We visited the Tröegs brewery on a snowy, blustery afternoon in late March. Supposedly the first day of spring, the weather was anything but. From Rochester, it’s a drive of some 278 miles, much of it through the Alleghenies, where the snow plow drivers inexplicably opted to plow only one lane, turning the mountain roads into slow-driving purgatories, ten cars stacked up behind one person taking their sweet time.
But we persevered, arriving at the brewery almost exactly at 3:30 in the afternoon. Jeff Herb, the Media & Communications Coordinator, was expecting us. Due to various scheduling whas-names, I’d only contacted him the day before, but despite the last-minute planning on my part, he was very responsive, and told me to ask for him when we got there.
While waiting in the General Store, we had time to appreciate their ridiculously good case prices. Word of advice: if you get a chance to visit Tröegs, take it, and pick up a case of something while you’re there.
Whatever I’d expected in a media and communications guy for a popular brewery, Jeff Herb was not it. Maybe I’d anticipated being over-awed by a dude in a business suit with lots of marketing rhetoric at the ready. What I got was a very friendly, ponytail-having bloke with an apple in his lunch box, who was willing to show us around just before quittin’ time on a Friday afternoon.
The other thing I wasn’t prepared for was the noise. We’ve visited a number of microbreweries and brewpubs, not to mention making plenty of beers ourselves. For the most part, brewing is a quiet process. But Tröegs is a noisy brewery; their bottling, canning, and cork-and-cage lines make quite a racket. After fourteen or fifteen years in Harrisburg, they moved to their current location right next to Hershey Park. They’ve got a very modern operation going, with a huge amount of brewing capacity.
The several shiny 300-barrel fermenters inside are augmented by 800-barrel fermenters out back. Their new bottling line was built by an Italian company, and Jeff said they can clean and fill a keg in sixty seconds.
In the portion of the brewery requiring safety glasses and a guide, stand my favorite bits of equipment: three foeders, so new that they’re still fermenting their first batch. I remarked on these in the initial post from the trip, but I liked them so much, I’ll mention them again. Built in Italy, of French and Hungarian oak slats that John Trogner picked out himself, the envy-inducing, enormous barrels should soon be producing a new line of sours.
Since we didn’t know precisely how long the drive would take, I didn’t reserve spots on the guided tasting tour. But when Jason’s group came through for their tastings, he had just enough spots open so Jeff could slip us in with them.
Cultivator Helles Bock is Tröegs “spring seasonal release.” A light, refreshing beer, Cultivator is the first in their HopCycle series, brewed to celebrate “the start of hop-growing season.”† We had this one again at last night’s BJCP tasting with UNYHA, and I have to agree with whoever said that Helles Bock is like a higher-octane German Pilsner. Not too exciting, but definitely pleasant and drinkable. A good gardening beer, perhaps.
Perpetual Imperial Pale Ale is brewed year-round, as the name suggests. It uses six different hops; Bravo, Chinook and Mt. Hood in the boil, then it’s hopbacked with Mt. Hood and Nugget, and Citra and Cascade for dry-hopping.† Perpetual weighs in at 7.5% BV, and started out as one of the “scratch” experimental series at the old location in Harrisburg. Any time of year, this is a very good, clean IPA with a pleasantly complex hop profile.
Nugget Nectar is a stronger version of the very popular Hopback Amber. It also is 7.5%, and is a very tasty, enjoyable ale. It’s made with Nugget, Warrior and Tomahawk, and has a less complex hop flavor than Perpetual. I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favorite between the two, though.
Touring a brewery is thirsty work, even when they give you samples halfway through. Naturally, we had to check out some of the libations on tap in the Tasting Room. By now, it was close to five o’clock, and the bar and dining area were filling up. We found stools near the end of the bar, and waited for service. Busy as the bartenders were, we didn’t have long at all to wait. With another three hours or so of travel ahead, we couldn’t try everything on the list, so we settled on a couple that we hadn’t seen in a bottle.
At 5.2% ABV, this is a sessionable ale that paired quite well with the bangers and mash we ordered from the Snack Bar.
(Meagan) Roasty nose; dry, roasty flavor, followed by a pleasant hop bite on the back of my tongue. Medium body.
(Ben) Classic English Nut-Brown. ‘Nuff said.
#176 Red Ale
This one’s slightly heavier, 6.4%, but still light enough to have a pint and not feel it too much.
(Ben) Hint of almost DMS pale malt, Northern Brewer hops maybe, something minty, nugget. I don’t know, something rustic. Delicious.
(Meagan) Pale malt nose, light hints of nutty toastiness, and plenty of hops. Tastes of malty sweetness, that hint of mint that Ben mentioned, and light, citrusy hop bite.
They had this one on tap, and we grabbed a bottle of the bourbon aged edition from the General Store. Fresh, this tasted almost like a dark, very strong IPA. The 18 months aged version we drank later was smoother, had a nose that reminded me of J.W. Lees Manchester Star Ale, had a definite bourbon barrel character, and tasted of raisins and/or plums, with perhaps a hint of cocoa.‡ On tap, Flying Mouflan was very good. Barrel aged, it was outstanding.
Tröegs large, welcoming, clean and modern brewing facilities and visitors’ areas are impressive, and being next door to Hershey Park gives them extra marks from family-friendliness. But aside from all that, the thing that stood out to me is that they seem to be all about sharing their love and enjoyment of craft beer with everybody. From Jeff Herb, who took time to show us around the brewery, to Jason, who let us jump in his tour group, to the bartenders who stopped to make tasting flight suggestions and recommend we try Flying Mouflan while it was available, everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful, and seemed to genuinely care about both people and beer. That, and their excellent brews, put Tröegs in my top five East Coast breweries.
‡Trogner, John. “Flying Mouflan.” Tröegs Brewing Company. Tröegs Brewing Co. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.
†”Tröegs Beers.” Tröegs Brewing Company. Tröegs Brewing Co. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.