The Worst Thing That Happens Is You're Drinking Beer
Photos by Chelsea Hess Moore
Whether it’s after a long day at work, a cool respite on a hot summer day, a lively night out, an ice breaker among strangers, a happy hour with colleagues, a big-game tailgate staple, a memorable shared first with your dad or a celebration with friends, beer holds a special place in the hearts of the merry.
In fact, according to the Beer Institute (an organization of more than 1,600 breweries in the U.S. that was formed to represent the beer industry before Congress and the like), beer led to civilization as we know it. Dr. Solomon H. Katz, a prominent anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania, contended that “once man learned to ferment grain into beer 10,000 years ago, it became one of [man’s] most important sources of nutrition… In order to have a steady supply of beer, it was necessary to have a steady supply of beer’s ingredients. Man had to give up his nomadic ways, settle down and begin farming. And once he did, civilization was just a stone’s throw away.”
Whether Dr. Katz’s theory of the role fermented grain played in the civilization of mankind is accurate or not, there is little doubt to beer’s widespread appeal now and throughout human history.
So, in celebration of the great and golden bubbly brew, this month’s column is dedicated to beer in all of its varied styles, tastes and colors. Armed with a designated driver, a photographer and a fellow drinking partner, I set out to experience why central Pa. is known as a haven for beer lovers with its numerous breweries and brewpubs.
This journey through local beer consisted of seven different locations and one brewfest. But first I needed a little education in beer tasting. Enter brew expert Jeff Kupko, author of the popular local beer blog called Kupko’s Mind. Bottled.
In little more than three years, Kupko has reviewed some 1,800 different beers on his blog – averaging about two posts a day – and estimates that he has tasted over 2,000.
“[The blog] was a way for me to keep track of what I was drinking so that I could look back on it and see what I liked or didn’t like,” says the Harrisburg resident who daylights as a traffic engineer. “From there, I was exposed to this whole world that I didn’t know was out there. It’s become an obsession – trying new beers, going places; most of the vacations I take have at least some beer relevancy to them.”
Like most beer aficionados, Kupko’s love of brew began in college and has grown from there. Along with his fiancé, Janine, who has also developed a taste for all kinds of beer, Kupko enjoys the camaraderie that comes along with trying new and different varieties, even more than the beer itself.
“The people, for the most part, are amazing. You can interact with people through Twitter, Facebook, whatever,” says the 29-year-old. “I’ve met up with random people in places and had beer with them, and I’ve made great friends out of it. Everybody just enjoys it – it’s a great thing to do.”
Kupko was kind enough to guide me through the finer points of beer tasting over a pint at Al’s of Hampden. Al’s also has its own brewery named Pizza Boy Brewing. I tried their Solid Gold Bock.
“In a lot of ways, if you’ve done any wine tasting, it follows very similarly. You start by looking at the beer’s color, its appearance. Does it look appetizing to you? You can appreciate different things based on the style of the beer. For example, if you look at a bock, it should be golden or amber in color and able to be seen through. If you get a stout, you don’t want to see through it – you want it to be black in color. Then you can look at the head and what it does – if there’s lacing stuck to the glass as it goes down. Once you’re done looking at it, then you move on to smelling it. Tasting starts with what you can smell. There can be hints of chocolate, toasted malt, vanilla, coffee, caramel, a grassy hop aroma. Basically, by smelling, you’ve livened up the taste buds. And then you move on to tasting. You should note all the flavors you’re tasting. Also, pay attention to the mouth-feel of it. Is it a sort of creamy mouth-feel, or is it over-carbonated? Then you take note of the finish. What’s left behind – bitter, sweet, peppery, dark chocolate? All of this helps the taster form the overall impression of the beer.”
A couple of pints and a wealth of beer knowledge later, Kupko imparted one last bit of brew wisdom. “Try a new beer. The worst that happens is you’re drinking beer.”
Few truer words were ever uttered.
And with that, I sought out to try some of the best brews in the area – all in one day.
It must, however, be noted that I could not get to every single brewpub or brewery in the midstate due to time, gas-budget and healthy liver-function restraints, so please forgive my inadvertent exclusion of any locations.
Mudhook Brewing Company, York
Opting to skip breakfast in lieu of a brew, I tried Mudhook’s Tweed River Strong Scottish Ale. Cellar-aged for six months at the pub, this was not your average beer. It had a deep amber/caramel color and an unmistakably strong flavor with a thick mouth-feel. A nearby patron, who was also enjoying it, offered this description: “Hoppy butter – strong at first but smoothes out.”
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, Lancaster
Amidst a lively lunch crowd near the bar area, I ordered up Iron Hill’s American Pilsner with a four-cheese tomato basil pizza on the side. The pilsner was a great accompaniment to the pie; light in color, crisp with a malty flavor and more than a hint of citrus aftertaste.
Spring House Brewing Company’s, The Taproom, Lancaster
After a filling breakfast/lunch, it seemed only fitting to have some dessert in the form of Spring House’s Big Gruesome Peanut Butter Stout. This brew was like nothing I had ever tried before. It was smooth, thick and black in color. Not only did it smell like peanut butter, it tasted like it too, with a chocolate finish.
Lancaster Brewing Company, Lancaster
After a full pint of the heavy peanut-butter flavored stout, a lighter brew really hit the spot. Lancaster’s Strawberry Wheat was sweet and refreshing. It felt like a strawberry-flavored palate cleanser compared to the strong stout.
JoBoy’s Brew Pub, Manheim
JoBoy’s is billed as the perfect stop for great barbecue and hand-crafted beer. After ordering up and consuming JoBoy’s Little Smokey Sandwich with hushpuppies and a chocolate-chip cookie, I washed it down with JoBoy’s Sandy Ass Ale. The beef barbecue went well with this light-bodied, low-hop, easy-drinking ale.
Bube’s Brewery, Mount Joy
Absolutely stuffed at this point, my stomach demanded something light and refreshing, but with Kupko’s words of “the worst that happens is you’re drinking beer” ringing in my head, I chose Bube’s Cooper’s Shed Red Ale. Not exactly light, but definitely tasty, it had a distinctive malty flavor and finish.
Tröeg’s Brewing Company, Hershey
This place was as impressive as it was enormous. Not only did they have a huge tasting room, but there was also a self-guided tour of the brewery and a gift shop, too. With so many different beer options, I settled on Tröeg’s DreamWeaver Wheat Ale, which was much sweeter and tastier than I had anticipated – one of my favorites of the day.
The 15th Annual Capital City Invitational Beer Fest at Appalachian Brewing Company, Harrisburg
This festival of beer with more than 20 Pennsylvania and mid-Atlantic breweries in attendance at Appalachian Brewing Company’s Cameron Street location was, by far, the climax of my journey through local beer. With live music, bratwursts, sauerkraut, hundreds of Oktoberfest revelers and a souvenir glass sampling cup, I tried my best to sample every beer. Here’s the not-so-short list:
Rock Bottom Brewery’s Pumkelweizen; Old Forge Brewing Company’s Ludwig’s Lager; Millbock Brewing Company’s Something Dark Smoked Ale; Baltimore-Washington Beer Works’ The Raven Special Lager; Fegley’s Brew Works’ Always Sunny Pale Ale; Yuengling’s Oktoberfest; Stoudt’s Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest; Victory’s Whirlwind Witbier; Otto’s Pub and Brewery’s Oktoberfest; Voodoo Brewery’s Wynona’s Big Brown Ale; Sam Adams’ Cherry Wheat; and Market Cross Pub & Brewery’s Old Yeller IPA.
Truly an education in beer, it was a fantastic day filled with fun and great people. The only downside was the next morning, but it was still worth it.
After all, the worst that happened was that I drank beer.