When St. Nikolaus Visits Pittsburg

It was indeed bittersweet, but nevertheless a joy, to have return Pennsylvania Brewing Company’s St. Nikolaus Bock Bier in time for St. Nicholas Feast Day, a traditional starting point for the Christmas holiday season, and as the patron saint of brewers, is a celebration I will never fail to acknowledge. Penn-St-Nickolaus-Bock-e1352663175303-200x200 For this is a living, very tasty tribute to a great Holiday tradition, one I first encountered in 1986, when I first tasted Wurzburger Holiday Bier, the great Bavarian Christmas dopplebock created in 1643.
But what makes Penn Brewery’s bock bier’s timely appearance bittersweet, is the rocky road Penn Brewery has traveled to arrive at this joyous moment. Founded in 1986, Penn Brewery was revival of the brewing roots laid down by the Eberhart & Ober (E&O) families.
First having their traditional German origin recipes contract brewed by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company and Jones Brewing Company. They then became Pennsylvania’s first tied house since prohibition, when they created their brewery and restaurant  at the old E&O building site. Business matters became shaky, so much so that by 2008, a private equity firm took a majority stake in the enterprise, who promptly closed the restaurant and brewing operations, and contracted out the remaining beers, with less attention to quality control.
Fortunately, (by Saint Nicholas speed if you will) a group of local investors bought the brewery back in 2009, and by 2010, the brewery and restaurant had returned. Which is a very good development for folks who enjoy delicious, high quality beer.
Which brings me to the wassail side of this story. Spiced ale, as most conscious beer seekers know, has become a gigantic portion of the holiday offerings from many breweries. And this covers quite a range of approaches: from over-the-top, big spiced boozy affairs, to multi-layered complexities of medium strength. But how fortunate that this year, I was able to try Penn Brewery’s Nut Roll AlePenn_Nut_Roll_Ale a subtly spiced nut brown ale that is an absolute pleasure to drink. A doughy, Christmas pretzel of a beer that is spice festive without being overbearing.
Lastly, there is the matter of Penn Brewery’s St. Nikolaus Bock Bier Brewer’s Reserve 2012 Penn-St-Nickolaus-Bock The dopplebock version of their Christmas bier. Here their great Christmas bock acquires a depth and smoothness that should be expected from something designated as Brewer’s Reserve. A malty backbone of an iron-like strength gives this lager the kind of depth usually associated with Imperial Stout or Barleywine. But because this is extensively aged bottom fermented bock, their is a smoothness that has to be consumed to be believe. Easily, this is one of the best beers in the United States.
So up on the housetop, click click click… down through the Pittsburgh chimney comes good Saint Nik!


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