By Day Bracey
Pittsburgh Current Craft Beer Writer
Dec. 8, 3 p.m.: I’m at North Country’s Harmony Inn in Harmony. It’s a small town where a horse drawn buggy wouldn’t surprise you and people might believe cameras steal your soul. I may be crazy, but I swear the faint smell of burnt witches permeates the air.
It’s a German restaurant, so I order the most German sounding thing on the menu, the Jagerschnitzel. It’s basically a pork chop smothered in bacon gravy. They have Saugatuck’s Neapolitan Milk Stout on nitro, and it’s the best beer I’ve had all year. It tastes like an ice cream float and I’m on cloud nine. It’s not too sweet, not too heavy, and just enough spice to keep you interested. Swipe right on this hookup.
Dec. 8, 4 p.m.: Lauren Baker, Production Manager of North Country Brewing, walks in and I order a flight.
Me: So, how are we going to drink this?
LB: I like to go light to dark, then hoppy to sour. First up is our rye saison. The name of that beer is Nuclear Unclear. It’s a farmhouse ale with peach and apricot. It was our Brewtal Fest collaboration. We teamed up with a band called Ryperion from Allentown. When we were planning for the festival, we thought heavy metal, dark saison with black cherries. But when they got here they were like, “We like sours & Belgians.” They ultimately wanted something crushable. Something they could chug after playing.
Me: That’s a real collaboration. “Can you make something I would drink?” Rather than, “I have a beer I want to sell, can you put your name on it?”
LB: Exactly. We had our own ideas at first, but the bassist in the band owns a vegan restaurant called Onion Maiden. So, we went a different direction than we thought, using the vegan influence. We’re really happy with it and using it in a beer/dinner pairing next month at North Country.
Me: What’s next?
LB: Strawberry Milkshake IPA. Bob and Jodi, the owners of NC, met here in the 90’s bartending. The same year NC opened the production facility, Jon’s father got sick, and needed to sell the Inn. Bob and Jodi didn’t feel right not buying it. They employed Jon first as a pub brewer, then production manager, and eventually head brewer. His son, Austin Barnes, started out cleaning kegs, then working in the cellar, and now he’s our pub brewer. At 22 years old he’s making some great beer. He brews in the basement of the Harmony Inn. We don’t do it often. It’s only a two barrel system. But he grew up running around here as a child, and now he gets to brew here.
Me: I was doing far worse things in basements at 22. Next?
LB: This is the Muddy Creek IPA. It’s in cans. We started the Creek series this year.
Me: Is this your hazy?
LB: Yes. It has Citra, Amarillo, and Mosaic hops. Each beer is named after a creek in our area and each can has a map of the creek. Our former brewmaster didn’t want to make NE style IPAs.
Me: A lot of brewmasters do it begrudgingly.
LB: This beer is expensive to make. You use so much hops and waste a lot of beer on it. It’s really heartbreaking at the end of the day to look at how much beer you have left after brewing all of that.
Me: Kinda like looking at my bank account after all of the comedy I do.
LB: You do comedy?
Me: What’s next?
LB: This is the Imperial Firehouse Red.
Me: I’ve never had an Imperial Firehouse!
LB: This is our first time brewing it. We slightly resent Firehouse because it’s our flagship ale and makes up 30% of our sales. I told our brewers that I would like it better if it had double the alcohol content, so we doubled the malt build & cut the water in half. It’s the same beer, just a higher ABV. We were drinking it the other day and somebody said, “We’re going to kill all of our regulars with this beer.**”
Me: Final thoughts?
LB: We just formed the Butler County Brewers Co-op with eight breweries in Butler County, including Shubrew, Cellar Works, Reclamation, Butler Brew Works, NC, Stick City, Missing Links, and Recon. Instead of having member dues, we’re going to hold a beer festival April 27th.
**No witches were harmed in the making of Firehouse Red.