You could hardly go online anymore without seeing headlines for “Best US City for Beer” or “Best Beer State,” and new ale trails seem to be popping up everywhere. We’re definitely in the peak of this craft beer boom that you have to be blind not to realize is going on around us, and while states like Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Maine might get all the flashy headlines, Pennsylvania is something of the underrated darkhorse in the craft beer game, with the data to back it up. Stats collected by the National Brewers Association for 2015 say that as of December of last year, there’s currently 178 breweries operating in Pennsylvania with a percentage of 1.9 per capita, ranking us 8th in the country for breweries per person. More impressively, PA ranks 3rd in the nation for the most craft beer consumed, with an average of 13.4 gallons per each over-21 adult. Additionally, beers like Yuengling, Victory, and Yards have gained national recognition (not that this means anything, some of my favorite PA beers are from some very small operations).
One of my favorite things to do over the past few years on my travels around the state is to try new breweries, or visit the breweries of beers I’ve already been a fan of, and I feel like any weekend trip is enhanced if there’s a local brewery nearby. The nice part of having such a strong beer culture here in PA, is that you could easily spend an entire weekend devoted to beer. I realize that many of you do this anyway, and I’d be hardpressed to argue that I didn’t spend the past weekend devoted to Coors Light, but this is a classy, cultural way to do it. Here are 9 Pennsylvania craft beer itineraries to check out.
Maybe I’m biased because I lived there for five years, but Lancaster is my favorite beer destination in the state, and in fact Lancaster county, in fact a couple of years ago, Lancaster actually had the most breweries out of any county in PA, although I couldn’t find any updated stats on that. You could easily pop down to Lancaster for a day, but I would almost make a three day weekend out of this if you want to check out everything they have to offer. Start with the surrounding countryside and towns to hit the Rumspringa Brewing Company smack in the middle of Amish country (right in the middle of the infamously named Intercourse, to be precise), check out the Octoberfest atmosphere at Stoudt’s in Adamstown, and hit up Ephrata and Reamtstown on your back to Lancaster city, where you could visit Union Barrel Works, Black Forest Brewery, and St. Boniface. Lititz is home to JoBoy’s Brewpub, Appalachian Brewing, and the Bull’s Head bar which has an impressive tap list, and was recently named PA’s best beer bar by Craftbeer.com. Bube’s Brewery in Mt. Joy is an impressive and unique stop. It’s a new brewery (that also has a full bar with other beers) housed in an old brewery, and along with sampling their beer, a stop here could also include dinner in their subterranean catacombs, live music, an outdoor beer garden, or a ghost tour, and if you’ve already imbibed too much, it’s a short amtrak ride from downtown Lancaster (Lancaster also has uber now if you don’t like to adhere to pre-made schedules).
Lancaster City is home to Lancaster Brewing Company, Springhouse Brewing Company, and Wacker Brewing Company. Lancaster Brewing Company has an option for a flight that serves all the beers they have on tap (usually about 15-20), has great food, an awesome new patio, and does conduct tours on Saturday afternoons; definitely try the Chocolate Strawberry, a combination of their strawberry wheat, and double chocolate milk stout, which can only be found at the brewery. Springhouse Brewing Company has a taproom downtown next to the oldest operating farmer’s market in the country, as well as a brand new brewery and brewpub a couple of blocks away (for my money they have the best pumpkin beer in the game), and Wacker has resurrected the recipes from an old Lancaster brewery, and shares their Little Dutch Taproom with the Thistle Finch Distillery. That’s just sticking to local beers. POUR, The Fridge, and Hunger and Thirst all have impressive beer lists, and for the sake of brevity, I’m not even going to talk about all the great food you can find to accompany your beer.
If you find yourself with some free time, check out York County’s Susquehanna Ale Trail.
I don’t care if you don’t agree with the inclusion of Yuengling under the craft beer umbrella, but you can’t have a list of PA Craft Breweries and not include the beer the made Pennsylvania famous (sorry Schlitz, I hope I’m not overstepping your motto); there’s a reason that if you order “a lager” anywhere in the state, the bartender knows you’re after a Yuengling. While the Yuengling brewery isn’t that close to any others, it’s required visiting for any real PA beer fans. I took the tour this past spring and was more impressed then I thought I’d be. Also, Yuengling does indeed create more beers then just it’s flagship lager, and recently opened a brand new visitor’s center, museum, and tasting room. Pottsville isn’t really anyone’s choice weekend destination, but it is inherently Pennsylvanian in an old school way, just like its main export.
Hershey is primarily known for chocolate (and the birthplace of Don Draper-he was born in a whorehouse there!), and lately Harrisburg is well, becoming the new Camden, but it should be known as a great place to visit for beer enthusiasts. Troegs brewery is located just outside Hershey Park (like, more or less in the parking lot), and is arguable one of the most identifiable Pennsylvanian beer brands (I can also tell you from personal experience that they have great appetizers). Troegs has a self guided tour you can obviously take at any time, as well as a 45 minute guided tours that leave throughout the day. The Brewery at Hersey is actually in nearby Middletown, and has a popular Friday night music series. It’s sort of a one stop ethanol fueled shop over there, as they also have a winery on the premises, and make their own ciders (including a peanut butter, caramel apple cider that I’m cautiously optimistic about).
Harrisburg itself is home to some new players like Zeroday, and Spring Gate Brewery, as well as a second branch of the Lancaster Brewing Company. Central PA chain Appalachian Brewing Company has a great location in Harrisburg with several stories, and live music on weekends, and you could always venture across the river to the “west shore” to check out Pizza Boy Brewing Company located in the more suburban enclave of Enola. I’ve somehow never been here , despite randomly doing quite a bit of drinking in Enola—one of my good friends lived there for a couple of years. Pizza Boy regularly makes a lot of “must try” lists for super beer nerds, and I’ve heard some good things from people who’ve been-they have an obscenely long beer list, including quite a few collaborations with other breweries/distilleries. Also, the concept of brewery/pizzerias is a genius one that more people need to embrace, and I’m here for their stuffed pizzas.
If you’re here for a longer weekend, consider taking a quick train ride (15 minutes via Amtrak) to Elizabethtown. Moo-Duck Brewery and Funk Brewing are both walkable from the train station. Lancaster and York are also both within a half hour drive.
4. Lehigh Valley Ale Trail-
The Lehigh Valley Visitor’s Bureau was one of the first in the state to embrace the craft beer trend and create their own ale trail, which could probably do more justice to these locales then I could, as despite driving through the area a ton, I haven’t spent a lot of time there. If you’re going from east to west, Easton, located just across the Delaware River from New Jersey, is where you want to start with visits to Two Rivers and Weyerbacher. Bethlehem boasts two breweries, Fegley’s Brew Works and Bonn Brewing, and a distillery of its own, while Allentown, the unofficial seat of the Ale Trail, and where Billy Joel thinks dreams go to die. has two breweries of it’s own, Hijinx, and a second Fegley’s location, and one of only three meaderies in the state.
The Lehigh Valley Ale Trail starts venturing into Amish country here with Funk Brewing in Emmaus, as well as Saucony Creek and Avalanche in Kutztown.
There are nine brewpubs/breweries located in the Philadelphia City limits, which means, you’d probably need all weekend to be able to enjoy and appreciate all nine (especially because Philly is an awesome bar city in general, and there’s a good chance you’d get distracted by one of their beer gardens, irish pubs, or a nasty bout with the Citywide Special).
Yards is arguably the king here, and you could easily spend an afternoon at their facility on Columbia Ave by the river that has a great shuffleboard table and food truck action. Yards Brawler, Love Stout, and Philadelphia Pale Ale are classic Philly brews, but there’s always something different going on to sample here. Yards also offers tours of their facilities, which I’ve taken and thoroughly enjoyed, often has food trucks, and has one of the best shuffleboards in Philadelphia.
Crime and Punishment Brewing, Saint Benjamin Brewing Company, Earth Bread and Brewery, and Philadelphia Brewing Company (this brewery is only open on Saturdays 12-3) are in the general vicinity of Yards in Brewerytown, and Fishtown respectively. 2nd Story is nestled in one of Old City’s cobblestone streets right by Independence Hall if you want a great photo opp after a few beers, while Dock Street, which I’ve never been to, and only heard good things about, is west Philadelphia born and raised.
Bar Hygge is in Fairmount, and while not a brewery itself, does house brew their own beer, while the Manayunk Brew Pub is the farthest hike from center city, up in Philly’s number one borough for post grad shenanigans.
Evil Genius, which is currently one of my favorite PA-breweries is opening a tasting room in Fishtown sometime soon, and while you can’t visit it as of this post, check out their website to see what bars in Philly you can find it at.
Philly is a pretty walkable city, but it’s also very bike friendly, with Dock Street and Yards being particularly welcoming to bikers-if you don’t feel like renting one for yourself, check out indigo bikes, which you can rent and dock all throughout the city. I had a very enjoyable afternoon one time biking from the Independence Beer Garden to Yards (we were initially planning on also hitting up Dock Street, but then got lazy..and maybe slightly over-indulged at Yards). Philly Brew Tours also is a great way to see a couple of breweries in the city (and NJ) with a driver and dinner included in the price.
6. Philly’s “Main Line”-
Historically Philly’s “Main Line” is a group of Philly suburbs once clustered around the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Mainline. The mainline today consists of some of the wealthiest communities in the country; I’m going to be using this term loosely for my own beer purposes, and use it to describe communities on or just off commercial route 30, which will be the main thoroughfare you’d be using, and which does roughly follow Amtrak’s Keystone line.
Editor’s note: There are a ton of breweries in this area, so do what works for you-I’m sticking with places I’ve been or heard of, and I’m sure I’m leaving out plenty of really great spots.
I’d start my trek at the easternmost point, the Conshohocken Brewing Company. Conshohocken Brewing Company has two locations, their original building which is a little tricky to find due to its nondescript location on a small back road, but is one of those places that puts most of the presentation in its “backyard” so to speak; the brewery opens up to a popular bike trail, where it seems to derive a lot of business. They just opened a larger brewpub in Bridgewater near the King of Prussia mall . One of my good college friends lives within walking distance of the original taproom, so I’ve been here a time or two. I really like their Puddler’s Row, and last time I was there I had some vanilla-infused stout or porter, that was really good, but doesn’t currently seem to appear on their menu-hopefully it returns.
Phoenixville will be your next stop for Sly Fox Brewery, another very identifiable PA beer. If you time this trip right, you can stop by at their May Day, which has long been on my bucket-list, mainly because it has goat races, or you, or you could time your visit for the holiday season, because Sly Fox does an outstanding Christmas Ale, which made me think, “why does everyone make such a big deal about Mad Elf?” the first time I tried it. Sly Fox is heavily German influenced so their Helles Golden Lager and Pikeland Pils are exceptionally good. Sly Fox has two locations, their original Phoenxivlle brewpub, as well as a newer brewery and tasting room out in Pottstown if you want a more technical tour. Stable 12 is a newer brewery here, that also has house made ciders and wines.
I’ve personally never been to Tired Hands in Ardmore, or tried any of their beer, but I’ve always heard good things. Like Sly Fox, Tired Hands also has two locations to choose from, more or less right down the road from each other in Ardmore. The “brew cafe” (their website emphasizes that it’s not to be called a brewpub) is a more food based locale, while the fermentaria is the more traditional tasting room/brewing facilities located in a refurbished trolley factory.
Further out, Levante Brewing Company and Boxcar Brewing are in West Chester.
Located in Downingtown, Victory is your end game, and one of the more impressive craft breweries in PA (they also have a newer, and much larger new location in Parksburg, but that’s getting a little rural here). They typically have between 20-30 beers on tap with Summer Love, Golden Monkey, Headwaters, and Helles Lager being PA staples. I’d recommend staying somewhere in the Downingtown area after your trek, and then topping off your weekend Sunday morning at The Whip Tavern, an English tavern in the middle of beautiful horse country about 20 minutes from Victory that for my money, has the best brunch in PA, complete with craft beer buckets, so you can continue the sampling.
I’ve sampled a couple of these places, but never really got to experience the breadth of the Pittsburgh beer scene, which is a damn shame, because it’s solid. This is definitely one that you’ll want to take a weekend to explore as they are located all around and outside the city, and while Pittsburgh isn’t huge, it’s not necessarily easy to navigate.
We’ll start lowbrow, with Iron City (now officially called Pittsburgh Brewing), a Pittsburgh classic that’s probably more “locally brewed” then “craft beer”, but a staple of the city that’s ingrained in Yinzer culture, and if cheap, fruity beer is your thing, be on the look out for IC Light Mango, a local delicacy that is just starting to be available outside of Pittsburgh. You can’t visit Iron City, but you can find this in any bar, anywhere in Pittsburgh, and you’d be remiss to not have one.
Penn Brewery is a German-styled brewery in Pittsburgh’s northside which serves “ethnic-Pittsburgh” fare with German/Eastern European inspired dishes, and steel city specialties like fry covered salads. Also on the north shore is Rivertowne, on of the first craft breweries to can, known for their pineapple ale, Hala Kahiki.
Church Brewing is worth it for the facilities alone-it’s in an old Catholic church, complete with pews, and the brewing happening on the altar. Nearby Lawrenceville has Full Pint Brewing Company, Roundabout Brewing, and Hop Farm Brewing.
I’ve never been to East End Brewing, but they supposedly have one of the best brewery tours in the state, with the price including admission, the tour, tasting, a glass, and a full growler of their beer to take home.
The Brew Gentlemen in the suburb of Braddock is one of the newer breweries it seems has been getting a lot of attention, and with over 50 different brews on tap, it looks like they’ll be something for everyone (truth be told, I’d rather a brewery with like, 10 beers that they do really well, but this has gotten good reviews). Other suburb based breweries include Hitchhiker Brewing Company in Mt. Lebanon, which also offers local ciders and wines, and Helltown Brewing and Full Pint, both housed in refurbished garages, as well as Grist House, just north of downtown.
If you’re looking for organized tours, PA Brew Tours runs bus tours all around Pittsburgh, western PA, and all the way up to Erie, which brings us to our next locale:
8. Erie PA-
Another big name Pennsylvania beer is Voodoo Brewing, which is located in the small town of Meadville, about an hour south of Erie. Voodoo offers tours, and also just opened a location in Pittsburgh. Something I really like about them is that they have a series of food trucks (listed on their website as “Foodoo”) which make beer inspired cuisine. With that one exception, what makes Erie a nice beer stop, is that the majority of their breweries, Lavery, Erie Brewing Company, Erie Ale Works, Millcreek Brewing Company, all appear to be within walking distance of each other, which makes this a unique itinerary for this list.
I wish I had more to say about Erie, aside from that I really need to get there soon.
Update: There’s a great Lake Erie Ale Trail site to check out.
9. Northeast PA-
We’ll end on my home-turf. While maybe just warranting a day trip, rather than a whole weekend, Northeast PA is finally cashing in on the craft beer scene. Usually a late guy to the party, Northeast PA has had its signature Lion Brewery churning on Lion’s Head and Stegmaier far before craft beer became the beer du jour. You can no longer tour the facilities, however do yourself a favor and pick up a case of Lion’s Head from any area distributor; it’s a steal at ten bucks a case. I’d personally visit in the fall so you could grab a case of Stegmaier pumpkin ale as well-it’s one of my favorite pumpkin brews (second to Springhouse).
The crown jewel of NEPA brewing is definitely the Susquehanna Brewing Company in Pittston, which is actually brewed by descendants of the Stegmaier family. This brewery boasts what USA Today crowned one of the top tours in the country, which is free and operates every Saturday at 2 and 4 and Sundays at 2. They’ve recently opened up a taproom which regularly hosts local food trucks, and also distributes Sole Artisan Ales, which are brewed in their very impressive facilities.
Breaker Brewing Company has a respectable little establishment in Wilkes Barre, and if you’re looking to really venture out, Irving Cliff in Honesdale is a worth a look, and the Lehigh Valley Ale Trail isn’t too far south in Allentown, but I think any beer fan in PA would be doing themselves a disservice not checking out a tour of Susquehanna Brewing Co.
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