Joe Percoco Dreams of Beer

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The Lehigh Valley beer scene is about to be upended, and there’s no doubt about it.  In case aren’t an ardent beer nerd and haven’t heard, Sole Artisan Ales is opening up shop in Easton.  If that means nothing to you, let me provide some background.  Joe Percoco, founder of the brewery, has been ‘gypsy’ brewing out of Susquehanna Brewing Company in Pittston since leaving Emmaus’s Funk Brewing in 2015.  He went on to become one of the most celebrated brewers in the area, with people lining up sometimes for 12 hours waiting in line for his can releases.  What began as a quest to move those releases to a bottle shop and bar in Easton morphed into a massive brewery with a downtown bar to compliment.

The first to open will be Sole Bar + Bottle, located at 101 Northampton Street, in early May.  The Sole Bar + Bottle will function as the retail outlet of the brewery, and also offer feature nitro coffee, wineries on tap, and the potential for other breweries, or “Solemates,” from across the country to showcase the best of the best of their brews.  It will be a total of 1800 square feet, after two storefronts were combined to make one space.  The problem with many tasting rooms, said Percoco, is the lack of ambiance in many breweries, owing to their locations in large industrial warehouse-like spaces.  The longer half of the building will have exposed brick wall with a long 30 foot bar and around 20 seats.  The opposite side of the building will have a separate entrance and feature a crowler station, growler fills, take-out beer, and cafe feel with a brighter view.

“If there were Michelin-rated beer bars, that’s what I’m looking to open,” said Percoco in a conversation earlier this year.  The vision for Sole Bar + Bottle sounded a lot like Torst in NYC, which Percoco later name dropped as an inspiration.  Sure enough, him and the brainchild behind Torst and Evil Twin Brewing recently did a collaboration beer, Evil Smoosh, a strawberry rhubarb ‘milkshake’ IPA, which was one of the most sought after of his beers to date.

Cans of “drinkable beer,” like single IPAs and pilsners are planned for takeout in the bottle shop alongside the growler and crowler fills.  For coffee they will initially most likely use Electric City coffee, which has become something of a staple at their beer releases.  He foresees brewing their “Nerd” series of beers and having them on tap often, as well as lighter, easier-going beers like their pale ale Kushy Clouds and pilsners.  Food-wise, the Bar + Bottle shop will feature More Than Q, a local Easton establishment who also run a stand in the Easton Public Farmer’s Market.  Percoco said it’s a natural fit as they’ll be open the same hours as the bar and repeatedly espoused the quality of the food.  Percoco referred to the beer bar as a “boutique entity,” somewhere that he wants to have the quality of Manhattan beer bars with the atmosphere, culture, and energy of Bonn Place Brewing in Bethlehem.

Where the real excitement comes, however, is the massive 28,000 square foot brewery set to open later this summer in the redeveloping Simon Silk Mill.  The Sole crew looked at 40 places across the Lehigh Valley and decided Easton was the right place, and the right town for their projects, according to Percoco and Laura Fay, co-owner of Sole.  Fay said they’re excited to be in Easton, and that the city has been very supportive of their endeavor.  The combination of the buildings, the history, and the landscape all combine for a place in which the team wants to operate their business.  The brewery at the Silk Mill will have a 30 barrel system in an 8,000 square foot space, and an adjoining 20,000sq foot space will house the barrel room and foudre tanks used for aging beers.  To give you an idea of just how huge the space is, the entire brewery and barrel room is seven times larger than Hijinx and nearly as big as Weyerbacher.

What a lot of people are wondering is how the infamous can releases will now operate when the brewery moves to Easton.  There’s good news on that front: it’s going to be a lot simpler.  Instead of lining up for eons, beer-seekers will be able to show up, get a deli ticket securing their allotment of beer, and go about their day until the brewery opens if they wish.  Also gone is huddling in the freezing cold or blistering heat for hours on end.  The new space is so large that anyone wanting to hang out in a line will be able to do so in the brewery, out of the elements.  The brewery will also feature an outdoor beer garden.  Percoco hopes to have the brewery itself completely open in time for summer and the barrel room fully fitted out by next winter.  He noted that can releases may move to Easton earlier than the summertime, as they may haul palettes of cans from Susquehanna to the brewery to for releases.

During our conversation Percoco referred to Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the the critically acclaimed documentary about the singular Jiro Ono, a world-renowned sushi chef from Tokyo.  As the conversation veered from topic to topic over brews from other East Coast breweries, that comment kept coming back to my mind, along with the Michelin remark.  This is someone who cares deeply about his craft, and equated beer with how people feel about the best restaurants, or the best wines in the world., a point that I wholeheartedly agree with.  And while this may verge on being overly laudatory, the fact that there’s someone thinking about beer in that manner in the Lehigh Valley changes things, and I’m excited to see what Joe dreams of next.

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