Pictures & words by Brian Conway
The hazed crusaders have arrived, and they brandish the banner of humulus lupulus: the mighty hop.
About 400 hop heads focked to Dancing Gnome Brewery in Sharpsburg Oct. 1 to celebrate the craft brewery’s frst anniversary with one of the freshest beer festivals in recent memory: Juicy Brews.
The event, presented by online craft beer magazine, Hop Culture, saw top-tier regional craft breweries pour alongside Pittsburgh heavy-hitters Grist House Craft Brewery, Voodoo Brewery and, of course, Dancing Gnome.
“The fact is, hazy IPA is having its moment, and we wanted to celebrate that,” Hop Culture co-founder Kenny Gould says.“I can’t tell you why that style of beer in that particular format is having its moment right now,” he continues. “Two years ago, it wasn’t a thing. And two years from now it might not be a thing again.
”Tickets to the event sold out in 10 seconds, and those fortunate enough to gain entry to one of the two sessions were presented with an embarrassment of riches: seven out-of-town breweries with a penchant for all things hoppy, each pouring in Pittsburgh for the frst time.
Gould and Dancing Gnome brewer and owner Andrew Witchey swapped notes and reached out to their favorite under-the-radar breweries specializing in hazy IPAs and fruited beers. In order to make it happen, the breweries distributed under a one-week license provided by Steel City Beers.
“They’re not huge [breweries] but they’re making absolutely phenomenal beers that a lot of people in Pittsburgh might not have heard of because they don’t distribute regionally,” Witchey says.
To an extent, the event was a mirror into Hop Culture’s philosophy: highlight the up-and-coming Dancing Gnomes of the world making outstanding beer but aren’t yet household names.
“We could have picked Trillium or Tree House or Tired Hands—I love all three of those breweries—but to be able to go a little bit deeper and find these hidden gems people aren’t talking about but will be talking about, that’s really our goal,” Gould says.
To wit: one day after the festival, Paste Magazine ranked 176 of the Best DIPA/Imperial IPAs in America, and Juicy Brews participants Triple Crossing, out of Richmond, Va., had beers come in at No. 2 and No. 4.
“Intimate events like Juicy Brews give consumers a chance to try out-of-their-local-market beers which are sought after and allows brewers the opportunity to network and tell war stories about the days and life in a brewery in a diferent market,” Triple Crossing co-owner Scott Jones says.
Judging by length of line the most popular brewery may have been Aslin Beer Company out of Herndon, Va. Witchey had just joined them in Virginia for their two-year anniversary, and they reciprocated by pouring at DG’s birthday bash.
Other participants included, from Columbus, Ohio, Hoof Hearted Brewing and Seventh Son Brewing Co. SingleCut Beersmiths came in from Queens, and Magnify Brewing from New Jersey. Rounding out the out-of-towners was another Richmond, Va. brewery, Ocelot Brewing Co.
Based on the success of the event, Hop Culture already has plans for another session of Juicy Brews on Dec. 3 in Brooklyn. Seventeen breweries will be on hand this time around, including Dancing Gnome, who will be joined by newcomers Burley Oak Brewing Co., Civil Society Brewing Co., Bearded Iris Brewing and more.
“It would be a mistake to underestimate this newest class of brewers,” Gould says. “There’s a lot of people who have been in the industry for a while who look at these people and say, ‘They are a fad, they are a trend,’ but everyone is new at some point, and [those people] were new once, too, and the generation before them probably said the same thing about them.
”Besides, these breweries are much more than one-style wonders. Dancing Gnome celebrated their special day by pouring a one-year anniversary brew, Nobody’s Monkey, a huge, 9% imperial stout that’s anything but a juicy brew.
“We want to be known that way,” says Witchey when asked if he had any problems with being known as a brewery that specializes in hazy IPAs. “At the same time, we want to be able to make stellar stouts and anything we choose to brew: true to style and with our own twist”