It is 11:30 a.m., and the line snaking from the entrance a suburban Montgomery County warehouse is about 100 beer nerds long. Everyone has green tickets for blue beer.
As in the color of Windex.
As in the color of liquid that you wouldn’t normally put in your mouth, unless you are the sort of idiot who participates in the Tide Pod Challenge.
Welcome to the soft opening of Imprint Beer Co., the most hyped new brewery in the Philadelphia area this year.
People – well, mainly beer geeks like myself – have been talking about this place for months. Even before the brewery had a place to call its own.
Some in line have already gotten a taste of its experimental brews, given away at beer festivals or sold in less-than-convenient 32-ounce hand-filled cans known as crowlers. Others were attracted by the photos of colorful pint glasses, shared on social media.
Black stout made with Double Stuf Oreos.
Scarlet gose made with passionfruit and hibiscus petals.
Hazy-as-hell IPA, its surface coated with toasted coconut flakes.
And blue beer, named Little Hugs because it’s made with – get this – 800 containers of blue raspberry-flavored Little Hugs. You know, the little plastic jugs of that super-sweet, unnaturally colored, high-fructose crap you stick in your snotnose kid’s lunchbox. Fifty gallons of the stuff, and absolutely not another drop of water in the mash or sparge.
The brewery shared images of the beer as it was brewed, and believe me they were not photoshopped. We’re talking Walter White crystal meth blue.
How’s it taste?
It’s sweet, with a slightly tart finish.
I do not spit it out.
It does not turn my tongue blue.
Afterwards, brewer Ryan Diehl explains the sweetness is due largely to the fact the drinks are made with sucralose, the artificial sweetener found in Splenda. While real sugar – including even corn syrup – ferments into alcohol, the artificial stuff in those little yellow packets does not. Diehl aimed to offset the sweetness through kettle souring, a process in which the cooling wort is dosed with bacteria that converts sugar into lactic acid. But then there was the matter of sodium benzoate, the preservative that gives Little Hugs a post-apocalyptic shelf life. Diehl says it “made the yeast struggle.”
Indeed, the beer is barely 3 percent alcohol.
Of course, Imprint’s Little Hugs isn’t particularly about the quality or flavor or even the technical achievement of making a beer with kiddie juice. It is, according to Diehl, about building excitement by offering something different – “a fun idea.”
In other words, hype.
I don’t mean that as a pejorative. Because, with so many breweries competing for attention, attracting a line outside the door on your very first day of business is not a bad thing.
Imprint’s creativity was well known in beer geek circles months before last weekend’s opening.
“The hype began when I was brewing five-gallon batches in my garage,” Diehl says. “We were doing online giveaways, showing up at festivals, filling crowlers at bottle shops, seeding enthusiasm by giving away our beer.”
At last year’s Kennett Brewfest in Chester County, everyone wanted a taste.
“It was amazing,” Diehl says. “People waiting in line for the guy in the garage’s beer.”
Even as Imprint encountered delays opening its tasting room in Hatfield, it continued to draw attention through the summer by releasing crowlers from its loading dock on Saturday mornings, then urging buyers to post their reviews on social media. The extremely limited sales only helped to build its cred as a small, under-the-radar brewery known for unique beers.
Standing in line, a local named George Wyatt compares the excitement at Imprint with the weekly line at Ardmore’s Tired Hands Fermentaria. “They’re not afraid to try crazy things,” he says.
“They’re different,” says Tom Schoenfelder, who traveled from Williamstown, N.J., for the opening. “This is the opposite of your basic brewery.”
By “basic,” he don’t mean BudMillerCoors. Today, small, independent breweries the size of Victory or even Weyerbacher are considered mainstream by uber beer geeks. One guy in the crowded tasting room tells me he’s given up on Tree House, the once-tiny Massachusetts brewery that helped launch the entire unfiltered, juicy New England IPA craze just a couple years ago, because “they’re too big now.”
The skeptic might predict that Imprint will one day fall out of favor, too. But for now, this seven-barrel brewery is just getting started.
“Back here, no one just happens to be driving past our little brewery,” Diehl says. “You have to come here for a reason. The beer has to be really, really good. We want to make every beer a reason to come here.”
So, how is that blue beer?
Well, the purist in me wants to hate it. Professional brewers did not slave over hot kettles for millennia, unraveling the mysteries of fermentation, perfecting recipes and enduring Prohibition, only to see someone defile their craft with Splenda and blue triarylmethane food coloring.
But what the hell: Beer is supposed to be fun. Blue beer – and red gose, and hazy IPA, and the crowd, and the excitement of a new brewery and the hype itself? Now, that’s fun.
NOTE: Regular opening hours at Imprint begin in September. For updates, follow the brewery on Instagram.