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“Is that a Field Notes book?” The gray-haired, bearded bartender asks as I start writing tasting notes.
“Yeah,” I glance up, surprised that he recognizes the old-school notebook brand, less ubiquitous than its somewhat less durable counterparts.
“I wore mine out in Belgium,” he continues.
Under different circumstances, I might greet this off-hand comment with something akin to awe, peppering the poor man with enough questions that he’d probably be sorry he said anything. But not today. On this particular afternoon in late March—blustery and cold as nearly every day of the month has been—I’m on a mission. It’s the last day of our Epic Beer Trip, and after a night spent in what amounts to an overgrown truck stop near Allentown, Ben and I are at Weyerbacher Brewing Company, in Easton, PA.
After killing some time along the way, we arrived at the brewery just before noon, when the tasting room opened. “Tasting room” might be a bit of a misnomer. Like most of the breweries we’ve visited on this trip, Weyerbacher offers tours and tastings at their production facility. Unlike some others, Weyerbacher is located in an industrial warehouse on the edge of town, and our route included several horribly maintained back streets that made me fear for the tires’ structural integrity.
To be fair, Weyerbacher makes no pretensions about the cushiness of their guest accommodations; as their website states, “The brewery is made out of concrete, steel and some wood; there is NOTHING soft about it.”† This is absolutely true. Walking through a nondescript door labeled “Weyerbacher” at the back of the building, we’d been greeted by a youngish lady working behind a large, three-sided construction of cement and metal, topped with two very enviable stainless steel 12-tap towers and stacks of shiny glassware. There were no bar stools or chairs, nor even relief mats to lessen the harshness of the concrete floors.
The lady—who was soon joined, and then replaced, behind the bar by the aforementioned well-traveled gentleman—told us that free samples were no longer available, but we could buy 4 oz. tastings. Of course, we proceeded to do just that. Of twelve beers on tap, one or two were growler-only, still leaving us with more than enough choices.
Ben starts his session with Merry Monks, Weyerbacher’s most widely known and best-selling brew, while I go for Tango, a Belgian Dark Ale with cherries. Any traveling stress, or possible disappointment in the neighborhood or venue, dissipates after the first sip of this wonderful concoction. At 10.6% ABV, Tango is a cure for what ails you, as the old saying goes. It’s full-bodied and richly malty, with recognizable Belgian yeast tang, and a pleasant bit of cherry tartness.
Naturally, I also importune Ben for his impressions of Merry Monks, a Tripel with a characteristic Belgian yeast aroma.
“Very cleanly flavored, light funk, tastes like Pilsner malt, light candi sugar, possibly. And there’s a…hint of fruit in the finish.”
While I’m still nursing my first little glass, Ben moves on to the Blithering Idiot, an 11.1% English Barleywine. Judging by the fact that it’s also available at Wegmans, this is probably Weyerbacher’s second best-selling brew. Ben’s notes on it: “Good malt presence, restrained hops, a little bit of alcohol warmth. Not as much caramel.”
After that, one must of course sample the Insanity; apparently what happens when you age Blithering Idiot in whiskey barrels.
“Extreme barrel flavor,” Ben remarks. Unsurprisingly, the delightfully crazy ale has a sweet, malty flavor and aroma, with plenty of caramel presence. “Strong booziness—not out of style,” Ben adds. And, “a lot of oak flavor.”
Feeling much better about life in general, but aware that we still have a four and a half hour drive to get home, I take a short break from the high-octane pours (the fact that cases were 40% off had nothing to do with it, really) to check out the Winter Ale, at a benign 5.6% ABV.
The nose is malt sweetness and caramel notes, with, as Ben says, a “hint of high desert honey.” This brown ale tastes malty and a little toasty, with hints of roast chocolate. It would make for a pleasant little session on a cold evening.
By now, I’m beginning to appreciate the necessity of standing at the bar, so there’s no delayed pyloric reaction, as often happens when you’ve been drinking, only to discover upon standing that you’re far less road-worthy than you’d thought.
None of that at Weyerbacher; you feel what you’re drinking, so it’s easier to know when it’s time to stop, or at least take a break. Before launching into the Imperial stouts that have been tempting me since we arrived, I take a moment to tour the ladies’ facilities.
Upon my return, I gratefully accept the little paper cup of water Ben offers me from the dispenser that I’d heretofore overlooked, and we spend a few minutes perusing the steel utility shelves of brewery merch. Despite my attraction to brewery shirts, we decide to save our dollars for the beer. Wandering back to the bar, I take a deep breath of the malt-laced air, and make a comment to the bartender about the pleasing aroma.
“You should be here when they’re hopping,” he replies. “The whole place smells like hops then.” While I love the smell of hops, for this tasting session—which doesn’t include any IPAs—I’m glad their floral aromatics aren’t present to confuse my sense of smell.
As you may already be aware, I am a sucker for stouts, especially imperial versions. Happily for me, so are the Weyerbacher folks. Taking the bartender’s advice, we start our stout session with Old Heathen, an 8% ABV Imperial Stout with unusual, slight mineral notes in the flavor, along with Black Cavendish and maybe some faint hints of vanilla. It’s full-bodied, as it should be, with a thick, creamy, tan head.
Next up is Heresy, the whiskey barrel-aged version of Old Heathen. The time spent communing with the oak has done very good things for this beer. For starters, it smells amazing; notes of Black Cavendish—stronger than in the less aged version—vanilla, whiskey barrel, and a hint of beeswax. This one also pours beautifully.
“Oh my god that’s good,” I breathe upon tasting it.
“Hold on,” Ben cautions. “I think the Sunday Morning is going to be better.”
As is so often the case, he will turn out to be right. But before that, we try Tiny, which, at 11.8% ABV, is anything but. This one is a Belgian Imperial Stout, a fact that is immediately apparent from the Abbey yeast character in the nose. In keeping with its stout-ness, Tiny also has a roasty aroma. Tasting it, I find dark fruit notes, hints of chocolate, and a bit of spiciness from the Belgian yeast. It’s very smooth, without harsh roast acridity.
I could happily linger over the Tiny, if not for the newest addition to Weyerbacher’s big beer stable, Sunday Morning Stout.
“It came out on Sunday,” the bartender informs us. He gestures to the bags of coffee beans stacked on top of a barrel, explaining that they’re the same kind used in the stout. Along with quality beer, I also have a strong appreciation for first-rate coffee, and I’ve been eyeing the beans all along. But they’re no competition for the actual stout.
Aged in bourbon barrels with coffee, this 11.3% ABV American Imperial Stout is something of a revelation; proof that a coffee stout can be everything I’ve hoped, but so far failed to achieve in my own brewing.
Practically burying my nose in the tasting glass, I take a deep whiff. Coffee notes, hints of pepper, and an unmistakable—if you’re familiar with it—Bourbon barrel smell. All that is borne out in the flavor, which is smooth, rich and malty, with hints of cocoa, vanilla, and possibly caramel.‡
“That is a superlative coffee stout,” I opine.
“I think it’s even better than KBS,” the bartender agrees. Ben makes some comment, while I smile and nod, hoping my ignorance doesn’t show. The very next week, I will have a chance to try the legendary Kentucky Breakfast Stout, and will remember the Weyerbacher gent’s assessment; Sunday Morning is as good, and might—possibly—be better. Even more than the Heresy, Sunday Morning earns an ohmygodthat’sgood description.
We’ve tasted our way through most of the big beers on offer, and I’m looking for something different before we go.
“What is the Tarte Nouveau?” I ask. Ever helpful, the bartender—I fail to ask his name, but there’s a picture of him on Trip Advisor—explains that it is kettle soured before the boil, in the manner of a Berliner-Weisse. The result is a very sessionable 3.9% ABV beer with a tart nose and pleasantly refreshing flavor.
As Ben put it, “You can taste the malt behind the tartness.”
We’ve had to skip the IPAs and one or two others, but it’s definitely time to select our take-home beers and hit the road. Thanks in part to the very recent reinterpretation of PA beer laws—which I mentioned in the travel entry about this visit—we’re able to mix and match some six-packs, and grab a few 750ml cork-and-cage bottles for the cellar. We’ve had quite a bit of fun, and learned that Weyerbacher is at least as good as our transplanted PA friend said.
Each brewery on our Epic Beer Trip has been distinctive, and Weyerbacher is certainly no exception. I’ve discovered that they make a very good session sour, and understand the IPAs are nothing to sneeze at. But delicious, big beers seem to be their major specialty, and (because I love them) it’s these that I recommend most highly.
“Beers.” Weyerbacher Brewing Company. Weyerbacher Brewing Company. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
‡”Sunday Morning Stout.” Weyerbacher Brewing Company. Weyerbacher Brewing Company. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
†”Visit!” Weyerbacher Brewing Company. Weyerbacher Brewing Company. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
“Weyerbacher Brewing Company.” Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor LLC. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.