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#PCBW: Barrel-aged surprises from Voodoo Homestead

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It’s one of the best days in craft beer in Western Pennsylvania: when Voodoo releases bottles from its barrel-aging program. The releases are limited; they’re also coveted, which means scoring a share almost feels like a competitive sport.

And that’s what made Saturday’s event at Voodoo’s Homestead tap room so special — if you hadn’t had a chance to taste some of those beers, the barrel-aged tap takeover was your chance. Here is the list, stolen from the Voodoo Homestead Facebook page, that served as the starting point for the day:

Yep, that does say ManBearPig, probably the whale-iest of all of Voodoo’s whalez. If you weren’t there at noon — and I was not — you probably didn’t get a taste of that one. Thanks to a friend, I did get a taste of the Buffalo Trace Black Magick and a couple of other rarities that were added to the list later in the afternoon. I also had a glass of fresh Pork Chop Sandwiches, a delicious IPA that showed up on tap after the initial rush.

How long did the ManBearPig last? Watch the clip to see what Jake has to say about that.

#PCBW: Carson Street Deli brings us cask-conditioned treats from Grist House

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It’s all about the beer.

Don’t get me wrong: I love everything about Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week. But in the end, the best part is always getting to try a beer you haven’t tasted before.

I got that Wednesday night at Carson Street Deli. Every #PCBW, the deli can be counted on to host an event highlighting a local brewery, usually by landing a special cask or two of beer that hasn’t before seen the light of day. This year was no different; the deli’s folks worked with Grist House to land two pins of cask-conditioned beer: Hazedelic Juice Grenade with added fresh pineapple and two-year-old Black in the USSR imperial stout aged with cocoa nibs, vanilla, cinnamon and coffee.

The results? Take a look at the clip to find out.

A hazy taste of the tropics, via Vermont

Those aren’t glasses of orange juice. Although the comparison is a bit more apt that you might think.

Those are glasses of Hazedelic Juice Grenade, a newish IPA from Grist House in Millvale. Hazedelic is part of a juicy new wave of IPAs and pales that are turning expectations about the styles on their heads, both here and across the country.

The wave started in New England, apparently with a beer called Heady Topper, brewed by The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont. The goal was to make a ridiculously hoppy beer, but not in the way that a brewery like Stone — which can pump up the bitterness in its hoppy beers to brutal levels — does. Instead, Heady presented a mouthful of fruity, tropical hop flavors with nearly no bitterness . A rich, soft mouthfeel. And an opaque, bright, sunny appearance. The brewery’s fans went nuts for the style, which spread around New England — New England IPA is the name that most use to designate a Heady-style beer — and beyond.

It’s far from being the most remarkable thing about these beers, but the haze has become the hallmark of the style. In fact, that’s the subject of some controversy. Consumers have been taught in some cases that haze is a sign that a beer could be infected, brewers who have spent years trying to brew beer that pours crystal clear are now being asked to suddenly reverse course. But those who have been making the style say removing the stuff that’s suspended in the beer would cut down the flavors they’re trying to find.

I don’t have any fear of stuff floating around in my glass — being a fan of hefeweizen cured me of that long ago — and what the proponents say about flavor is exactly right, as far as I’m concerned; the bright, juicy flavors practically burst with each sip. And the hops are front and center, but in a way unlike the IPAs we’re used to.

If you crave these beers like I do, you’re in luck. In Pittsburgh, they’re not hard to find. For the show, I tasted beers from Grist House, Dancing Gnome and Sole Artisan Ales, a gypsy brewery that operates in Eastern Pennsylvania. But there are plenty of other solid-to-spectacular examples of the style all over the region, so they’re not hard to track down.

The other bit of good news: It seems as though they’re not going away anytime soon. Hart Johnson, the cellarman at Piper’s Pub on East Carson Street, says the juicy pales from Dancing Gnome sell on par with Guinness in his British pub … and that’s a sign that the new school is here to stay.

Hazy days — and IPAs — at Dancing Gnome

 

Andrew Witchey went to school in Boston for a couple of years. And he learned the basics of brewing from the American Brewers Guild in Vermont.

But neither of those things really explain how Mr. Witchey, the owner and head brewer at Dancing Gnome in Sharpsburg, developed such a talent for brewing the hazy, juicy pale ales we’ve come to know as New England pales.

Mr. Witchey’s love of hops — “We unapologetically brew hop-pronounced styles” is right there on the DG home page — is evident from the moment you first look at the tap list. But understand that you’re not just looking at six or seven Trillium or Alchemist clones; the DG pales all seems to offer a twist after the initial tropical juice-bomb goes off.

An example: the Mister G Australian Pale Ale looks like it fits the New England pale profile: cloudy gold with a soft, white head. It tastes it too, until you notice a crisp shot of bitterness at the finish, thanks to an Australian hop variety called Vic Secret. That’s the kind of thing that makes Mr. Witchey’s beers interesting … and it’s the kind of thing that means his taproom is packed when it’s open.

There is one important thing to keep in mind as we ride the pale ale hype: do not skip whatever darker beer Dancing Gnome has on. I had a glass of Caligo oatmeal stout when I visited last week and it was stunning: a beautiful balance of dark-roasted coffee and sweet chocolate flavors and a perfect, silky mouthfeel. It’s fine to head to Sharpsburg for a taste of something tropical; just don’t miss a glass of Caligo for dessert.

IPA needs more than one day

Believe it or not, it’s coincidence that the Beer Me episode that focuses specifically on India Pale Ales is being released on National IPA Day.

And what makes the timing even more interesting is the point of this week’s show — these days, it’s nearly impossible to think of IPA as a single style.

Is it a crisply bitter, citrus-and-pine West Coast IPA? Is it built to accentuate the citrus characteristics of the hops, maybe with grapefruit added to the mix? Is it designed to be hazy, juicy and resinous, without a hint of bitterness? Is it black, white, red or orange? The answer to all of these questions: Yep, that’s an IPA.

I visited Piper’s Pub on East Carson Street to talk with cellarman Hart Johnson about the style and its history, and to get a taste of some local examples. The history of the style is as hazy as a glass of Heady Topper, but one thing is certain: brewers in the U.S. took a more balanced, mildly bitter British version and ran with it, boosting flavors, experimenting with hop and generally forgetting all the rules along the way.

The best part, of course, is the tasting, and we’re lucky to have the full range of IPA versions available to us here in Pittsburgh. You’ll see us sample beers from Pizza Boy Brewing, Roundabout Brewery and Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. in the show; you’ll also note that we really enjoyed the three widely divergent variations of the style.

National IPA Day? C’mon. To do it right, we’re going to need a National IPA Week instead.

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