Scoats and I did our annual "Upstate Beer Run" yesterday, as folks who follow either of us on Twitter might already know (check #pabeerrun). This is for our event at the Grey Lodge Pub on Sunday, June 5th, 7-9 PM*, when we'll put seven kegs of rarely/never-seen Pennsylvania beers on at the Grey Lodge, and regale you with our tales of the great places to find beer in the busiest brewing area in Pennsylvania: the curve from State College to Wilke-Barre that I call The Appalachian Front in Pennsylvania Breweries 4. Things are popping along here, and two of the beers come from breweries that have been open for less than six months.
We made the run yesterday, and it was quite productive. Scoats showed up in Langhorne at 7:30, we jumped in the Jetta and took off down the Turnpike. Just about the time I was feeling the need for a bit more caffeine, I saw a sign that the totally re-built rest stop at Lawn (just east of Harrisburg) was re-opening that day! How exciting! A rest stop grand opening! We were shocked to find neither flags nor brass bands, but I did park the Jetta in one of the new low-emissions vehicle slots...how silly.
Onward! Up the river, past the Susquehanna Statue of Liberty, through the narrows, and then through State College because of a detour, and finally to Otto's. We were greeted in the parking lot by owners Charlie Schnable and Roger Garthwaite, and by my good friend (and Malt Advocate copy editor) Sam Komlenic. (Unfortunately, brewer Chris Brugger was not there...thwarting my intention to greet him with greetings from a substantial number of Philadelphians.) Charlie showed us an impressively stocked coldbox, told us of plans for expansion (a new bottling line, more tanks, actual larger building) and of how the beer's selling in State College and beyond -- well-deserved success. We picked up a sixtel of Double D and hit the road.
Next on the agenda was Elk Creek, but...we had some extra time, so we slipped up to Bellefonte to visit Mike Smith at Gamble Mill Tavern. The bar wasn't open, but the hostess cheerfully located Mike, and we were soon sampling his beers. The first, HB48 Session Ale, was a hit: light but flavorful, quite nicely done. We had the Lame Devil Farmhouse (great body, a middleweight saison, with a nice peppery note), J. Rose Pale (nice, maybe a bit on the light side), Monte Weizen (not overly-clovey, well-done), Bush House Brown (good but...I'm just not big on brown ales), and Pig Iron IPA (solid stuff, great hop flavor and aroma). All beers were clean, pretty much flawless, and the place was quite cool. Nice to have somewhere to go for beer in Bellefonte again!
We were now late (and it's clearly Mike's fault, you know...), so we scooted down to Elk Creek. Loved the run, new roads for me, and some great PA scenery. Elk Creek wasn't open, but brewer Tim Yarrington knew we were coming and we met him out back at the brewhouse. We talked about how he was seeing the same thing as Otto's: everyone in the area wants Elk Creek beer, even the Millheim Hotel four doors down, even the firehall across the street. There are places around here, he said (and for the record, "around here" is mighty damned pleasant, but definitely in the sticks), that are putting an impressive small selection of craft on tap, mostly focused on local stuff. He's even hooked up with a wholesaler to get beer into the Wyoming Valley, which blew my mind. We grabbed a sixtel of Poe Paddy Porter, had a sample of Tim's MFA Ale ("F*** style!" he told us he said when he formulated this one, and a tip for brewers: the "MF" in the name stands for what you might think, and Tim reports that beers with profanity in the name sell like...a MF'er), which was brown, hoppy, a little bit of biscuit, and kickass refreshing. ON the road again!
Off we went, to another brand-new place, Marley's in Bloomsburg. We sampled Mark Braunwarth's dunkelweizen and Belgian Pale, and decided that while both were good, the dunkelweizen was a style we didn't see enough of, and loaded a half into the back of the Jetta. We toured the brewery -- whew, is it hot down there in the basement! -- and got a tank-sample of his upcoming chocolate stout (real cocoa, and it tasted chocolatey indeed). Marley's is rolling, and I've heard good things from several friends about it.
We were rolling too, the short run to Berwick Brewing. Always a pleasure to stop in, but we'd screwed things up by being so late (I'd actually planned to be there about noon, but turned the trip around by starting at Otto's; it was now just before 5!), and it wasn't clear what kegs were spoken for. Tom Clark was going to be back in about 20 minutes, but...we'd hosed ourselves, and had to get moving. We made our apologies and rolled on.
Traffic was getting a little thick, but only in Shickshinny (happy 150th anniversary!), and as we crossed the bridge into Nanticoke, we were catching up to schedule a bit. Minerva, my long-suffering and well-abused GPS, was leading us to Marty's Blue Room and Benny Brew, and the more turns we took, the less-likely it seemed...but she was dead on the money. Nice small-town bar with what looked like a great menu, and the nanobrewery you see in the picture to the right. Benny -- Ben Schonfeld -- and his dad Jim ("Marty" was the former owner) showed us the brewery and we tasted the Amber Lager (juicy and malty), Wit (I'm witted-out right now, but this was still quite good), Summer Ale (light and hoppy, pretty nice too), and Hopenstein IPA (good, though a bit too sweet: Benny said it was lacking the usual dry-hopping -- there was a long, involved, and at times amusing story to go with that -- which usually balanced out that sweet, and he was planning to go back to that). Our general impression: for a one-man operation in a bar on a half-barrel system, these were pretty damned good beers, and clean as a whistle. Nice work!
Whew. One more stop, and a relaxed one: Breaker Brewing. Chris and Mark are like old buddies now, and we just rolled up, settled in, and all grabbed glasses of Lunchbucket Pale. Mighty nice, too. I'm very appreciative of a good pale ale lately. They're days away from setting on a new place, and it's a huge step up: acres of land, a solid brick production building, and...lots of parking. For the planned pub. Really. It's the former St. Joseph's Monastery -- again, really -- in nearby Georgetown (not far from Krugel's Deli). According to the guys, the Church is real touchy about breweries in churches after the Church Brew Works -- apparently, the diocese didn't take enough out of there, and it looks too...churchy, which is a source of embarrassment. They're taking out the altar, the stained glass, even requiring that the steeple be removed (or maybe just the cross on top of the steeple, they seemed unsure). Well, okay. But when the diocese is closing about 100 churches (according to Mark), it seems like they might have other things to be worried about. Anyway, they have their zoning variance, they're close to having the property, and then...well, then things get crazy. Looking forward to this, because I know I'm far from the only person who's said, over and over and over, that the Wyoming Valley needs a proper, well-run brewpub. These are the guys to do it.
We picked up our last sixtel -- Goldies Summer, their usual blonde with an addition of citrus peel and coriander, light and refreshing -- and headed down the PA TP Extension to home with a butt-load of great, small-brewery beer. See you on June 5th!
* I've got three PBW events with Scoats:
- The Wheat Beer Brunch is at HopAngel this year, Saturday June 4th, from 10-2, supplying you with all of those wonderful breakfast beers made with wheat, and beer-soaked breakfast/brunch food.
- The Upstate Beer Run event is at the Grey Lodge, Sunday, June 5th, 7-9 PM.
- And on Tuesday, June 7th, 7-10 back at HopAngel, we're doing the Smoked Stuff Dinner, a dinner with ALL smoked beers and at least one smoked food in each course. With the great smoked stuff right across the street at Rieker's, and the great local smoked beers...how can we lose?