By Bobby Bush
This being Sunday, the final day of our eastern Pennsylvania festival/brewpub crawl, we
headed toward the Pennsylvania Dutch city of Lancaster. Founded in April 1995,
Lancaster Malt Brewing Company had recently filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Although
the original owners had been ousted by other stockholders and a management shake-up
and re-organization had just occurred, we found no turmoil inside, just friendly folks and
good beer. Our bartender, John Brought, was the assistant brewer and did most of the
brewing. From behind a long L-shaped bar in this historic brick building, which was
originally a tobacco warehouse, he served up eight quaffable brews. From the malty
Golden Lager to well balanced Amish Four Grain Ale to chocolatey Milk Stout, they all
were delightfully drinkable. Strawberry Wheat eschewed the typical saccharin sweetness
of the style. Plum Street Porter was a bit flat with low malt profile. Spring Bock, which
presented an off, buttery aftertaste, was the only anomaly.
Let’s hope that Lancaster can recover from their financial throes and continue to
brew good beer.
Our next stop on the way to the Philly airport was in Downingtown. Established
in February 1996, Victory Brewing is run by a couple of beer geeks who brew what they
want to brew. So far, customers seem to enjoy it. Situated in an industrial complex in
what once was a Pepperidge Farm facility, this 23,000 square feet brewpub is more like a
bar/restaurant built around a 25 barrel microbrewery. Already familiar with the
ultra-hoppy and dry finishing Hop Devil IPA, we were anxious to see what other
marvelous beers owners/brewers Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski had to offered.
Overall, we were disappointed, expecting more English-style aberrations. But
hey, they brew what they want to. And the Prima Pils, hoppy and clean tasting, wasn’t
bad. Neither was Victory Festbier, a double decoction malty brew with spicy exit. The
light Brandywine Valley Lager was too light for my taste. Sunset Dunkel Weizen was a
dark gold, cloudy Hefe, while Moonglow Weizenbock, pushing 8.7% abv, was a sweeter,
stronger version of the same. It’s very unusual to find a cask-conditioned lager (most are
ales), but Dark Lager was copper, warmish and flat, possessing a semi-sweet fruity body.
Maybe these guys do know what they’re doing.
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania is regionally renown for its outlet malls. For that
reason, we hesitated to visit be-malled Brew Moon Restaurant & Microbrewery. Part
of a Boston chain which has four Massachusetts brewpubs and one in Honolulu (let’s go!),
this Brew Moon opened in June 1998 downstairs, near Sears. Though somewhat sterile in
decor and atmosphere, the helpful bartender, and brewer Brion Boyer’s interesting beers,
made this a gratifying visit.
Moonlight Lager was thin, lagery and crisp, while Munich Gold, a ‘96 GABF gold
winner for the chain, was bold. Prussia’s Pride ESB was moderately hoped, while its
cousin, Grasshopper IPA, presented a full hops effect. Full bodied and
chocolate-drenched, Planetary Porter had creamy mouthfeel. Seasonals Full Moon
Weizen, overwhelmed by its lemon wedge, and Uncle Fred’s Red, a filling, medium bodied
malty brew, rounded out the bill of fare. Grabbing some of Brew Moon’s unique stenciled
coasters while glancing at their eccentric menu- jonah crab taco, coconut ginger salmon
steamed in banana leaf - we thanked our gracious bartender and hit the mall.
The last stop of this 15 brewpub eastern PA swing was in the town of Lafayette
Hill. Established in January 1997 in a building which dates back to 1732, General
Lafayette Inn was obviously between brewers when we arrived. Although none of his
beers were on tap, newly arrived brewer Chis Leonard, who had worked at Hops in La
Jolla, California, has big plans for the future. We sampled the berry nose Cherry Tree Ale,
sour Sierra Nevada wanna-be Calvary Ale and sweet-to-bitter Raspberry Mead, while
pining for the Bankshot IPA and Barren Hill Bitter, both unavailable. It’ll be interesting to
see what a new brewer with a good attitude can do in this cozy local pub.
That’s it. Off to the airport. Mission accomplished. Thanks to Lew Bryson and
his informative 1998 book, “Pennsylvania Breweries,” which made our journey easier with
maps, descriptive info and hours of operation for each brewery.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush