Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale : Tröegs Brewing Company : Amber
An athlete, a scholar, and a gentleman, Tim Gallagher was the star running back back in high school, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, and, even more importantly, a founder (with his brothers) of the Appalachian Brewing Company. ABC was Harrisburg’s first brewpub and a pioneer in the earlier days of re-localizing brewing.
Bottled underneath beautiful labels featuring quaint woodcut prints of the Susquehanna river and surroundings, the brewery features a fine inventory of beers that certainly excel over any hometown product available back in those high school daze. ABC’s fine Trailblazer Pale Ale, for example, certainly would trump my first non-Dad-let-me-take-a-sip beer: Colt 45. In the big bottle. Warm. Fortunately I shared with my friend Frans, who was accompanied by his neighbor Sue, drinking beneath some trees in College Park. The results were nauseating, but I made it home safely.
We all eventually graduated (before senior year) to drinking from a variety of cases–Schlitz, Schaefer, Miller, but preferably Molson Golden Ale–until we got smart enough to realize that all those bottles created a lot of unnecessary evidence. So we found kegs and soon after my friend Craig forever won his knickname from the keg party where our friend Moose punched a hole though the basement wall. Moose was a Golden Glove boxer; the wall was his temporary opponent. If we had been drinking ABC’s Rockville Rye, the whole house would have come down.
We all fortunately survived high school in tact. I would not advocate the same educational path for anyone and it took several years in college to understand that much wonder can be found in simply sitting in the summer’s backyard taste-testing animals with my friends Don and Joanne. We had a case of Wild Goose (a leader in quality and flavor), Catamount (long since defunct), and some beer I can’t recall with a dog on the label. (I keep thinking Black Lab.) We called our next selection by goose, cat or dog. Of course, if ABC had been brewing their Jolly Scot back then, we would have had a fourth animal in to vary the mix.
On the other hand, Olde Frothingslosh was never an animal. She was a zaftig beauty queen and the prize centerpiece of my friend Jack’s beer can collection. She stood on an Atlantic beach with a banner draped a mile wide across her shoulders. Yes, she stood out amongst the multitude. Jack’s collection, stacked in careful shelves in the basement, was stunning visual proof that the beer world was infinite, even it it wasn’t completely accessible through the Camp Hill Beer Distributor. I spent a couple of summers working there, hauling cases into the cooler, out to cars, and, once when insulted about picking up a keg, I even once punched out a 16oz er though the cardboard case. It was not an Olde Frothingslosh.
Years later, I’m sitting in Tuscon with my friend Alex. We’ll decided to visit their latest fad in dining and entertainment: the beer garden. The waitress was quite proud of the 30 bottles they have in the cellar. “We even have a beer from America’s oldest brewery, a…Younglung? a Youngster?” A Yuengling: actually I think it was a Yuengling 16oz returnable that I punched out at the beer distributor’s. You may not ever be able to go home again, but beer teaches us that you may not ever be able to completely leave home either.
That sentiment never more evident to me that when I was sitting in a different backyard, one complete with swings and a small playground set, that also housed a family restaurant. I was in Ingelheim am Rhein, taking a break from work and touring towns in the vicinity. I had just come from the town’s graveyard, wandering amongst the headstones, and noting that the family names read like a roster from my high school graduation. I was in a place where my ancestors (and my town) had left centuries before. My German was rusty, but I spoke enough to order a local beer. And, with the first sip, I knew I was home.
And since we’re in the home stretch now, what better time to return to stories of hometown brewing? That’s why I’ll be discussing Troegs’ Hopback Amber. It’s not that ABC is not worthy or available. It’s just that the Hopback is perhaps one of the best ambers going–anywhere/anytime–and even more delightful if you get one of those minikegs and lug it home, toss it on ice and tap it over a long weekend spent at home.
So, forgive me Tim and your fine selection of beers if I take a moment to acknowledge your crosstown colleague’s spicy sweetness and zinging pine that balances out to easy thirst-quenching quality, akin to coming home again. Especially in the home-welcome big 1/6 of keg can.