California Celebrator Beer News October/November 1997

South-Central Pennsylvania Brewery Tour

 By Greg Kitsock

Rich Wagner and Rich Dochter, Pennsylvania beer historians, have been conducting bus tours of the Keystone State's breweries for the past ten years. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton-Wilkes Barre, the Lehigh Valley... these areas are dotted with tall, sturdy, red-brick-and mortar buildings that rolled out their final keg decades ago and have long since been converted to warehouses or offices or light manufacturing. Some have dates with the wrecker's ball; others have been razed to the foundations.


This past July, the two Riches ferried a group of breweriana collectors through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania Amish country and were struck by how greatly the beerscape has changed. Noted Wagner: "This is the first tour we've conducted where we had more active breweries than out-of-date, dilapidated ones."


First stop on the South-Central Pennsylvania brewery tour was Reading, PA, a city of 78,000 whose importance as a brewing center exceeds its modest population. Reading was the home of Frederick Lauer (1810-1883), one of the nation's pioneer lager brewers and first president of the United States Brewers Association. Lauer was a noted philanthropist, a member of the town council and an ardent patriot. When the cash-strapped U.S. government slapped a federal tax on beer during the Civil War- the first in our country's history- Lauer urged his fellow brewers to accept it. He even equipped, at his own expense, his own company of men to fight for the Union cause. In 1885, the citizens of Reading unveiled a bronze statue in Lauer's likeness. A few temperance leaders raised a fuss, one snidely remarked that the site was appropriate, since it "would stand in front of the county jail and look over toward the almshouse in Shillington." But the statue still stands at the top of Penn Street, a little worse for the wear after doing battle with the pigeons for 122 years.


Lauer's legacy is carried on by two microbreweries. Pretzel City Brewing Company at 30 South Fourth Street takes its name from the popular snack that's long been a mainstay of the local economy. an old tin sign hangs on the premises, from the Chas. Aug. Muntz pretzel factory, offers 200 of the twisty treats for $1. Partners Scott Baver and Dave Gemmell ahve shoehorned a 15-barrel JV Northwest system into the ground floor of a former markethouse built in 1895. Products include the mouth-pricking Pretzel City Belgian Witbier; Duke of Ale IPA (nicely hopped with East Kent Goldings and Fuggles); Steam Horse Lager, a Kolsch-style Golden Ale; and an altbier. Upstairs is the Pretzel City restaurant and pub, which is actually under separate ownership from the brewery.


Pretzel City's rival, Neversink Brewing Company, opened about the same time in July 1996. Located at 545 Canal Street, Neversink is similar in two respects: it also has an adjacent pub, under independent ownership to showcase its beers, and, like Pretxel City, it offers an eclectic range of styles. Standouts include a rich, creamy double bock and a porter brewed with honey and anise. Head brewer is Tom Rupp, who previously worked as general manager for the Stoudt Brewery in Adamstown, PA.


Two more pit stops are scheduled on the way out of Reading. The first takes us to a five-story brick building at 314 North Third Street, the long-abandoned brewhouse of the Deppen Manufacturing Company (closed 1937). Long before comedian Drew Carey appropriated the name for the fictitious beer on his ABC sitcom, Deppen produced a brand called Buzz Beer (slogan, "Always Satisfies"). Pretzel City's Scott Baver considered renting the property for a second production facility but rejected it as too costly to renovate. "The inside is almost totally in ruins. It would have needed all new piping, all new drains, all new floors."


In the outlying community of Wyomissing, the area's first brewpub is taking shape. What was planned as a quick look-see of the construction site turns into a half-hour guided tour when we encounter the owner, Vince Parisi. Using a 25-barrel Peter Austin system, Parisi will turn out ales of every nationality: English, Scottish, Irish, German and Belgian. The brewpub, to be called Camelot Brewing Company, will have an Arthurian motif, with an oak plank drawbridge, arched doorways and glass panels with swords etched on them. The opening was tentatively scheduled for late summer. "We have three class reunions booked for November. I hope we're done by then!" says Parisi.


Next stop is Bube's Brewery at 102 North Market Street in the town of Mount Joy, about 20 miles outside Lancaster. Despite the name, no beer is produced here. Bube's is a lovingly preserved 19th-century lager brewery/hotel that now houses three restaurants. Alois Bube (pronounced "Booby" was a Bavarian immigrant who took over an existing brewery in 1877. With the notable exception of the brewkettle- the victim of a World War II scrap metal drive- Alois' brewing implements are still on display. In the cooper's shed upstairs is a "schnitzel bank" or shaving bench, where workmen repaired broken barrel staves. Adjacent to the biergarten is the boiler and smokestack that Bube used to generate electricity. In the lime-caked aging vaults beneath the building are immense wooden lagering vessels 10 feet high. The cellars, 43 feet beneath the surface, have been converted into an elegant dining area called the Catacombs. On most Suncay evenings, Bube's reenacts midieval feasts here, complete with actors garbed as wenches, beggars and minstrels.


Sam Allen, the current owner, has wanted to install a small brewhouse on the property since the late 1980's. What delayed him was Pennsylvania law, which first outlawed brewpubs, then mandated that they could serve no alcohol except their own house-brewed beer. Like any restauraneur, Allen was reluctant to give up his license to sell wine and liquor. State law has been relaxed, however, and Allen hopes to install a 5- to 7-barrel mini-brewery in the old icehouse by early next year.


Our last port of call is Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania capital. Here, Jack Sproch and his three partners purchased a burnt-out eyesore of a building from the city for the nominal sum of $1 and turned it into a gleaming, modern, brewery-cum-restaurant. The complex at 50 North Cameron Street is huge, 50,000-square feet in all. "The NBA could throw a party in here and no one would have to duck," wrote a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot newspaper. The tour group bellies up to the bar for taster glasses at 90-cents apiece. Sampling the ABC Jolly Scot Scottish Ale, one customer wonders whether the name is supposed to be ironic: the Scots, after all, are known more for their dour frugality than their jolliness. In fact, the name Jolly Scot was a brand name of the long defunct Robert H. Graupner Brewing Company, which used to stand just a block away. It closed in 1951, ushering in 46 years without a hometown beer.


When it rains it pours. Even as we were filing back to the bus, a second Harrisburg microbrewery, Troegs Brewing Company, was shipping its first kegs of pale ale. Troegs is located at 800 Paxton Street in a former trucking terminal. There is no attached restaurant. Co-owner John Trogner (formerly of Oasis Brewing Co. in Boulder, CO) says that Troegs is a pun on his nickname (Trogs) and Kroegs, a Belgian term for pub.


That's one we'll have to catch on the next tour.


Greg Kitsock is the Associate Editor of Barleycorn and a frequent contributor to the Celebrator Beer News.