Tröegs on Independent Brewing
Chris and John Trogner, brothers and co-owners of Tröegs, speak to us on family, community and independent brewing.
The Brewers Association defines "independent" as a craft brewery where "less than 25 percent is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer." Beyond the BA definition, what does "independent brewing" mean to Tröegs?
We founded Tröegs and sold our first pint of Pale Ale in 1997. Over the past 20 years, it's grown from just the two of us to more than 230 people, but we’re still very much a family business. Everyone at Tröegs – every brewer, every chef, every bartender, every packaging team member, everyone – becomes part of the Tröegs family, and with that comes a sense of purpose and an investment in our mission. Being independent means we’re able to push our own boundaries, have a little fun and focus on the long-term health of the brewery. We don’t have anyone to answer to other than our customers and our co-workers, and that means we can do what’s right for them and what’s right for our beer.
When the Brewers Association released their Independent Craft Seal in 2017, how did that affect Tröegs?
The word “Independent” has been a part of our name and a part of our identity since the earliest days of Tröegs. We’re grateful for all the work the BA does to support independent breweries like Tröegs, and we prominently display the seal at the front door of our brewery.
Tröegs is known to source local ingredients. How does this affect the beer and the brewing process?
When we source ingredients, the most important factor is quality. Lucky for us, just a few miles down the road in Adams County is the Fruit Belt of Pennsylvania, a 20,000-acre fertile crescent with deep, well-drained soil. So right in our backyard, we have access to some of the best cherries, apples, blueberries, peaches, nectarines and more. For the wild-fermented beers in our wood-aged Splinter Series, we also have nurtured a “house culture” of fermentables – wild yeast and bacteria – that hitchhike in on those fruits. That gives us a flavor – a terroir, if you will – that you can’t get anywhere else.
We’re also lucky to work with a local hop farm, Sunny Brae Hops in Carlisle, PA., and a local malthouse, Deer Creek in Glen Mills, Pa. We often use ingredients from both Sunny Brae and Deer Creek in our experimental Scratch Series, and those beers are among the most popular in our Tasting Room. And last fall we gave Sunny Brae’s owners some space in our cold room to set up new equipment they invested in so — for the first time — they could pelletize part of their harvest.
Nugget Nectar is a very big beer for Tröegs. How did it compare to your expectations when you first released it? What impact has the big fan following for that specific beer had on Tröegs?
There are three beers that, looking back, were really an inflection point for Tröegs. For the first few years, Tröegs was surviving, but not thriving. One day, we said, “If we’re going to go down, we’re going to have fun doing it.” We shifted from brewing a few straightforward beer styles to trying some things that no one else was doing at the time. Over the next few years, we released Troegenator, a thick and chewy doublebock, Mad Elf, a big Belgian-style ale brewed with honey and cherries, and Nugget Nectar, the first Imperial Amber Ale. Those beers really put us on the map and changed the destiny of Tröegs. And one thing we’re really proud of is that all three of those beers continue to grow in popularity. Nugget Nectar in particular has achieved a cult-like following.
What’s happening this year in the New York market for the Nugget Nectar release?
Nugget Nectar is a big deal for Tröegs. The annual January release is a bright light in the dead of winter, and people look forward to those mango, creamsicle and pine notes all year long. To help celebrate the release – and the creativity that led to Nugget’s creation and continues to drive its popularity today – we asked 14 of our favorite artists to put their spin on the iconic Nugget Nectar artwork. We turned their unique interpretations into frame-ready art prints that we’ll be giving away at special release parties.
One of the artists we worked with is illustrator Abbey Lossing of Brooklyn. She’s done work for The New York Times and Vice, and you’ll certainly recognize her modern expressive people and patterns and her beautiful color choices. For First Squeeze, she illustrated a party of people celebrating their First Squeeze of Nugget Nectar. Really fun stuff. Nugget releases Monday, Jan. 22, in New York City, and we’ll be doing a release party around that time with Abbey, where she’ll be signing free prints of her illustration. Be sure to check out troegs.com/events or follow us on social media for details.
This year, we have a couple of exciting bonuses, as well. For the first time, we’re offering 12 oz. cans of Nugget Nectar in 12-packs. We’re also putting Nugget on nitro. To get the nitro pour just right, we dropped Zeus and Warrior from the dry-hop bill and replaced them with Nugget and Simcoe for more pine and mango. A bit of Comet throws off tropical fruit, and some oats give it a touch of silkiness. We’re really happy with how it turned out. It’s like a creamsicle dream! Visit troegs.com/nugget to learn more about the artists, find events, and find Nugget Nectar in bars and retailers.
Can you reveal any big plans for Tröegs in 2018?
Those wild-fermented beers we mentioned above? We’ll be trying to get more of them out into bars and bottle shops. And keep an eye out for the Art of Tröegs contest, where we challenge people to create a piece of Tröegs-inspired artwork. That launches in early March. Look out, New York!