By Bryan J. Kolesar
Summer vacation? Not for these busy breweries. Let's check in with what these nine have been up to in recent weeks and have in store for its thirsty fans later this summer.
Lead off honors go to 2SP, which continues to grow into a sizable regional player by recently opening new markets in Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton counties. Back at their Delaware County home in Aston, the brewery is supporting this growth with significant investments in a new centrifuge, French and Italian oak barrels, a new whirlpool, and four new 90-bbl fermentation tanks. 2SP closed out the anything-but-terrible-twos with an over-the-top anniversary party on July 29, complete with three special beers – Champagne Wit aged in white wine barrels, an all-Cascade IPA with 200 pounds of the citrus goodness serving as the 2nd Anniversary Ale, and a single keg of
Cranny Wit from the Extreme Beer Fest. Later in summer, everyone’s pumped for the Beer Muscles Competition on August 26, which promises one of the most unique combined displays of craft beer and strongman competition. Further out on the horizon is their recent embarking on a longer-term project, the exciting details of which will be kept under wraps a bit longer. How’s that for a tease?
Hannah Gohde, brewer and event coordinator, took a break from the frenetic pace at Free Will in Perkasie to mention the brewery's recent first production canning run that featured pounders of More Structure (a NE IPA) and the completion of another wildly popular Sour Sunday on June 25. Next up is a canned collaboration on July 13 called Cloudy2, also a NE IPA, with Levante Brewing and a year-round IPA in 12-ounce cans called Micro Manager.
Speaking of Levante, they have expansion on their minds as well as collaboration. As the brewery was preparing for a second anniversary celebration, no sooner did word get out that a second location was coming then, surprise, there it was. It's been named Levante at The Stables and, with two acres of a nearly 180-year-old farm-themed backdrop, the Chester Springs location adds a completely different experience than its original home brewery in West Chester.
I'm pleased to hear from Ethan Buckman, brewing owner of Stickman Brews in Royersford, and how he enjoys reminding us that "clarity in beer doesn't mean filtered or old, and that there are other styles out there besides IPA." With that in mind, he shared that a new batch of Yoga Pants, a sweet potato imperial porter, is due out in mid- to late-August and that new canned releases will continue through the summer and fall.
Plenty of activity in Spring City according to Tuned Up’s co-owner Jeremy Burke. They've recently brought two passionate volunteers - Brendan Shoemaker (taproom and brewhouse) and Erin Walker (taproom and festivals) - on board to help with the growing business. Shoemaker works and teaches class nearby at Weak Knee Homebrew in Pottstown and has “a wealth of knowledge on brewing operations, grain usage, hop species, and yeast varieties”. On the equipment side of growing the business, fermentation capacity has already been increased and they're looking to procure a glycol-chilled brite tank later in the year. A new kitchen is part of a planned expansion due to get underway in August that will also increase table seating. From the brewery, Bourbon Barrel-aged Big Booty Stout (Batch 01) is planned for a special bottle release in late summer and an Imperial Pumpkin Ale that's been aging in rum barrels arrives in September. Finally, Tuned Up will have a beer garden in conjunction with Spring City's 150th Anniversary weekend on August 12.
Co-owner, Greg Kendig, of Mad Chef in East Petersburg is happy to report their second anniversary weekend on July 22. Complimentary hot dogs and hamburgers were on the menu and ESPN Radio shoed up onsite to provide the audio entertainment. Coming soon to Mad Chef is a crowler machine to help protect your take home beer.
Next, let's head north in Lancaster County from Mad Chef to find St. Boniface where co-owner, Dain Shirey, checked in to bring us up-to-speed on new equipment and new brews. Recently, they've added the capability to do nitrogen kegs and are looking forward to a new canning line coming very soon that will improve the transition time between 12-oz. and 16-oz cans. Recently, canned offerings have included Mosaic IPA, Hefeweizen, Pilsner, and a collaboration with Lancaster-based Square One Coffee named Best of Both Brews SQ1 Coffee IPA. Upcoming late summer/early fall is the next version of Surprise It's Another IPA in 16 oz. cans. A recent collaboration - There Gose My Hero - with Rotunda Brewing in Annville went over well and got its name because "every Gose needs a good pun." Finally, Shirey reported that its annual Bonifest in June collected over 500 pounds of food donations and next year's has already been scheduled for June 9.
Yorkholo has something interesting brewing in Mansfield. Owner/brewer, Jarrod York, bottled My Inner Demons Imperial Stout (10%) which had been aged in Heaven Hill barrels. Look for it to be released in October. And in even cooler news for upstate Pennsylvania, York is excited for his new coolship to be put into production this fall.
Not long after this hits the street in early August, Spoonwood's co-owner/brewer Steve Ilnicki expects his barrel-aged Blithe to also be on the street. It's a Belgian Golden Strong Ale (9.5%) that was part of the Bethel Park brewery's "original 8 lineup" and is currently brewed once or twice a year. This version has been sitting in Chardonnay barrels since August 2016 and will be available on tap as well as in 22-oz bottles during a special release of roughly 300 bottles.
When Men's Journal recently bestowed a Best Beer Store in PA recognition on Sabatini's in its 50 Best Beer Stores in America list, I wonder how many readers said - Who? Where? I’ll admit that many years ago, being a southeastern PA native, when I'd heard that there was this place in Exeter, PA selling some great beer and conducting interesting events, I immediately assumed it was in Exeter (township, that is) outside of Reading. I quickly learned that was not the case and that something very good was happening in this Susquehanna River town between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.
Owner Lindo Sabatini has been around the family’s Sabatini’s Pizza business (est. 1958) his entire life. He went full-time at the age of 21, managed it for his parents for ten years, and then bought it from them in 2005. Even though he first dipped his toes in the craft beer waters in 1994, he says his father "didn't appreciate $40+ cases of beer" (!), and he really didn't go all-in until 2005 when he was "spending his own money".
Lindo grew the restaurant’s beer program with such a passion through the years, deepening his connections both on a personal and product level, that he took the leap in 2015 to open the Bottleshop & Beer Bar in the neighboring building. The spacious 15,000 sq. ft. beer mecca allowed him to move his massive inventory from the back of his family's original pizza restaurant that continues to operate today, just with a tad bit more breathing room. These days in the seemingly ever-changing landscape of PA alcohol laws, the bottleshop also sells wine for takeout and the bar pours more than 90 high-end whiskeys.
Like many others in the industry, Sabatini most frequently points to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as one beer that not only served as his own introduction to the craft segment but also one that he "continues to use to help people find real beer" still today. His relationship grew deeper with the pioneering brewery when he was invited to co-brew a batch of beer at the Asheville location. He's also participated in co-brew days with Sole Artisan Ales and Pizza Boy.
Apart from deepening his roots at home in Pennsylvania, his work in the industry has taken him to countless US breweries as well as abroad to more than 15 breweries at international destinations such as Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. A few still-unvisited places high up on Lindo's travel list are breweries in Vermont, Maine, and Oregon. As he astutely points out, "these relationships are extremely important when trying to operate a business like ours."
Lindo has worked hard creating an atmosphere to properly pour the best beer in northeastern PA, along with frequent beer and pizza pairing/tasting nights, to the extent that his Sabatini's is routinely referred to as a destination. In addition to the Men's Journal list, The Bottleshop & Beer Bar has received over twenty local awards ranging from "best selection" to "best place to drink a beer". Keep that in mind the next time you find yourself anywhere near the Poconos.