You opened the heavy wooden door into the tiny cafe. It was a frigid Sunday morning and many patrons braved the cold to warm up over a steamy cup of coffee. The place was void of a lot of color similar to the current season – the walls white aside from the pop of a muted green barista station. Beauty in its simplicity. Glass cookie jars were emptied to crumbs and exchanged with overflowing fresh batches within the hour we sat chatting. Baked in Emmaus was the cafe that hosted my interview with Joe Percoco, brewer and founder of SØLE Artisan Ales.
You may be asking if this post is about a brewery, why does it open in a coffee shop and not a brewhouse? The answer is simple: SØLE Artisan Ales is a gypsy brewer. Gypsy brewing is defined below (per Wikipedia):
SØLE is currently brewing out of Susquehanna Brewing Company’s facility in Pittston, PA. Joe lives locally in the Lehigh Valley in Emmaus trekking back and forth to aid in his production.
Joe has not always been a gypsy brewer. He’s brewed for many Lehigh Valley brick and mortar breweries over the past few years, finishing up as Head Brewer at Funk Brewing back in May 2015. He exited Funk to pursue his own vision and through much research, travels, and support from his wife Laura, they created SØLE Artisan Ales.
Joe is very tenacious. This was obvious by three quick anecdotes I’ll relay from our interview:
First, as Joe explained, at a very young age (before he was even 18 years old) he started brewing beer which all started with a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond and discovering Mr. Beer kits.
Second, when deciding to start his own company, Joe traveled to Europe with a suitcase in hand knocking on brewery doors asking if he could come in and brew with them. This expanded his knowledge in an array of different techniques and styles to bring to his own brand.
Third, back in May 2015, The El Vee mentioned a Kickstarter campaign Joe was organizing to convert a Ford Transit Connect into a “Gypsy Wagon” to travel to events and serve up drafts through the vehicle’s side. After working to shoot a promotional video for the campaign, the end product was taking some time in the editing phase. Due to these delays, Joe opted against sourcing the funds and did the renovations to the Ford himself. Boom; they had a Gypsy Wagon.
Now let’s discuss the important component in all this: THE PRODUCT. SØLE Artisan Ales cuts any gimmicks and seeks to “conjure up curious and culinary ales.” Joe respects the beer he brews by seeing it as a delicate dish, seeking out quality ingredients for his suds. Let’s look further at all of SØLE’s ales.
To date, SØLE has sold and produced four different ales: Clink!, Green Life, Artistry & Alchemy, and Juicebox:
Clink! (ABV 4.9%) – SØLE Artisan Ales’ first brew and staple “anytime beer.” It is very light and refreshing. It is a hybrid of a session IPA, hoppy pilsner, and West Coast American pale. The name Clink! was inspired by Joe’s friend, Dave, who would always substitute the word “Clink” for the word “Cheers”.
Joe remarked that if they start producing Clink! in cans they may have to re-release the beer as “Clank!” to emulate the sound of a can when making a toast.
Green Life (ABV 6.5%)- The Green Life is an Indian Pale Ale with a beautiful brassy hue. Brewed with copious amounts of simcoe, centennial, and cascade hops, they feared the beer would turn out green, hence the name! In its description it is noted as “simple, honest, and minimal” but I must say this IPA has a pleasantly distinct flavor that stands out from other IPAs.
Artistry & Alchemy (ABV 9.1%) – Artistry & Alchemy is an imperial maple stout brewed with real Vermont maple syrup. Oh yea, and it is delectably rich – easily five stars on Untappd in this avid stout fan household. The origin of the name Artistry & Alchemy was derived from the process Joe uses to compose a recipe. Joe consults his crafted spreadsheet loaded with formulas to fuse the art and science behind every brew: the best ingredients and the right measurements.
Juicebox (6%) – First, let’s point out that 1.) “Juicebox” is a traditional pint (16 fl oz) compared to a typical bottled beer at 12 fl oz. 2.) The simplicity of this Capri Sun inspired silver can was somewhat by accident. Joe noted that printed aluminum cans are very expensive so he opted for an unprinted can and adhered stickers. This idea was genius with the type of beer he was producing – a mandarin orange and azacca hop IPA. The can design and name add to the playfulness of the zesty citrus flavor. This can dropped during the Jonas ice storm – in SØLE’s press release for Lehigh Valley Beer Week Joe stated:
In the saturated craft beer market a company needs to be forward thinking. In just the small time I chatted with Joe it was evident he has a lot of ideas for his brand! A few new tidbits he shared were:
SØLE Artisan Ales will be releasing their fifth beer named Good Good. It is a double IPA hence it is double good with an ABV of 8%. When asked what style of beer is the most fun to brew, Joe’s first answer was an IPA that stands out! You can expect Good Good to be one of those IPAs. This beer has three different hops, but what makes it stand out is the amount: four to six times the hops than your average IPA. It should be consumed within three weeks of its release.
Good Good will be a limited release beer sold during its release party at Susquehanna Brewing Company. It is a first come, first serve event. Joe expects to see a 300-400 people turn out.
The release will be the Black Friday for any beer connoisseur. The event is to be announced, but you can expect it either the last week of February or first week of March. Stay tuned to SØLE’s social media for the formal announcement!
There is also movement to open a gypsy bar in the Lehigh Valley, hopefully in Allentown. In regards to the ideal style of the bar, Joe adores the interior design of Clarkville in West Philadelphia that just opened December 2015: clean, simple, rustic, with geometric colorful surprises. Some great images of Clarkville can be found here on Philly.com.
LEHIGH VALLEY BEER WEEK
Excited to try these beers now? You’re in luck! SØLE Artisan Ales has three events (listed below) booked as part of Lehigh Valley Beer Week (LVBW) which runs Feb. 20th – 27th. This will be their first year participating and the only gypsy brewer in the bunch!
Be nomadic this LVBW and go check out the gypsy beers of SØLE Artisan Ales. Joe will be in attendance at many of the events – if you see him inquire about his fascinating theories on the similarities of the origins of yeast strains and the cyclists from those regions!
And if you can’t make it to the events, I’ve spotted the ales at Abe’s and Wegmans in Bethlehem.