Pull Up A Stool with John and Chris Trogner
Founders, Tröegs Brewing Co.
So some of these will be only a single batch?
CT: Almost all of them are just that. We’re at number 95 right now, and I think only three of them made it into production. They range from kölsches to double IPAs, to imperial chocolate stouts with chilies.
The Splinter series is similar, in that it’s an experimental series, but using wood or other non-traditional elements, whether it’s fruit, wild yeast, Brettanomyces, whatever might stretch us as brewers.
Splinter, good name. Did that program splinter off the Scratch program, as it were?
JT: The first Splinter beer was from our Scratch #3, a Belgian tripel. We racked some of that beer into oak wine barrels and pitched Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. Then we had to wait two years for it to ferment. So the first Splinter beer came out almost three years after the first Scratch, even though it was brewed as number three. The two series didn’t quite start concurrently, but the Splinter series takes a while.
Turn the clock back. Was Troegenator in your original lineup?
CT: We didn’t open the brewery with it, probably because we were too intimidated at the time. We always loved the name and the image we had in our mind, but it took, I think, three years to come out with the beer itself. What set that one off was a trip I took with a friend to Germany. We had been backpacking for ten days, trying the beers in each region. One of our favorites breweries was Andechs, at the monastery, where we absolutely fell in love with the doppelbock.
After a couple of those, I remember phoning John and saying, this is the time to come out with the Troegenator. It seemed so fitting for the brewery and our name. There weren’t—still aren’t—a lot of American craft breweries brewing double bocks. So it was an area where we thought we could stand out from a lot of our peers. It’s been our number two selling beer from the day we released it.
What’s your number one beer?
CT: Right now it’s Perpetual IPA. Hopback Amber has always been out number one, and just last month Perpetual passed it. So it is a kind of a newborn. That’s not something we can dictate; we don’t necessarily push one beer over another. The consumers create that pull for us.
I had a related thought regarding Mad Elf. That’s a beer that creates a lot of buzz in the beer community. I wondered, when a beer catches fire like that, is that something a brewer can help bring about?
JT: I can’t speak for other brewers, but I know these surprise us. I think if you try too hard, you lose your creativity. Sometimes you can see marketing companies that are trying to be creative for brewers, not necessarily brewers trying to be creative for themselves.
What were the origins of Mad Elf?
CT: The beer began back in the day when John and I were wearing 30 different hats at the brewery. We were loading a truck one day, and the other half of the truck was a load of wine barrels going to a winery up in the Finger Lakes. This was in September or October, so it was starting to get a little cooler. We had talked about what would be really cool to put in a wine barrel and have to drink over the holidays.
JT: Any time we were together for more than 10 minutes, we would start throwing around ideas about what our next beer should be. In that case, it was the spark of seeing those barrels: from there we started talking about flavors and colors and techniques. We didn’t even think about who would drink it or why, we just knew we wanted something for us for the holidays, and brewed it fairly quickly.
What’s the base beer?
JT: A Belgian quad, almost, or a Belgian strong? Very malty, with honey and cherries. The sugar and the honey go into the brew kettle at the very end, after the yeast dies down a little bit, then we add the cherries. Originally, we were just going to put it on tap in our tasting room, but our first yield was 30 or 40 kegs. We had two close friends at good beer bars in central PA, so we kind of asked them if they’d help us get rid of it. They put it on tap, and immediately we were getting calls from other bars wanting kegs. We’ve been playing catch-up ever since.
And the art work?
JT: One night, we were at a local beer bar, McGrath’s, talking about names for the beer, and my brother-in-law happened to be there. Then next morning, I listened to my answering machine—it was the old tape answering machine—and he left a message that just said “Mad Elf” and then he hung up. He had sketched the first Mad Elf logo on a napkin that night, and brought it to me the next day. From there, Chris grabbed it, and it evolved.
CT: It’s fun to have interesting, unique names without being corny, but it also should really paint a picture of what’s in the bottle. It needs to make sense—fitting for the beer, fitting for the season. This one really connected and it’s been a real win for us.