Mid Atlantic Brewing News June/July 2007

Eastern Pennsylvania's Historic Beer Trails

By Rich Wagner

There’s nothing like the “lure of the open road” to add a little spice to life. One of my first extended road trips lasted a week and involved visiting every brewery in Pennsylvania at a time when there were only nine. With over fifty microbreweries and brewpubs in the Keystone State today, it’s never been easier to combine recreation fresh locally brewed beer! From minor league ballparks and scenic attractions to golfing, fishing and swimming resorts, it’s possible to tailor a one-day road trip or family vacation to include great craft beer and maybe even a bit of brewing history.

Throughout the country many old brewery buildings have been converted to reuse, and they are a sight to behold. In Philadelphia an urban road trip could include three of these “success stories.” The Bergdoll brewery complex has been preserved as condominiums and is a short walk from the Art Museum area at 29th & Parrish Street. On Temple’s campus the Class & Nachod brewery complex at 10th & Montgomery Avenue has been restored as office and dormitory space. And Yards Brewing Company in the old Weisbrod & Hess brewery is a perfect blending of old and new to round out the day with a Saturday tour.

Philadelphia has lots of other scenic attractions and the Man Full of Trouble Tavern (now a residence at 125 Spruce St.) and City Tavern at 138 S. 2nd St. are an easy walk from Independence Hall. Nearby the recently opened Triumph Brewery at 117-21 Chestnut St. is in the heart of one of the city’s best beer destination neighborhoods.

Northern Liberties is another neighborhood that’s got lots to offer on a beer trek. At Second and Poplar Sts. there’s the Standard Tap with the new Foodery right across the street. Both of these are a half block from the Pennsylvania State Marker commemorating “America’s First Lager” at American and Poplar Sts. which is in the shadow of what’s left of the old Ortlieb’s brewery. On Third St. just below Poplar in the old brewery saloon is Ortlieb’s Jazz Haus which has recently had a makeover with an emphasis on beer as well as music.

Bucks County is loaded with tourist destinations and contains Pennsylvania’s quintessential beer-related historic site, Pennsbury Manor in Morrisville, which includes a reconstruction of William Penn’s bake and brew house. At 102 Radcliffe St. in Bristol, the King George Inn (http://www.brtstage.com/) claims to be the oldest continuously operating inn in the country.

Across the river there’s the Indian King Tavern Museum in at 225 Kings Highway East in Haddonfield, New Jersey which is not far from the Flying Fish brewery (1940 Olney Ave. Cherry Hill, NJ) which has tours on Saturday. South Jersey has lots of tourist destinations and as a beer bottle collector I highly recommend Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center where visitors can see the birthplace of America’s glass industry. It is 40 miles from Atlantic City where it’s possible to combine slots, sand, surf and beer with a visit to the Tun Tavern Brewery.

Back in Pennsylvania the Bethlehem Brew Works at 569 Main St. is surrounded by history. At 564 Main St. the Old Sun Inn is a living history museum, while the nearby Goundie House at 501-05 Main St. is where John Goundie lived and brewed beer in 1802. Around the corner at 128 W. Union Blvd. the old Uhl brewery building provides an excellent example of nineteenth century brewery architecture along with a “The Old Brewery Tavern” right next door. All of these are in a proximity to the numerous music festivals held in Bethlehem throughout the summer.

The Allentown Brew Works at 812 Hamilton Street is slated to open in mid-June, giving the Lehigh Valley another craft brew destination. The old Neuweiler brewery complex in the 400 block of North Front Street is abandoned but is a “diamond in the rough” just waiting for some TLC. Nearby at Third & Gordon Streets is what remains of the Horlacher brewery.

Moving on to Reading, there’s an “old-new” beer in town in the form of “Old Reading Premium,” a retro-themed version of that city’s favorite brand. What’s left of the Old Reading plant is located at Ninth and Laurel Streets. Reading’s always been a big beer town and I remember getting a pocket guide to the bars of Reading by “Suds and Dregs” many years ago. There is a statue of Frederick Lauer, a pioneer brewer and founding member of the United States Brewers Association, in City Park that is worth a visit for the serious Beer Pilgrim. The park is on N. 11th St. just below the Pagoda on Mount Penn.

And then there’s the grand daddy of them all, “America’s Oldest Brewery” at 5th and Mahantongo Sts. in Pottsville. This is one of the most unique brewery tours available anywhere and the lagering caves have been re-opened. From Monday through Friday there are tours at 10 AM and 1:30 PM and on Saturdays at 11 AM, Noon and 1 PM.

Of course one of Lancaster County’s leading industries is tourism, and the best beer and history destination is Bube’s Brewery in Mount Joy. For the past several years patrons have once again been able to enjoy a glass of “Bube’s Beer.” There’s a restaurant, bar, museum and “catacombs” (where Bube used to lager his beer) along with an impressive schedule of events. If antiquing is your passion there’s always Stoudtburg Village in Adamstown. In Rheemstown you can find the newly open Union Barrel Works which is on the road to the famous Green Dragon flea market in Ephrata. And of course, the Lancaster Brewing Company in Lancaster City is at the hub of all the attractions Lancaster County has to offer.

The Stegmaier brewery complex in Wilkes-Barre is another of Pennsylvania’s brewery preservation success stories. A visit there could easily be combined with a Saturday tour of the Lion Brewery. For the adventurous there are lots of bars in this city but two beer bars I’ve heard about are the Saloon Since 1914 at 643 N. Main St. and Elmer Sudds at 475 E. Northampton St.

The best possible re-use of an old brewery building is, of course, to turn it back into a brewery. In the western end of the state Pittsburgh’s Penn Brewery did just that to the old Eberhardt & Ober brewery. They are located near Three Rivers Stadium and many other attractions that city has to offer.

I recently discovered the website for “The Flagon & Trencher,” an organization dedicated to the descendants of colonial tavern keepers. A visit to their website will give you some ideas on even more colonial era taverns that are in business and possibly some ideas for other interesting places to visit.

There was a time when I thought I could visit every brewery and brewpub in North America. Those days are long gone, but summer sure is a great time for a road trip!

Willie Nelson said it best:

…I can't wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again…

Addendum July 26, 2020

This article appeared thirteen years ago and since that time there are now “Beer Trails” in a number of regions. A little creative internet searching will yield many more possibilities!

Related Articles

Wagner, Rich. "How We Saved the Stegmaier." The Keg, Quarterly Newsletter of the E.C.B.A. Summer, 2005.

Wagner, Rich. Indian King: A Tavern Restored. Mid-Atlantic Brewing News Oct./Nov. 2008.

Wagner, Rich. “The Story Behind America's First Lager Historic Marker.” American Breweriana Journal. Jan./Feb. 2009.

Wagner, Rich. “A Stroll Through Brewing History: The Past Preserved in Philadelphia.” Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. Apr./May 2005.

Wagner, Rich. Otto's Pub and Brewery, a Breweriana Collector's Paradise. American Breweriana Journal. May/June 2011.

Wagner, Rich. “Philly's Born Again Breweries.” Mid-Atlantic Brewing News. August/September 2014.

Wagner, Rich. “National Lager Day.” Tour Notes. December 16, 2018.