It’s Not an Upstate PA Beer Tour, Stupid*!

We had been planning a weekend to take our friends Scott and Vickie on a tour of some of our favorite brewpubs in the central PA region for several weeks. Snow couldn’t stop us from taking the trip, and snow probably contributed to a better time – no crowds and time to visit with owners, brewers and staff. What a fun time!

We started the day at Selin’s Grove Brewing Company, just shortly after opening. The Framboise came out this week, and they are serving it in 12-oz glasses for $6.50. It was such a beautiful color and the aroma of raspberry was so fresh and lovely! We talked briefly with Steve – the owner/brewer – and learned that the recipe is exactly the same as Razz Merry with a tweak here or there and an obvious improvement in the quality of raspberries. The expense comes from the fact that the raspberry crop yielded low amounts this year, but the raspberries available were higher quality and, as far as he’s aware, all US-grown.

You may have heard about the issues with the brew kettle which has caused a suspension in the sale of growler fills on all Selin’s Grove beers. I am happy to report that it has (so far) had no effect on the number of beers on tap – it was a complete list – and enough repair has been done to the brew kettle to brew two batches so far. It’s hard to tell how long it can hold up, but in the meantime, they are working on having a new one manufactured. The IPA is back to a more typical dry and spicy hopped beer after going citrusy for a few weeks, and the Organic Pils was terrific with a clean, thick head and bursting with hops. From the menu, we enjoyed the local cheese plate and the West Indian Pumpkin Soup – yum, yum!

From Selin’s Grove, we headed out into the snow to Danville to see what was happening at Old Forge Brewing Company. Things were steady, despite the snow, and the four beers have changed out. They are also much improved! We started with a sampler to share, just to get a taste for the new brews. Name That Beer is a mild that weighs in at 3.7% ABV, and as the name implies, guests are asked to make name suggestions (mine was a boring “Mill Street Mild” since I couldn’t come up with any tie-in names with the State Hospital, St. Cyril Academy or Geisinger.) The mild is similar to Inauguration Ale, but I think it is much better.

Brickscraper E.S.P. (as in “Pale”) was also on at 6%, and it was pretty right on. I really enjoyed the Ol’ Smitty Spiced Winter Ale – a 9.6% beer that was extremely fragrant with floral perfume and a typical winter spice flavor. The favorite by far at our table, however, was the Slack Tub Stout. It’s a great session beer, weighing in at 4.5% ABV, and is served on nitro.. It was a very dark brown with a medium dark head. It had a light, roasty malt aroma and was richly flavorful and creamy. The stout perfectly complimented our thick, creamy potato soup and Irish soda bread (?). We were equally pleased to finally meet Damian – the owner/brewer – and have a short conversation with him about the successful beginning of his business. He seems like a great guy, transplanted from the Philly area with a dream to make fresh, local beer. He’s really filling a need in that area of the state, and I hope the positive experiences we’ve seen are a reflection of the future.

The snow brought out some of the stupids – the travel on Route 11 between Danville and Berwick was unnecessarily slow – but when we got to One Guy Brewing Company, the parking lot and bar-seating was packed! It was great to see Guy doing such good business, despite the weather. And drinking his beers is a reminder of why he’s doing so well. Our friends Jason and Bob came over to Berwick to meet us (with snacks!), and at the table, we enjoyed the Atomic Punk IPA, the Berwick Lager and the Hefeweisen (some of us enjoying it with the apple cider added; others not so much.) It’s a great little space, with a friendly atmosphere from the staff (yes, Guy hired someone on to help!) and other customers. On our visit, Guy took the time to sit down and chat with us for a bit, but he was busy testing out a pizza oven in the back. Sounds like a cool new addition!

We finally pulled out of One Guy just after dark, and braved the snow-covered Interstate highway. I had forgotten how roads get pre-treated, but not plowed, in the north and soon got use to the fact that snow-covered highways are normal. But I wasn’t disappointed in any way to reach the crest of the mountain outside Williamsport and peer out the scenic view, knowing we’d soon be off the road. Luckily, people in the northern part of the state understand snow and know how to drive in this stuff, or to just stay off the road.

Bavarian Barbarian looked pretty dead – along with the rest of the city – when we first pulled in, but we were pleased to learn that we were not the only customers of the day. People had come in for the tour, and people came in after our arrival as well. And both Mike and Kira were there to greet all of the customers. It’s always fun to catch up with them, and I enjoyed a small taster glass of First Snow Ale (I LOVE this beer) while our friends did a whole taster tray. Kira designed some really cool “handouts” for the beer-note-takers which she was proud to give to Scott. On one side, all of the beers are listed with descriptions, and on the opposite side is an identical layout with the tap art and space for note taking. What a great touch! We grabbed a growler to go, and headed out at closing.

It was easy to find parking at Bullfrog Brewery because the place was not very busy, and the band had canceled. Still, some brave souls came out for the night, and business was steady. Bob, one of the owners, took the time to sit and talk with us for awhile, telling us a great story of his childhood that really tied together all of the things we already knew about his love of the baseball card industry. It was nice to have our out-of-town guests get such a personal look into the heart of the business this way. Vickie and Scott got the sample platter of beers before narrowing it down to a few favorites. I went straight for the Edgar IPA – a family favorite – and D enjoyed a glass of his new favorite – the Bruggetown Blonde, which is a lovely Belgian Pale Ale.

We really had hours of fun at Bullfrog. It was a quiet, relaxing night where we also got a chance to visit with Harriet and Steve (the other owners), and talk to some locals. We watched the snow fall and chatted until we finally got too tired to hang out anymore. Luckily, Priceline came through for us again with an inexpensive stay at the Holiday Inn, which is just a few blocks away, and we were able to get some needed rest.

The first part of our Central PA beer tour – with tongue-in-cheek, dubbed the “Upstate PA Beer tour” – was certainly a success!

* “Stupid” – a tribute to Conky

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