Beer Trails: South Jersey, North Philly And Lancaster Welcome New Pubs

New brewpubs keep popping up all over Pennsylvania and Jersey. During a mid-July sojourn through sun-drenched Philly and beyond, I took in a few new drinking establishments.

While Manheim’s sylvan JoBoy’s embraced thrifty conventionality, the other three pubs let their freak flag fly. One freshly franchised Jersey public house, a cool backwoods dive, coined Prism, and a Nuevo city saloon called Spring House allowed the wonderful eccentricities and daring peculiarities soar.


Iron Hill

Maple Shade, NJ

Inside a freestanding building at Kings Highway Commerce Center just outside Philadelphia in South Jersey-based Maple Shade lies the eighth Iron Hill franchise. Celebrating its second anniversary (July 21, 2011), this capacious, red-bricked post with black awning and tinted windows was visited prior to crossing the Delaware River into northern Philly. An upscale, modern facility with dark wood furnishings, central bar (with three TVs), hanging lamps, back dining and rear brew tanks succeeds as both a sports bar and mall eatery. Plus, a newly marketed growler machine, hooked up to each tap line, takes the load of busy bartenders by automatically filling half-gallon containers and adding carbonation.

Exquisite food, described as ‘new American cuisine,’ truly sufficed. I had the fish soft taco, a delicious catfish dish draped with pineapple, red cabbage and jalapeno slaw on top of a flour tortilla, while imbibing 10 seasonal/specialty ales (forgoing five house beers tried at other Iron Hill sites). Lucky patrons may purchase favorite selections in bottled versions.

Brewer Chris La Pierre stopped by to say hello as I quaffed his well-rounded, finely detailed offerings. One subtle, medium-bodied, English-style bitter Anvil Ale retained a dryer reedy musk, floral-hopped chamomile or green tea sway, mild pumpernickel lick and teensy tangerine twist. The nitro version of staple Ironbound Ale, known as Kellerbound, brought soft citric-hopped bittering to creamy crystal-caramel malts and tertiary floral herbage.

Though the traditional German Pilsner seemed too mainstream, its dry-bodied maize astringency, citric sharpness, raw-honeyed bittering and buttery milling grains suit long-time lagerheads.

Three expressive Belgian-styled brews competed favorably against two German wheat beers. Light-bodied moderation Belgian Wit secured subtle banana-clove-coriander expectancy with candi-sugared Belgian yeast, unripe orange-tangerine tartness and herbal nuances. More impressive, Belgian IPA coaxed sharp, citric-spiced bittering above sweet crystal malting, lacing floral, grapefruit-peeled pineapple-pear-apricot fruiting with parched, bark-dried kindling to its rye-breaded backend. Better still, tropical-fruited Cannibal, a strong Belgian pale ale, imparted a ripe banana-peach-pear conflux supplemented by white-peppered clove spicing, herbaceous splendor and sudden licorice notes.

On the Bavarian tip, delicate Hefeweizen melded clove spicing to lemony orange-banana tartness. Softly perfume-hopped Hopfenweizen benefited from its mild summery effervescence, enhancing the expectant banana-clove-coriander theme with candied pineapple and tangy orange.

A complex double IPA, crafted to celebrate Iron Hill’s anniversary, totally ignited the early afternoon crowd. Brewed with citric Japanese-bred Sorachi Ace hops, the illustrious Second Rising plied sweet whiskey warmth to mild mocha malts, picking up sugared fig, fried banana, red grape, date, almondine and lemony coconut illusions along the way.

Nearly as good, Kryptonite coerced a full-thrust, hop-embittered assault out of brisk, wood-seared fruit spicing, contrasting amiable caramel, butterscotch, marzipan and vanilla sweetening.


Prism Beer Co.

North Wales, PA

Situated in the back of a tan stucco professional complex along the railroad tracks in rural North Wales (north of Philly and east of Lancaster), Prism Beer Co. opened October 2010. Brewer Rob De Maria, a Philly native, gained experience brewing keg-only beers. Retaining formative recipes devised at now-defunct General Lafayette Brewpub, but using different yeast, the former corporate worker initially found creative release home brewing.

Landing at Prism for a few nighttime libations, I encountered several approachable yet totally experimental craft brews. Entering through yellowed wood doors to a 10-seated L-shaped bar (with centered TV and jukebox), this diminutive spot also had three wood tables and a glass-walled rear section storing brew tanks. A bottling line ready to be assembled downstairs will increase volume for this splendid neighborhood dig.

Alongside eight diverse selections, I downed a Prism Dog frankfurter, dubbed Purple (loaded with chipotle beef chili, red onions and pineapple relish). Lighter thirsts will appreciate citric-bound Shady Blond, with its dry lemon spicing and tart blood orange snip. Buttery pale ale Par Tea brought a mild black tea bittering to grapefruit-peeled lemon zest and apple-spiced wining. Another softie, Funk Zone, a peculiar dry-bodied Irish Ale, possessed a surprising cinnamon cider theme reinforced by a tart lemon-peeled lime pucker, piquant brettanomyces souring and maple syrupy ginger-nutmeg-allspice innuendo. Dry, clover-honeyed Bitto Honey IPA placed woody-hopped bittering, apple-skinned citric tartness and floral spicing beside crystal malted almond-marzipan sweetness.

Moving to the even more stylistically deviant darker ales, there were four intriguingly indefinable aberrations. Deliriously fascinating Death March Hopless Black Ale allowed a vibrant star anise entry to abet lemon-peeled green apple tartness and ascending red-black licorice illusions.

Though listed as a traditional Black & Tan linking Par Tea’s citric regalia to Death March’s licorice flourish, Flying Magic Zebra’s prominent star anise luxuriance nullified any expectant mocha insistence. Also independently freewheeling Love Is Evol Brown Ale overwhelmed its advertised strawberry tartness with plentiful jalapeno peppering as well as stove-burnt coffee, dark chocolate and walnut illusions. Another stylistic departure, Insana Stout, hid bacon fat, coffee beans and wild berries beneath soy-sauced smoked chocolate.

Prism’s maniacally investigative offerings will captivate adventurous beer hounds, but nonchalant neophytes need not apply.


Spring House Taproom

Lancaster, PA

Residing in Lancaster’s Central Market at Hager Arcade, Spring House Taproom serves craft beer originating from nearby Conestoga’s Spring House Brewing—formerly a small keg-only barnyard operation started in 2007. Utilizing natural spring water emanating from its basement, the boorish stable’s brew house has grown fast. On my pre-noon stopover, 7 Gates Pale Ale, Spring House’s flagship beer, just started getting bottled for Pennsylvania consumption.

The grand opening of the Taproom on February 3, 2011 allowed brewmaster Matt Keasey to expand beyond any stylistic limitations. A glass-fronted alehouse with ultra-mod orange and black interior, the midsize open-spaced room featured a U-shaped bar (with three TVs), sidling wood-furnished tables and exposed ductwork. Local patrons have taken advantage of the maroon mug club.

On this sizzling hot Thursday, Van Halen’s “Panama” blares from the speakers as I ingest seven pleasing concoctions that go just past conventional barriers. But before testing the outer limits, I sampled above-mentioned mainstream lager-like mainstay, 7 Gates Pale Ale, a crystal-malted dry body with mildewed orange astringency, lemon mold souring, root vegetable slipstream and wet cardboard bottom. Nearly as mainstream accessible but way better, Goofy Foot Summer Wheat retained a moderate fresh-watered citric dalliance and floral-spiced wisp.

Next up, two Belgian-inspired beers showed off Keasey’s broad range. Diabolical Dr. Wit ceded a curious cologne entry, enjoining evergreen overtones, herbal rosemary-thyme intensity, floral lavender-lotus-hibiscus accents and blood orange-peeled, kaffir-limed acidity atop sugary maple. Robot Bastard Belgian IPA spread buttery banana, nectarine, cantaloupe and pineapple tropicalia over pumpkin-glazed chamomile tea nuances.

Staying on the fruity side, persuasive Mango IPA contrasted cotton-candied mango sweetness against modest grapefruit-peeled bittering, picking up ancillary orange, apricot and peach enticements. Mouth-puckering tropical alternative, Two Dudes Wet Paint Guava Ale brought dry, lemon-pitted bittering to soft-spiced guava tartness, rotted orange sourness and subtle perfume notions.

To finalize this eye-opening session, there were two nutty alternative elixirs. Perfectly descriptive Peanut Butter & Jelly maintained a certain jellybean likeness, layering chocolate-y, peanut-shelled whimsicality with grape jam, strawberry and boysenberry illusions. For dessert, Peanut Butter Chocolate Stout spread creamy peanut-buttered, black chocolate richness above vanilla, macadamia, hazelnut and cola undertones.



Manheim, PA

The most accessible brewpub fare on my summery Pennsylvania overnight trip came from Manheim-based JoBoy’s. Located in the rustic rural hillside on Main Street at the historic Summy House just down the road from Pennsylvania’s Renaissance Fair (housing the smallish Swashbuckler Brewery), cozily wood-furnished JoBoy’s brings casual country comfort to local denizens, wayward road warriors and inquiring ‘brewpies’ (groupie-like beer geeks).

Married owners Jeff and Jo Harless unveiled this intimate joint on April Fools Day 2010. But the beers are no joke. Besides Jeff’s six delectable oblations (prepared with help by chef, Mike ‘Tug’ McGall), I seriously enjoyed the terrific, Southern-styled smoked pork sandwich with fried hush puppies.

A crooked red brick walkway from the rear parking lot leads to a slanted gray front porch. Upon entering the antiquated 1879 hotel tavern, a low ceiling 12-seated right bar with four booths welcomes patrons. One TV at the bar and another up front kept several bar drinkers entertained while a family-styled backroom and adjoining dining space suit the quieter supper crowd. Vintage provincial pictures, farm equipment, quilts and antiques don the walls.

This mid-afternoon, I got introduced to a few well-rounded brews that leaned to the lighter side without getting commonplace. For a zesty opener, Raspberry Summer Cream Ale brought judicious raspberry-seeded tartness to wheat-honeyed sweetness and sugary bubblegum fruitiness. Next, moderate-bodied German Wheat sauntered by with its simple banana-clove expectancy. Spicy, red-fruited Manheim Red saddled its candi-sugared sweetness with an India Pale Ale-like, grapefruit-peeled orange, apricot and lemon meringue zing. Briskly fruited American IPA contrasted mild floral-hopped wood dryness and grapefruit-peeled orange rind bittering against lively apple, peach and pear illusions overriding biscuit-y caramel malts.

Anyone with a taste for a proper British bitter should welcome JoBoy’s ESB, an endearing dry body gathering mineral-grained pumpernickel-rye breading, sun-dried fruit astringency and mild herbal traces. Easygoing JoBoy’s Robust Porter finished off my day with a sedately soft-tongued goodbye, draping black cherry over creamed coffee and dark chocolate.

Fine beer and authentic barbecue readied by ‘good old boys busting their asses.’ What more could a thirsty carnivore ask for? This enticing niche-like ‘destination restaurant’ has been jam-packed since its advent.