Observer The Pennsylvania Beverage Journal June 1991

State's Brewpubs Keep on Cookin'

By Rich Wagner

It hardly seems possible that in the four years since the PLCB made brewpubs legal with the passage of H.B. 1000, there are now four brewpubs cranking out their own beers around Pennsylvania.

There is also one microbrewery in the state. This type of establishment was legal under the old code since it operates just as any brewery would. The only difference is the connotation of “micro,” which indicates the firm produces less than 10,000 barrels of beer annually. In the past the state was literally loaded with what are now called “microbreweries.” It wasn't until the 20th century that 500 to 2,000 or 5,000 barrel a year breweries became unheard of.

It is significant to note the role played by contract brewing in this picture. It goes like this; get a regional brewer with excess capacity to brew to your specifications, create a brand and market the product. This enables the entrepreneur to run his beer up the flagpole without buying costly equipment and engaging in the manufacture of beer directly.

Some contract brands remain just that, while other companies attract investors and begin constructing their own brewing facilities, frequently keeping their contract beer on the market. Three of the state's brewpubs have done exactly this; Pennsylvania Brewing Co., Sam Adams Beer Co., and Dock Street Brewing Co., have all followed the formula in one way or another.

Generally, the state's five brewpubs, operating in various capacities, follow either of the two industry-wide trends: small English style ale breweries and larger German Beer Hall style lager facilities. The following look at all five provides a glimpse at what is happening in this new “industry” throughout Pennsylvania.

Stoudt Brewing Co. Adamstown

The Stoudt Brewing Co. opened prior to passage of H.B. 1000. This firm has a standard brewery license. The brewery is situated next to an existing restaurant as well as beer hall and antiques mall. Carol Stoudt, owner of the brewery, commenced brewing in 1987 and has won awards for her Weiss Beer and Golden Lager at the Great American Beer Festival.

In addition, the brewery has recently begun brewing ales, including Stoudt's Ale and Stoudt's Stout. The former is a red ale while the latter is a porter-like, dark English-style brew. Last year's Raspberry Wheat Beer was particularly popular with its light body and flavor and just a trace of berry flavor.

The brewery is in the process of expanding their bottling line and will continue to sell champagne bottles of Stoudt's beer at the brewery. The contract beer supplied by the Lion Inc. of Wilkes-Barre is still available in selected counties throughout eastern Pennsylvania and is “closer than ever” to the beer made in Adamstown, says Stoudt.

Allegheny Brewery and Pub, Pittsburgh

Tom Pastorius opened the state's first brewpub in 1989, although he likes to refer to his establishment as being a “real brewery,” unlike most of the “toys” which you find from coast to coast. The brewery, located in the renovated Eberhardt & Ober brewery on Pittsburgh's north side, has been so successful that construction is underway to increase capacity threefold by September when the Oktoberfest will be held. And there will be an additional fifty seats in the “Rathskeller” downstairs from the main dining area.

Pastorius has just increased his off-premise sales and marketing forces to ensure an outlet for his increased production throughout Pittsburgh. Sales of “Pennsylvania Pilsner,” brewed by Jones Brewing Co. of Smithton are up a record 30% over last year.

The outdoor biergarten opened the first of May with a celebration that included a May-Pole, which is very popular in German beer halls and brewery restaurants. The Mãrzen Beer is a strong but smooth seasonal beer that is introduced this time of year. Other seasonal beers include Weizen Beer (summer), Oktoberfest (fall) and Christmas Bock (winter). Regular beers are the ever popular Penn Light, Kaiser Pils, and Penn Dark.

Patrons can order from an ever expanding menu which emphasizes typical German fare that includes lots of fresh krauts, special sausage plates and “in season” vegetables. More German delicacies are constantly being added.

Samuel Adams Brew House, Philadelphia

The next brewpub to open in Pennsylvania was the Samuel Adams Brew House, at 1516 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. A local businessman got the enterprise going by forming a partnership with an existing contract brewer whose beer had won the title of “Best Beer in America” several years in a row at the Great American Beer Festival.

Since its opening in November of 1989 the pub has enjoyed a brisk trade. In fact, the George Washington Porter received a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival within weeks after the brew house got going.

The small size of the establishment has been its main drawback. Owner David Mink has acquired the second floor adjacent to the pub and expansion work should be complete by the time this issue goes to press. Patrons will find twice as much room to eat, drink, relax and play darts. In addition, entertainment includes “open mike night” every Thursday and music every Wednesday and Saturday.

Another development at the Sam Adams Brew House has been the introduction of bottled beer. Bottling commenced within the last several months, which made it necessary for brewer Jim Pericles to divert his attention from just brewing to filling, capping and labeling “beer-to-go.”

Mink himself encouraged me to try a slightly sweet Poor Richard's Amber instead of my usual lighter, drier Ben Franklin's Gold. A recommendation I heartily make to any whose palate craves a good British-style ale. If you visit this establishment be sure to sample some of the fare on the menu, all of which compliments the light, amber and dark brews.

Happy Valley Brewery, State College

This brewpub opened late last summer, just prior to the return of Penn State students in the fall. I'm sure the establishment did a brisk trade during the football season; that is, of course, if any Penn State fans are after an alternative to the mass marketed brew. Happy Valley, like the Samuel Adams Brew House, brews from extract rather than malted barley, and both specialize in the British-style ales characteristic of similar brewpubs from coast to coast. This writer prefers the Nittany Amber Ale, thought the stout is just the right thing for the more adventurous palate.

Dock Street Brewery and Restaurant, Philadelphia

Ever since Jeff Ware contracted with F.X. Matt's brewery in Utica, NY to make his Dock Street Amber Beer, sales have increased. So much so that he has opened his own brewery/restaurant in the heart of the “high rise” section of Philadelphia. The beers are terrific, which is evidenced by the standing-room-only crowds this brewery draws every weekend.

Every effort is made to have six different beers on tap at all times, but demand frequently outstrips supply, especially for the brews which need to be aged. Ware insists that, “We will sell no beer before its time.” The most popular beers are the light helles, pilsner and weiss beer, while the amber and dark beers command respect among those who enjoy fuller bodied brews with lots of hop and malt flavors.

Future plans include changes in the menu as well as a continued experimentation in specialty beers, although Ware admits that more storage capability is an obvious necessity.

How Will the Trend Continue?

Where will the next microbrewery or brewpub open in Pennsylvania? Four years ago it seemed ludicrous to think there would be five such facilities in the Keystone State. There are those who say that given enough time the nation will be home to one or two brewpubs in every town. Others fear the large breweries will established chains of well-financed “fast-beer” outlets, each with its own “unique” appeal, much like Ronald McDonald and others institutionalized the hamburger and fries that teens in the fifties could get from mom-and-pop hamburger stands throughout the nation. Let's hope that there will be many more brewpubs and microbreweries throughout Pennsylvania, enough to create some jobs, generate tourism, and help set a new standard for what constitutes beer in the U.S.A.

Photo Captions

Dock Street's owner Jeff Ware (Right) and brewmaster Willis Kemper inspect two of the fifty-pound sacks of grain that arrive each week.

Brewer Jim Pericles welcomes patrons to the Samuel Adams Brew House.