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Pennsylvania Breweries launch party at Victory

I’ve been following Lew Bryson’s blog Seen Through a Glass for a year or two now. A week or two a post popped-up about a launch party for the 4th Edition of Pennsylvania Breweries. My wife gave me the 3rd Edition when we were in college as a Christmas present and I have been waiting for an updated edition. It was a ticketed event that costs $35. For the money I received a signed copy of the new book, two beers, some delicious food, and a chance to hear some of my idols talk about the beer industry. I think it was  a hell of a deal.

Before the talk with the brewers ever began, Lew actually came over and talked with my friend Mike and myself. I’ve never met him before but I think we could be drinking buddies. Lew seems like a genuine guy with a big hearty laugh. I just enjoyed talking beer with him and being around him. He did the same thing with everyone who came out, about 40-50 people in total. Very cool.

The brewers that were represented came from the southeastern to central PA region. Victory Brewing Company was obviously there, as was Troegs Brewing Company, Stoudt’s Brewing Company, Sly Fox Brewing Company, and a Philadelphia brewpub, Nodding Head Brewery.  Lew served as the MC for the event and asked some interesting questions. Below you can see the brewers in order from left to right:

(Lew Bryson, Ron Barchet of Victory, the Trogners, Stoudt’s representative (I forget his name), Brian O’Reilly of Sly Fox, and Curt Decker of Nodding Head)

To start off the Q&A Lew asked about Pennsylvania’s impact on the brewing community, most notably in the lager market. Pennsylvania is really a home for full bodied lagers. Out west ales then to dominate the scene, but Pennsylvania brewers have mastered the craft of the lager and have made it something to be proud of. They made some damn good ales as well, but lagers are PA’s calling card.

Another topic of discussion was Yuengling and how it has helped and also hurt craft brewers in PA. Some of the things I took away were that it helped because Pennsylvanians acquire a taste for something other than light lagers. They have also harmed craft brewers because they have limited the markets that they can expand into. When a brewer is trying to sell to a new retailer and they say they already have a craft beer, Yuengling, on tap, it immediately limits the scope of what they can do.

Lew brought up an interesting note about lower ABV beers and if they have a place in the market. They discussed the fact the the highest rated beers are not sessionable and that the prices are much higher than what the materials actually cost. Curt Deck of Nodding Head, the only brewpub represented, said that in a brewpub setting they want you to drink 2-3 beers at a sitting and that with super high ABV beers that is just not possible. I think they all recognized the need for some lower ABV beers in the marketplace.

Ron of Victory even shared some experiences with beer bars who do not have lower ABV beers and how they try to work with them to get an offering of lower alcohol beers in their bar. The thinking is that you might offer a wide selection of styles, but not of alcohol percentages.  Honestly it is something that I never thought of but think is important.

We then moved into local verses national brands and how the market is wanting things from local producers. During the discussion it was also brought up that Pennsylvania brewers have influences from both west coast and European beers. The malts and hops available to east coast brewers is much different than west coast brewers.

One of the final things we talked about was how Yuengling and Sam Adams, the two largest America owned beer makers, have their major breweries in PA. Sam Adams has a brewery outside of Allentown and Yuengling has two breweries in Pottsville. It was an a great discussion on the new and old guard and how PA is the only state to really have a healthy mix of both.

I want to thank the brewers who came out along with Lew for writing this wonderful book and hold such a great even.

Beer Review #57 Old Scratch Amber Lager

Continuing with out week of Flying Dog comes Old Scratch Amber Lager. This beer may be a lager it according to the brewery it is fermented at medium temperatures to develop both ale and lager characteristics. If your not sure what that means hear is a quick review. Ales are brewed at warmer temps usually 60-70 degrees and because of the warmer temperatures, they have a quicker fermentation period which causes the production of a few esters that impart their own flavors on the beer past what the raw ingredients do. Lagers are brewed at lower temperatures usually 35-50 degrees and take longer, but also result in a beer that is much cleaner. These are just the basics because each style of beer could compose parts of another. From what I read, this beer uses a lager yeast at a higher temperature so you would expect it to be clean tasting, but also have more esters than a normal lager.

Old Scratch Amber Lager pours a beautiful amber color, I guess that’s were part of the name comes from. It had a nice off-white head and was perfectly clear. The nose was malty with some slight bread components. I didn’t really get any hops on the nose from this beer. There were some earthy components in there as well, which could of been mixed in with hops but they didn’t really stand out all that much.

On the initial taste I wasn’t hit with a lot of flavor. There is a little malt sweetness along with those bready flavors that were on the nose, but there really isn’t much else. Some slight caramel notes can also be found. The finish had a nice hop crispness to it. Nothing overwhelming, but dried out and finished the beer nicely. The mouth feel is light and watery, but it does have a very nice carbonation.

This beer is very clean. There isn’t a lot of flavor to be found but it is drinkable. Old Scratch comes in at 5.5% ABV and sports 19.5 IBUs. This would be a good beer for someone just getting into craft beers. While the flavor notes are not terribly strong, it blows away a mass production beer in every way. Even if you are not new into craft beer, this would be a good summer beer as well as it is light and refreshing. If you get it don’t be expecting to have your typical American Amber Ale, but a much lighter version that clean out very nicely.  (more…)

Beer Review #48 Noble Pils

Ever since I have been drinking craft beer, Sam Adams has been in my drink lineup. They released a new spring seasonal this year taking the place of the White Ale of last year. For this spring Sam decided to go with a Pilsner, a “nobel pilsner.” The reason they call it a Nobel Pils is becasue the hop varieties used in the making of this beer are said to be noble. You know how the periodic table of elements has the noble gasses, well hops also have a noble lineage.

The beer pours a nice golden in color and is perfectly clear. There is a bit more of a hue in it than a typical Light American Lager, but there isn’t a huge difference in how the two look. It also pours with a nice white fluffy head. The nose on this beer is actually somewhat complex for how simple a Pilsner really is. There is a sweet, honey-like malt with a splash of hop in there as well. It isn’t stale or sulfery smelling like a light of light colored lagers tend to have.

On the tongue the sweet malt is on the front and then there is a good hoppy finish. Some might compare this beer to a Light American Lager based on looks, but the malt is more complex and there is actually a hop finish. The hop finish might surprise some, but it is not overpowering and really complements the drink. Noble Pils is light in mouthfeel and has the perfect amount of carbonation.

I find this beer super drinkable. It is great for a warm spring day or on a hot summer day. I think this beer would appeal to a lot of beer drinkers crossing into the craft beer for the first time. As I have said before on this site, Pilsner is not a style of beer that I enjoy, but Sam Adams Noble Pils was a winner in my book. (more…)

Beer Review #42 Winter Lager

When I first got into craft beer, Sam Adams was one of the breweries that helped bridge the gap. Sam Adams a.k.a. Boston Beer Company does a great job at making flavorful beer that is acceptable the the majority of beer drinkers out there. They may not make everything that a seasoned craft beer drinker would like, but they do a great job of opening people up to new styles and flavors.

Winter Lager was always one of my favorites so when I saw it in the store I grabbed it. It pours a nice amber, ruby color and it is perfectly clear. There is also a fluffy off-white head. The nose on the beer is toasty, malty, and some slightly fruity esters in there. The fruity part is slightly surprising being that it is a lager and generally, lagers are cleaner tasting than ales and they generally do not produce a lot of esters either.

The taste is nice an malty. The malt sweetness is upfront with toasty and bready flavors throughout. There is a slight hop on the back-end but it is not overwhelming in the slightest. Sam Adams Winter Lager comes in at 5.80% ABV as well. This is a super drinkable beer that I think most would enjoy. It is light-medium in body and has a great aftertaste. I think this is a decent introduction to seasonal beers and fits well into the winter seasonal “style.” I still want something darker and richer for winter time, but, being that this is a mass produced beer on a much larger scale than I usually talk about, I will let it slide. (more…)

The Homebrewers’ Recipe Guide

10-23-01When I first started doing 5 gallon batches of homebrew I picked up two books. The first was the Joy of Homebrewing and the second was  The Homebrewers’ Recipe Guide. I figured that the JoH was a great teaching book but didn’t have a lot of recipes, and  I wasn’t totally ready to start formulating my own, so a recipe book was the next best thing.

The Homebrewer’s Recipe Guide was the book I went with after looking though several in the homebrew shop. There were other books out there with 300+ recipes and others that catered to making clones, but this book had a good mix of original recipes and some clone ones. The other thing I really liked was that it offered holiday and seasonal beer recipes.

It comes with “more than 175 original beer recipes” and a lot of helpful hints to help you out along the way. The other thing that I really liked is that the beers are broken up by style. You can easily choose a style that you want, and then go for a specific recipe in that style. Most styles have three or more different recipes to choose from. The book is broken up as follows:

  • Bitters, Pale Ales, and Other Regional Ales
  • Brown Ales, Porters, and Stouts
  • Lagers
  • Bocks, Doppelbocks, Barleywines, and Strong Ales
  • Fruit, Herb, and Smoked Beers,
  • Holiday and Seasonal Beers
  • Brewery Copycats
  • Meads, Lambics, and Ciders
  • Food and Beer, Beer and Food

Clearly there are a ton of options and it even ventures into meads, ciders, and food recipes. All of the beer recipes are extract based but if you are an all grain brewer you could easily convert everything over to make it work for your needs as well. I have probably outgrown the book for recipe purposes right now, but I do refer back to it for the Brewer’s Tips and for some guidance on recipe formulation.

A lot of homebrewers put down recipe books because they don’t think the books really deliver on what they say. They might be right, but this book gave me a lot of guidance and helped me along my brewing experience. The recipes I used from the book always turned out pretty good. I think the biggest thing I learned was how to develop my own recipes. You can see how a beer is put together from a recipe book, and what flavors you should be looking to develop in a particular style of beer. That is where this book was the most help to me. I still pull it out from time to time to help me out. Charlie Papazian does the foreword for the book if that is any indication of the quality of it.