Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Years Central PA Brewery Tour - The Beginning

For New Years, Jo and I decided to visit a few Central PA breweries that are too far to comfortably reach in one day.  Our original plans followed a different route but due to closures and odd hours, we ended up driving this one.  It looks sort of dumb as it crisscrosses itself, but that's the best we could do.  If Selinsgrove brewery was open and Berwick Brewing opened before 3, the route would have made a lot more sense.  Ah well.

The first place we visited was Old Forge Brewing in Danville.
Very interesting looking place.  Nice wooden bar, lots of metal, the mugs on the wall are some of the coolest I've ever seen, and the foot rail is an actual T-Rail from a nearby railroad.  Lots of local stuff and very comfortable place.
Both Jo and I wished there was a place with a cool mug club like that in Philly.  We walked in soon after they opened so we were the only ones at the bar to start.  I started with a sampler of all of their beers.
Front row to back, left to right, I got: The Anniversary Beer a Belgian something, Trinity Tripel, T-Rail Pale Ale, Slightly Rood a Belgian IPA, The Overbite IPA a Double IPA, Endless Summer, and Ludwig's Anniversary Lager a Marzen.  My least favorite of the bunch was the Endless Summer and Slightly Rood although they weren't bad, just not to my tastes.  On the other hand, the Trinity Tripel was quite good for a tripel and Jo really liked the Ludwig's Anniversary Lager.

There's too many beers to bother describing them all but here are some highlights.  The Anniversary Beer smelled like it contained smoked malt, but turns out it was just the Belgian yeast mixing with the malt and hops to create the smell.  I wasn't the only one to think this way according to the bartender so at least I'm not too crazy.  I thought it tasted slightly smoked too, but the Belgian yeast in it became evident as I worked my way through it.  Pretty good offering from them even if it was slightly odd. 

My favorite, though, was the Overbite IPA.  The aroma was all hops but inviting.  Very pleasant mix of bitterness, citrus and sweetness created a very drinkable double IPA.  Ended up being my favorite of the seven and I got a small glass of it to finish up our stay.
The little bit of food we had was also very good and our bartender, Carey, was helpful and chatty.  It even turns out that she was at the Splinter Black release and in line at the same time as us.  Pretty small world.  Both of us enjoyed our stay at Old Forge.  The beer was good, the food was good and even the patrons were pleasant.  Definitely a place we would go if it is was in Philly.

After that, we headed an hour and a half west to Otto's Pub and Brewery in the State College area.
This was just past Penn State.  Otto's was at the opposite end of the spectrum from Old Forge.  It's much more an Iron Hill than a Nodding Head if you understand that reference.  Probably 3 or 4 times the size of Old Forge with quite a bit less character.  No offense to Otto's.  Not bad, just much bigger and for a different clientele.  They recently (November) moved from a place at least half the size so maybe then it was more comparable.  Unfortunately, it meant they couldn't brew for at least two weeks so they only had three of their own beers on draft when we were there.
Around the edge starting at the top, we have their Apricot Wheat, the Mt. Nittany Pale Ale, and the Double D IPA.  The darker one in the middle is Elk Creek Copper Ale and behind that was Stoudts Pilsener.

I started with the Apricot Wheat and it was what you'd expect.  Much better than Ithaca's but still sort of wheaty which overpowered the apricot flavors.  After that was the Mt. Nittany Pale ale.  It had a mild hop smell, slightly weaker than the T-Rail from Old Forge.  Pretty smooth tasting for a Pale ale and Jo enjoyed this one.  Last was their Double D IPA.  Smelled completely of hops and had an interesting mix of hops in the taste.  They made it with a bunch of different hops so I'm guessing that is why.  Slightly bitter aftertaste, but not unpleasant.  The Elk Creek Copper Ale was good too although I'm now pretty upset at Elk Creek which I'll explain later.  The Stoudts Pilsener was fine and smelled of bread.  Nice blend of malt and hops.

I wouldn't say Otto's was bad, just uneventful.  The size of it removed any character it had and the lack of house beer was unfortunate.  They were also out of growlers which stinks.  I will say that we got a small pizza while there and it was pretty delicious so they do have that going for them.

We left Otto's and made our way to Williamsport for the evening.  Our first stop was Bavarian Barbarian, our one and only pure brewery on the trip.
We arrived at the brewery to find a pretty nondescript office entry.  Reminded me of Flying Fish in NJ.  Mike, the head brewer, salesmen, delivery guy, etc, was sent home by his wife a little before we got there since he had been there since 6am apparently so we didn't get to see him.  She was incredibly friendly however and made up for it.  We chatted about some of their distribution issues, crime in the neighborhood, what the breweries name means and how they developed a bunch of their labels.  The name of the brewery is apparently a result of Mike's Bavarian heritage and the fact that he looked a bit like a barbarian at one point.  Pretty funny.
As far as the art, they developed the style partially because they originally wanted to can and thought the style would work well with the brick wall pattern fading into the can.  Be pretty cool to see that happen when their distribution settles down a bit.  Right now they just keg and bottle in 22oz bombers, seen below.
We were offered either a sampler of their 5 beers or a single 12 oz of one so I of course went with the platter.  It had First Snow Ale their Winter Warmer (front), Steel Drivin' Stout (front right), Headbangerz Ale their brown (back right), Hammerin' Ale an Amber (back left), and 2x4 IPA their IPA (front left).
Really enjoyed the First Snow Ale.  Smelled sweet and a little smokey (again just my nose.  I don't think there was any smoked malt in this and it's probably just a result of the spices).  Tasted of caramel and toffee with some mild spice to it.  Nice that he didn't go overboard with the spices.  The Steel Drivin' Stout had a nice roast smell.  Flavor was sweet, almost caramel, with some roast backing it up.  Probably really enjoyable as a full pint.  We got a growler of the Headbangerz Ale so I'll have a post about that in a few days.  Following that, the Hamerin' Ale was good for an amber.  Enjoyable and probably great for people that like milder beers.  I think Mike calls this his introductory beer and I'd totally agree with that.  Finally, the 2x4 IPA.  I had this in chili at Jose Pistolas a couple weeks ago and it was great there and now it was great in a glass.  Smelled of grapefruit and tasted hoppy with a nice sweetness backing it up.  Apparently the 2x4 is very popular in Philly, but the others are more popular locally.  Interesting difference in markets.
The actual brewery was a big almost empty warehouse.  A few tanks littered the area (obviously) with some other stuff for brewing.  It looks like Mike has a lot of room to grow and considering I really enjoyed the beer, I hope it works out.

Following Bavarian Barbarian Jo and I made our way to Bullfrog brewpub to ring in the New Years.  Fantastic beers there but I'll talk about it tomorrow to do it proper justice.  So far, though, two great visits and one fine one.  Great start to our trip, that's for sure.

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