Tadpoles to Frogs: Croaker’s Hops Full Circle
By Jason Jugenheimer & The Flight Crew
NEW CASTLE, Pa. – In our five years of covering the local brewing industry, we have met a lot of great people. Mara and Chris Palipchak have become two of our favorites. So it’s been a treat to watch their growth from a home-brew and brew-on-site shop to a distribution-only brewery to opening their tap room.
In March 2017, Croaker’s Kegs and Corks opened as a home brew and brew-on-site establishment. In 2018, the couple shared their love of brewing craft beer and promoting that love to the customers.
Their motto, “Make great beer here,” says Mara, was the driving force in the business model design at the onset of this venture.
They expanded to become a small distribution brewery, Croaker’s Brewing Co., mostly canning and selling beer out of the brewery, with some scattered kegs around Pittsburgh, while they maintained the home brew shop. This year they amped up and “hopped” up their focus to include a tap room. While they still have some kegs spread around, Chris likes to keep most things at the brewery.
“Small has its advantages and disadvantages. Keeping it small equals no keg margins.” Simply put, “It’s easier to sell pints,” he says.
Plus, as we learned, the tap room is where you have more fun. We’ve never stopped in when we weren’t offered samples of what is available, or what Mara and Chris have dreamed up for the next draft.
The tap room isn’t large. It occupies a good chunk of the original home brew area. But it’s like hanging out in a friend’s cozy basement. Classic arcade and table games surround the seating area. They host a Dungeons & Dragons game night. Plus, you get to interact with Mara and Chris, who are constantly in Abbott and Costello mode.
Mara and Chris truly love being a part of the industry. Even maintaining day jobs, they find time to be active members of the State Line Brewers Guild and host or participate in a variety of beerfests that help local charities.
You definitely need to sample some of their brews, especially if you like dark beers. “We have more darks on tap than you find at most breweries,” Mara says.
We enjoyed those and the other ones we sampled:
#GOT ANY IPAS? 6% ABV
Roger Gillespie: I should have trademarked that question years ago. It’s the first thing I ask when I visit a new brewery.
I love IPAs. So I can be critical when I’m disappointed in those I try. Not this time though. This beer comes off crisp and clean and offers notes of tropical fruits. It has a light haze, nice lacing, and it is easy on the palate. At 6.6% ABV, it’s a great beer to enjoy on your patio as we hold onto the warm weather of early autumn.
THAT’S MY JAM FRUIT ALE, 7% ABV
GLOOBY PEANUT BUTTER PORTER, 8% ABV
Dave Shively: I have a guilty pleasure 50 years in the making. That is, I still crave the occasional PB&J.
So I was delighted to discover that Croaker’s had two beers on tap that literally tap into these two flavor profiles: That’s My Jam and Glooby Peanut Butter Brown Porter.
That’s My Jam is a fruit ale that combines actual Concord grape juice with a Belgian beer base to create a sweet yet tart grape flavor profile. It is hard to believe that this beer has an ABV of 7% because it is as easy to drink as Kool Aid.
The Glooby Peanut Butter Brown Porter, however, comes with a warning label: “If you have a nut allergy, put down the can.”
Fortunately, I have no such allergies. So I was all in. Glooby pours out a very dark molasses color and you instantly get hints of peanut butter both on the nose and the finish of this fine porter.
The real fun came when Mara encouraged me to combine the two beers to get that PB&J nostalgia. So with no chemistry lesson, I used a 50/50 ratio to concoct Glooby That’s My Jam.
I was surprised how the grape came forward on the palate before giving way to the peanut butter finish. It literally was a liquid PB&J experience.
“NORM” AMERICAN LAGER , 3.2% ABV
Brian Long: Even the most sophisticated craft connoisseur’s palate wants a break from the funky, hoppy, malty brews out there and just kick back with a “normal” – or simple – beer.
That’s exactly what Croaker’s has brewed. Yes, you could grab one of the mass-produced national brands. But keep in mind its commitment to creating small batches of a clean, crisp, bold original choice lager. It’s most satisfying on your palate, as well as your mind, knowing you are helping out local breweries that use local supplies to make these delicious drinks.
So next tailgate, backyard get-together, or function with friends, be sure to grab this refreshing, crisp “normal” beer and be different.
BOYS 2 THA YARD (GUAVA) MILKSHAKE IPA , 6.1% ABV
Brian Long: Mara designed this Milkshake IPA using all-Lotus hops and natural guava purée. I found this beer to have a unique flavor profile. It features sweet, fruity tropical nectars that give it a hazy appearance.
On first sip, it’s creamy and full bodied, showcasing a semi-sweetness that quickly settles on the tongue with the exotic flavors of a guava-like bubblegum.
POWDERED TOAST CRUNCH PORTER, 6% ABV
Jason Jugenheimer: Finally, one of the greatest superheroes of a generation gets his due. Of course, I’m talking about Powdered Toast Man of Ren & Stimpy fame.
This crime-fighting and chaos-causing hero provided no flatulence in the flavoring to this beer. And no, it doesn’t taste like sawdust. His nostalgic Saturday morning cereal eating inspiration is prevalent though.
This dark pouring porter wafts hints of slightly burnt and caramelized sugar. It boasts a creamy mouthfeel, but isn’t a heavy beer. And it showcases flavors of caramel, cinnamon and a little molasses with a slightly charred flavor on the finish.
If You Go
Address: 2017 W. State St. E, New Castle, Pa.
Hours: 6 to 10 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 6 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Closed Tuesday and Thursday.
Available for purchase: beer, beer to go and brewing supplies.
Pictured: Mara and Chris Palipchak are the co-owners of Croaker’s Brewing Co.
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.