American Breweriana Journal July/August 2014
Craft Brewing in Easton Today
by Rich Wagner
When I visited Weyerbacher Brewing Co. in February 1996, they were located in a building that had been a livery stable for an old hotel down the street. Founder Dan Weirbach said Weyerbacher was the way his family spelled their name before coming to this country. It had only been six months since they proudly brought brewing back to the City of Easton. Brewers were busy with their 15 barrel system imported from England. For bottling there were pressure sensitive labels and a small Maheen filler. I was happy to see that “microbreweries” were beginning to spring up, especially in the Lehigh Valley where the Pennsylvania Dutch had rich brewing traditions spanning the centuries. They produced 1,700 barrels that year and expected to increase that by 40% in 1997. In 1998 a small pub called Two Rivers Brewhouse was opened adjacent to the brewery where they introduced a line of lighter beers under the Two Rivers brand to attract the locals.
Fast forward ten years and Weyerbacher introduced “Decadence” (13% abv), their boldest beer to date, to celebrate a successful decade in business. Dan described Decadence as “a strong, spiced amber, in the Scottish style …brewed with a rare spice seldom used in beer…” Mid-Atlantic Brewing News columnist Dale Van Wieren (ABA 3371) interviewed Dan Weirbach who offered a perspective on his beginnings, turning pro after homebrewing for eight years and rolling out Easton Pale Ale and ESB as his first beers. Early on Dan introduced Blithering Idiot, a barleywine which received such acclaim it became his flagship brand. From there it was more big beers, hoppy beers and Belgian styles which would become Weyerbacher’s stock in trade, a trade that grew to the extent he had to move to a larger space with a 25 barrel brew house (from Victory in Downingtown) in 2002.
Hops Infusion IPA became a best seller, but in 2005 Dan noticed a drop in sales so he tweaked the recipe over an eighteen month period, increasing sales by four fold. That year he took a trip to Belgium and upon his return his team began experimenting with Brettanomyces in their high alcohol beers.
Having developed the high end specialty beer niche, Weyerbacher began bourbon barrel aging some of their regular beers. Enjoying an unprecedented growth in sales which reached 5,000 barrels in 2007, they introduced a bourbon barrel aged Blasphemy (11.8% abv), an outgrowth of their Quad, the nation’s first “Quadruppel” (11.9% abv). Dan emphasizes, “In my wildest dreams I had no idea how popular the big beers would become.”
In what can only be described as a high point, Weyerbacher literally “cleaned up” at the Philly Beer Scene “Best of” Awards in April 2012: Best Area Brewmaster, Chris Wilson, Brewery Rep of the Year, Mike Lubieski, Best Barrel-Aged Beer: Insanity Barrel-Aged Barleywine, Best Belgian Style Beer, Merry Monks.
My second visit to Weyerbacher was last summer. It was the first time I had seen the “new” location where a major expansion project was nearing completion. A truly impressive sight, especially when I remembered my first trip to that converted livery stable eighteen years ago. In 2013 the brewery produced over 17,000 barrels! Thanks to Tasting Room manager Bill Bragg for letting me photograph his collection of Weyerbacher breweriana.
The large hotel that had the livery stable which later became Weyerbacher Brewing’s first home on Sixth Street is about to become Easton’s second craft brewery. The owners purchased the “white elephant” and have spent the past two years making all the necessary modifications to the building to bring it up to code. They have a bar and restaurant on the first and second floors which has a good selection of craft beers. Brewer Wayne Milford is busy preparing to take delivery of his 15 barrel brewing system. Wayne is a Lehigh Valley native who honed his brewing skills at Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware. He’s been using his “nano-brewery” homebrew system to make pilot batches of beer. Since the brewery is not yet licensed, all the beer he’s made has been given away as free samples. On a recent tour he showed me how the brewery was going to be laid out, predicting he’d have Two Rivers beer flowing from the taps by the end of the summer.