The First 8 Breweries

I have some catching up to do on my brewery visit blog check-ins! As you probably already read, this year’s goal is to visit 52 breweries (one for each week, basically). Some of my posts will be reviews and stories from these visits.  Because I already scratched off 6 before I started my blog, I wanted to share my thoughts on those breweries and the 2 I visited this week!

First of all, let’s highlight some of the different categories of breweries that exist (just for fun!):

Production Breweries – These breweries produce beer, sometimes have a tasting room, and package their beer for mostly off-premise sales.

Brewpubs – These are combination restaurant/breweries that sell 25% or more of their beer on-site. (If a brewpub distributes more than 75% of their beer off-site, it is re-categorized as a Microbrewery, according to the Brewers Association.)

Microbreweries – These breweries produce less than 15,000 U.S. barrels of beer per year, with more than 75% of their beer sold off-site. (One U.S. barrel = 31 gallons of beer. Microbreweries produce a little less than half a million gallons per year, to put it into perspective.)

Regional Breweries – Produce between 15,000 and 6,000,000 U.S. barrels per year.

Large Breweries – Produce over 6,000,000 U.S. barrels per year.

Nanobreweries – The Brewers Association has no precise definition of a Nanobrewery, but these are generally considered to be breweries (production or brewpub) that produce no more than 3 U.S. barrels of beer per batch. (The East coast’s greatly revered Dogfish Head started as a nanobrewery on a 10-gallon system, just like the one my husband brews on.)

Contract Brewing Companies – These are businesses that hire another brewery to produce their beer or to help them produce additional beer. There is sometimes a stigma associated with contract brewing companies, but I don’t feel negatively about them, and neither should you. It’s essentially giving a precisely crafted recipe to someone to produce for you. Though some people perceive this to be less authentic, myself, and a lot of other beer aficionados and industry beer geeks have no problems with it.

Any visit that falls under one of these categories counts as one of 52!

I have great respect for anyone who gives brewing (and opening a brewery, for that matter!) a shot. Some do it better than others. That’s how everything in the world works. I give credit to anyone who tries, and I admire those who learn, improve and persevere. I’m visiting nanobreweries, large breweries, and everything in between. Some breweries are still learning. Others have been around the block a few times.

One day, maybe I’ll be a consultant as a Certified Cicerone (or hey, maybe even as a Master Cicerone!), and my opinions will be refined by extensive knowledge and certifications. For today, you guys just get good old Beer Geek Janée and her ever-growing knowledge and of course, always present opinions!

Not all beers are created equal. So it goes without saying that not all breweries are created equal, either. Keeping in mind that my opinions are just my opinions, let’s start!

#1. All Saints Brewing, Greensburg, PA – Jan. 4. Ben and I headed out toward Greensburg for my friend’s birthday festivities later that night, and as usual, we decided to plan some extra time for beer. We hit up House of 1,000 Beers first, which was an excellent choice. Then, we departed for the nearby All Saints Brewing. Their brew house was beautiful, and there was lots of room for expansion here in the warehouse-like building. The tap room was almost hidden in the large warehouse. I had an Archangel Nitro Pale Ale that was decent and a Hallowed Pumpkin Ale that I felt was just mediocre. I’m a HUGE fan of all things pumpkin. Some of my pumpkin favorites include Southern Tier Pumking and Southern Tier Warlock, Dogfish Head Punkin, Flying Dog The Fear, and my husband’s award-winning “Old Lady” Pumpkin Ale. I’m a pumpkin snob, and it takes a lot to impress me. All Saints wasn’t a bad little stop. I’d like to go back sometime to check out some of their other beers to see what else they have to offer.

#2 and #3. Ben is from Southern Virginia, so we travel to see his (our) family down there once every few months. We usually end up hitting at least one brewery on the 6+ hour drive back home. This trip was no exception.

South Street Brewery, Charlottesville, VA – Jan. 12. I’m a detail-oriented person…  I’m big on presentation. (The lengths I go to on Thanksgiving to make dinner a great presentation are ridiculous.) I’m analytical, and tend to be an over-planner. I like things to be done right. With that being said, I can’t overlook one big aspect of the bar here… The fireplace. It sounds completely ridiculous and insignificant. The brick and timber of the brewpub made for an impressive, rustic atmosphere, so it seems like a giant fireplace would suit it well, right?

Breweries generally take great care to produce something you hope tastes great. Most of what we perceive as taste comes from our sense of smell. With so much time dedicated to perfecting the taste of your beer, why would you take no care to ensure that you’re serving this labor of love in an atmosphere that is conducive to great tasting? I ordered an Espresso Porter because the smell of burning wood was so intense, and this was the only style of beer they offered that I knew could hold up to the smell. All I tasted was smoke. What I tasted was decent (as smoked porters are often purposefully produced), but what I tasted wasn’t the beer.  I had NO feel for what the beer was actually intended to be. This is a detail I can’t overlook. It made me sad. It’s literally like taking hours to cook an amazing turkey dinner, only to burn the turkey to a crisp after all that hard work, ruining the taste. Epic. Fail.

Champion Brewing Company, Charlottesville, VA – Jan. 12. After our visit to South Street, this was a breath of fresh air. (See what I just did there?) The atmosphere was open and industrial. I noticed the Cicerone Certified Beer Server certificates on the wall, and instantly felt at ease. The bartender was super-friendly and knowledgeable. Beer is an experience! Actually, it’s like a sporting event. It’s a lot more fun to watch your team when they’re kicking ass and when you’re in the company of kick ass people. These people give a crap about their beer, and it shows! I tried the Stickin’ In My Rye, Tart Berliner Weisse and the Chocolate Cherry Stout. All well done. I feel like this is going to be a great brewery to watch and to keep on my radar. I look forward to stopping there again soon.

#4. Marzoni’s Brick Oven and Brewing, Hollidaysburg, PA – Jan. 21. This is the closest brewery to our house, at only 1.5 miles away. We visit Marzoni’s often for a quick beer, and often to grab a bit to eat, too. Their brick oven pizza is really good, and we love their regular bartender, Dani. My favorite regular brew on tap is their Stone Mason Stout, which I had that night. The other year-round beers aren’t mind-blowing, but they’re decent. I always look forward to their seasonal beers. Not all of them hit it out of the park (or even get on base, for that matter), but the ones that do, do it well. The Weizenbock has always been a favorite of mine, but their recent 10th Anniversary Ale gave it a good run for its money. There was also briefly a Pumpkin Stout that I really enjoyed, but it must have been a very small batch, because I had it the day it came out, went back for more the following day, and it was gone! They recently opened a second restaurant location and got a bottling line and started selling six packs at both locations.

#5. Railroad City Brewing, Altoona, PA – Jan. 31. Though I live in Hollidaysburg now, I was born and raised in Altoona, Hollidaysburg’s neighboring city. Railroad City has only been open for about 2 months. They’re a brand new local nanobrewery. They only sell growlers (and sometimes 22’s) on site at their small brewery. Their tasting room has 3 taps. It’s a buy and fly brewery that is open on select weekends for a few hours at a time. They usually end up closing early and/or running out of growlers due to high demand.

Marzoni’s is all Altoona residents had for a long time, so it’s great to see people flocking to support their new local brewery. My husband had visited the brewery a few weeks earlier, and asked if I could go over and pick up their just released Hefe on this day, as he was stuck working a little late. I told him all the growlers were at home (which would make the trip a lot longer for me), and he told me to just get a new one. I knew better than to go without a growler. When I got there, they had already run out of growlers.

It’s early on, and demand continues to exceed supply. It’s kind of fun to hear that they have a new beer out and to rush over to try to get it before it’s gone. They did have “emergency” cartons that another brewery had told them about that are specifically produced to hold beer for a few hours before immediate consumption. When I got home, I forgot to put the hefe in the fridge while I waited for Ben to come home. Hefeweizens aren’t really beers that warming up does favors for, so I’ll have to try it again when I can get my hands on it! My favorite beer of the handful I’ve had of theirs so far was surprisingly their Gingerbread Ale. I’m not really a fan of gingerbread, and I didn’t expect to like it. But I’m pretty sure I drank the whole growler myself without sharing it with Ben. I’m excited to see what their first year has in store for Railroad City.

#6. Otto’s Pub and Brewery, State College, PA – Jan. 31. State College is only about a 40 minute drive from my house, and Ben and I just decided to go to knock a tried and true brewery off the list after my epic fail on the warm hefe. They’ve grown a lot in the past few years, moving to a much larger building and introducing some 750ml bottles. I love that they use local ingredients from nearby farms and bakeries on their food menu. The food is great there. I had the Blau Burger when we visited and tried the Elderberry Stout for the first time. Good choices and a good pairing. I’m sure we’ll be back there for more in the not too distant future.

Janee at Troegs#7. Troegs Brewing, Hershey, PA – Feb. 6. I’ll have to preface this brewery visit with this somewhat unrelated thought: So, my job is pretty awesome. I’m really lucky to work for a great company that has the kind of fun culture we have. (To make Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, along with the likes of Google, they have to be doing something right.) A very small team of us from my department was in Hershey for work last week. We’re a bunch of food and beverage geeks, and we love checking out innovative and fun food and beverage businesses, both for work and for fun.

See where this is going? We stopped at Troegs for a brewery tour while we were in Hershey. On the way to Hershey, I read a tweet from Troegs announcing that they were releasing their Barrel-Aged Troegenator Doublebock. Impeccable timing. The beer gods were smiling on me. So of course, I bought a bottle. My general rule is that if someone took the time to barrel-age something, it’s probably a solid beer to begin with. I always say yes to barrel-aged.

Troegs has a great brewery, and they’re especially huge on the East coast. People freak out when they’re able to find the highly sought after Nugget Nectar. If you see it on tap anywhere around here, you can expect that the keg will kick in a matter of days.

It’s shocking (and almost a sin) that I hadn’t been there before, as practically every PA beer-loving friend I have has been there. Multiple times.

#8. Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD – Feb. 7. Flying Dog is one of my favorite breweries. (And that says something pretty big!)Gonzofest 2013

Ben and I had planned to take a half day of work on February 3 to drive the 2 plus hours to the brewery for their one day only release of their Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter, exclusively available for purchase at the brewery. But the worst snow and ice storm of the winter caused Flying Dog to cancel the event, to be rescheduled for the 7th. Ben wouldn’t be able to get off work early then, but still had planned to head to Maryland when he got off work around 4, in hopes that they would still have beer left. I was really bummed because my work trip conflicted with the new release date.

Again, the beer god were smiling on me. I love my job, and my bosses. Flying Dog was a little off route on our way back home on Friday, but they made the stop there so I could pick up my beer!

The culture that surrounds Flying Dog is great.  I truly believe that passion surrounding a brewery shines through their beer and makes it rise above the rest. “Good people drink good beer” is their tagline, and it’s one of my favorite used by a brewery.

The founder of Flying Dog was close friends with well-known counterculture journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. The artist who illustrated Thompson’s works is the artist who does the artwork for Flying Dog.

Much of Flying Dog’s inspiration comes from Hunter S. Thompson. Flying Dog even has their own beer and music festival on the brewery grounds (complete with food trucks) that they named Gonzofest in honor of the Gonzo style of journalism Thompson created. Check out the picture of Ben and me at Gonzofest from last year!

Barrel-Aged Gonzo

That sums up my brewery visits for the year so far! Stay tuned to see what’s next.

Note that in writing about my job, my opinions and stories are my own, and don’t necessarily represent the viewpoints of my company. Just a friendly reminder!

At the end of every post, I’ll be listing the beers I consumed while writing. (Keep in mind that my writing sometimes spans the course of a few days!) Here are my “blog fuels” for this post: Flying Dog Barrel-Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter, Brouwerij Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Lambic, Port Brewing Board Meeting American Brown Ale and Evil Twin Femme Fatale Noir Black IPA.

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