A thunderstorm during a recent family trip to Hersheypark afforded me a few hours to visit the nearby Tröegs Brewing Company in Harrisburg, PA. Renowned amongst Aleheads for beers like Nugget Nectar (a best-in-class Imperial Amber Ale) and Mad Elf (a strong holid-ale brewed with cherries and honey), the brewery will move ten miles east in the fall to a shiny new state-of-art complex in tourist-stricken Hershey, PA. While no tours were being conducted this day, I knew it would be my last chance to see a great American ale factory and Pennsylvania brewing institution in its current incarnation.
Located just south of the Pennsylvania state capitol building and downtown Harrisburg, Tröegs is set in a gritty industrial plot among a busy network of freight train tracks and manufacturing plants. Upon entering the taproom, visitors are transported into a a cheery and inviting beer space with high ceiling and large inward-facing windows through which to view the brewery production floor.
I made my way to the bar to view the current list of beers on tap. Although there were no rare one-offs and I had sampled everything on the menu, it was still a good representation of the brewery’s offerings and I was more than happy to reacquaint myself with them. I was excited to see that the current seasonal was Flying Mouflan, a mahogany-colored and heavily-hopped Barleywine I had never tried on draft:
Unable (unwilling?) to choose, I ordered the Sampler featuring seven Tröegs brews, which at seven dollars seemed a peach of a deal. I carried my tray of snifters to a table that gave me a view of the brewery floor and began to make my way through the beers (light to dark of course).
Sunshine Pils- Though slightly less bitter and grassy than it’s instate uber-hopped lager competitor Victory Prima Pils, the Tröegs Sunshine Pils tasted extremely refreshing and dry. While not a style that many Aleheads get too excited about, the Sunshine was a perfect way to ease into my afternoon of beer sampling. 2.5 Hops
Pale Ale- Although I’ve had the Troegs Pale Ale numerous times from bottles, the draft version at the brewery surprised me with sweet tones of apricot, reminding me of a subdued version of the original Magic Hat #9 recipe. This is not the hoppy IPA-Lite experience towards which the style has gravitated. 2.5 Hops
Dreamweaver- My expectation were low as I tucked into the Tröegs Dreamweaver, having never been impressed with it as a bottled offering and unimpressed by wheat beers in general. However this beer was damn tasty with notes of lemon, pepper, banana esters, and funky Belgian yeast. It imparted the sticky mouthfeel and fluffy, creamy character so often found in ales brewed with wheat. Or cookies baked with wheat, for that matter. 3 Hops
HopBack- Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale is the brewery’s flagship beer named after a vessel invented and crafted by John and Chris Troegner (brothers, owners, and head brewers at Tröegs) that works like a french press for coffee, imbuing hot wort with whole flower hops or other additives. I would tell you more, but I don’t know more. Homebrew/ beer geeks can listen to a good interview with the brothers on this episode of the Brewing Network. I can’t think of another Amber Ale that comes close to fresh HopBack. Floral and spicy with a great caramel backbone. Highly recommended as a sessionable ale. 3 Hops
Tröegenator- A big, beautiful, bronze Double Bock lager that is surprisingly smooth when considering the hefty 8.2 ABV. A massive white and resolute head makes this a gorgeous beer. If you enjoy Double Bock, Tröegenator is a great American example of the style. 3 Hops
Flying Mouflan- This big, bad Barleywine was the bell of my afternoon-drinking ball… a huge dark crystal malt bill is countered aggressively with Warrior, Chinook, and Simcoe hops. Then they called in the cavalry with fresh wholeleaf Nugget and Simcoe hops via the Hopback apparatus. This freshly-tapped Flying Mouflan was given none of the mellowing and aging time often accorded to a Barleywine of its stature. Awesome. 3.5 Hops
Javahead- An old standby and one of the most solid Oatmeal Stouts you’ll find, Troegs use the HopBack to impart tons of Cascade hops and fresh roasted coffee into this brew. If you haven’t tried the Java Head, do so immediately (if not sooner). 3.5 Hops
In addition to the tasty brews, the Troegs tasting room has plenty of eclectic artwork and whimsical accoutrement to enhance the drinking experience:
Ah yes, there is also a fully functioning commercial brewery on premises. You can sit and watch the brewers bustle about, doing God’s work.
As nice a spot as the current Tröegs facility is, the new 90,000 sq ft interactive brewery in Hershey will be revolutionary. Among the cool features to be found include:
-2 large brewhouses adjacent to the 5,000 sq ft tasting room
-75 ft stainless steel bar
-A self-guided tour path where you can walk with your beer and watch the brewing process from fermentation to kegging
Tröegs currently distribute to only ten eastern states, but that will be changing with increased capacity from the move to the new digs. Give their brews a try if you see HopBack, Nugget Nectar or others on your local store shelves. Or better yet, request them from your distributor. You won’t be disappointed.