Western PA can boast some pretty cool places to drink beer straight from the source. Any time an out-of-towner wants suggestions for a good beer-centric spots to check out, I have a list ready in my mind. There’s Church Brew Works, a truly one-of-a-kind place & the only brewpub, to my knowledge, located in a church. There’s Penn Brewery, with its historic locale & old world vibe. Hofbräuhaus is plain kitschy fun, an Epcot Center of hoi polloi brew entertainment. And those coming in from the north are advised to stop at North Country & see the awesome woodwork woven throughout the place. Granted, there are plenty more places to imbibe in some great beer, & I’ll typically also recommend some other local breweries & bars, depending on where they’re going to be (of course, The House is a must-see, but that goes without saying…). The places I mentioned also happen to have good food & are generally family-friendly, two other big plusses in my book.
Thing is, though, these places are not “hot items” right now among the geekery. Ask a beer nerd what they think of them & you might get a dismissive “meh
” or even outright derision, & that sucks. And why? Always the beer. It’s not to say that these breweries don’t make good beer – they do. But you don’t see a lot of envelope-pushing or trendy styles hitting their chalkboards, & while they might rack up medals, they don’t tend to rack up high scores on the rating sites. So the hardcore crowd eschews some real gems of places in favor of the ones currently on the cutting edge.
I’m glad that this area has so much to offer that we can be choosy. I’m glad that we can taste some really innovative stuff from Brew Gentlemen, Draai Laag, & Roundabout one day, then partake in some unique atmosphere the next. Please don’t infer that I’m trying to dissuade anyone from checking out anything
that our area has to offer - just saying that there are multiple facets to the experience that we ought to take into account. Each opportunity should be weighed per its strengths & weaknesses, & failing to recognize strengths where they exist is short-sighted – maybe other strengths even supercede the beer. I try not to have blinders on when it comes to drinking & venues, & never discount a place wholesale just because they’re not knocking every batch out of the park. Making good beer is a priority, but it’s not the only consideration.
And each visitor has their own
priorities. Some might be flying solo or with company who are all about the beer; some might be on vacation or visiting relatives, & looking for something fun & memorable; some might need a place that’s accommodating to all ages & tastes; some might want to take in a chunk of history or personal sentiment. If I were coming in from out of town, drinking in a church would probably occupy a bigger place in my memory than downing a killer IPA, & who’s to say I can’t do both anyway? Hell, even though their beer’s not near topping any lists, I’d love to hit Straub sometime just to tour an old school regional brewery & scope out that “Eternal Tap”. It’s about perspective & taking the total context in, beyond “just” what’s in the glass. Being a beer fan should be about more than just the ratings, & even about more than just the beer.