After being so bereft of solid brewpubs, five worthy ones have sprung up along the expansive Northeastern Corridor of Pennsylvania sidling Route 80. In fact, a sixth pub soon to be ventured, Turkey Hill Brewing Company, had a large advertisement spotted at the Bloomsburg onramp to the tree-lined interstate highway while cruising back home to Jersey. Each independently run operation had its own tangible niche and interesting beer selection, helping to accelerate the growth of the Quaker State’s increasingly expansive brewing industry since 2009. Even Williamsport, a few miles northwest, has two new-sprung brewpubs competing with sterling mainstay Bullfrog Brewery (the free-spirited Bavarian Barbarian and more conventional Abbey Wright).
So I left the three kids at home alone, jumped in the car with my wife, Karen, and headed west to the Pocono Mountains and beyond for a two-day excursion on Good Friday. Our trip began at Shawnee-On-Delaware’s bucolic Gem & Keystone Restaurant, a maroon three-story Colonial edifice perfectly in tune with the surrounding wooded countryside. Located at the Shawnee Inn & Gold Resort alongside a rolling stream in easternmost part of the Poconos, this fabulous eatery served beers crafted at Shawnee Craft Brewery by Leo Bongiorno. As if to prove winter still had one last breath, I spotted a few leftover snowflakes before entering.
Earning a solid rep since opening September 2010, Shawnee’s uses locally grown ingredients for its fine organic beers and vegetarian-friendly food. Featuring two back decks, upstairs banquet area, and main level dining, the capacious hunter green-walled, wood-furnished lodge also housed a larger downstairs bar with big screen TVs, billiards, darts and firepit. Sitting at the diminutive low-ceiling left side main bar (with two TVs), friendly bartender Shawn Copeman hung out while I quaffed eight well-rounded beer samplers with outstanding crab cakes plus oak-grilled crostini bread chock-full of fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, basil and tomato.
Crisply, soft-toned ‘Green Drinks’ (sans chemical preservatives) included subtle nitro-injected Session Porter, a nutty chocolate nicety gathering advertised ‘black currant overtones’ amidst ashen mineral grains. Refreshingly clean Biere Blanche witbier brought hard candied lemon souring to white-peppered Curaçao orange sedation and tertiary banana-clove-coriander reminder. Even better, Raspberry Blanche (a hopped-up Biere Blanche adjunct) saddled its tart raspberry rasp with limed brimstone pucker, oaken cherry pungency, green grape tannins, champagne-like Chambord desiccation and sour ale-like brettanomyces acidity.
Approachable Barrel Aged Double Pale (based on Old World IPA recipe) retained smooth, nitro-injected creaminess atop citric honeyed peach. Elaborate Belgian-styled farmhouse ale, 2010 Pumpkin Saison Cuvee II dropped ‘pie sweet’ pumpkins into cinnamon-nutmeg-allspice conflux contrasting earthen fungi underside.
Indifferent lager heads might regale astringent, yellow-fruited, corn-dried pungency Gold Lager. Neophytes may give the nod to corn-sweet, wheat-cracked, malt-soured, vegetal-dried American Blonde Ale or musty honey-soured mocha-spiced Stock Ale.
An hour down Route 80 West off exit 256, at the Poconos northernmost range uphill from the windy Susquehanna River lies sleepy industrial village Berwick. Bordering a used car dealership hidden in a red-bricked warehouse, Berwick Brewery takes up nearly half the space of a former bakery.
I initially visited this dank, cafeteria-styled watering hole on the Fourth of July 2010, settling in at the large wooden pavilion behind the small tasting rooms. Brewer Kyle Kalanick’s favorable beer recipes went well with delicious homemade pizzas and local Spyglass Ridge wines sufficed. Enjoyed creamy, tropical-juiced, grapefruit-peeled Atomic Punk IPA, orange-bound, banana-cloved Front Street Wheat and rye-breaded, pumpernickel-loafed Hondo Keller over resinous citric-fizzed Arden Amber.
Returning to Berwick this misty springtime mid-afternoon, my wife settled into lemon-spiced, honey-creamed, orange-candied mainstay Berwick Lager while I delved into three moderate dark beers. Due to nightshift construction, the brewery’s recently been opening at 6:30 a.m. A few stragglers are finishing up as we imbibed at one of the dozen elongated orange tables. Dark roasted malts consumed coffee-stained, cocoa-dried, oats-charred Grumpy Bill’s Porter, milk chocolaty, coffee-burnt, Kahlua-tinged Barleytown Irish Dry Stout, and coffee-oiled, cherry-soured, mocha-chalked Foxy Stout. All together, another nice go-round at this discreet little dive.
As dinnertime approached, we headed southwest to Bloomsburg’s industrial downtown stretch. Along Main Street tucked into a midsize space with green interior, Classical molding, and separate right side dining area stood Marley’s Brewery & Grille. Sitting at the left side bar across from a beautiful mirrored mural with Marley’s insignia, we enjoyed fruity ales—a porter and stout—alongside a humus and prime beef sandwich while watching Philadelphia Flyers playoff hockey.
Silly dog-related names christened each well-balanced delight brewer Mark Brunwarth concocted in the basement tanks. Two fine, white-peppered Belgian-styled ales led the way. Candied, plum-dried, prune-stewed, herbal-hopped Choke Collar Trippel bested sweeter fruit-spiced Dirty Dog Dubbel.
Another two Euro-fashioned offerings of German heritage fared well. Bitch In Heat Hefe layered banana-breaded, clove-coriander spicing and lemony orange tartness above honeyed wheat. An abundant plum-soaked, fig-spiced sharpness enveloped Dock Jumper Dunkel, subduing bruised banana sweetness and dried mocha malts. Dog Runner Ale, a mild Irish Red Ale, needed deeper crystal malting, riper black cherry fruiting and better tea-like midst.
On the dark side, oats-toasted, chocolate-spiced, coffee-burnt, espresso-bent Guard Dog Porter gave chocolate-bound barley roaster Leg Humper Oatmeal Stout a run for the money.
Though soft-hopped Droopy Ear Alt retained loud, raisin-pureed, cherry prompting and molasses-sapped overture to earthy bottom, dry-bodied pine-fruited Tire Chaser IPA gained woody-hopped, grapefruit-peeled, black currant bittering to contrast zesty orange, pineapple, peach and apple. Crisp citric-fizzed Kong Kolsch was least memorable, placing nasty corn-oiled astringency aloft pungent vegetal graining. Overall, a nice showing on a rainy Friday eve from a cordial neighborhood pub opened February 2010.
After signing out of our Bloomsburg hotel Saturday morning, my wife and I ventured 10 miles west to downtown Danville, spending an hour at Olde Forge Brewing (opened for business December 5, 2008). Described as a “Fun, casual, comfy pub,” this narrow bi-level saloon benefited from local farm-grown ingredients, integrating brewer Damien Malfara’s healthy pub fare. Bending stylistic guidelines in his favor, the former Philadelphia chemist showed off an expressive array of suds emanating from downstairs fermenting tanks.
Upon entering, a small silver brewing system fronts this brick-walled, pink lady-like structure. Eight seats crowd the left bar (with colorful parasol, uniquely carved tap handles and pottery-made beer mugs) situated across three right side tables and antique, oaken-framed mirror. Handcrafted wood and metal fixtures bedecked this ground level space. The similarly styled upstairs lounge backed up against an outside deck, colorfully splashed with Old Forge insignias and the like. A short menu included burgers, sandwiches and quesadillas.
Old blues music played as I inspected my seven sturdy samples. On the moderate end, mildly bitter smoothie Egan’s Best Bitter draped caramelized fig across apricot-dried fungi bottom. Perched between the brewers’ Bellows Brown Ale and Underbite IPA, Falling Down India Brown opposed leafy, dry-hopped tranquility with brown-sugared, caramel-chocolate malting.
Lager-aged, mocha-dried, fig-sugared, prune-strewn Old Forge Alt nearly outdid superb orange-peeled, lemon-limed, juniper-embittered T-Rail Pale Ale (deviously replicating an IPA). Candi-sugared Slightly Rood Belgian Pale Ale countered biscuity caramel toasting, dried fig spicing and date nut breading with clay-hopped bounty. Slack Tub Stout fused dry espresso, dark chocolate and molasses to flaked oatmeal.
The most unique place we’d sojourn came next. Across a bridge from Bucknell University next to the banks of the Susquehanna in a portico villa backing up to a farm, Milton’s River House Brewpub is a veritable godsend. Beautiful Italian statues bedeck the outside perimeter of the multi-sectional, green-trimmed gray stucco building. Operating since March 2010, owner Larry Mancini’s excellent Italian cuisine complemented prime handcrafted beers by Bart Rieppel (formerly of Abbey Wright).
Formerly the Italian Terrace, River Houses’ flowered open patio, water fountain, banquet rooms and fireplace dining are exquisite. We got seated at the rear section’s rectangular bar (with multiple TVs and glass ceiling) and indulged in delightful antipasto and risotto pescatore (marinara-sauced seafood with tomato rice). Brew tanks to the far right served a diverse cornucopia.
Starting with dry, banana-cloved Highwater Hefeweizen, astringent honeycomb-sugared Street Light Wheat and caramelized gourd-like Suzy’s ESB (with fig-candied sugar plum wisp), I stepped it up a notch with crystal-malted, caramel-centered, fungi-bottomed Irish Red Ale, Buggy Town Red.
But these were merely appetizers to whet my thirst for dry, blueberry-fronted, raspberry-soured, blackberry-ripened, cranberry-limed Blueberry Wheat as well as soft-focus Black Velvet Oatmeal Stout, an offbeat peculiarity placing black cherry, blackberry and black licorice before expectant mocha malting (and ashen cigarette-charcoal bittering).
While Raging River India Black Ale efficiently blended dark chocolate into IPA-like, hop-charred, cherry-berry nuances, the creamier Alpha Deuce IPA lacquered cotton-candied apricot, pineapple and mango to iodine-addled orange peel bittering perfectly.
Luckily, I was able to salvage the last drops of a superb Belgian-styled ale in a growler for the ride home. A robustly malt-creamed, alcohol-smitten fruit snack, Hat Trick Tripel scored high with its candy-sugared banana liqueur sweetness, cotton-candied tropical fruiting and sinewy Scotch whir.