Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Six-Pack Project: Pennsylvania Beer

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, we've entered the (unofficial) start of summer. Barbecues, beaches and vacations lie ahead.

But what's a trip away from home without throwing beer into the mix?

Enter the Six-Pack Project. It's a new, collaborative effort between beer bloggers from around the country to highlight a six-pack of our state's native brews that we believe bests represents what the beer culture of our respective states offer. If someone is coming to visit, what bottles or cans would we want to share?

Here are our rules:
  1. Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state's beer culture.
  2. Beer must be made in your state, but "gypsy" brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
  3. Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
  4. Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred.
Welcome to the inaugural round of the Six-Pack Project.


It was particularly difficult for me to choose the top six Pennsylvania beers, and I'm sure that if I went through this exercise a year from now, my list would be different. Pennsylvania has a plethora of breweries from which to choose, and then of course, each brewery offers multiple beer styles. So in order to begin whittling things down, I took a look through Lew Bryson's book Pennsylvania Breweries and picked out the breweries that I think are pretty good. Then, under each brewery, I listed each beer they make that really rocks. This list was much more manageable, but even so, I had way more than six. Next, I thought I'd try choosing six "main" styles from the list, something like:
  • Pilsener
  • Lager
  • Pale Ale / IPA
  • Porter / Stout
  • Red / Amber Ale
  • Other / Miscellaneous
Fortunately, my list parsed rather nicely into these categories. And so we arrive at the top six Pennsylvania beers, in order by style as presented above:

1. Sly Fox Brewing Company's "Pikeland Pils" (German pilsener)
This refreshing beer is brewed at both of Sly Fox's locations: Phoenixville and Pottstown. There are not too many craft brewers that put their product in a can, but this is one that does. At 4.9% ABV, you can put a few of these away before you'll notice much of anything, which is perfect for a hot summer day. It pours copper gold and is bubbly with an off-white, frothy head. The malty, bready smell is backed up with a sweetly-bitter, bready flavor with a kick. This tangy pilsener quenches the thirst and leaves a pleasant, lasting impression on the palate.
2. Yuengling Brewery's "Traditional Lager" (American amber / red lager)
Yuengling was established in 1829 and is America's oldest brewery. Even though they now also have a brewery in Tampa, Florida, Yuengling is based out of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Their "Traditional Lager" is such a standard in these parts that you don't have to ask for it by name; you simply order "lager". Though this 4.4% ABV reddish-colored lager has limited distribution, it is widely coveted...and rightly so. I consider it my "go-to" beer, and it certainly goes well with  any meal, all-American or otherwise. (You can read more at this previous post from National Lager Day 2012.)
3. East End Brewing's "Big Hop IPA" (India Pale Ale)
These days, in the world of craft beer, it seems like everyone continually clamors for the best India Pale Ale (IPA). IPAs are getting to be so commonplace, it's almost as if they're a dime a dozen...but not East End Brewing's version. Coming out of Pittsburgh, this IPA packs a punch in the pint. At an even-keeled 5.8% ABV, this IPA is a perfect complement to any social activity, whether it's dinner out or just shooting the breeze with some friends. If you're a hop-head, this is the IPA for you.
4. Spring House Brewing Company's "Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout" (American Double / Imperial Stout)
Spring House's brewery is based out of Conestoga, which is near Lancaster, where they also have a taproom. Weighing in at 8.5% ABV, this stout tastes just like you'd expect: it's like liquid candy! While some may prefer to drink this beer for dessert, I have had it with dinner and  loved it. This is a must-have for PB, chocolate, and beer lovers.
5. Tröegs Brewing Company's "Hopback Amber Ale" (American amber / red ale)
Tröegs is one of my favorite breweries, largely because they make so many great beers. But it helps that they are in Hershey, which is only a 45-minute car ride away from my house. Of all their beers, Hopback is truly exceptional and is the best of their year-round offerings. At a straight 6% ABV, this amber ale fills your mouth with a crisp piney and citrusy flavor with hints of bready caramel. This one's a sure-to-please beer.
6. Weyerbacher Brewing Company's "Blithering Idiot" (English Barleywine)
Brewed in Reading, this beer clocks at 11.1% ABV which catches up to you quickly while the Weyerbacher jester just points and laughs. This barleywine has a golden-red hue and exhibits a frothy head. While it smells like cherries, they aren't evident in the flavor. Bright and bold, you feel it all the way down. This is a robust brew with a fully body. Warning: this is not a sessionable beer!
I've identified these six beers as being the best in Pennsylvania, but of course, not all beer that is brewed is bottled or canned. There are some great breweries in the York area right now (e.g. Mudhook Brewing Company and Liquid Hero) and others in the planning stages (e.g. Baldy Beard Brewing Company) that I had to exclude based on the rule about bottles or cans.

Well, that about wraps it up. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts: did I pick the best Pennsylvania brews? Or was I way off? What are your top six PA brews? Let me know in the comments or through Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or even through a check-in on UntappdProst!


Here are the links to the other five blogs which are participating in this inaugural round of the Six-Pack Project: