I was able to sit down with Jeff Bloom, the owner of Bloom Brew in West Newton, PA, one Friday night when the weather was being unpredictable. When I pulled up I saw a small garage, filled with wooden kegs and casks of aging beer, as well customers, most of which appeared to be regulars standing around enjoying their drafts. Tables were set up outside under tents with a lovely view of the Youghiogheny River, and the customers were all packed inside the garage to stay away from the rain. We decided to grab one of the picnic tables outside for our interview, but that was short lived because after about ten minutes, the skies opened up and it was pouring. Within minutes there was an inch of water around me and it was thundering and lightning. We continued our interview inside the taproom, only being interrupted when a keg needed to be changed, which really isn’t a bad thing when you are doing an interview in a brewery.
Bloom liked beer for years, but his appreciation of beer, and of what he called ‘better’ beer, began in the late 1990s to early 2000s. He actually credits his wife as the person that got him into brewing, thanks to a ‘Mr. Brew’ homebrew kit she purchased for him for Christmas one year. Initially, he didn’t use it, but did eventually take the dive and attempted to recreate a larger brewery’s Cherry Wheat with the kit. After this attempt, he knew that with better equipment and some research he could do a lot better and was quickly hooked on homebrewing. He purchased the necessary equipment and after adding some steel shelving, turned his dining room into his “brewery.” At this point, there were at least three areas in his home, including a loft, filled with beer and beer making paraphernalia. His wife’s patience was starting to run out when she asked him what his plans were with all of the beer, but he didn’t have one yet, so he continued to take beer to parties and give it to friends and family. This lead to small beer vendor shows, which in turn introduced him to others in the craft beer industry. He began to notice that those that had been in the industry for a while, such as Chris Dilla, formerly of Bocktown Brewery, were drinking from his table and encouraging him to start his own actual brewery. At that point, he didn’t have quite as many beers as they have now.
When you look at the tap list at Bloom Brew, which has 24 rotating drafts, all uniquely named, you’ll notice a few things that you won’t see at a lot of other breweries. First, they didn’t jump onto the IPA bandwagon. While they do brew IPAs due to current demand, out of 24 taps they usually only have about 4 or 5 at all times. Bloom himself said that they do not do trends, which is why you don’t see a tap takeover of IPAs at his brewery like a lot of others. He feels that part of what makes them special is that they are experimental in that they can brew what they want, when they want, and brew in small batches to perfect what they are making. They will brew multiple versions of one beer before deciding which is perfect, having friends, employees, regular customers, and tasters sample them and give input. They may tweak the yeast, amount of fruit, or even the aging time repeatedly until it is perfect. Also, all of the names are created by Bloom. He tries to use local references, even though some may not get them, other times an idea just appears in his head for a beer name. One other thing you will see more of are sour beers at Bloom Brew compared to other breweries, which is part of this ‘brew what we want, when we want.’ Sours generally take a long time to brew thanks to the need for aging, so a lot of breweries, especially smaller ones, don’t put the time and effort in. At Bloom Brew, most, if not all of their beers are aged, and the sour beers are aged a minimum of 18 months by the time they are drawn from the tap for the first customer. The only restrictions that they have is the federal restrictions on allowed ingredients. All recipes need to be reviewed and approved before sale and there is a list of preapproved ingredients. When they started brewing, it was a list of only about ten ingredients with a lengthy approval process to get other ingredients added to it. Now, it is a multi-page list with different variations of each ingredient. Bloom feels like he was one of the pioneers that got kumquat on the list as an approved ingredient.
Regarding ingredients, the brewery tries to locally source as many as possible, but when it comes to grain it’s just too difficult because there aren’t many local places that can supply the breweries in the area yet. He does get a lot of the fruit from his own orchard, or, for example, the peaches are Chambersburg peaches, and he also tries to use what is in season. As a former beekeeper, he also still has some of his own honey remaining that he uses in some of his beers. Along with his small orchard, Bloom has a small crop of hops that he’s growing, and even has a small patch of hops outside of the brewery, including chinook, centennial, magnum, and cascade. Bloom has said that local water doesn’t cause any issues with their beer, but they do use a standard filtration system. The only things that are in the local water, that are noticeable, are both chlorine and iron that need to be filtered out for their recipes.
The last question that I asked him was which beer or beers on the tap list, when I was there, would he be the most proud of. He actually had a hard time with this, and I imagine it would change with every tap list update. He wanted to say the Barrel Aged Peach Buzz, which is a peach sour, but it sold out right before I got there, so it wasn’t on tap when I asked the question. He’s proud of all of his beer, and says that “If it doesn’t meet our expectations, it goes down the drain.” He did say he’s a big fan of his ‘Shweat,’ which is a pineapple-habanero beer. He also just finally started to use his nitro tap, which he was excited about, thanks to the license to sell pints coming in. Bloom said that nitrogenated beers don’t work as well in growlers, which are 32 ounce or 64 ounce containers to go, so he was waiting until he could sell pints to hook that up.
With the ability to now sell pints, and the weather warming up for the summer, check out Bloom Brew’s website for upcoming events. They do have limited hours, but plan on having music and food trucks throughout the summer. With such a beautiful view, and not having to drive down to Pittsburgh, why wouldn’t any local beer lover check it out?
Wednesday & Friday, 4:00PM – 10:00PM
Saturday 12:00PM – 10:00PM
I am working on setting up interviews with other Southwest PA breweries. Is there a brewery you’d like me to cover? Reach out to me using the contact page!
This originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Pennsylvania Bridges magazine. Http://www.pabridges.com