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Hampton/Shaler

Millvale Brewing Co. changes name, opens new taproom

| Sunday, March 4, 2018, 11:10 p.m.
Bartender Braiden Wilson pours from a variety of ales at Strange Roots Experimental Ales in Millvale.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Bartender Braiden Wilson pours from a variety of ales at Strange Roots Experimental Ales in Millvale.
Sit at the bar and enjoy a cold ale at Strange Roots Experimental Ales in Millvale.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Sit at the bar and enjoy a cold ale at Strange Roots Experimental Ales in Millvale.
Strange Roots Experimental Ales in Millvale has a relaxing atmosphere.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Strange Roots Experimental Ales in Millvale has a relaxing atmosphere.
Strange Roots Experimental Ales in Millvale offers indoor and outdoor seating.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Strange Roots Experimental Ales in Millvale offers indoor and outdoor seating.

Draai Laag Brewing Co. released its final beer — “Dance of Death” — March 2 prior to embarking upon rebranding efforts, including a company name change and the opening of a second taproom.

Guests may purchase the bottles at the Millvale taproom before it officially changes to the Strange Roots Experimental Ales name March 7.

Founder Dennis Hock, 36, said the move would allow the business to diversify beyond its niche of Belgian-style sours.

“That was our original goal — to make it easy for the consumer to read the labels, to understand what they were purchasing, to educate them a little more, but on top of that, we wanted to create a slightly softer sour because our sour beer is a bit aggressive.”

Initially, he and his partners discussed keeping the Draai Laag name and creating a new line of ales but decided to completely rebrand after considering the amount of work overseeing two lines could require, studying other breweries that had rebranded and discussing the issue with industry insiders.

The Shaler Area alumnus proudly noted that, since its 2009 founding, Draai Laag has created brews utilizing unusual ingredients like a fungus used in blue cheese production and caviar.

Fond of using wild yeast, the brewers have factored micro-organisms foraged from North Park and Hartwood Acres into their recipes. Hock, of Allison Park, said the wild beer process creates a “symphony of various organisms coming together to create a very complex flavor profile that is ultimately led by fermentation.”

The Strange Roots Experimental Ales moniker is derived from Draai Laag's origins as a “strange little brewery,” often experimenting with new flavors.

As part of the rebrand, Strange Roots will open a second location later this spring, a taproom at its 10,000-square-foot brewery on Route 910 in West Deer. The site will feature brewery tours, food trucks and a three-fourths of an acre dog-friendly beer garden.

Strange Roots will offer a few pale ales and stouts, but Hock will continue his passion for spontaneous beers. The partners will release their first Strange Roots bottle: a very dry, “bretted” saison containing Brettanomyces yeast and Erie grapes.

“That's a good representation of a Strange Roots beer because it's softer. It's not as aggressive. It's not as sour. It's not this take-the-enamel-off-your-teeth kind of thing.”

Strange Roots will continue offering Draai Laag's Briars series and Goedenacht beers. Cake Beer, made with angel food cake, also will remain. Blueberry Kewlayde will contain fresh-pressed juice, retaining the fruit's sweetness. Relic, R2 Koelschip, Cru and Geestelijke will leave the brand.

Hock is a descendent of Simon Girty, who assisted the Native Americans, with whom he lived during his childhood, and the British during the American Revolution. Hock named his brewery Draai Laag because it loosely translates to “turncoat” in Dutch.

When he was almost 18, Hock convinced his mother to let him start home brewing beer if he promised not to drink it.

Following high school, he served in the Air Force. In between deployments, he visited French and Belgian “farmhouse”-style breweries. When he returned to the United States, he studied biology at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. While attending college, he learned more about beer making from working at a home-brew store.

Instead of pursuing graduate studies in herpetology as he had initially planned, Hock used his savings to open Draai Laag in his hometown.

“I wanted to try to bring something back to Millvale at the time, and nothing pulls a community together better than a brewery does. Beer is very social; it's a communal drink.”

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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