Pennsylvania: Off the Beaten Path
The Phillies. The Penguins. The Steelers. The Nittany Lions.
They’re all champions this year, and they’re all from Pennsylvania. Sports fans have had a lot to celebrate in the Keystone State. Fortunately, they have plenty of beer to do it with.
Pennsylvania has a rich brewing history dating back to colonial times. Our Founding Fathers downed a pot of ale at pubs like the Indian Queen, the City Tavern and the Tun Tavern as they debated the document that formed our new nation. Later, German immigrants brought a love of lager across the Atlantic.
In past issues, we’ve taken you to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but what about that long stretch in between? It’s not just highways, gas stations and fast food. A short detour off the four-lane will lead you to great craft beer and some interesting places to drink it in. So come on, grab your beer traveler’s notebook and let’s start tasting.
What better place to start than Stoudt’s Brewing Co., Pennsylvania’s first modern-day microbrewery? It’s located on State Route 272 in Adamstown, a tad west and north of Philadelphia. In the 1980s, Carol and Ed Stoudt wanted to add another dimension to their growing restaurant business. After attending a brewers’ conference in Portland, where they met craft brew evangelists, the pair were hooked.
Carol has since become one of America’s first female brewers. Stoudt’s ranks as one of the top award winners at the Great American Beer Festival, and with good reason. They brew both lagers and ales, and both are solid. The pilsner, which Carol says took over two and a half years to get the recipe the way she wanted it, is one of the best you’ll find anywhere.
More than a restaurant and a brewery, “Stoudtburg” is an enormous complex that also includes a bakery; a beer garden, where numerous beer festivals are held; and a 70,000 square foot antiques mall. How popular is this place? Just look at all the out-of-state cars in the parking lots. Don’t worry—the locals come too. It’s the kind of place where you stop in for a beer and windup spending a lazy afternoon.
You can take Ed’s free brewery tour on Saturday or Sunday. Or, if you just drop into the Victorian-decorated restaurant filled with breweriana, the staff will happily acquaint you with what’s on tap. If you’re into political memorabilia, check out the small room off the bar, which is decorated with portraits of nineteenth century presidents. We sat beneath Rutherford B. Hayes who, ironically, didn’t drink.
A Brewpub for a Dollar
Just south of downtown Harrisburg is the Appalachian Brewing Co. (50 North Cameron Street). It’s one of America’s largest brewpubs, occupying over 50,000 square feet in a three-story brick structure that dates back to the turn of the last century. Over time. it’s housed a printing company, a railway company and even a WPA office during the New Deal. Two major fires—one in 1930, the other in 1993—almost brought out the wrecking ball.
Hoping to revitalize the area, city officials sold the property for one dollar. The owners, as well as Friends of the Brewery, did the restoration work. Watch out for the plaque honoring the folks who literally did “work for beer.” Their handiwork is inviting: lots of wood and brick, high ceilings, and even a Brewopoly game on sale in the gift shop.
At the L-shaped bar, we enjoyed an eight-beer sampler that came with a house root beer on the side. It was a nice mix of styles, ranging from a lager to a big hoppy IPA with a seasonal Belgian ale thrown in. Behind the bar, there are rows of glasses belonging to mug club members. Brite tanks and fermenters stand guard behind glass windows.
State College, smack dab in the middle of the state, is the home of Penn State University. It’s also home to Otto’s Pub and Brewery (2105 N. Atherton St). Otto’s is housed in an unassuming structure along a strip highway, but don’t judge a book by its cover. The brewing equipment is visible through the front picture window. You enter on the side and see dining areas on either side of the hostess stand.
But the place to go is the bar room. During our visit we saw a good representation of Pub Club members, whose beer arrives in oversized glass logoed mugs. There are ten or so taps on one side of the back bar, and two hand pumps opposite on the bar. A blackboard lists what’s on tap. Otto’s serves up eight house beers, along with several seasonals. Every Friday is Firkin Friday, with the tapping at 5 p.m.
The bar room is decorated with breweriana, most of it from Pennsylvania breweries of bygone days. The roll call included Kaier’s, Reading, Old Dutch, Leitz, Cresson Springs, and our favorite item, a wooden case of DuBois Budweiser. DuBois is said to be the last “Budweiser” brewery in America to be sued into oblivion by Anheuser-Busch. Even the restroom doors had amusing signs: Ortleib ads, one depicting a baseball player, the other a woman on a swing, each with the slogan “Be a Real Swinger.”
Welcome to the North Woods
For years, it was a ritual for the announcer at University of Michigan football games to give the score of Slippery Rock College game. It always amused us. Why would you name a town “Slippery Rock?” Turns out, it’s because George Washington’s troops slipped into the creek trying to capture local Indians. Call it idle curiosity, but one day we decided to check out the town, starting with the brewpub: the North Country Brewing Co. located on the main drag (141 South Main Street).
The outside of the building is painted mustard and green, colors that say, “welcome to the north woods.” The front patio and the twisted tree branches guarding the front walk offer a preview of how much wood has gone into the décor. The front door—wooden, of course—has the face of what might best be described as a gnome. The back of his face is on the other side of the door.
All kinds of work went into the bar and the back bar. The tap handles could double as a tool chest: one’s a scythe, another a hammer and yet another a drill bit. And there’s more wood. Antlers add to the hunting lodge atmosphere. The liquor licenses on display are in hand-made wooden frames. And a row of canoe paddles along one wall reminds visitors that Slippery Rock is the gateway to several state parks. On a lighter note, check out the watering can pressed into service as a faucet. Honest. It’s inside the ladies’ room.
We visited on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day and found an Irish celebration in progress, complete with Celtic musicians and two dollar pints of McCafferty’s Ale—an Irish red ale named after the owners. The ale’s malty character all but came out of the glass and introduced itself. The beer line up includes something for everyone. It starts with an English-style dark mild, and works its way up to the hardy Buck Snort Stout, which the owners promise will “straighten your antlers and warm your doe.”
Oops! Our word-count tank is close to empty. Next time you make a pit stop, go the extra mile. You might find some beer.
Paul Ruschmann is a writer, editor and researcher; Maryanne Nasiatka is a writer and photographer. They travel as much as their budget permits, visiting many of the places where great beer is brewed and enjoyed.