Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
As a Christmas present this year, my wife got me tickets to see the Hershey Bears, a minor league affiliate of the Washington Capitals. We’ve made the two hour trek before – stopping at Hersheypark’s Chocolate World and, more importantly, at my favorite brewery site. Tröegs Independent Brewing is right next to the amusement park, so my wife got me two gift cards with the tickets, knowing my appreciation for tasty beverages and minor league hockey.
If you’re not familiar with Tröegs – and I highly recommend that you get acquainted – the company was founded in 1996 in central Pennsylvania by brothers John and Chris Trogner. According to their website, the name of the company combined their last name with the word kroegs, which apparently is Flemish for pub. More than 20 years later, Tröegs has grown to over 175 employees and has produced more than 200 different beers in its history. The company now pumps out about 44,000 barrels of beer every year, and has won more than 15 medals at the Great American Beer Festival since it was founded
I’d been to Tröegs a handful of times before and it was actually the perfect time to go. Mad Elf, the company’s signature beer which is only available around the holidays, was on tap as was a special version, found only in the tap room, called Bourbon Barrel-Aged Mad Elf Grand Cru. It was easily one of the top 10 beers I’ve ever tasted, though I could only have one because, at 13.3% alcohol by volume, there was no way I would’ve remembered the Bears game afterwards – but I digress. I also picked up a little goodie bag of beer, which included a couple of my favorites, some scratch beer and one or two that I had yet to try. One of those efforts was Tröegs’ Blizzard of Hops Winter IPA, which is a seasonal beer that is typically available from November until the end of January.
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About a year and a half ago, we got to talking to the folks at @hiddenstillleb over lunch. We invited them to tour our brewery, and they returned the favor, showing us around their Lebanon distillery. We happened to be brewing Mad Elf Grand Cru right around that time, and well, it just made sense to put some in a few of their barrels. And now here we are. You can try this very limited Bourbon Barrel-Aged Mad Elf Grand Cru at Tröegs and at Hidden Still starting today. If this is your kinda thing, don't wait. There's not much to go around. (Sorry, no growler fills on this one.) We taste: tart cherries, brown sugar and notes of bourbon and vanilla. #MostWonderfulBeer
The label of Blizzard of Hops looks like something right out of the old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special we all watched as children, with a white and blue color scheme featuring little snowflakes and a snow-covered landscape. The can breaks down the information of this brew pretty well for even the simplest beer drinker, explaining that it’s 6.4% ABV, hazy gold in color, best served in a tumbler glass and that it contains Centennial, Chinook, Galaxy and El Dorado hops. Categorized most often as an American or Winter IPA, it fails to mention that it’s also 80 in the International Bitterness Units scale. Underneath that, it gives a short summary of what you can expect from this beer:
“We created this Winter IPA to toast hop growers around the world for another successful harvest. This storm of hoppy citrus and pine notes is a bright reminder the end of the Hop Cycle is only the beginning.”
When I poured Blizzard of Hops, I was a little disappointed in the head. It was pretty fleeting, lasting barely long enough for me to snap photos. That kind of made me question the carbonation of this beer. Having said that, I certainly appreciated the aroma, noting a little bit of a fruity smell perhaps citrus or orange in nature as well as a yeast or bready smell. While Tröegs claims it to be hazy gold in color, I think this medium-bodied beer is definitely gold but might be lacking just a little bit in the hazy department.
The taste mimics the aroma rather nicely, with a citrusy flavor that highlights tropical notes and maybe a little orange peel. The back-end is bitter but nothing crazy – it’s a really good flavor. It’s smooth and features something that gives it a little bit of a warm feeling, perfect for mid-January, however I can’t quite put my finger on what that might be. Oh, and the carbonation was a little better than I anticipated. Either way, it’s a very drinkable beer, one that I could pound several of, no matter if it was cold or warm outside.
I only bought a single, however I believe it goes for about $12 for a six-pack of bottles or cans, about the standard rate these days. As for Blizzard of Hops’ average score on BeerAdvocate, it got a 3.86 and I’m not too far off of that, giving it a 6.8. This beer has some flaws but, overall, it’s pretty tasty and a welcomed IPA no matter what time of year. I like the taste but I wasn’t necessarily woo’ed by it. The drinkability factor easily added half a point to this beer’s score. But give it a try for yourself and see what you think.
Stay tuned for next week, because I might just try something from your favorite brewery.