First Draft: Small trip around W.Pa., or wider, shows great summer options
It's summertime, and that means local craft brewers are rolling out specialty ales, lagers and shandies that are lighter in body than winter quaffs, and often carry notes of exotic fruits and spices.
Summer also means road trips, and the state brewers' guild has one mapped out across Pennsylvania for craft-beer fans seeking distinct regional flavors.
The Brewers of Pennsylvania suggests eight specific beers for its 2016 beer summer road trip, including three from breweries in Western Pennsylvania: The Brewerie in Erie, North Country Brewing in Slippery Rock and East End Brewing in Pittsburgh's Larimer neighborhood.
“Western Pennsylvania is prime right now for brewery development and launching,” says Dan LaBert, the BOP's executive director. As with other areas in Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh region boasts “great infrastructure, great water, the agriculture is fantastic and you have good positioning to major cities. The cost of entry is not as high as say San Francisco or New York or D.C., and there's a work ethic, a creativity ethic.
“Plus — what good Pittsburgher doesn't like their beer?”
Here's the full list for the BOP's summer beer road trip, with short descriptions from the guild:
Monkey Boyhefeweizen from East End Brewery. “Carries a distinct banana ester profile and crisp finish. No bananas were harmed or peeled in the brewing of this beer. It's just a little side benefit that the brewer's German yeast strain provides.”
Margarita Sour from North Country Brewing. “Kettle-soured ale with loads of lime and a touch of orange to give a traditional margarita flavor.”
Uncle Jackson's Blonde Ale from the Brewerie in Erie. “Smooth and delicious blonde ale is golden in appearance and full in body.”
Mango Hab pale ale from ZeroDay Brewing in Harrisburg. “Bold, beautiful and refreshing. … Perfect fusion of sweet mango and clean habanero heat.”
Shady Spot Lemon Shandy from Susquehanna Brewing Co. in Pittston. “The idea of beer and lemonade mingling together in beautiful, refreshing taste-bud-tingling harmony has been known overseas for centuries. There's nothing more appropriate on a hot summer day.”
Liaison Saison from St. Benjamin Brewing Co. in Philadelphia. “A lightly hopped, dry saison with notes of peppercorn and a slight lavender finish.”
Double Citrus IPA from Funk Brewing Co. in Emmaus. “A dry imperial India Pale Ale with a crisp malt backbone that exhibits a slight honey character which helps to balance the hop profile of pine, orange and lemongrass.”
Lionshead Light from The Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre. “Crisp, clean and slightly dry with some residual sweetness.”
The BOP created an app for the road trip that lets drinkers check in at the eight breweries. Visit four through the end of August, and earn a bottle opener. Visit all eight, you get a BOP brewers work shirt, plus free entrance to next year's PA Flavor beer and food pairing. Details: brewersofpa.org.
Of course, we have enough quality brewers in Allegheny County to come up with a road trip of our own. So at First Draft, we checked in with Pete Kurzweg, co-owner of The Independent Brewing Co. craft-beer pub in Squirrel Hill, for three of his favorite summertime beers:
Wheat Hop from East End. “Summery mosaic hops make this refreshing session wheat beer a sipper for your back porch,” Kurzweg notes.
Akamai American Double IPA from Brew Gentlemen in Braddock. Featuring Citra, Simcoe, and Chinook, hops, Kurzweg calls it the “perfect to drink with your summer BBQ burger.”
Berliner Weisse from Roundabout Brewery in Lawrenceville. “Tart, sour wheat ale that makes for great day-drinking on a hot summer day,” Kurzweg says. “Pro-Tip: Do as the Berliners do and add a touch of woodruff syrup or raspberry syrup — or, heck, just about any fruit syrup — to balance its sourness with a touch of sweetness.”
I'll add a few summer favorites of my own:
California Common by CoStar Brewing Co. in Highland Park. A golden ale fermented at warmer ale temperatures, only with a lager yeast. If you can find it, drink it. The boys at CoStar don't have a tasting room, but they do have a proven track record of producing quality, clean, tasty beers for all seasons.
Slamming Summer Saison from Grist House in Millvale. Grab your dog — because what's more summery than drinking a beer with your most loyal companion? — and head to the outdoor seating area at Grist House. This smooth saison features hints of lemon peel, pepper and orange.
Kaiser Pils from Penn Brewery in Troy Hill. This Vienna-style lager includes the perfect hop kick to a lager not known for high IBUs. Year in and year out, Kaiser is consistently one of the best beers at the brewery, if not the city.
Of course, pretty much every western Pesnnsylvania brewery has something good on tap this time of year. It's just a matter of finding them.
Chris Togneri understands that beer is seasonal, but that doesn't stop him from drinking a Mischievous Brown Ale from Helltown every time he finds it on tap. It's that good. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @christogneri.