Lancaster County is Bursting with Beer along Philly

When I tell people I live in Lancaster County, PA, people will shout, almost without thinking, “Amish.” The correlation of Amish and the Lancaster area is somewhat of a cultural/psychological experience ingrained in the minds of people in US.amish-buggy 

If someone comes to Lancaster and doesn’t experience the Amish tours, or drive to Philly and doesn’t climb the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts or stand on the top to pose like Rocky, a great disappointment will take over. Some might even imagine having done things they didn’t. Instead, they merely read about it or conceptualized it based on the things they fantasized doing while they were younger. It could be considered a type of “Paris Syndrome”. This is something much more common than people realize. You may catch spouses disagreeing about what one says they did on their vacation and the other will firmly disagree, saying “no, we didn’t”. There isn’t a deception here, both truly believe what they are saying. One just imagined doing it because of a lifetime of expectations.

Victory_Brewing_factory_2

Now when it comes to beer, the places that come first to peoples’ minds are places like San Diego, Denver, Michigan, Asheville…any place but the peaceful and bucolic, horse-pulled buggy lands of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. For the past decade, something new has been taking over of the eastern population of Pennsylvania. Craft Beer! Within 30 to 90 minutes of driving, one can find a more than a handful of breweries, bottle shops, and restaurants dedicated to delivering quality craft beer libations. The beer Scene in Eastern PA has grown so much, it surprises me a stronger beer tourism business in the area has not been developed. Because of taxes and regulations, Pennsylvania is far from being a “cheap” state to get a pint of your favorite brew. Never the less, the craft beer followers are multiplying and are being very faithful to the local breweries and craft beer bars.

There are some well-known breweries in the area or close to Lancaster/Philly that date back to the mid-1990s and the late 1980s:  Victory, Tröegs, Sly Fox, Stoudt’s, Weyerbacher, YardsIron Hill and some much older like Yuengling, operating since 1829. Among a newer class are some that are making some amazing beer and gaining momentum: Spring House, Lancaster Brewing Co., St. Boniface and and Tired Hands. I love knowing that I can have some friends over for a few days and the Tap Room Spring House Brewing Co.diversity of beer available will leave everyone satisfied.

Still skeptical? Eastern Pennsylvania has much more to offer when it comes to craft beer. You can experience more than just what the locals offer. With excellent beer distribution to a sizable number of bottle shops and craft beer bars, you can get brews from Stone to 21st Amendment, from Ale Smith to Six Point, from Lost Abbey to Firestone Walker…you get the idea.

One of my favorites to visit is the Federal Tap House in Lancaster. They offer more than 100 beers on tap. Also in Lancaster, is The Fridge (amazing pizza), or Hunger’n’Thirsty (great food), and a great bottle shop that you will find me in regularly, The Friendly Greek (more than 500 beers!). Take a drive through the country side toward Philly and enjoy more places with great beer. The Abbaye, The Belgian Café, and TJ’s Restaurant and Drinkery (with more than 250 beers on their list) are just some examples of this craft beer culture that has TJ'sdeveloped in Eastern Pennsylvania. (I could mention so many more bars and Breweries like Dock Street that are amazing). You can even take to the small town of Mount Joy and visit the Catacombs of Bube’s Brewery (pronounce Boobs) an intact historic 19th century brewery and museum complex and their Ghost Tours. In any case, the craft beer enthusiast won’t be disappointed in a visit to the Keystone State, and for those like me that will often travel with the wife and kids, Pennsylvania provides some great craft beer places that have wonderful food and very family friend environment. You want more. Just head to the Harrisburg?York where you will find lots of great places to enjoy craft beers.

You will enjoy the beautiful scenery and have fun exploring the numerous places to drink some wonderful craft beer. And don’t forget to take home some real whoopie pies. Cheers!!!

Brewery List

Sly Fox – Potstown
Stoudt’s – Adamstown
Weyerbacker – Easton
Yards – Philly
Iron Hill – Philly / Lancaster
Yuengling – Potsville
Victory – Downintown
Tröegs – Hershey
Spring House – Lancaster
Lancaster Brewing
St. Boniface – Ephrata
Tired Hands – Ardmore
Liquid Hero – York
Appalachian Brewing Co. – Harrisburg/Lititz
Bube’s Brewery – Lancaster
Dock Street – Philly
Philadelphia Brewing Co. – Philly
Triumph Brewing – Philly
Fegley’s Brew Works – Bethlehem
Rumspringa Brewing – Lancaster
Saucony Creek Brewing – Kutztown
Als of Hampden / Pizza Boy Brewing Co – Enola
Manayunk Brewery – Philadelphia
Crime and Punishment – Philadelphia
Conshohocken Brewing Co. – Conshohocken
Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery – King of Prussia

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2014 BJCP Scottish Ale Style Changes

As the temperatures outside get cooler, a nice malty beverage in front of a fire seems like a great way to spend an evening.  There are lots of great styles to choose from, but some of my favorites for this time of year are Scottish ales.  From Scottish Light to Wee Heavy, you can choose to spend the evening having a few of the former, or sipping one of the latter, while hanging out with friends.  In recent years there has been some confusion on these styles-mostly the “shilling” styles, the style names, specific flavors, aromas and brewing processes have been in question.  The soon-to-be finalized 2014 guidelines will correct previously inaccurate information and debunk common myths about these styles.

In the 2008 guidelines, the styles of Scottish ale were as follows: Scottish Light 60/-Scottish Heavy 70/- Scottish Export 80/- and Strong Scotch Ale. The shilling categories were derived from price charged per hogshead (54 Imperial gallons) during the 1800’s; the stronger or better quality beers were more expensive. In 2014, BJCP will be moving to a Scottish ale category containing Scottish Light, Scottish Heavy and Scottish Export. Wee Heavy will move to Strong British Ales. You can read more about these guidelines here.

Speaking specifically of the Scottish ale categories, the 2014 BJCP guidelines have a note about the style name changes:  “The original meaning of ‘schilling’ (/-) ales have been described incorrectly for years. A single style of beer was never designated as a 60/-, 70/- or 80/-. The schillings only referring to the cost of the barrel of beer. Meaning there were 54/- Stouts and 86/- IPAs and so on. The Scottish ales in question were termed Light, Heavy and Export, which cover the spectrum of costs from around 60/- to 90/- and simply dark, malt-focused ales. The larger 120/- ales fall outside of this purview as well as the strongest Scotch ales (aka Wee Heavy).”  In other words, the BJCP will no longer categorize the styles of beer by what they might have cost; instead, they will focus on their increasing intensity, much like they did with English Bitters. In fact BJCP 2014 guidelines for Scottish ales will read exactly the same for each style of beer, and, as the gravity increases, so will the character of the beers in question.

Interestingly, peaty and smoky flavors were often referenced as being optional, but acceptable in the 2008 BJCP guidelines.  This no longer is the case in 2014 Scottish Ale category. It seems that this is removed because BJCP has acknowledged that these features would not be present in the more recent representation of the styles. A quote from thciprian on the American Homebrewers Association forum (here) may better explain why “by the early 19th century…brewers were doing everything they could to avoid smoky character in their beer, since it was considered to be a fault. For example, in the early 18th century (~300 years ago), one of the reasons why porter was aged was to give time for the smoke character (from ‘blown’ brown malt) to drop a bit.”  One might think the smoky peat-like character was coming from the malt. However, the 2008 BJCP indicates that the smoke wasn’t from the actual malt kilning process, but “…from the traditional yeast and from the local malt and water rather than using smoked malts.” Possibly by the late 1900s, the Scottish people had figured out a way to decrease the smoke-like character produced by their water and yeast. There is even a mention from the BJCP that “Scottish ales with smoke character should be entered as a Classic Style Smoked Beer.”  They aren’t saying it isn’t an accurate style characteristic, just not an accurate one for these new guidelines.

Finally, In the 2008 guidelines, kettle caramelization was considered a hallmark of the style, but in 2014 it has been deemed inaccurate. In both Scottish ales and Wee Heavy, the guidelines do not indicate that kettle caramelization is appropriate. In fact, for Scottish ales, The new guidelines include “malt-focused ales that gain the vast majority of their character from specialty malts, never the process. Burning malt or wort sugars via ‘kettle caramelization’ is not traditional nor is any blatantly ‘butterscotch’ character.”   Despite a bit of digging around the internet, there are no other references to this lack of kettle caramelization.  Even the Oxford Companion of Beer (2011) references it as part of the style: “Scotch ale traditionally goes through a long boil in the kettle. This was particularly the case in days when the kettles were direct fired by flame…”  By the 19th and 20th centuries, boiling wort over an open flame may not have been the preferred method, and the patent malt machine was invented. Caramelization would have come from the grains themselves, and not the pot.  It will be interesting to see if more information about this is published as we progress into 2015.

The majority of the information above focused on the new Scottish ale styles, but, some of it applies to Wee Heavy too.  While the name wasn’t changed, it was moved to a different category.  Also, per the 2014 BJCP guidelines, there’s no longer a mention of kettle caramelization. Smokiness is considered appropriate but optional in this category: “Slight smoke character may be present in some versions, but derives from roasted grains or a long, vigorous boil. Peated malt is absolutely not traditional.”  This is “more related to historical brews than the lower-strength Scottish ales, these beers have their roots in the strong ales of the 1700s and 1800s, although formulations and methods have changed. A premium product, often produced for export[…]modern versions have lower starting and finishing gravities than their historical ancestors.”

What hasn’t changed from 2008 to 2014 is the target numbers for these styles. The same gravities, IBUs, and ABVs are still appropriate.  The BJCP has simply moved to a more accurate representation of newer Scottish ales, from their names, and ingredients, to brewing process.  So next time you’re enjoying a Scottish ale or a Wee Heavy, think about how you might brew your next batch to reflect these style changes!  And good luck at your next competition!

Sources:

BJCP 2008 Guidelines

BJCP 2014 Guidelines Draft

AHA Forum

 

 

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The Session: The Preferred Book of Choice

The Session

A brewing book I would like to see would be one about session beers. Our love affair with high ABV beers has long been established, and only in recent years have we seen the craft beer community putting more focus on beers that won’t knock you to the floor if you have a few in one sitting. I’d like to see a book with a few different sections, including: the history of commercial session beer, special aspects of brewing a good session beer, and how-to tips for home brewers looking to brew their own.

We’ve seen quite a rise in popularity recently in session beers, especially session IPAs.  But session beers were around long before that, even if they weren’t called that. The English ordinary bitter is a perfect example of a historical session beer. No doubt the saison brewed for farm workers in Belgium would have been of the session variety. Germany certainly had its share of session type beers. In fact, at one time, people had to drink beer instead of water, and certainly they wouldn’t have wanted to be drinking beer with a high ABV. I think the history of low ABV beer could be quite interesting.

There are certainly special aspects that go into brewing a commercial session beer. Breweries don’t want to brew a watered-down version of their standard AVB beers and call it their session. They want a lower ABV beer that has huge aroma and flavor. To achieve this, I’m sure they’ve got methods they’re using. This is especially true for the session IPA. In order to achieve a lower ABV, one has to have less fermentable sugar in the starting wort, which usually means using less grain. Hops not being affected by fermentation may seem to not play a part, but balance is so important, even in an IPA. Hop a 4% beer like an 8% beer and you may find you’re drinking hop tea. Learning what’s going on at some of the bigger breweries making session IPAs would make a great read.

Being a lover of commercial craft beer often leads you down the path to brew your own. There are many books on home brewing in the market, but none that focus solely on low ABV styles. Showcasing these styles, and educating home brewers on how to brew a high flavored beer without a high ABV punch would be useful. Home brewers would benefit from reading about how the pros brew their session beers, and these lessons could be discussed on a 5 gallon level.

A session beer book would be a great read. I would love to see one of these hit the market in the coming year. I love drinking lower ABV beer, and I know others do as well. A tome on the history of lower ABV styles, how pro brewers brew their beer, and how the home brewer might apply these to their own brew pot could find a home in many beer lovers’ libraries.

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Beer Journalism

The Scales of Beer Justice

Is there a fine line between hackery in reporting, and pure truth?

Recently I read a good article on beer journalism. The writer, Andy Crouch, discusses the traditional ethics and etiquette of journalism in relation to beer reporting. Do we adequately follow the traditional rules of journalism? Do we need to?

The ideal situation with traditional journalism is that the reporter would have absolutely no bias. The person wouldn’t have a stake in the company, he/she wouldn’t be a familial relation, and the journalist wouldn’t accept any gifts, so as to avoid looking (or being) “bought.”

This isn’t just good for the consumers who are hopefully trusting your judgment. It’s also important for you, if you want to retain your readership. Think about this: A craft beer consumer is looking for good beers to experiment with. He/she reads an article on how great X brewery is. The person gives it a shot, since any new experience is better than no experience.

The person goes to X brewery and it’s the worst swill ever made.

Who else loses besides the customer and X brewery? You do, because the beer drinker isn’t going to trust your reviews.

Of course there are times when a blogger just disagrees with the public. Maybe you really did love X brewery. Maybe you had a certain beer that they do really well, while the consumer had one of their more middling offerings. That happens. That’s also why it’s important to mention any variables. Note in the article that you only tried the IPA, but not the barley wine. Make sure the readers know that you had it on tap, but you didn’t try the canned version.

Also, it’s important to remember that you should treat styles you don’t like differently from beers that are just poorly made. For me, if I know I don’t like a certain style, I won’t review the beer. It’s not fair to the brewer, and it’s not fair to the person reading my article. The beer didn’t stand a chance of getting a good review (unless it’s really not the style it is advertised as.) In my mind, it would be better to find someone who does like that style and let them take over that review.

Other factors may be in play that would make a beer “bad.” The tap line could be dirty. The beer could be old (and not meant to be aged). The fermentation could have been corrupted with unintended bacteria. Sometimes it’s impossible for you to know, but it’s good to keep these possibilities in mind. Maybe you could encourage your readers to post their opinions about the beer. You may find out that you are the outlier!

Another conundrum that Mr. Crouch points to is the difference between sugar-coated writing and hard-nose, truth-in-print journalism. The ideal journalistic endeavor is to go where the story takes the writer, whether it looks negatively on the subject or not.

That ideal has not always been faithfully adhered to by old journalism, and new journalism faces the same choice. Sometimes new media writers publish what could be considered “fluff” pieces: “What are your favorite beer bottle shapes?”, “If you could be any hop, what hop would you be?”

They don’t dive into the controversy because they want to be invited back. Should they be disparaged for that? Is there room for both types of writing?

As far as posting negative remarks—the contributors to Craft Beer Nation are honest in our reviews/blog posts. If something seems off style, we’ll say it. If a restaurant gives us bad service, we’ll say so.

However, I am guilty of occasionally just not reviewing a beer if it’s really bad, and I personally like the people who brewed it. That’s something I need to work on. Then again, there’s something to be said about not burning bridges. What’s the right answer?

Boris Castillo, one of our moderators, puts it this way: “As a brewer, honest feedback is important.” He says this is true regardless of who the brewer is. He hopes the breweries “would respect the honest feedback so they could improve or change the product…”

Another taboo of yore is to receive compensation from the subject of your writing, whether it be a monetary contribution, a gift or a discount.

All of these ideals are great to reach toward, but it’s not easy when you’re doing this for free. Personally, one of my happiest days was when the bartender at my bottle shop gave me the professional discount. She’s not there anymore, though, so I no longer get it. Maybe I’ll mention it next time I’m there.

Mr. Crouch offered a happy medium. If you’re going to accept gifts, or if you do have a conflict of interest, then be candid about it. For instance, if you get a free case of Bourbon Stout, note it in the article. If your best friend opens a brewpub, it’s still ok to write about it…just don’t let your ties influence your opinion.

Taking all of this into account will insure that you remain a respected commentator of the beer world. You may still be able to have your goodies, too.

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