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On Tap: The Penn Stater Hotel and MAD-K Brewing team up for a New England-style IPA

by on March 30, 2018 11:03 AM

With craft brewing and interest in craft beers continuing to grow in Happy Valley, Chuck Hacker, assistant restaurant manager for the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, wanted to give the establishments at the Penn Stater something, a beer perhaps, they could call their own.

One of his managers happened to have a beer brewed by Dave Johnson of MAD-K Brewing in Howard. She liked it so much that she told Hacker about it.

“So I researched his website and I thought he fit our criteria to become our brewer – he was small, no tasting room, and is a Penn State alum,” Hacker says.

A partnership was formed, and now Legends Pub and the Gardens Restaurant at the Penn Stater serve Legendary IPA, a beer Johnson made exclusively for the Penn Stater restaurants. The beer is a New England-style IPA that Johnson describes as “cloudy, unfiltered, with a tropical and fruity aroma that finishes smooth, creamy, and with little to no bitterness.”

Johnson, who had been the managing director of operations for North and South America for the United Kingdom-based company Croda, started brewing beer in 2010 and began MAD-K Brewery in 2014. (MAD-K is an acronym for the members of his family – Megan, Abbey, Dave, and Kim.) He says that early in the discussions with the Penn Stater staff he gained an understanding of what type of beer Hacker wanted for the restaurants.

“It was clear that he was looking for a unique IPA for Legends that we could brand as Legendary IPA,” Johnson says. “We went through a number of iterations, and it became clear they were looking for a ‘hop-forward’ beer that was not real bitter. My son-in-law, Stephen Hirlinger, is a homebrewer and he was working on brewing this same style of beer, so we collaborated and utilized his recipe for a New England-style IPA.”

The beer is brewed with less bittering hops than a normal IPA, but infused with large portions of Amarillo, Citra, and Galaxy hops at the end of the boil, for flavor and aroma. It also is dry-hopped with large quantities of the same hops during fermentation.

The reactions from those who have tried the beer have been positive.

“The majority of the guests who have tried it enjoy the flavor and mouthfeel,” Hacker says. “We have had guests compare it to some well-known beers, and they have selected ours as their beer of choice.”

Johnson says the feedback he has received has been positive, and the volume he makes continues to grow.

I gathered some friends in my neighborhood, including one who is a homebrewer himself, to hear their opinions on Legendary IPA. Their reviews were similar to the ones Hacker and Johnson have heard.

“Enjoyed the low bitterness,” said one friend. “The aroma shows up as a nice mouthful of hops in the finish. There’s a nice grain presence that doesn’t compete with the hops, complements them nicely, and is unique to beers I’ve tried of this style.”

Another commented, “Citrus, hoppy taste with a smooth finish.”

Town&Gown wrote about Johnson and MAD-K a few years ago for this column. Since then, Johnson says he has continued to expand the brewery’s offerings and the pub partners he works with in the region. MAD-K now offers 12 different beers. Its lineup includes MAD-K IPA, Jalapeno Pale Ale, Irish Style Red Ale, Raspberry Wheat, Amber Ale, Coconut Porter, and Peanut Butter Porter, along with seasonal selections such as Pumpkin Ale, Strawberry Wheat, and Holiday Brew.

MAD-K beers are now served in places such as Faccia Luna, Luna 2, Hublersburg Inn, and, of course, the Penn Stater restaurants. In fact, on April 18, MAD-K will be doing a tap takeover at Legends Pub and feature six of its beers, including Legendary IPA.

Hacker says he hasn’t discussed with Johnson the possibility of making another beer for the Penn Stater. But, he adds, “That is not to say we won’t.”

From his perspective, Johnson says he enjoyed the experience of creating a unique beer for the Penn Stater restaurants.

“It was a real pleasure,” he says. “Chuck is fantastic to work with. He was very open, honest, knew what he wanted, had a vision, did what he said he was going to do, and was very responsive. I especially appreciated the manner in which Chuck utilizes and treats his team. They are part of the input and decision-making process, too, and you can sense that when you are there.”

David Pencek is a freelance writer in State College and communications manager for Schlow Centre Region Library.


David Pencek is editor of Town&Gown magazine, Town&Gown's Penn State Football Annual, and Town&Gown's Penn State Winter Sports Annual.
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