A craft beer road trip in America’s northeast
The Cambridge Brewing Company, in Massachusetts, releases special edition cask conditioned beers on Tuesdays. (Cambridge Brewing Co)
If recent accolades are any indication, American craft beer has reached, and in some cases even surpassed, the ranks of beer produced in such notorious hop-loving countries as Germany and Belgium. With more than 1,700 craft breweries (the small, artisanal operations, not the behemoths pumping out Budweiser or Miller) and with a stronghold on eight of the top 10 beers in the world, according to RateBeer’s 2011 rankings, America is shedding its reputation for producing flavourless, watered-down swill.
The northeastern United States is the perfect place for a beer-centric road trip, with geographically small states that are filled with microbreweries. Vermont alone is home to more breweries per capita than any other state in the country. While some of these producers are infamous for making great beer, others are hidden gems, beloved by locals and waiting to be discovered by visitors.
For a craft beer tour of the region, begin in Pennsylvania and head north to Maine. Set aside several days to sip your way up the coast -- leaving plenty of time to avoid drinking and driving, and to soak in the culture of each town you visit.
Pennsylvania is home to America’s oldest operating brewery, Yuengling, which may have helped pave the way for the plentiful microbreweries in the state today.
In Downingtown (west of Philadelphia), the Victory Brewing Company is a lovely place to grab a casual, locally sourced lunch while tasting a few German-style beers. The Prima Pils – herbal, citrusy and heavy on the hops – and the Hopdevil Ale – another hop-filled selection with hints of grapefruit and a bitter finish – are refreshing brews that should pair nicely with a local cheese and sausage plate.
From Downington, head west about 70 miles to Harrisburg, the state capital, where the Appalachian Brewing Company hosts free brewery tours every Saturday at 1 pm. As you walk through the Appalachian’s three-storey historic building, be sure to sample the brewery’s delicious craft root beer and the Trail Blaze Organic Brown Ale, a nutty brew that smells of roasted caramel.
Also in Harrisburg, Troegs consistently makes incredibly satisfying beer. Our favourites are the Troegenator Double Bock – rich, malty, silky smooth and complex, but not too heavy – and the Nugget Nectar – delightfully hoppy with hints of honey. There are free brewery tours on Saturdays.
About 50 miles north of Harrisburg is Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, home to Selin’s Grove, a local treasure of a pub where the beer is world-class. Sip a well-balanced IPA, an organic aged porter, or a semi-sweet cider while listening to some live local music. If you like what you taste, pick up one of the brewery’s gorgeous growlers on your way out.
Heading east, Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton really does its experimental and limited edition beers right. The brewery just won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in the “Specialty Honey Beer Category” for its beer Sixteen, named after Weyerbacher’s 16th anniversary. Sixteen is a dark “braggot”, a style that is actually a kind of mead since it is brewed with 18.5 ounces of honey per gallon of beer – and the honey is all local, produced by Pennsylvania beekeepers.
While you are in Pennsylvania, consider taking a class at the Philly Beer School. Beer and Brewing 101, just $40, provides a lesson on how beer is made and where it came from in the first place.
Like Pennsylvania, New York has a rich brewing history. From the 1600s to the 1800s, immigrants from Germany and Ireland set up breweries all over the state. With a lack of easily accessible healthy drinking water, beer was often the favoured beverage at the time.