Far From India: Today’s IPAs: Fegley’s Brett Hopso, Allentown, Pa.
Date: March 11, 2019
The Story— For the next couple of weeks we’ll be spotlighting variations on a theme — IPAs: big ones little ones, many colored ones and ones that we don’t think belong in the category. But all of them interesting and tasty. We chose today’s beer in part because it makes a nice transition between the sometimes funky Belgian beers we’ve posted for the last ten days and the West Coast IPAs that we still think define the modern style that finish this series.
the graph of any economy shows its ups and downs, peaks as well as low points. We’ve always been fascinated by the turnarounds — what makes a falling economy turn around. It’s rarely a single reason, but in Bethlehem, Pa. there is at least a symbolic single day when the decline turned into recovery. In April, the Bethlehem Hotel, an historic treasure and anchor at the end of Main Street closed its doors. The same day the Fegley family opened their brewpub only a few blocks away. Within a few years, the restored hotel opened and Fegley’s had rival restaurants all over the formerly desolate downtown.
We’ve seen the story repeated dozens of times. Brewery taprooms and breweries will draw customers to areas where no one goes. Especially in declining industrial towns, a successful brewing operation catches the attention of other entrepreneurs and other restaurants open and shops keep longer hours. We traveled Germany in the 80s and 90s when centuries-old breweries were going out of business by the dozens every month. We noticed the ones that made it had tied their fortunes to downtown–usually historic–neighborhoods.
Hat’s off to the Fegleys– they’ve had an impact on nearby Allentown as well. Their restaurant is a showpiece and the food is good enough to want to visit even without a brewery, but it’s a steady lineup of very good beer and often award-winning beers that has made the Beer Works a destination in its own.
If you go, the hotel is a gem: not necessarily a bargain, but a memorable trip decades into the past. Bonn Place brewery is a long walk down into the valley, but its very low key and simple taproom serves very good beer in an atmosphere that’s makes for a fun contrast to Fegley’s nearly palatial beer parlor.
Fegley brews a range of exceptionally good standard beer styles, but when the brewery deviates from standard they often have the knack of keeping the beers very drinkable. Their standard Hopso Lutely without Brett explodes with pine and fruity hops and coasts to a full oily chalky bitter. The Brett adds an interesting but not enteric twist. Different, not necessarily better or worse, but both of us like the Brett version better just because it was more interesting without being upsetting.
Brettanomyces, if case you haven’t run into it, of brett for short, is a variant of yeast that grows naturally on fruit skins and can be easily introduced by mistake into a brewery — especially a farm brewery. Although a staple of British brewing for many years, it’s been the scourge of consistent brewing for the last century. Different brett strains can yield dramatically different results, though a degree of wild funk is common with most of them. The recent explosion of craft brewers, however, have rediscovered the positive qualities of this forcefully flavored yeast and many use it in some of their beers. Advances in brewing science make it feasible to brew some beers with brett without too much risk of infecting an entire brewery.
The Beer— Brett is sweet and mild. It gives wood and a hint of the barn, but this is a house domesticated beer. As it drinks ripe fruit including berries joins a touch of pepper and a steady metal with hops and sweet and slight wood and apple as it drinks. Ellie liked the tameness of the brett.
Value — Good to very good. Fegley charges fair prices for good beer and a pint of this powerhouse for less than seven bucks is very fair indeed.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.