Our first Illinois brewery to visit during our trip last year was Scratch Brewing Company located on some farmland about an hour and a half southeast of St. Louis, MO. Scratch was one of the most distinctly unique, beautiful, and remote breweries that we saw all year and remained that way through to the end. With a focus on locality, the people at the brewery forage and/ or grow ingredients on their land to use in the beer recipes; mushrooms, roots, pine needles, multiple herbs & spices, and hops for example. During our time sampling in their taproom, we got to try some Gruits, a Gotlandsricka, a Licorice Basil Schwarzbier, a beer made with maple sap instead of water, and a handful of other beers that prove this is not your everyday brewery; the best part is they are brewed well and we enjoyed each and every one of them! The Scratch crew also told us that they were planning to only enter beers that do not have hops in them at GABF in Denver later in the year and when we ran into them at the festival a few months later they had done just that. Do not miss out on an opportunity to visit the amazing people, location, scenery, and beers that make up Scratch Brewing Company – it’s the full package!
After going to the Fayetteville Visitors Center to pick up our handy-dandy Ale Trail passport and then checking out a few bonus stop breweries on the Fayetteville Ale Trail, we found ourselves at Fossil Cove Brewing just as they were opening up for the day. Their founder and head brewer, Ben Mills, spent time with us spilling details about the dino-themed brewery before two Arkansas-based bloggers met up with us there for a drink; Woo Pig Brewey! and Fayette Brew. Fossil Cove offers one-off brews that are only available in the taproom and they were also the first brewery in the state of Arkansas to release a sour beer. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the brewery thanks to the unique environment, tasty beers, and great people, so do yourself a favor and check out all the information below then make a trip to Fayetteville to check them out!
Our stay in Lexington, KY led us over to Country Boy Brewing on a Sunday afternoon. This brewery has a rugged feel both inside and out on their back patio and completes the mood with country music playing in the background. There are 24 tap handles at the bar: 11 of which were in-house Country Boy brews that ran the spectrum from a blonde to a gose to a barrel-aged stout during our visit, while the other 13 were guest tap handles from various breweries in the area as well as across the country. These guys have made themselves stand out by barrel aging beers right from the start, doing collaborations with multiple other breweries, and even growing their own peppers to add to their beers. The bartender, Zac, will help direct you in the right direction for your tastes and mood, so don’t miss out on a trip to their taproom!
Our final brewery visit in West Virginia was to Charleston Brewing Co located in the city with the same name. The head brewer, Ryan Hastings, was unfortunately in Ohio at the time of our visit so we were not able to meet him in person; however, he kindly chatted with us over the phone for about half an hour before we went inside to check out the brewery. He told us that they use a ten hectoliter high efficiency brewing system (HEBS) from I.D.D. Process and Packaging which features a mash filter rather than a traditional lauter tun. We also learned that a different business, Black Sheep Burrito & Brews, occupies the same space and manages the entire restaurant. Though beer is brewed on site by Charleston Brewing Co, it is then sold and ‘distributed’ to the restaurant for serving. Beers are listed according to three flavor categories – malt driven, hop driven, or yeast driven – and there are 16 taps in the restaurant as well as cask conditioned ales available. We spent a good amount of time there sampling their brews while we munched down on some amazing brunch and definitely suggest that you do the same when you’re in town!
Our visit to Jackie O’s was top notch and ended up being the longest one we’ve had yet, as we spent just over 12 hours talking to their owner, brewers, and other staff between our visits to the new production brewery and the original brewpub location downtown. This growing Ohio brewery has many unique things going on, like having their own farm offsite to grow ingredients on, multiple bottle releases every year, expanding barrel age and sour programs, and more; all of which you can get more information about by reading below. Their brews are packaged in kegs, cans, and multiple sizes of bottles for you to purchase and share with your friends, growler fills are offered at the production facility tap room, and the brewpub has excellent food to pair with whatever you end up drinking. As of now, you can only find Jackie O’s beer in Ohio and in a few counties in Kentucky, so be sure to pick some up if you’re ever in the area!
While we were in Pittsburgh, we heard many great things about a new brewery in town called Hop Farm Brewing Company, so we called them up and made a visit. The owner and only brewer, Matt Gouwens, took time out of a brewing day to speak with us and we were lucky enough to try a beer that had not been released yet called ‘Margot’ along with four other beers of his. He has many unique things going on, including growing some hops on his property and working with local farmers to grow hops locally (with plans to use them in Hop Farm beers in the future), nifty manual addition of labels to cans, plans to add a pub-like space with locally sourced food, and a goal to can condition some beers. Matt went through the American Brewer’s Guild program which shows through in the beer, so make sure to stop in and check out his brewery next time you’re in Pittsburgh!
Happy Valley Brewing Company is a new addition to an exploding craft brewing industry in Pennsylvania. The brewery came on our radar as we passed through the state on our way to Pittsburgh and we are truly glad that it did. Despite not getting much warning of our arrival, head brewer Josh Davies graciously agreed to meet with us and spent much of the afternoon sharing his background and the story of the 6 month old brewery. They had an impressive list of 13 beers on tap which spread across the spectrum of styles; Josh explained that a lot of his focus falls onto yeast health. The restaurant and brewery is housed in a renovated 200 year-old barn and maintains much of that charm despite a modern touch. The bottom level contains a long 360 degree bar with a completely different mood than the upstairs. Josh feels that one of his favorite features in the brewery itself is the Fast Top S flooring – polyurethane layer over sand – which is virtually indestructible. With the beautiful scenery outside added into the equation, Happy Valley is definitely a full package that you can’t miss!
Our visit to Captain Lawrence Brewing Company was during their public hours on a Sunday afternoon. The weather outside was perfect for their outdoor area with picnic tables, so they were filled up with locals enjoying some beer in the sun. As we sat there tasting each of their beers, we were asked about our experience there by Michael Malone, who maintains Notes from the Tasting Room. Later, we followed the tasting room manager, Aaron Pozit, through the public tour at 4 pm with just five other people and learned about the company’s history, brewing process, and equipment. Unfortunately we were about a month early, though; they just had an Annual Pig Roast that was held on May 17th…
On Monday, 3/24/14 we got back to the grind again when we drove down to Salisbury, MD and spent our afternoon at Evolution Craft Brewing Company. While there, we spoke to founder Tom Knorr and head brewer Geoff DeBisschop who told us that Evolution originally opened up in Delmar, DE in 2009, but since they had 128% growth in their first year, they outgrew the original facility quickly. The location we visited was opened up in April of 2012 in an old ice plant where all of the rooms used to be kept at 15 below zero.
Our final brewery visit in Asheville was on Tuesday, 2/25/14 to the first and longest standing brewery in the area, Highland Brewing Company. The brewery originally started in 1994 in the basement of Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria in the heart of Asheville and their first beer was the Gaelic Ale. For a few years, Highland was only sold on tap through kegs at Barley’s, but started gaining popularity fairly quickly. We got to speak with Asheville native and employee of Highland, Drew Stevenson, while we were there, and he informed us that downtown started to really get refurbished in the late 80s / early 90s just before Highland began brewing their first beer.