I grew up in south-central Pennsylvania, near enough to Hershey to get a summer job at Hersheypark as a ride operator. Hershey, growing up, was a nice town we sometimes drove to when we wanted a change in library scenery, or felt like visiting Chocolate World – a good use of an afternoon when there was nothing else going on. The idea of Hershey as a destination, a place people would travel long distances for, was ridiculous in my ten-year-old mind. Hershey wasn’t special, it was just there.
A few weekends ago, my wife and I travelled to have a day in and around Hershey, to see some family, meet up with some friends, and be somewhere-not-at-home for a little while. It’d been a long time since I last brought a camera somewhere interesting, and I still wasn’t sure I’d have the motivation to take any this trip, but I grabbed my favorite camera (a rebranded Ricoh KR-10 Super film camera with the kit 50mm lens), crossed my fingers that the film inside was still good, and tossed it in the back seat for the long drive down to Hershey.
After meeting up with some family for lunch, we headed to Troegs to see my brother and give him a hard time about things, which is one of my favorite past-times and responsibilities as an older brother. Troegs Independent Brewing is a craft brewery only spitting distance from Hersheypark – as we drove up, I could see the Wildcat, one of the coasters I used to operate. They make two of my favorite beers there: Troegenator, a lovely dark doublebock, and Mad Elf, a deliciously mead-like, Christmastime-only beer that I can never quite get enough of.
We spent some time in the main eatery area, catching up, poking fun and meeting my brother’s girlfriend, a lovely person. I highly recommend the soft pretzel – the mustard that comes with it is excellent. After finishing off a pint of Grand Cacao (a wonderful chocolate stout that is sure to do well, especially in Hershey), I grabbed my camera from the car and we headed over to the brewery tour.
Happily, there’s another bar near where the tour starts, with a few more taps. These beers were not quite up my alley, but I did get a good action shot of my brother pulling a beer, which I think makes up for myself being annoying the whole tour.
The gathering place for the tour is a small art gallery up the stairs from the bar. Each year, Troegs runs an art contest, and the best pieces are displayed here for all to enjoy. My favorite was a model of the entire brewery, including the room with the art gallery.
Once we were all ready to see how beer is made, we donned our safety gear and proceeded into the Malt Room, where many hundreds of pounds of barley sits waiting to be transformed into tasty beer. Our tour guide had many things to say about barley, malts, and things of that nature. There was even an example frame full of different kinds.
The barley hangs from massive tarp-like sacks, and is funneled through various mechanical grain movers and shakers, making its way into a large machine of some kind that does important beer things (I wouldn’t want to spoil all the details).
After enjoying the large sacks of grain, we moved on into the hops room, which was another two-story-high industrial-looking room, but as we learned: hops are food, and food is kept in a refrigerator, and we were now also being kept in a refrigerator. Underneath our catwalk, both whole hops and pellet hops were neatly organized, ready to be joined in harmony with the barley mash from the previous room. The room was freezing after a warm September afternoon, so we briefly enjoyed the smell of the hops and moved along.
Next up was the entry into the main brewing area. There were lots of large stainless steel tanks with complex piping moving between and above the tanks, connecting everything into a maze of fermentation. Around this time, my brother started talking about just how much beer could be brewed from all this equipment. One of the numbers thrown around was two billion something; naturally, I asked him to sing us down from two billion bottles of beer on the wall. My request didn’t go very far.
Taking a quick detour down the stairs, we got to see where the barley mash is combined with hops. These brewing vessels had little windows in the top. We couldn’t see very much (except for some condensation), but the active containers were uncomfortably warm to the touch – something was definitely happening.
Back in the previous room, we got to sample some barley. It tasted like unprocessed grain. I’m not sure what I expected.
Just down the stairs from the main platform is the water processing section – they’re able to filter and process incoming water consistently enough to remove any variances, creating the exact starting water desired for the best possible beer.
We headed down the stairs and into the bowels of the brewery. In a low-lit section near the bottom of the stairs (plenty enough light to see well, but not enough for my camera to take a stable photo) was an interesting-looking wooden tank-looking item with some photos hanging from it. Being right below the master brewer’s office, I assume it had something to do with their scratch beer series, but it was time to try some green beer, and I was pulled away – I’ll have to ask next time I visit.
Green beer is not green in color – it’s beer that’s not quite done fermenting, and it has a distinct sour kick of an aftertaste. Tasting an in-process green beer, knowing what the end result will taste like, adds a new dimension to beer tasting. I can tell, with not very much confidence, when a beer needed more time to ferment – and I got to exercise this new skill a few days later, when my uncle shared a home-brewer’s dark beer with me (it was not bad, and would have been quite good, fully fermented).
I was lucky enough to get one last shot from this roll of film while the green beer was poured. I tore the film a little bit while advancing to this frame, so there’s some amount of damage, but it’s not too bad. This was my only roll of film for the day, so I packed up my camera and followed along with the rest of the tour, learning about all the different bottling and canning methods, giving my brother a hard time, and teaching everyone a fun fact about radioactive bananas.