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Beer is always in Bloom in West Newton

When he opened up Bloom Brew more than two years ago, Jeffrey Bloom didn’t have much space. His brand new brewery, after all, was tucked into the back corner of the of the West Newton Fire Department’s building.

That didn’t stop him from filling the spot with ambition. And kegs … enough to keep 24 taps flowing nearly all the time.

But the smaller scale of the brewery and the insanely ambitious number of taps actually work hand in hand, as does Mr. Bloom’s obsession with aging beer in wood barrels. An example: When the tap room was open this week, Mr. Bloom handed tasters of a new mango sour to several customers, clarifying that this version — the first to go on tap — was his least favorite of the six — SIX — varieties he brewed while tinkering with the recipe.

Six takes on one new beer? That’ll help keep those 24 taps from running dry, and it’ll give craft beer lovers in his neck of Westmoreland County a chance to follow along with the experiments.

While those sours and stouts sit in barrels, others are lagering. In the meantime, a steady stream of ales, which don’t require the same amount of production time, rotate in and out with the fussier beers … and there is always plenty of beer to choose from.

There are plenty of opportunities to help out the community, something that’s been a priority for Mr. Bloom. One beer, 82 Hot Head Red, benefits the borough’s fire department (with whom he shares a home; another, Brewce’s Ryed, benefits the local trail association (the Great Allegheny Passage runs by the brewery on the opposite shore of the Youghiogheny River); a third, Snewton IPA, benefits the downtown local development group.

Excellent causes, yes. But you could also just go for the beer … all 24 taps of it.

Barrel-aging wood make that beer even better

wood me two

If you leave a liquid inside a wood barrel long enough, magical things can happen.

This isn’t a secret. Vintners from from France to California and distillers from Scotland to Kentucky couldn’t do without the wood casks; their wines and whiskeys wouldn’t be the same without them.

These days, those wine and whiskey barrels often end up in the hands of craft brewers, who cherish them for the same reason — months inside a barrel will impart similar flavors the beer wouldn’t have otherwise. And yes, that means oaky notes or tannins from the wood, and additional layers from the booze that was left behind. Aging a stout in a bourbon barrel? You’re going to notice hints of that whiskey in your glass. And setting aside that same beer in barrel that was used to age pinot noir means you’re likely to find tastes of fruit alongside the beer you’re expecting.

There are plenty of famous examples of barrel-aged beers out there — the annual November release of Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout always causes an uproar — but before you go chasing down those, take a good look around here first, because there are plenty of examples to taste.

In the pursuit of the last two shows alone, I’ve come across several that are worth the time and effort to track down. At East End Brewing, I’ve tasted Old Knobby, the brewery’s bourbon-barrel aged stock ale, for the show and Steel Cut Oatmeal Stout off camera. You’ll see my reaction to my first taste of the excellent Red Russian stout at Hop Farm Brewing in this episode; the red wine-tinged imperial stout was worth being excited about. And if you happen to stop at Penn Brewery and they still have a bit of their barrel-aged St. Nikolaus Bock available, you shouldn’t pass it up.

I have another suggestion: Grab yourself a ticket to second-annual Good Wood Festival, scheduled for Jan. 16 at East End, which co-sponsors the event with Wigle Whiskey. Breweries all over the region are doing great things with barrels of all varieties — and they’ll all be available in one place that night.

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