BEER CLINIC :: Beer in the Valley Part 3 – The Electric City Craft Beerfest, November 2013

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on December 9, 2013

Craft beer is not only alive and well in NEPA (NOrtheast Pennsylvania) it is thriving. This is the conclusion I drew after attending the third Electric City Craft Brewfest on Saturday, November 16, 2013.

Carl

Carl

The ECBrewfest, previously held in March in Scranton (“Electric City”), was moved to Wilkes-Barre to coincide with the November opening of a new venue,  the convention center in the new hotel at the Mohegan Sun casino. This was a smart move. It brought out the crowds who were curious to see the new venue, as well as some old friends such as Carl, local bartender and proprietor of Carl’s Beer Tours, who brought along about a dozen beer afficionados. The venue provided a lot more space, all on one floor, instead of the historic but confusing, multi-room hall in Scranton.   And parking at the casino was ample, and free.

There was an extensive selection of beer from craft breweries as far away as Colorada and Virginia, as well as a few bigger names that rightly didn’t below there, but were featured by the distributors who had booths at the fest.  In fact, I got into a friendly disagreement with a distributor wearing a Budweiser shirt, who insisted that Budweiser was the original craft beer!

As I have done at previous ECBrewfests (see YBN May 13, 2012 and YBN May 15, 2013  ) I limited my tasting to regional craft beers; today, it would be all Pennsylvania beers. My tastings included some that are well-known locally: 3 Guys and a Beer’d (Carbondale, PA), Breaker (Wilkes-Barre Township, PA), Shawnee (Shawnee) , Fegley’s (Lehigh Valley), Old Forge (Danville), Stoudt’s (Adamstown), Wyerbacher (Easton), Yards (Philadelphia) , and Victory (Downington).  New to the venue, and to me, were Penn Brewing (Pittsburgh), Manayunk (Philadelphia),  Erie Brewing (Erie), Free Will (Perkasie), Nimble HIll (Tunkhannock); of these, Free Will, and Nimble Hill are relatively young start-ups, while Manayunk was a well-established brewpub which is now distributing in cans.

Pix2To pace myself, I set a limit of 2 1/2 pints, spread out over 3 hours, with food to slow down alcohol absorption( See “Your Brain on Beer,” YBN Oct 18, 2011).  That meant small pours (no more than 2.5 oz per brewery) and a lot of pierogies. This year, the breweries really showed off their stuff, and there was a lot to taste besides IPAs and pale ales. I was fortunate to buy one of the limited tickets to the VIP session, which gave me the opportunity to taste a number of innovative and creative limited edition brews. I also had extra of time to talk to the brewers, such as The Guy With The Beer’d (Johnny Waering) from 3 Guys and a Beer’d Brewing Co. and John Stemler, from Free Will Brewing.

Johnny and John

Johnny and John

The folks in NEPA have traditionally favored lagers, with Yuengling and Stegmaier being the local standards for the last few decades. I was pleased to see that NEPA has discovered craft beers, and has embraced ales and hops.  Every brewery is now producing an IPA, and I’m not going to review them: they are all excellent; every local has his own favorite. My current favorites:  Nimble Hill’s Hopbottom which uses locally grown cascade and centennial hops and is packed with flavor; and Breaker’s perfectly-hopped Lunch Pail Ale, which I prefer even over their excellent I (Love) PA, because at 5.5% ABV I can drink more of it.

I confess that, for the most part, I skipped lagers at this Fest, since overall I prefer ales (yes, I am a hop-head). I made an exception for Penn Brewing, which is known for the lager-based styles; I can recommend their Cool River Kolsch, which is surprisingly light and easy to drink, and goes well with pierogies. I also avoided the pumpkin ales–again, not one of my favorites. Popular this year were brews using fruits and nuts. As you might expect for a November beerfest, cranberry was a popular flavor. Manyunk featured a Raspberry Ale Punch, which was forgettable, at 6% ABV and only 14 IBUs .  (I heard many raves about it –go figure!)  Weyerbacher showed off their Althea double IPA, which was brewed with plums; Shawnee Craft featured a Cranberry IPA, and Breaker offered their Cranberry Ginger IPA, as well as their Sour Pear. More on these later.

Shawnee Craft was a microbrewery that I had wanted to keep an eye on at the last Brewfest. Their commitment is to produce a beer that uses locally sourced, primarily organic ingredients. Keeping this goal is a challenge when scaling up, but they have succeeded and are now producing enough that I see it on draft even as far as Wilkes-Barre. I was especially impressed with their Chestnut Braun Ale. This was an English style brown ale made using hybrid, blight-resistant American Chestnuts. The nuts gave a bitter, hop-like flavor that I found worked well with the malty brown flavor; the beer was very drinkable at 5.5%.

3 Guys and a Beer’d was just getting off the ground at the last Brewfest, but they have clearly established themselves.  They are now producing enough to bottle and distribute regionally, though it’s still hard to find. I liked their Loyalty Shaving Cream Ale, (5.5%), a traditional-tasting cream ale. I’m not sure why we don’t see more cream ales, an easy-drinking, low hop style that goes well with food, as this one does. Unfortunately the brewery has very little Internet presence, so I was unable to find out more about this beer, including the origin of the unusual name, or whether they included other grains in their mash (corn is traditional).  Perhaps by the next Brewfest we will see a web site?

I talked for a while with John Stemler, co-founder and brewmaster of Free Will Brewing Company, in Perkasie, a very small town in Buck’s County, PA, which has tremendous potential.  They are expanding rapidly, and are starting to bottle. A few of their notable beers include:

indexAlexander:  This was a tart saison aged on sour Montmorency cherries and American oak. Conditioned on Brettannomyces Claus, at 6.10% ABV. I was impressed, but I had to agree with John that it will probably be even better when it had a chance to bottle condition for another year.

C.O.B. stands for Coffee Oatmeal Brown Ale.  This is an Imperial style English brown ale which is aged on coffee.  Very dense in flavor, malty and sweet, and the coffee taste comes through nicely. 8.3% ABV.

Pix4Breaker Brewing Company, my local microbrewery (See YBN, July 23, 2013) was well-represented at the Brewfest.  The picture shows me at the Fest with some of the Breaker staff . This brewery is growing fast, soon to be opening a brewpub, and occasionally bottling limited editions, such as their Christmas seasonal, Belsnicker Ale. In addition to their standard ales, IPAs and porters, they showcased three of their more creative efforts: Sour Ale, Cranberry Ginger Goldies, and Sour Pear. Of these, the most interesting were the sours, which were brewed in the old style, using wild yeast with open brewing.  The Sour Ale itself was palatable, but one-dimensional; the Sour Pear included the addition of fresh pear.  This beer was quite remarkable and unlike anything I have yet tasted.  I expected a Belgian-style Lambic, but it was more reminiscent of a fresh ciderThe Cranberry Ginger Goldies was a solid, drinkable fruit beer using their Goldies Pale Ale as a base.  The ginger flavor is subtle but noticeable, making this a good holiday selection, especially suitable for Thanksgiving.

There were some negatives to the venue, one of which was that the beer had to be poured by Mohegan Sun bartenders instead of the brewery staff.  As a result, the brewery staff would wander off, so they were not around to answer questions and promote their beer, and often the bartenders were not knowledgeable about the brews they were pouring.

Another disappointment was the food.  At the Cultural Center venue there had been a variety of food to sample or purchase from several of the Scranton-based restaurants.  Here the only options were bar food — pretzels, nachos, wings, pierogies, popcorn and hot dogs.  Nice for a snack, but a bit too heavy after a couple of hours of trying to balance alcohol intake with light food during the VIP session noon hour.  I would have appreciated something a bit healthier or satisfying for lunch, such as sandwiches, soup, or salad.

Finally:  too many beers, too little time. If you were a serious taster, there was no time at all to attend the beer school seminars on Belgian beers and UK ales. I would have loved to come back and taste the beers that I missed, and catch the seminars.  PLEASE make this a 2-day event!

My beer picks for the November 2013 Electric City Craft Brewfest:

1.  IPA: 

No favorites.  All good.

2.  fruit-based beer

Breaker’s Sour Pear

Breaker’s Cranberry Ginger Goldies

Weyerbacher’s Althea

3.  Sour or Belgian style

Free Will’s Alexander

Breaker’s Sour Pear

4.  Dark Beer

Susquehanna Brewing Company’s Pils Noir

Shawneecraft’s  Chestnut Braun Ale

Free Will’s C.O.B (Coffee Oatmeal Brown)

5.  Octoberfest or malty style

Erie’s Ralibender,

Susquehanna Brewing Company’s Toboggan Double Bock

6.  Crazyiest, out-in-left field beer– and why

Victory’s Red Thunder (8.5%) This one was aged in oak wine barrels, with whisky added.   Crazy, but it works.

Stoudt’s Big Nasty (10.5% ABV and 160 IBU). Can’t taste all the hops but it has the most delighfully lingering finish I have every found in a beer.
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imagesDr. Westbrook’s invaluable book, Ask an Oncologist is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Johnny " The Beard" December 19, 2013 at 12:15 am

Hi Carol, we do have a website!! http://www.3guysandabeerd.com

Reply

Dr. Carol Westbrook December 19, 2013 at 7:12 am

Thanks Johnny! It’s so hard to find web sites, though I gave it a good try. I;ll keep the link. I’d love to read more details about the beers.
A question for you: Do all brewers have beards? There seems to be a trend. (This might turn into a future article!) Thanks! Cheers! Happy Holidays.

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