Good Life

There’s plenty to taste at local breweries

Chris Schell pours an F. Tuck porter from the tap at Robin Hood Brewing Co. in Bellefonte.
Chris Schell pours an F. Tuck porter from the tap at Robin Hood Brewing Co. in Bellefonte.

Editor’s note: The following is part of the Active Life special section.

For the hard-working man or woman, there are few pleasures greater than coming home from work and cracking open a cold one.

When it comes to beer, some are content to sip from the same brand year after year, steadily returning to that faithful silver can or brown bottle. But a whole world of locally brewed beers lies within Centre County for those who are willing to open their palates and expand their tastes.

Locally brewed craft beer has taken off nationally, and Centre County is no exception. Dozens of beers brewed on-site at area restaurants offer a wealth of different styles, tastes and experiences for craft beer newcomers, experts and everyone in between.

“Once there was a time where you pretty much stuck to one brand your whole life,” said Charlie Schnable, co-owner of Otto’s Pub and Brewery in State College. “Now, people are trying new things.”

Offering more than a dozen beers covering the full spectrum of tastes is important, said Happy Valley Brewing Co. head brewer Josh Davies, as everyone has their own favorites and matching those favorites is important.

“We try to look at the lineup as a whole to be an important thing, not just the individual beers,” Davies said. “So when people come in, there’s options that work for everybody.”

For those looking to try new things, Schnable said, the classic approach is to start with the lightest product — beers that are closest to mainstream lagers that are accessible and easy to drink.

Staff can also make recommendations based on what you like, he said.

“The bartender really plays a big role in asking questions and trying to get feedback from the person to what they should try next,” Schnable said.

Most breweries offer some sort of sampler too, Davies said. At Happy Valley, a sampler of five different brews costs $12.

For some breweries, the customer base is dependent on location. Because of its Bellefonte location, Robin Hood Brewing Co. brewer Chris Schell said the restaurant caters to a large base of casual diners. For Happy Valley, Davies said the restaurant sees “a good mix” that is welcoming to the older crowd interested in a good meal and a good-looking restaurant.

Local brewing allows for brewers to experiment with more robust flavors, for those with more adventurous tastes.

Between the ales, lagers and stouts, Schell said he finds time to bring out some “high concept” brews. Currently, he said he’s working on a maple bacon ale, called Tap and Squeal, that involves pounds of maple sugar and applewood-smoked bacon infused with the beer after brewing.

“It comes off like a hardy taphouse breakfast,” he said, “like bacon and waffles with syrup.”

For Davies, it’s about creating fun variations on traditional styles, he said. He said he is working on a raspberry Russian imperial stout, which has a big, bold taste of roasted coffee and chocolate that mixes well with the raspberry.

Breweries also offer their own take on seasonal fare, which, while familiar, can offer some twists on the typical seasonal brew.

At Otto’s, Schnable said the winter months typically lead to the heavier, darker, richer beers of the season, but spring isn’t too far away, meaning lighter, crisper beers are on their way.

Ultimately, he said, anyone who is looking to expand his or her palate should start with what they like then try something for fun.

“Take advantage of the samplers,” he said. “Don’t be afraid, you never know.”

Davies advised not fighting the natural progression of taste, moving from lighter to heavier brews. Ease into it, he said, and increase the intensity as you become more familiar with craft beers.

“If you’re just drinking wheat beers, don’t go running into crazy, high-octane IPAs because that’s going to fry your palate,” he said. “You’ll only want to drink wheat beers for the rest of your life.”

Schell summed up growing your tastes into three words: keep trying it. Don’t dismiss a beer just because you’re intimidated.

“I hated IPAs when I first had them,” he said. “I heard somewhere for a taste to be acquired, it takes 20 to 30 tries.”

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

Where to find Centre County’s locally crafted brews

▪ Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks, 100 W. Main St., Millheim

▪ The Field Burger and Tap, 1 Country Club Lane, Toftrees Resort, State College

▪ Happy Valley Brewing Co., 137 Elmwood St., State College

▪ Liberty Craft House, 346 E. College Ave., State College

▪ Otto’s Pub and Brewery, 2235 N. Atherton St., State College

▪  Robin Hood Brewing Co., 1796 Zion Road, Bellefonte

Central Pa. Tasting Trail