Then and Now   

By Glenn DeLuca

For BeerNexus.com


We have a beautiful teak corner piece in our family room for our flat screen.  The
bottom half has a bunch of compartments that have a DVD/VCR, DVDs and lots
of VCR tapes. Many of the tapes are movies we taped years ago and never got
around to watching. So before they dry up and/or we have no working VCR to
play them on we’ve been watching them and yes sometimes after you watch a
movie the question is, and why did I tape this?

As we’ve cleaned some up I now have an empty shelf. One night I got a bright
idea; I could take four or five of our coffee table books and put them in as it’s a
perfect size.  And who doesn’t have a bunch of coffee table books that if you pile
them on your coffee table you wouldn’t see the person sitting across from you.  
So grabbed a few that were hidden away in a cabinet and although I won’t be
applying for any interior decorating jobs I think it looks good.

The cabinet where these books were has a bunch of stuff in it so I’m looking at
other things.  I found a couple of paperbacks and one caught my attention;
Pennsylvania Breweries.  My sister, who lived in East Stroudsburg, PA, gave this
to me years ago. So how old is this, well let’s check the copyright, 1998, a good
fifteen years.  First thought is might as well put in recycling, but since I attended
the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp in Philly and there were a lot of PA breweries,
maybe I’ll glance through and see if there’s some correlation and what they said
years ago.

The book is divided into seven sections, but basically large brewers, then
brewpubs and craft brewers by region.  So large brewers, the “Old Guard” as
they refer to them, how different could they be?
•   First up, Pittsburgh Brewing, better known as the maker of Iron City.  It’s still
made, but to be honest I remember my first one and even then, way before really
good tasting craft beer, I wasn’t all that interested in having another one.
•   Next up Jones Brewing Company in Smithton, which is out in southwestern PA.  
Never heard of them or their beer which is Stoney’s, a lager.  They call
themselves “a working class beer” and they must be doing something right as
they’re still in business.
•   Third in line, Latrobe Brewing, known for Rolling Rock and the mysterious “33”,
another brewer in southwestern PA, but a much more well-known and popular
one. Interestingly enough the brewery was originally part of Pittsburgh and sold
off after the end of Prohibition at which point the Tito Brothers created Rolling
Rock. It was sold in the 1987 to Labatt, who sold to Interbrew (later InBev) in
1995, who then sold the beer but not the brewery to A-B in 2006…a lot of really
pissed off people about that one.
•   Fourth is Straub Brewery in northwestern PA, founded in 1872 and it’s still in
the family and surviving. In the book they talk about managing demand so they
don’t outgrow their production capability, a challenge many of the start-ups over
the past few years would love to have. So we’re talking a very successful local
brew; would like to try one sometime.
•   Next is The Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, initially founded in 1905 as Luzerne
County Brewing Co, now claiming to be the 15th largest American owned brewer!
In 1974 they bought the Stegmaier name, which was their largest local and very
successful competitor. 1993 they were sold, taken public in ’96, then private in ’
99 and sold again in 2007. In addition to Lionshead and Stegmaier, they also
make eight nonalcoholic drinks.
•   And last, how could anyone be surprised with Yuengling, America’s oldest
brewery established in 1829. I know my friends in CT were very happy when they
decided to re-enter the CT market in 2014!

So very interesting, all seven of the bigs still exist to one degree or another with
obviously a lot of changing hands in some cases.

Well there are 48 in the book, so only 41 more to review…only kidding!  As I scan
the list, there are a bunch that jump out right away; Dock Street (’90), Yards (’95),
Victory (’96), Stoudt’s (‘87), Weyerbacher (‘95) and Troegs (’97). I could make a
great mixed six from these and enjoy every one!

Stoudt’s is the “old-timer/veteran” of the group.  Carol Stoudt was the first woman
to open a brewery since Prohibition and Stoudt’s was the first PA microbrewery,
so fitting she wrote the Foreword to the book.  Did visit Stoudt’s many years ago
and remember enjoying their beers and the restaurant, which I see is still open.
So any other names that ring a bell from the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp…one, Sly
Fox out of Phoenixville, the southeastern corner, started in 1995. Definitely read
this write-up more intently than many of the others.  I noted his “Pick” was the
Amber Fox IPA and I loved their 360 IPA, so guess they’ve been making a good
IPA for a while.  Checked out their website and see they’ve made great strides in
<20 years and opened a Pottstown site in 2012.

There was also a “Psycho” moment when I read about Poor Henry’s. My friend
has a beer can collection and we’ve been taste testing for decades, always
opening from the bottom of course. It’s interesting to look at some of the cans
and remember tasting them, many of them good, some average and some just
awful. We very seldom threw out a beer but one we did was Ortlieb’s from Philly.
Ortlieb’s closed in 1981 and the brand was sold to Stroh, which is why Henry
Ortlieb couldn’t use his family name. Amazing how quickly some things come back
with a trigger.  Would be fun to stop in there.

It might have been interesting to look up more of the micros to see what had
become of them; I’m sure they all didn’t survive and some were probably sold, but
that sounded more like a college paper than fun.

It is interesting to note the timeliness of this book as the vast majority of the
micros and brewpubs opened in the 90’s and a high number were only a few
years old when the book was published.  The Old Guard were mostly 1800’s, with
Latrobe in 1939 and then none (that we know of or still exist) in the next four
decades until three opened in the 80’s.  It was actually designed as a travel book,
which each section, after the Old Guard, laid out by region.  

In addition to the basic info (year started, owner, brewer, production, beers) for
each brewery was also tour times, hours, directions, take out beer, food, any
special considerations, parking, lodging and nearby attractions; a well thought
out book. So with breweries opening so fast I’m thinking it would be difficult to do
that type of a book now. Not so fast, here’s a beer books article in Ale Street
News that shows three; NY, FL and CO. It says Stackpole Books has come up
with a good formula for beer guides and I guess people are buying them as I look
on Amazon and found them for more than a dozen states with PA in its 4th
edition! I’m almost tempted to buy it to see how different it is, but I think I have a
tap takeover to go to…

Well that was a fitting way to end the year and start a new one.  I must say I
enjoyed 2014, more festivals, more tap takeovers and more craft beers; could
probably have a different beer every day of the year, but it’s nice to taste the
good ones again.

So here’s to good color, good nose, great taste and many opportunities in 2015!


Enjoy




Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing webmaster@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
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