Southeast Pennsylvania is a beer mecca; a curious vortex of zymurgy amid the rolling farmland and simple cities. Some of the finest craft breweries in the nation can be found occupying the once run-down warehouses of Harrisburg, the industrial parks of Downingtown, and nestled among the small towns in the surrounding void. When our friend Chris, wrapping up a 180-day sentence fixing the management problems of his company’s Lancaster branch, invited us down, we jumped at the chance to crash on his floor for three nights of beery stupor.
It turns out Mount Joy is a town, not an activity. It’s where Chris lives and thus our base of operations for the beer safari. It’s also home to Bube’s Brewery, a kick ass combination restaurant, brewpub, homebrew supply store and live music room located in a long-defunct 19th century brewery. Finding a place this cool in a sleepy town that sees as much traffic from horse-drawn buggies as cars surprised and delighted us. So did Bube’s premise-brewed oatmeal stout, which, while marred with a slightly roastier flavor than is typical for the style, went down very well. Multiple times.
Spooooky! The entrance to Bube’s tap room
This place is like a living museum. Up on the second floor, homebrew supplies await purchase amid dusty old implements of the cooperage trade, and colossal wooden fermentation vessels stand as disused monuments to the industry’s former glory. It seems you’re free to just wander around any old where, and the building has another fascinating thing in every old limestone cranny.
Bube’s, the way beer used to be brewed
Anyway, a bunch of beer later, we called it a night in preparation for the ambitious regional circuit that would begin with the crowing of the cock. Or more realistically, the rumbling of a truck spraying yet more pungent cow shit on the surrounding fields. They use real, brown, gloopy cow shit instead of chemical fertilizer. The odor hangs in the air like Los Angeles smog. It’s freakin’ terrible. Bruce farted in the car and I didn’t know what to do. Rolling down the window produced an odor exactly as noxious as the one emitted from his ass. I expected a shitduster to come swooping over the horizon and disgorge a brown mist on the farmland below.
But I digress.
After a hearty breakfast of eggs and scrapple, we piled into my trusty Honda Element and motored over Harrisburg way, to Troegs Brewing Company. The beers of Troegs are much-heralded and totally unavailable to us Western New Yorkers. Troegs is not a brewpub, it’s a large brewery with a bare-bones sampling, growler filling, and merchandise foisting room up front. And they’re generous with the samples. We got to taste any 6 out of the 5 beers they had on draft. I found myself returning to the Hopback Amber. Its balance and substantial body demonstrated just how much a beer can stick out from the pack merely by being excellent at what it is: not super strong, not overly hopped, no exotic or gimmicky ingredients.
A cool, frosty sample of Troeg’s Hopback Amber
Bruce showed a fondness for the Troeginator Doppelbock, a 9%+ ABV Americanized take on the classic German style. There’s a noticeable hoppy departure from the typical “liquid rye bread” flavor that characterizes Doppel, and the warming kick started our trip off nicely.
Chris Troegner, wondering why the hell his picture is being taken
So after getting us buzzed for free, co-owner Chris Troegner kindly took us in the back for a more thorough tour of the facility than three random walk-in schmucks from Lake Ontario had any right to expect, explaining their process, their expansion strategy, and their bottling procedure in great detail.
Troeg’s brewhouse grows by a couple of tanks each year
24 samples, one tour, two Troegs pint glasses, a T-shirt, and a case of Hopback later, we pulled out of Troegs’ gravel parking lot for our next stop, the Appalachian Brewing Company, located pretty much around the corner. ABC is a testament to two things America has in abundance: good beer and dilapidated warehouses.
Appalachian is one of the largest brewpubs in the country
They certainly must have sunk a great deal of money into undilapidating the building. Although industrial and nondescript on the outside, ABC’s cavernous interior is immaculate. We immediately pissed off the bartender by each ordering an eight-beer sample flight, saddling the poor bastard to the time consuming chore of pouring thirty-two tiny glasses full of beer.
In retrospect, the samplers may have been a touch… ambitious. Eight five-ounce glasses is enough to impart a buzz on even the most seasoned beer drinker, and we already had stomachs full of Troeg’s. Patrick’s abstention from anything but the most cursory of sips from each glass is to be commended. Someone had to drive. Better him than me.
Bruce contemplates the enormity of his sampler.
As for the beer itself, ABC was a little underwhelming. While not bad, most were noticeably off-style. But the Weizenbock excelled, cloudy with yeast and bursting with banana and clove, pretty much bang-on how we’d expect a Weizenbock to taste. Were I a regular there, the Weizenbock is the only beer I’d order, but I’d order it over and over again.
Part 2 tomorrow… deeper into the brew!