Rescue.

Support your local Brewer. Drink Local.

Happy Birthday

  Dogfish Head’s Birthday Beer to Help Celebrate BoB’s 1st Birthday

It was a year ago, a couple weeks after first purchasing the domain above, that I got my first post up on the site. The guiding principle I gave myself was “Beer does exist in a vacuum; don’t just write about what is in the glass.” That idea really came to life when I attended the Harrisburg Beer Week kick-off party and sipped on the (717) Collaboration Ale by Troegs, Pizza Boy and Appalachian Brewing Company. I wrote for that post what is still one of my favorites.

Too many beer reviews on the Interwebs talk about the beer in a way that focuses exclusively on what’s in the glass. That ignores a big part of what craft beer is to me.

Drinking beer should and can be more than an alcohol delivery device.  The expectation is that craft beer brings more to the imbiber than just booze. It has a back story, is an artistic endeavor, and has cultural or personal relevance that should be discussed. Some posts I wrote did this well; others maybe not so much. In the end I think most worked.

Looking back as some of the more popular and/or interesting posts:

There was the time I tried to define craft beer.

The time I compared Peter Seller’s Dr. Strangelove to funky beer.

The above referenced story about (717) Collaboration Ale and my love of craft beer.

My most widely read post this year, by a wide margin, was about Costly Beer vs. Expensive Beer.

Most importantly as I look back I need to thank some people:

  • First, my friend Bobby C. who encouraged me to start the blog. He is a good dude and I have yet to find a more positive and supportive friend.
  • To Theo and Brandalynn Armstrong (Zeroday Brewing Co.) could never be more open to discussing brewing, starting and now growing their business, and what makes it takes to make great beer. Happy Birthday to you guys too.
  • Rod Smith of Columbia Kettle Works and Mike and Kristen from Moo-Duck Brewery, Al from Pizza Boy, who each spent occasions discussing with me the process of brewing.
  • The Beer Busters Podcast for having me on the show. That was fun and crazy nice of these guys. Love the show.
  • Tierney, Chelsie and Sara from Stouts and Stilettos and SaraBozich.com. They have all been supportive and engaging over the past year.  Extra thanks to Tierney for letting me bounce ideas off her and for offering inspiration.
  • Most importantly thank you to my readers. This vanity project has been a lot of fun and I hope it continues to be fun the future.

Looking forward to year two… I have some plans and additions:

  • Podcasting: Looking to lauch maybe by June, if I am lucky. The next thing that goes up on time for this blog with the first thing. Hell… this post is two days late. I am planning for the podcasts to be a short (think ~25 minutes) conversation with some of my beer friends. These are interesting people and I think you will like to hear from them.
  • Other Writers: I have discussed with a couple people about posting on this blog from time-to-time. It would be a rarity but it should happen. Really hoping to have one guy join… He is a total lunatic but he really knows his beers. He would be completely insane, gonzo, and it could be so much fun.
  • Lagers and Pilsners: In 2016 I am going to planning to drink more Lagers and Pilsner beers. Hoping this will broaden my taste and hopefully you will find some good beers too.
  • More Regular Posts (LOL J/K I can’t promise that…)

Again… thanks for reading and I hope year two is even better than the first.

Cheers!

All Right Stop, Collaborate and… Brew Really Good Beer

East End Brewing Company and Pizza Boy Brewing represent the two areas of Pennsylvania that matter to me personally.  Over the past decade plus I have spent more time on the PA Turnpike than I would like to admit traveling between my old home (Pittsburgh) and my new home (Harrisburg and later Lancaster).

East End has been making phenomenal beers in Pittsburgh since 2004 and are at the center, geographically and metaphorically, of the region’s craft beer surge.

Al’s of Hampden was where I discovered the funk and the sour of craft brewing; either through Al’s wonderfully curated offerings, Pizza Boy Brewing or Intangible Ales. It has been where I know I will find great beer here in the Harrisburg area every time.  It’s bullet proof.

So when Al teamed up with East End to make a Berliner Weiss I knew I would have to check it out.  Moonstomp (named after a Reggae song) is a cloudy straw colored beer.  The brew was crisp and refreshing.  The nose was similar to that of Big Hop, an exceptional pale ale by East End and was fragrant of apples. The light bodied and effervescing brew had an easy drinking character. The flavors of apple and slight bits of lemon along with a pleasing mouth feel made this beer inviting; while the long slightly sour finish made it slow going. A palate-cleansing tartness of lactic acidity sold this beer to me as perfectly executed.  A fine collaboration and bringing characteristics of both brewers to the final product, it is highly recommended.

Moonstomp is currently available at Al’s both on tap and in 22 oz. bombers. It will see a limited release on Saturday at East End.  You will want to arrive early for this one if you are in Pittsburgh.

Al also released a bourbon barrel aged version of his beloved Sunny Side Up Stout. This coffee stout was aged for about four months in Woodford Reserve barrels Reserve barrels and yesterday ten and a half kegs of it were tapped starting at 11 am.  Glasses and Crowler fills sold out the allotment before the dinner rush ended. The numbers on how much was sold as figured by my friend Jeff… were in a word, amazing. Al was apologetic on social media about selling out half the stock so quickly. He need not be. The beer was fantastic.

Served in a wine glass, the pitch black stout shortly held a mocha brown head and smelled lightly of bourbon, vanilla and cold coffee. In the front, it tasted of chocolate, coffee, and roasted malts.  The bourbon flavors of vanilla, caramel and oak come along to finish and linger pleasingly.  The full bodied beer never gives up a burn or astringency despite the 10% ABV or the long rest with the spiritus frumenti.

This is barrel aged beer done right.  The aging process expanded the character and flavors of an already exceptional beer.  It added depth and complexity and never diminishes the base.

Al will be tapping this beer again today (7-30-15) at 4pm.  It will be available by the glass and in 32oz Crowlers to go. (Special thanks be given to Zeroday for helping out in this regard.) Get to Al’s early. This will sell out.

In order to bring this posting full circle I also decided to crack open one of my two bottles of Homewood Reserve (2014) that I have been sitting on.  This bourbon barrel aged version of Blackstrap Stout by East End was a fine compliment to the Sunny Side Up.

It too played with the subtle end of the barrel aging spectrum. The nose is thick of roasted coffee and hints of bourbon. Medium bodied and lighter than the Sunny Side Up.  Homewood Reserve was lightly carbonated but with microscopically small bubbles.  Easy drinking for an aged stout it had a long and very dry finish of coffee, vanilla and slightly of wood.  As the beer warmed up, just a faint burnt smokiness entered with an almost peaty character. The most interesting flavor was a mineral like taste that would be akin to a full bodied deep red wine.  This was both surprising and pleasing.  A great beer.

The thread that weaves all three beers together beyond the collaboration between the two breweries and the similar styles is the understated approach to flavors. These beers work at the edges. Never being over powering with any one taste. Instead they gently suggest various impressions of the ingredients and processes used to make the final product.  This is brewing at a high level.

Post Script: Beer geeks frequently talk of chasing “whales” the seemingly unobtainable beers that many covet. Usually these beers are from far off states sold in incredibly low volumes. I am generally dismissive of these snow flake in hell type beers. I stopped chasing “whales” a long time ago. 

But there are “whales” to be had in our own backyard. I just had three of them. We need to recognize the quality we have locally and cheer this as a grand success for the craft beer community here in Central PA.

Iteration and Variation

Over the past few months I have been enjoying the light, crisp and easily quaffable styles of the summer beer drinking season. Session IPAs, Goses, Berlinger Weiss and Hefeweizens have been taking up plenty of space in my fridge.

But I love stouts. They were my first love when coming to craft beer and they always draw me back.  So a week ago when I saw a lonely bottle of the new Blackwater Series Choklat Oranj from Southern Tier I knew it was time to mix it up.

A little background…

As far as I can tell, and this is my educated guess, the Blackwater Series are Imperial Stouts brewed with the same four “mother” malts and two “father” hops. This provides for iteration. Using the same base for each brew allows for variation while also breeding familiarity. The Blackwater Series is made up of Choklat, Crème Brulee (the most impressive of the bunch), Warlock (a pumpkin beer) and Mokah.  Previously, this series also included Jahva and Oat.

Choklat Oranj is the newest edition to this series and is another great iteration. It takes the familiarity of the series and the big chocolate flavors of Choklat and adds a refined orange breeziness. Opening the 22 oz. bomber and pouring into a snifter you first get whiff of dark chocolate buddied up with orange oils. The beer sits dark as pitch in the glass with no head.  It drinks heavy but with a curvy body like a playboy centerfold. Chocolate and roasted malts dominate with a long sweet finish of orange peel.  This is like drinking a liquefied Terry’s Chocolate Orange. I would be stunned if that was not part of the inspiration. The beer is silky with a lingering orange and citrusy release.  While the beer is 10% ABV it never gives a hint of the booze even as it comes to room temperature.  Drinking this beer slightly warm really opens up the flavors as the orange acidity is boosted late in the drink.  Let this sipper rest in the glass and enjoy it slowly.

What Southern Tier have done here is create a dessert beer just like its brothers, that fits right between Choklat and Crème Brulee in sweetness.  Oranj is not as creamy as some others in the series and is more acidic; making it more versatile in potential pairings.

The “variation on a theme” works well with the Imperial Stout style.  Locally, Spring House Brewing Company does something similar with their stouts: Planet Bean Coffee Stout, Satan’s Bake Sale (Mint Chocolate Chip) Stout, Kerplunk! Imperial Chocolate Stout, and the very impressive combo of Big Gruesome (Chocolate Peanut Butter) and ‘lil Gruesome (Peanut Butter and Jelly) Stouts. They all have a familiar backbone. The iteration and slight variation provides for exploration of how flavors can be magnified, muted, or changed via slight alterations and bold flavor additions.

It may still be the heat of summer but a sweet, thick stout can be just the ticket to changing up your beer choices. Sweet stouts are undeniably a great way to finish a fine dinner.  You would be hard pressed to find one better suited to the task than Choklat Oranj or any of the other Blackwater Series beers.

Post Script: During Harrisburg Beer Week’s Little Big Beer Fest the ladies at Stouts and Stilettos were pouring their collaboration with Pizza Boy Brewing, Sun Kissed Stout.*** Sun Kissed was an imperial chocolate and orange stout; as such is easily comparable to Choklat Oranj.  Similar in style and intent these two had a number of differences according to my notes and recollection.

The Sun Kissed Stout was lighter in body and was deeper in the roasted malts. This impaired a slight smokiness to the nose and finish.  The flavors imparted by the fruit in Sun Kissed was closer to orange rind and pith as opposed to the Southern Tiers orange oils. While the Oranj skews towards sweetness, the Sun Kissed had a bit of spiciness and roasted flavors. Both were great beers… the good news is while it may be hard to find you can still pick up a bottle of Choklat Oranj.


***It really should have been called Orange In The New Black Stout

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.

Costly Beer vs. Expensive Beer

Hater Tears

Recently the cost of beer has been an interesting subject.  First, Thrillist.com had a long story about the impending craft beer war. The point here being that price will be where the various craft brewers compete in the near future.  This would inherently drive the cost down on many beers.  Some brewers are already producing on the razors edge economically and others are pushing for rapid expansion to achieve the very real economies of scale.  There is a coming bloodbath.  Anyone that follows the industry closely knows it.  There is a bubble.  It will burst someday.

Earlier this week Drunkspin’s Will Gordon pondered the price of beer at length and never really came to an answer other than “Is all beer overpriced?”

The next day, Albert Kominski took to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to defend selling 750mL bottles of barrel aged sours for $33 apiece.  His response was lengthy by social media standards but cogent at the same time.

Over the years I have spoken with Al far more than any other brewer I know.  He is always quick to greet me when he sees me in his establishment and gives me a few minutes of his clearly busy schedule to discuss what I am having and what else on the big board is worth picking up for my next draft.  I say this to mean that as far as I can tell, Al gives a damn about his customers and always has.

In my opinion, Al has exceptional taste when it comes to curating his offerings, brewing beer, and together with Terry Hawbaker has been delivering very high quality beer.  Al has been doing this well enough and for long enough to have an exceptional resume and a trusted responsibility to his customers.

So when Al sells a beer for $33 bucks a pop it’s because in his mind it’s worth it and/or he needs to charge that amount.  Is it costly?  Yes it is.  Is it expensive?  Not necessarily.  Keep in mind that those two things, costly and expensive, are not the same. (Please check out that link… I can’t say it better.) These beers, as Al pointed out in the above and here provided links, are costly to develop.  That does not necessarily make them expensive.

Do I wince at $33 a bottle?  Sure… but I also don’t tell other people how to spend their money.  Which as far as I can tell is where the debate started.  Al took exception to a patron telling others that the beer was overpriced.  He was right to do so.

The Internet flame war that ensued was typical.  It was also mostly BS being thrown around.

Making beer is hard work.  Making exceptional beer is both hard work and costly.  Making exceptional, barrel aged, small batch, sour beers with hundreds of pounds of fruit and literally years of work is a serious and costly endeavor that can go belly up for reasons that are not completely under the control of the brewer.  There is risk.  The risk can be great.  The investment in money and time is real.

So when I see a $33 bottle of beer do I wince?  Yes, I wince at the thought of how much work and money must have gone into just 750mL of beer.

Post Script: I think what Al is doing by going up market, dramatically so, is skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.  Down market is a losing proposition and is already owned by huge corporate interest.  The economies of scales of SABMiller and InBev cannot be matched.  So why go there?  The only place it go it up.  Way up. This is the fundamental concept behind disruption from above and is a guiding principle of the craft brewing industry. There is a market at the top and selling artfully crafted rare and costly beer is the way to develop a hopefully safe space when the impending bloodbath ensues.

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.

Friday Beer News Link Dump

Today officially launches the first Harrisburg Beer Week (HBW).  After a ton of work by Sara Bozich, Colleen, and Chelsie we can finally see Tierney’s initial dream come to fruition.  Best of luck to all the organizers and I hope that Harrisburg River Rescue brings in a boatload of donations.  I am doing my part, you should too.

I will be attending the HBW VIP Kickoff Event tonight at Appalachian Brewing Company thanks to the generosity of Merlot Mike from Hershey Vineyards and Brewery. I am very much looking forward to having a glass of (717) the collaboration beer between tonight’s host (ABC), Pizza Boy Brewing, and Troegs. I am sure it is going to be a great event to start a great week for the city.  Expect a beer review of (717) tomorrow right here at BearcatOnBeer.com.

Speaking of (717), it will be available for purchase in 16 oz cans throughout the Harrisburg Area beginning on Monday, April 27, 2015.  Be sure to pick this one up early as I am sure it will sell out very quickly.

Really quickly, here are some of what I think are HBW’s can’t miss events:

April 25th — Victory Firkin at Brewhouse Grill (Victory rarely does firkins so this is great)

April 26th – Battle of the Homebrew Clubs at Federal Taphouse Harrisburg (ticketed event)

April 28th – Tired Hands Brewing Company on Tap at Al’s of Hampden (Tired Hands Beer!)

April 28th – Tapping of Saison 28 by ZerØday Brewing and Brewed in the Burg Screening at Midtown Cinema

April 30th – Moo-Duck Brewery Tour and Meet the Brewer Event at Moo-Duck in Elizabethtown

May 1st    – Pennsylvania Women in Craft Beer Conference (Ticketed Event)

May 2nd   – The Little Big Beer Fest at ABC (Ticketed Event)

In other PA Craft Beer News, this week New Belgium officially announced it was entering the PA market and has signed on a dozen distributors including locals, Ace Beer Distributors and W&L Sales; both are HBW sponsors too.

Yesterday, the Trib in Pittsburgh has a great story on women in craft beer, its a great write up.

Finally, Jason Notte on the brilliant Stan Hieronymus’ argument that craft beer loyalist are fighting the wrong battle.  Always remember what Steve Jobs said you should be “skating to where the puck is going not where it has been.”

Have a happy Harrisburg Beer Week everyone.  Be sure to follow along on Twitter @BearcatOnBeer and on Facebook if you are still into that thing.

Cheers!