Jim Coulter, assistant brewer at Turkey Hill Brewing Company

Microbreweries in Columbia-Montour counties

Each month our e-newsletter features a local or regional business that calls the Susquehanna home. Learn more about how they are helping to reinvest in our river towns, encourage revitalization, and further local economic development.

March 2013

From the publication "A River of Beer" by Lew Bryson
Reprinted with permission from the author and the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau

 

I've been reporting – and enjoying – the progress of the craft beer revolution in Pennsylvania for almost 20 years, and I've never seen anything like what's going on along the Susquehanna River right now. From Harrisburg up to Wilkes-Barre, new breweries are popping up all along the river; it is the hottest spot for beer in the state.

You can check out four of them in an easy 24-mile drive, starting in the thriving rivertown of Berwick at Berwick Brewing, running downhill along the river to the Inn at Turkey Hill and Marley's in Bloomsburg, and finishing up at Old Forge Brewing in the middle of the shops and stores of Danville's Mill Street. Of course, you'll have to have a designated driver, because while the food at all four stops is great, the beers shouldn't be missed!

Berwick Brewing is in an old commercial bakery, up on the bluff overlooking the river; a great view when their back beer garden is open. It's the best spot in town to have a cold glass of Hondo, their flavor-filled unfiltered pilsner, with a grilled bratwurst or one of their excellent thin-crust pizzas (get the Steve-o's Inferno, if you can handle the heat!). Berwick's owner, Tom Clark, has a history in craft brewing going back to the 1990s, brewed in Germany, and has probably worked on more brewhouses than most brewers in the U.S.

Slide down the road to the Lightstreet exit on I-80, and you'll find the Inn at Turkey Hill right there. The Inn has been known since 1984 as a boutique B&B, and for the best fine dining in the area, but owner Andrew Pruden added a brewery in the barn this year, and it's a welcome addition. Brewer Don Abraczinskas, in his first brewing job, has taken on a full range of beers, from kölsch to Belgian-style tripel, and done them well. You'll enjoy the upscale pubgrub, too; I liked that a lot of it is locally-sourced.

On down in the center of town, among the shops on Bloomsburg's busy Main Street (check out the goodies at Karen's Candy Barrel), is Marley's Brewery and Grille. Brewer Mark Braunwarth makes a good range of beers; my favorite is probably his porter, dark and drinkable. Belly up to the long bar, or take a seat in the more quiet dining room, and enjoy the full menu, from wraps and salads to seafood, pasta, and ribs.

The last stop on our tour – or the first, it works upstream as well! – is Old Forge Brewing, in Danville. Its cozy front room, with the brewery right there in the window, reminds me of so many beloved early brewpubs from the 1990s...but Damien Malfara's beer is better. He keeps it in the 4 to 5.5% alcohol range, not the 5 to 7.5% more common in brewpubs, a good plan for the traveler, as well as for the local drinkers who like to drop anchor for a while. It's a winning combo of approachable beers and casual, fresh pub food. “Nothing's pre-made, nothing's fried,” Malfara says, “and we try to do local foods when we can.”

I've been writing new editions of my Pennsylvania Breweries book since 1998, and I can't remember an area like this anywhere else. You could easily ride your bike from one place to the next and still cover all four in a day. It's a perfect beer tourism daytrip, and with Berwick and Old Forge both packaging their beers, you can take it home with you, too. With the scenic beauty along the river, the smalltown shopping in Bloomsburg and Danville, and the great food at these places, you don't even need the beer...but you'd be missing a good time.

Marley's Braunwarth summed up the appeal of the valley for the beer traveler. “This area's becoming a microcosm of American brewing,” he said. “It's awesome to have this many brewers so close. There's no competition; we're all working from the same page.”  That all works out for you. Welcome to Pennsylvania's River of Beer!

 

Discover even more special breweries across the Susquehanna and Pennsylvania with Pennsyvania Breweries by Lew Bryson. Available at major online retailers and in many PA bookstores.

Photos courtesy of Flickr, and Turkey Hill Brewing Company.