By Bryan Kolesar
Spring has sprung, the grass is riz, look at all the commotion in the beer biz. More activity here in the Keystone State than you can shake a mash paddle at. Let's get straight to a review of what's happening at a dozen breweries, this time listed in alphabetical order.
Cox Brewing Company (Elizabethtown) is approaching its second anniversary this summer and continues to be part of a small and unique segment of the industry - veteran-owned and -operated. The brewery is open for free tastings Wednesday through Saturday, as well as for growler and howler (32-oz.) fill up purchases of favorites such as 82nd Amber, CH-47 IPA, Liberty Lager, 90mm Double IPA, and Fat Cow Baltic Coffee Porter.
Fegley's (Allentown & Bethlehem) just released its French Vanilla Latte Stout (9%) in collaboration with One Village Coffee. Continuing the coffee theme in early April, expect to see limited edition Bourbon Barrel Imperial Coffee Stout (13%), aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. The brewery's annual Chocolate Festival takes place on April 22 and covers a full spectrum of cacao decadence served up in beer, wine, liqueur, and chocolates from area chocolatiers.
Hop Farm (Pittsburgh) recently added Jon Ross, previously from Tröegs, as Lead Brewer and Cellarman and Jason Seiple, former Executive Chef for UnCruise Adventures, in the kitchen. Chef Seiple has been incorporating beers into most menu offerings, such as beer-infused marshmallows and balsamic and stout glazed lamb belly. Hop Farm’s canned offerings are back with both One Nut Brown and IPA regularly available. The brewery will be busy in late April with a beer pairing dinner during Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week (Apr. 21-30), releasing fresh Margot in cans, and Mar-gueuze in bottles. Summer looks to be busy as well, participating in 28 outdoor venue events, and a new 30-barrel fermenter dedicated currently to IPA should help with satisfying demand.
Moo-Duck (Elizabethtown) is working to meet demand by first upgrading from a 1.5-barrel system to 5-barrel. Owners Mike & Kristin Brubaker report two special series of beers - one a "hazy IPA experiment" called Beer For A Friend and one a seasonal Saison series, where the spring version will be a classic saison brewed with honey and grated fresh ginger root. Harrisburg Beer Week will see the brewery hosting a small batch tap takeover on April 26, featuring nine collaboration beers between Mike and area homebrewers, customers, and employees.
Roundabout (Pittsburgh) is off and running with its spring/summer Ginga Wheat (local honey and fresh-pressed ginger and lemon) and preparing for the 2017 debut of the Gose and Berliner Weiss series in April. Owner/Brewer Steve Sloan says to expect "unadulterated versions" as well as special weekly releases such as "mimosa gose, elderberry and musk melon berliner weiss, and any other local fruit/spice we can find and use." Helping fuel the growth is another fermenter that was added in January, a few more hopefully in the summer, and an Orbisphere to help improve shelf life confidence. Later in April or early May, expect to see a small barrel release event with Heini's Good Cheer, Smoked Coconut and Pineapple Imperial Porter, and other "funky stuff".
Sly Fox (Pottstown & Phoenixville) is putting the finishing touches on its outdoor pavilion which will provide year-round al fresco enjoyment. Attendees at this year's Craft Brewers Conference in DC can expect to see Brewmaster Brian O'Reilly at an off-site event - Belgian Keg Stand - at Brasserie Beck in conjunction with Wetten Imports and Draft Magazine. Back home, the brewery is gearing up for the wildly popular release of SRT Ale (Schuylkill River Trail) and the accompanying day of events on Earth Day (Apr. 22), the release of multiple award-winning Grisette (May 15), the release of Hop Project No. 002 in mid-May, and the annual needs-no-description Bock Fest & Goat Races on May 7.
Sprague Farm (Venango) continues to turn out some of the most locally-relevant beers in the state. Not only does the 65-acre French Creek Valley farm property source hops, well water, barley, maple sap, hickory bark, spruce tips, and more, Head Brewer Ira Gerhart has captured yeast from the brewery's barn. Gerhart has been the Head Brewer since 2014, even as he's continued to work on opening his own place in Youngstown, Ohio. Recently, Gerhart reorganized the brewhouse to be more ergonomic and efficient, according to owner Brian Sprague. May will see the next big event - Gears to Beers - hosted by the brewery which brings out cyclists and beer lovers and benefits the local public radio and television affiliate.
Stoudts’ (Adamstown) brewing team is now headed by Kyle Price and includes Norm Eaton (lead brewer), Mike Giacomelli (cellarman), and Matt Kraft (warehouse manager). Price took the reins when Brett Kinzer left for SBC Brewsmiths. Stoudts is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017 and PA Pearl Bock is the celebration beer to mark the occasion at the brewery and at bars around the greater Philadelphia region. Price is readying the spring releases of the Kolsch, Tripel, and the gold medal winner (2016 World Beer Cup) Maibock. The summer will bring Cherry Hefeweizen and a draft-only Single Hop Honey Belgian Style Saison.
Tower Hill (Chalfont) has been coming along nicely since brewing veteran Lou Farrell joined last summer. He now has 50+ brews to call his own along with his son and assistant brewer Pat Farrell. As an accomplished jazz musician playing occasionally at Tower Hill, Pat is working to help bring more live jazz to the brewery. The beer list works quite well with owner and chef Stan Kreft's kitchen menu and is highlighted by solid brews such as the King George Extra Special Bitter, Bourbon Barrel Stout (especially on nitro), Robert Hare's Porter, and Burton's Best English IPA. Upcoming is their first Saison which, according to Lou, will be made with “Munton Pale and Briess 2 row along with a big hit of Vienna malt. Northern Brewer and East Kent Golding hops are evident, but not out front. Spices include black pepper, cumin. coriander, mustard seed and juniper. It has been aged warm for a month and then cold for a further month."
Triumph (New Hope) continues to satisfy fans of live music and beer at the New Hope and Princeton, NJ locations while they await the opening (no estimated date yet) of the Red Bank, NJ brewpub, which is expected to have a 10-barrel brewhouse, eight fermenters, fourteen brite tanks, and space for barrel-aging. Back at the New Hope site, Vienna Lager is a big hit with customers and can only be enjoyed on-site as the brewery does not distribute. Collaborations are on the brewing brain at Triumph doing ones recently with Rutgers and its experimental hop farm, River Horse, Folk City Roasters, and soon also with Iron Bound Cider.
Voodoo (Meadville, Erie, & Homestead) cut the ribbon on January 27 at its new production facility in Erie which has reportedly nearly quadrupled production capacity with estimated output in 2017 of 10,000 barrels. Sights are now set on expanding distribution into Ohio, Michigan, and New York. The immensely popular seasonal milk stout - Cowbell - is ready to release and the brewery is "extremely honored and excited" to be participating in Cigar City's Hunahapu Day in Florida and the Mikkeller Beer Celebration in Copenhagen.
Weyerbacher (Easton) is finally legal, at least if you look at one of its newest releases. Finally Legal (13.3%) is an imperial stout that was brewed last year for its 21st anniversary. They did it again this year and is brewed with smoked malt, chocolate, vanilla, and blended with a portion that was aged in bourbon barrels. There's a to-be-named (well, there is a name, it just hasn't been approved at time of publication) new sour beer being released in May and, on June 24, a 22nd anniversary beer unveiling at the brewery-hosted anniversary party.