This excellent article was first posted on the Tröegs blog — Out of Curiosity. We thank the gracious Hershey, Pa.-based brewhouse for letting us repost. We’re big fans of both the brewery’s and Justin’s work.
Back in 2010, brothers Chris and John Trogner were sketching their vision for a new brewery on the back of a napkin. If you’ve been to Tröegs Independent Brewery, you know what they came up with: a large central Tasting Room, an open brewhouse, a self-guided tour path around a Quality Control lab, plenty of room for fermentation and a General Store for beer and goods to-go.
They also pictured a space dedicated to wood-aging. It would be a sanctuary for strong ageable ales, a home for wild yeast and bacteria, and a wide-open canvas for creative cellaring. From this space would grow a new series of Pennsylvania wild ales brewed with the fruit and microflora from our backyard.
Over the years we’ve given a home to nearly 300 wine, bourbon and virgin oak barrels, as well as three small oak tanks called foeders, but the dedicated wood-aging space kept getting shelved for another day.
That day has arrived.
At the heart of the Splinter Cellar are three 20-foot-tall oak foeders built by Giobatta & Piero Garbellotto, a 200-year-old Italian barrel manufacturer. Each foeder – a Dutch word for large oak tank – is made of dozens of staves of Italian, Hungarian and French oak that have been air dried for three years to mellow any harsh flavors.
Inside the foeders, a delicate dance of liquid, solid, air and microcultures takes a simple — or not so simple — beer and turns it into something different altogether.
For starters, beer aged in foeders pulls undercurrents of vanilla and toasted coconut from the oak. But the wood tanks also provide a happy home for wild yeast and bacteria, things typically not welcome in a brewery, and the slightly porous wood allows a steady creep of oxygen that keeps the microflora hard at work. Secondary fermentation with brettanomyces, pediococcus and lactobacillus gives wild ales their sour, funky, acidic flavors.
To celebrate the opening of the Splinter Cellar, we’re releasing a limited amount of our Splinter Series beer Wild Elf in Pennsylvania. Born from our once-a-year holiday favorite Mad Elf, Wild Elf goes through a year-long secondary fermentation in oak with locally harvested Balaton cherries and the wild microflora that rode in on them. Tart, layered and highly carbonated, Wild Elf is a beer rooted in our backyard.
The art of Wild Elf is in the character of the local cherries and the thoughtful blend of oak-aged Mad Elf.
About a year ago, a few of our brewers went on a cherry-tasting trip to nearby Peters Orchard in Adams County, known to many as Pennsylvania’s Fruit Belt. As they tasted tangy Balaton cherries, visions of a new sour Splinter Beer started taking shape. Back at the brewery, they filled a small foeder with Mad Elf, a bumper crop of cherries and the wild yeast and bacteria hitchhiking on their skins.
About 10 months later, the beer was bursting with notes of cherry pie and the classic fruitiness and funk of brettanomyces. But there are even more moving parts to Wild Elf.
“Since 2010, back when our brewery was still in Harrisburg, we’ve been squirreling away Mad Elf in oak barrels, and each one has developed differently,” says John Trogner. “Some have notes of toasted vanilla and coconut, others are dominated by a sour acidity, and the oldest are rich with deep, raisiny stone fruit.”
In early spring, our Blending Squad gathered around a table full of tasting glasses and bounced ideas off each other — How about some port character from this barrel? And some sour acidity from that one? — until they settled on a perfect blend. Soon after, it was bottled for its third and final fermentation.
Ripe cherries are the centerpiece of Wild Elf, with a rich depth of character layered in. You’ll find notes of esthery fruit and subtle funk from the brettanomyces, a slight allspice character from the Balaton cherries and sour lemon from lactobacillus. Our oldest vintages add notes of raisin and stone fruit. We left the pits in the cherries for a touch of almond, and the oak barrels add an undercurrent of vanilla and toasted coconut.
Wild Elf will debut in 375-ml cork-and-cage bottles at our Hershey brewery on July 14. In the following weeks, a limited amount will roll out throughout Pennsylvania. And the mother of next year’s batch is already in the foeder.
More wood-aged beers on the horizon
As we add more barrels and our new foeders start producing, we’ll be able to get more Pennsylvania wild ales and Splinter Series beers like Barrel-Aged Troegenator, Nebulous and Impending Descent to bottleshops, bars and restaurants where Tröegs is sold.
Art of Tröegs Gallery
For many years, through our annual Art of Tröegs contest, we’ve challenged Tröegs fans who share our creative spirit to take our packaging and create their own original works of art. Now, we have a place to showcase our very favorites.
“We thought it would be nice to have a place where we could show off the art that bubbles up around the brewery,” says Chris Trogner. “Especially all the great work we get for the Art of Tröegs Contest.”
Above the Splinter Cellar is our brand new Art of Tröegs Gallery, where you’ll find winners and fan favorites from past years, as well as pieces we commissioned from artists up and down the East Coast.
Included in the debut exhibit are 2016 contest winner Brian Begley’s size 13 Nike Dunks retrofitted with Tröegs labels, bottlecaps and poptops; a collage from Brooklyn’s Jay Riggio that features an upended landscape with a Hollywood pinup and dozen of tiny cutouts from DreamWeaver Wheat and Perpetual IPA labels; a bottlecap, broken glass and cement mosaic from larger-than-life Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zagar; and a curiously surreal oversize bottle split by zipper from Boston glassblower Stephanie Chubbuck.
Exhibits in the Art of Tröegs gallery will rotate regularly.
Time for a visit
Guided Production Tours now start in the Splinter Cellar and follow in the footsteps of our brewers through the mill room, hop cooler, brewhouse deck, fermentation cellar and packaging lines.
Find out how brothers Chris and John Trogner discovered craft beer, hatched a plan to open a brewery and survived trial-by-fire as they learned the business. Along the way, you’ll see, hear, smell, taste and touch the things it takes to brew our beer, and you’ll sample a few fermented and finished Tröegs favorites.
We also continue to offer a self-guided tour path that allows a peek behind the scenes of our brewery, all with a beer in hand. So, whether you’re a regular or have never been to Tröegs, it’s time for a visit. Check out our hours, beer list, Snack Bar menu and tour information and start planning your trip.
Next up: Courtyard, more parking
And now that the Splinter Cellar is complete, our next projects will begin to take shape. An outdoor greenspace and courtyard are going in next to our patio, and we’ve partnered with Land Studies Inc. and RGS Engineering to increase parking in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. Watch for the courtyard this fall and the new parking in spring 2017.
Justin Williams is the Content Manager at Tröegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, Pa.