Earlier this week came a much–ballyhooed rollout of New Belgium brews to Pennsylvania. A long overdue move, it came with the big rollouts we’ve come to find common nowadays when a big craft brewery enters a new area. And while hipsters all over the valley will cry tears into their freshly poured pints of Fat Tire, the truth is there are beers made right here in the Lehigh Valley that are much better than the New Belgium brews. In fact, for every single style that New Belgium is releasing in the area there’s a local equivalent that’s just simply tastier.
We’re not trying to bash on craft beer here. It’s great that New Belgium is getting huge (their new brewery in Asheville, opening in 2016, is what is prompting them to expand further and further up the East Coast). They’re still only a fraction of the size of huge breweries like Coors, and just a third of the size of the likes of Yuengling and Sam Adams. Like those two breweries, though, their flagships tend to be more boring because they have to sell to a more general audience. And that’s why the beer brewed down the street is likely to be just as good if not better than whatever Colorado/North Carolina New Belgium stuff you pick up at your local Wegmans. Let’s take a look at the local equivalents to the NB beers released in the Lehigh Valley. Note that eventually NB will probably be releasing some more of their limited beers in the Lehigh Valley in the future, which range from decent to world class
Fat Tire – This is by far New Belgium’s most popular beer, and by far the most bland of the bunch. People lusting after Fat Tire are like those Pennsylvania ex-pats who are just dying for a sip of Yuengling. Sure, it may bring back certain memories and nostalgia, but the beer just simply isn’t that good. The local alternative? Fegley’s Amber Lager. While not an ale, this Vienna-style lager is as unobtrusive as Fat Tire, packs just slightly more punch ABV-wise, and is a Lehigh Valley staple.
Ranger IPA – People love their IPAs. It’s the best-selling segment of craft beer and everyone is hopping on board. Even Jim Koch, he of Sam Adams fame, lamented in an article about how people wanted hops hops hops, and he reluctantly gave into the demand. This IPA isn’t going to blow your face off the way something good from Vermont or California will. It’s a simple, easy drinker that’s hopped enough to satiate your needs of dank hops, but that’s about it. Hijinx’s Hop Havoc, which was reformulated since its inception and is now better than ever, is what you should be looking for in the LV. While this one is quite a bit stronger than Ranger (6.5% vs. 8%), it’s also more satisfying.
Slow Ride Session IPA – Session IPA is kind of a dumb term, and one that’s been debated in the craft brewing circles since it first started showing up on labels. Is it just a really hoppy pale ale? Is it an IPA but lower in ABV? How strong can a ‘session beer’ be? Etc. New Belgium’s clocks in at 4.5%, and is a poundable warm weather brew. The local alternative comes out of Easton’s Two Rivers Brewing Company with their newly tapped Destroyer Pale Ale. Made with Conan yeast, the fermenting agent used in the famed Heady Topper brew from Vermont, and the very hyped and very delicious Citra hops (as well as Centennial), this brew is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Snapshot Wheat – In addition to IPAs, sour beers have increased greatly in popularity over the past decade and are now seeing more attention than any other time in brewing history. This wheat beer is actually a blend of two different beers. One is fermented like a regular beer and the other goes through a souring process and the two are blended together. Easton’s Weyerbacher introduced a similar beer, using a different kettle souring process, last year and has made it a year round offering (and even taps and bottles special versions of it). Weyerbacher’s also utilizes wheat and comes in at a very low ABV of 3.9%, making this the perfect end of summer brew as the temperatures are still up there.
Pumpkick – Here we have New Belgium’s fall seasonal, which is pretty much par for the course for every brewery these days. Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin is an absolute beast in this category. Not only does this beer account for a huge amount of Weyerbacher’s overall sales for the year, the taste is also among the best pumpkin beers in the nation. While the seasonal creep of these beers into the summer is undoubtedly obnoxious, once fall temperatures start to hit this is a sure fire way to satiate your pumpkin beer needs.
Rampant IPA – Last but not least we have New Belgium’s imperial IPA, which probably ranks among the best of these bunch. Fortunately for us, Funk Brewing in Emmaus makes an absolutely stellar double version of their Citrus IPA right here in the Lehigh Valley. Both are right around the same ABV (the New Belgium is half a percent higher) and the Funk is just a beautiful, citrusy representation of the style that ranks among the best in the area.
We invite you to grab some growlers at these local breweries, do a side by side tasting with some friends, and share your thoughts in the comments.