Our visit to Breaker Brewing Company in central Pennsylvania was on a beautiful sunny afternoon. We were thankful that day to get some time to speak with founders, Chris Miller and Mark Lehman, who were busy behind the scenes brewing their seasonal coconut saison, Quiet Canary. The two are longtime homebrewers who have built the business with a passionate, hands on approach and share most of the brewery duties. They began brewing and distributing out of a garage but have steadily increased production and capacity with new equipment. The new facility is in the old St. Joseph’s Monastery and School buildings and the public space is aptly decorated with artifacts reminiscent of the mining town’s roots. The brewery’s name and many of their beers reference the deep history in anthracite coal mining. The tasting room has been open since April of 2013, however, they only recently received a brew pub licence which allows them to offer full pours, rather than strictly samples, with the addition of food options.
Following our arrival, patrons filed in the tasting room to sample beers with lunch as well as to fill up growlers of their favorite suds to enjoy the afternoon in the sun. Breaker Brewing Co. is regularly crafting creative new beers. On top of quaff-able staples, they experiment frequently with different additions of fruits and even peppers as displayed in their well balanced Minefire Blackberry Jalapeno Ale. There is even a list on the wall detailing ideas that are being explored that may end up as future brews. Be sure to stop by the taproom to enjoy some food, beer, and new friends on the coming patio which will certainly take advantage of their hilltop placement for an excellent view of the city.
On a cloudy afternoon in Chester, NY, located about a half hour drive southwest of Newburgh, we made our way to Rushing Duck Brewing Company. The brewery is the creation of Dan Hitchcock and is entirely a family operation with the support of his parents and wife, Nikki. Without investors to answer to, they make beers that they enjoy, including barrel aged beers. In order to get the barrel aging program up and running from the start they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. Barrel aged beers are available in bottles solely at the brewery’s tasting room. This afternoon Dan was busy doing what he does best, brewing beer, so we spoke with Nikki in the taproom in order to learn about this young Hudson valley brewery.
The day brightened up quickly with a tasting of some of the Rushing Duck beers. On top of the War Elephant IPA and a new session IPA, Baby Elephant, we even learned some new vocabulary. The name of their year-round English old ale, Nimptompsical Ale, comes from Ben Franklin’s 1737 “The Drinker’s Dictionary” and is a synonym for drunkenness. The Rushing Duck name comes from a story told by Dan’s grandfather – they could get beer to go that was served in a metal pail called the duck. When playing cards and running out of beer, whomever lost that round would have to go get the duck filled and they called it ‘rushing the duck’. The brewery had new tanks arriving shortly after our visit and is looking to further expand distribution within New York. We encourage you to try some of these tasty concoctions whenever you are in the area and want to thank Dan and Nikki for sharing their story with us.
Upon our arrival in the Back East tasting room, we were pleasantly greeted by tasting room manager, Jamie Farrell, and offered some samples of the beers available that day. Shortly thereafter we met with co-founder, Tony Karlowicz, and head brewer, Mike Smith, to discuss the brewery as it neared two full years of business. Founders Tony and Edward are cousins who both developed a love and appreciation for good beer – Tony while in college in Vermont and Edward while in San Diego. Edward began homebrewing while in CA in the 90’s and, after moving ‘Back East’ to CT, he and Tony took up homebrewing together in 2006. As the brewery opened, they hired their first employee, Mike Smith, as head brewer. Mike has an extensive list of professional brewing experience, including time in Boston at Harpoon and Mayflower and is currently assisted in brewing duties by Matt Paonessa.
Back East offers four year round beers – Golden Ale, Back East Ale (amber), Misty Mountain IPA, and Porter – in six pack cans as well as on draught in accounts throughout CT. On top of those, there is a selection of four beers released seasonally – Oktoberfest, Winterfest with cinnamon and local honey, Spring Ale Biere de Mars, and Summer Ale hoppy blonde. The Summer Ale is the first seasonal to be canned, utilizing shrink wrap labels, and will be released into the market this Friday, June 13th. In addition, the Back East releases high gravity beers under their Hammer of the Gods series. The initial release was an Imperial Stout, followed by Palate Mallet Double IPA which is scheduled to hit shelves in 4-packs of cans in July. It is clear that Back East Brewing Co. is doing their part to draw consumers towards craft in this young CT movement. The brewery is located a short 15 minute drive north of Hartford so pay them a visit for some free samples and to make some new friends in the tasting room.
Thimble Island Brewing Company was founded in 2010 by two longtime friends and CT shore natives, Mike Fawcett and Justin Gargano. The two had spent some time brewing out of a converted garage but soon realized that they would need to upgrade to larger equipment and purchase a facility in order to make their dream a success. Knowing that they are very busy on days when they are not open for public tastings, we were sincerely grateful that the guys opened up their doors to chat with us and share their story. They began distribution in July of 2012 with solely their American Ale, a tasty amber of which they are quite proud. Mike shared that the Coffee Stout was introduced after about six months and, due to its popularity and his desire to drink it at anytime in the year, was added to the year round offerings. Finally, their IPA featuring Cascade, Northern Brewer, and Falconer’s Flight hops was added around the one year anniversary.
Now approaching the end of their second full year of operation, Thimble Island has quite a lot going on. In addition to a large expansion into a new space nearby with a new 30 bbl brewery and upgraded bottling line, the brewing schedule is packed. The plans are to release four different seasonal beers as well as four additional beers staggered within each season under their Uncharted series. More information on that schedule can be found below but we were able to sample some of the Sandbar Brown as well as the huge, Citra inspired Ghost Island Double IPA. Make sure to pay these friendly guys a visit during open house hours for free samples of their year round and available seasonal beers and, if elsewhere in Connecticut, keep an eye out for new beers on shelves in six packs.
While cousins and co-owners, Augie and Chris Carton, and head brewer, Jessie Ferguson, were away at the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver, we were thankful that the remaining staff was able to meet with us to share their knowledge of Carton Brewing Company. We started off in the tasting room where Rebecca Flynn was finishing up her last week with the company and training her replacement, Kelsey Stahl. Rebecca and Kelsey gave us a detailed rundown on the unique brews coming out of the tippy, the brewery’s pilot system, as well as the established rotation of beers. It was clear from the beginning that Carton does things on their own terms with a one of a kind approach to creating beers. The Cartons opened the business with an great appreciation for food and much of the beers brewed here draw inspiration from food or are meant to pair well with a fine meal. You won’t find much for standard styles in the taproom. Instead, Boat Beer, GORP, Carton of Milk, and B.D.G. (Brunch. Dinner. Grup) filled the tap lines.
Following our introduction to the Carton beers, we made our way downstairs and chatted with Brewers Jeremy Watts and Doug Phillips, a.k.a Phresh. They showed us the brewing facilities as well as the impressive barrel aging cellar. It’s obvious that Carton Brewing has a lot to add to the growing conversation in New Jersey craft beer. The staff is incredibly friendly and take great pride in the product. The brewery is located less than half a mile from the bay and makes for a great day trip with convenient access from NYC by ferry. Tours and tastings are offered Thurs and Friday evening as well as afternoons on the weekend. Definitely stop by to sample some of these inventive beers, make new friends, and fill up a growler for later.
When we arrived that afternoon, we made our way to the basement brewery and taproom where John was hard at work, so we sampled a few beers and spoke with the knowledgeable bartender, Heather. John soon came out to meet us and graciously took the time to tell us all about Free Will Brewing Company. You can tell John has an extensive homebrewing background by the impressive list of projects he is undertaking. On top of the established line-up that makes its way into bottles for distribution, he frequently creates small batch beers for limited release under the title of the Sputnik series and also has several beers in the works for their growing sour program.
As if that wasn’t enough to keep them busy, the 2 1/2 year old brewery is also undergoing a massive expansion. John showed us the facilities up on ground level that are currently under construction. The new space will offer tons of room to grow and feature an open view from the taproom so that patrons can enjoy a drink and see what is going on in the brewery. Currently, Free Will offers up to six free samples during their taproom hours and, after you figure out your favorite, bottles, growlers, or kegs can be purchased to go. We definitely encourage stopping by this brewery, located less than an hour north of downtown Philadelphia, to enjoy a diverse offering of Sputnik brews and keep an eye on the expansion progress.
On the morning of 4/5/14 we ate breakfast at a café across from the Pennsylvania state capitol then proceeded to travel east to the city of Easton, bordering the Delaware River and New Jersey. Our draw to Easton was, of course, the local brewery, one that has made quite a name for itself over the last nineteen years of operation in PA. Weyerbacher Brewing Company was established in August 1995 by Dan and Sue Weirback in an Easton livery stable. The brewery’s name comes from the original spelling of the couple’s last name, which had been morphed over the years following immigration from Germany. Dan had been passionate about homebrewing and, after visiting another brewery in Vermont, Sue suggested that they look into starting their own business. Originally the concept was to make some standard styles however the couple soon thought, what are we doing that is different? By 1997 they had begun adopting the philosophy “Set Yourself Apart” (now the company slogan), doing so by making big, full-flavored beers. The following year they added a kitchen to feed the growing volume of visitors but, when the lease ran up in 2001, they chose to move to a larger location and focus solely on brewing.
After our short-lived visit to Winston-Salem, NC, we made a trek to Haw River Farmhouse Ales on Monday, 3/3/14 to visit with Nick Mangili – a friend of ours who we met when he was a brewer at Deep Ellum Brewing Company back in Dallas, TX. He is now brewing test batches for Haw River Farmhouse Ales since they’re not actually open just quite yet. This brewery is going to be incredibly unique, utilize local ingredients including a house yeast they collected from their backyard on their own, and will be opening sometime later this year.
After leaving Asheville on the morning of Wednesday, 2/26/14, we spent some time at Pisgah Brewing, then continued east to Fonta Flora Brewery. Not only is the name ‘Fonta Flora’ a beautiful Latin alliteration, it also has significant historical ties to the area. Just a little northwest from the brewery, the Linville River runs through a gorge and into Lake James, where an old sharecropping community lived back in the late 1800s/ early 1900s. The community was known as Fonta Flora but, once people created Lake James by damming the Linville River, the community was flooded. The brewery pays homage to this lost community through their logo of an underwater town.
Once we left Atlanta, we headed west into Alabama again and found ourselves back in the Central Time Zone on Friday night. The next morning, we drove into Birmingham to see what Good People Brewing is all about. At first we just sat at their bar and spoke with some nice locals, who one might consider to be good people, then joined the 4pm tour with Tripp Windham as our guide. Tripp was one of the most entertaining people we have run into yet and, outside of giving tours, he works the canning line, serves beer in the taproom, and helps out with various other tasks at the brewery.