You can barely throw a stone without hitting a craft brewery in Pennsylvania offering award-winning beers of all types. While these often draw on the state’s long tradition of German immigration, there are a number of quirkier options too. We check out ten of the best places in the state to get a cold beer.
From childhood best friends to home brewing rivals to business partners, the owners of Victory worked their way up through the ranks of the beer world getting a hell of an education along the way until 1996, when they opened their now-famous brewery. A year of education for one of them in Germany gives the brewery a distinctly German feel in many ways, including the overall strength of the Prima Pils, certainly one of the best American lagers. They haven’t limited themselves to the European tradition, however. They have several fantastic IPAs, including the Golden Monkey, which has risen to prominence in a saturated marketplace because of its strength and smoothness.
Yards has drawn inspiration from a England, the original home of ale. Their signature beers are all English-style ales, which means that you should expect a full flavor that tends to the malty, rather than the hoppy. They do have their IPA, though, for the hops fans. One special type of English brew you can often find at Yards is their Brawler; a smooth and inviting ale with aromas of caramel and toast. Their ESA (Extra Special Ale) is also a favorite, with hints of chocolate and caramel that balance a spicy, floral hoppiness. Cask ales, while ubiquitous in British pubs, can be a bit more difficult to find elsewhere. However, thanks to Yards, the style is coming back to Philly. As they’re unfiltered, unpasteurized ales that carbonate naturally (rather than being introduced to nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure) and are normally served at room temperature, Cask ales are not for everyone at first. Try one from a trusted brewery like Yards, and maybe they’ll grow on you.
Tired Hands has many strengths, but one of the greatest is the very personal nature of the whole endeavor. For starters, it’s a brew pub instead of a typical brewery, so they make very small batches of beer and serve it up in the restaurant that they’ve set up in the same building. Most of the batches are themselves experimental, so the brewers are learning along with the guests. They place a lot of focus on going as local as possible, from the ingredients to the staff. The brewmaster draws on the Belgian and French traditions, with an American touch, of course, so the beers you can expect to find here will be strong and flavorful, among other qualities.
You name it, Troegs has it; only if you’re naming full-flavored, interesting brews, however. You won’t find any tasteless American lagers here, but you will find a whole range of beers, from the DreamWeaver Wheat at the light end to the JavaHead Stout at the dark, with plenty of hoppy IPAs in the middle. Troegs also opened up a tasting room, as they call it, attached to the brewery. Don’t come for a huge, gourmet meal, but there are plenty of sandwiches and light bites to go along with the beer you’re enjoying. They also have special ‘scratch’ batches, or experimental brews, which are only available at the brewery itself.
One of the older craft breweries around, Stoudts also has the honor of being the first brewery opened by a woman since prohibition. Since 1987, they’ve been perfecting their fine selection of ales and lagers, and they now several different collections to show them off. Their year-round beers are where you’ll find the lagers and ales, and then the choices get even tougher when you take into account their seasonal beers, like the Oktoberfest and the Karnival Kolsch. Many of their beers are German inspired, but they have a special set of ‘big beers’ (read: strong beers) where you’ll find a stout and a Belgian-style triple.
Voodoo’s brews really showcase the potential for creativity in brewing, and that isn’t limited to the playful labels on their bottles. Their KillaPilz, for example, starts with the idea of a Central European pilsner, combines eight varieties of European hops, and leaves you with a delicious and hoppy combination with an ABV of 7.5%. If you’re looking for a stout, look no further than their Big Black Voodoo Daddy, it notches in at 12.5% ABV, with three types of hops and hints of chocolate, vanilla, and dark fruits.
One of the bigger operations listed here, Sly Fox was founded in 1996 and ten years later became the first craft brewery to begin canning their beer. They have both a brewpub in Phoenixville, which was the original brewery, and a bigger brewery that they more recently opened in Pottstown, which also includes a tasting room. Their year-round beer list is extensive, but the seasonal beers, one-offs, and collaborative brews still complement it further. For something a little different, try the beer they claim to be their most romantic; the Black Raspberry Reserve, for ‘secure men and adventurous ladies.’
When they first opened up in 1995, the good people at Weyerbacher attempted to go the tried-and-tested route, until they found their first great success with the far more novel Raspberry Imperial Stout. After that discovery, they decided to exercise that same creativity in all the beers they brew, and that formula has worked for them ever since. You won’t find a brewpub here, because instead they’re focusing on meeting the demand for their great product and putting all of their energy into the brewing. With all the complex flavor combinations and hopped-up beers you’ll find here, this is not a brewery for the faint of heart.
Bullfrog Brewery is a community oriented restaurant and brewpub that’s been winning awards for their beer since they opened up in 1996. While they have a penchant for ‘Belgish’ (Belgian style, as they call it) beers, they by no means limit themselves to that tradition. They like to have fun with their offerings, from the Edgar IPA, which is a tribute to Edgar Allan Poe, to the Funny Farm House Cider, which is, fittingly, an refreshing apple cider. They make their own growlers, both glass and stainless steel, and welcome you to bring your own, so you’ll be able to enjoy their beer even outside of the pleasant confines of the brewpub.
Al’s of Hampden is a real destination for beer lovers. They have their own in-house Pizza Boy Brewing, and you can always find at least 20-30 of their beers on tap. The choices don’t stop there, though. They have 100 taps, so they fill up the remaining 70-80 with craft beers from across the country. They’ll fill up your container if you want to leave, or fill up your stomach if you want to stay; Pizza Boy Brewing doesn’t get its name from nowhere. The pizza is the specialty here, with stuffed pizzas, white pizzas, calzones, and strombolis.