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Going whole hog for Groundhog Day

smiley gobblers knob

Groundhog Day is a big deal around here.

How big? Think about it: with two beers being brewed to commemorate the 2016 edition of the day, there’s only one holiday — Christmas — that gets more attention from the brewers around here.

In the case of Straub in St. Mary’s, putting out a beer with a groundhog on the label has been a regular thing for years. Four years ago, though, its Groundhog Altbier represented a shift in the brewery’s very foundation. It was the first beer the brewery had produced since before Prohibition that wasn’t made with adjuncts … and it was the start of a shift towards a craft beer lineup that now includes about a dozen styles, mostly German.

The altbier serves as the brewery’s winter seasonal, and it’s perfectly suited for it. There is a little heft to the beer, rich and a touch sweet up front; that’s backed up with a balancing bitterness to finish. It’s delicious, and it would be perfect for drinking on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney … if such things were still allowed up there on Groundhog Day.

But you won’t have to drive to Punxy to meet the town’s most famous resident on Saturday, Jan. 23. You’ll just have to get to Penn Brewing on the North Side, to meet Punxsutawney Phil and to get a taste of Penn’s Punxsutawney Philsner, a beer made to commemorate the visit.

The Philsner tastes a bit like Penn Gold — OK, it tastes a lot like Penn Gold — but that’s not a bad thing; the Munich Helles is slightly biscuity, slightly spicy and perfectly balanced, and if Phil ever gets tired of the elixir he’s fed every few years to keep him going — this will be his 130th prognostication — I have to think he’d be happy with a glass of the Philsner.

And regardless of which beer we’re talking about, so will you.