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.
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.
On the morning of 4/2/14 we said goodbye to Philadelphia and, accompanied by plenty more rain, made our way into central Pennsylvania to tour Sly Fox Brewing Company’s new production facility in Pottstown. We got there as the taproom opened at 11 am and were thankful to meet with Director of Sales, Patrick Mullin. The name, Sly Fox, actually comes from a still existing tradition of fox hunting in the surrounding Chester County area and in that vein of locality, many of the beer names are based on local landmarks. The original brewpub location, Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery, was opened by Peter Giannopoulos in nearby Phoenixville in late 1995 and the Giannopoulos family still owns the brewery to date. In 2004, they opened up a 20 bbl production facility in Royersford in order to keep up with increased demand, however, growth was steady and by 2011 the restaurant was sold to former employees to make way for a larger operation in Pottstown which came online in 2012.
After a visit to the packed taproom of Philly’s Yards Brewing Company, we decided to make the short drive out to the northwestern suburb of Ardmore, PA and continue the rainy afternoon at Tired Hands Brewing Company. During our stop we were able to sample a few of the available beers and speak with co-owner Jean Broillet IV. The name Tired Hands was always what Jean called his homebrewing operation and serves as a nod to the “inevitable culmination of a hard day’s work”. The brewery functions under the label of a brew-café. Belgian and French farmhouse inspired beers crafted by the three brewer team in small batches, averaging about 12 kegs per brew, are served with a variety of charcuterie – meats, cheeses, and some sandwiches with breads made in house. The brewery values locally sourced ingredients, accomplishing this by partnering with about a dozen local farms to source its food.
The evening of Thursday 3/27 consisted of a visit to the first brewpub chain of our American Tour. Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant currently has 10 locations spread throughout Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania with an eleventh site projected to open this November in Ardmore, PA. The brewpub gets its name from a Revolutionary War battlefield in DE and was founded by longtime homebrewers, Kevin Finn and Mark Eddleson, in partnership with experienced restaurateur Kevin Davies. Iron Hill is different from some of the other regional brewpub chains in that each location has their own brewing staff making beers on site. Due to this, each location is able to enter competitions individually and Iron Hill brewers have consistently taken home World Beer Cup awards as well as GABF medals every year they have been in operation. We selected to stop through the original location in Newark, which opened November 14th 1996 and is located just down the street from the University of Delaware, where we were excited to share a few beers and chat with Head Brewer, Justin Sproul.