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Pennsylvania Breweries 4th Edition Book Review

Lew Bryson’s infectious laugh rang through my mind. After all, anyone who has met Lew can’t help but think of his gregarious manner and his passion for drink, whether it be a fine single malt scotch or a sessionable beer from one of the fine breweries that pepper the regions of New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, or Pennsylvania – all states that have found a home in books written by Bryson.

Pennsylvania Breweries, 4th Edition, has just been released in time for the 2010 holiday season, published by Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, USA, and serves as a superb travelogue to Pennsylvania itself and the fine beers waiting to be found in every notch and swale within the state. Bryson uses his words like pictures, taking us through the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, past the rolling hillsides and along the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains, then around Dingman’s Falls, Hawk Mountain, and the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. So complete are his descriptions that we forget, for brief moments, that this is a book about breweries.

Within 350+ pages, Bryson whets our appetite for Pennsylvania travel – not only by exploring the abundance of breweries and brewpubs within its borders, but also by experiencing the diversity that makes Pennsylvania a complex reflection of America’s melting pot. He compresses the Keystone State’s larger metropolitan cities into their own chapters, while retaining the individualism of Pat’s Cheesesteaks, the Italian Market, the Carnegie Museums, Three Rivers, and the “almost famous” Primanti’s Grille. You begin salivating at the thought of fishing in one of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s many stocked lakes, white-watering the Class III rapids of Pine Creek by canoe, sampling shoo-fly pie in “Dutchie” country, and skiing one of the 30 downhill ski slopes in the grandly curving mountain ranges.

And then there’s the beer. As Bryson leads the way on a magical carpet ride across the state, he brings into focus the intimate decisions that shape each featured brewery or brewpub – a brewer’s dream, an investment gone awry, the skill of an engineer, and the brash, can-do attitude of the self-directed. His reviews of the beers are upbeat and positive, describing one as “beers that no one’s ever made before – or will again” and another with “if you remember the crisp lager beers, they won’t change…”

It’s difficult to read this book without making a vow to explore every corner of the Pennsylvania brewing scene and the nearby attractions that make for a balanced experience. For those from out-of-state who want a vacation drenched in adventure and diversity, Bryson’s book serves as the best all-around travel guide for laying a superb foundation. Those who have lived in Pennsylvania all their lives will be upstaged by Bryson the Great – marveling at his intimate knowledge of every little town, burb, and lakeside retreat; and then taking it one step farther.

Bryson knows the players, and he knows beer. As you connect with the unfolding story of Pennsylvania’s rapidly-changing beervana-scape, you begin to see the kaleidoscope of complexity among its finest brewers and/or owners – people like Matt Allyn, Scott Bowser, Gordon Grubb, Sean Casey and Brant Dubovick, and Minnie and Brian Sprague. You want to experience the Sprague Farm and Brew Works, the Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh, the Church Brew Works, Earth Bread + Brewery, and Swashbuckler Brewing Company. And you want to do it now.

For the novice, some of the descriptions of the types of brewing systems or the brewing capacities may appear over-the-top, but Lew does a fine job presenting the times and availability of Tours and Tastings to satisfy that nagging lack of understanding. He lays out local lodging in the area, a key component for any serious brew-seeking hound-dawg. There are even local maps for hard-to-find locations.

Lew’s best talent is in dropping little-known gems that pique additional desire to “get there.” Tidbits like “…the annual launch of the brewery’s [East End Brewing] spring seasonal, Pedal Pale Ale, since 2005 has begun with Scott hauling beer by bicycle to a surprise bar, with free beer for anyone who rides along. That first year, there were about fifteen riders; in 2009, there were more than five hundred!” As I said, you want to get there.

Although Lew Bryson is a master of colorful descriptions, I would love to see this book in color, complete with photos of these breweries and brewpubs – inside and out, of the players, the beer, the landscapes, and the local foods. Take this book with you on every excursion throughout Pennsylvania. Read it several times, study it, share it, and keep it in your car. Pennsylvania Breweries 4th Edition has joined the ranks as one of my most prized books.

For more information:  Pennsylvania Breweries (Beers)

Cheers!
 

Photos are (from top): My own well-used book of Pennsylvania Breweries, 4th Edition; Lew Bryson, author of Pennsylvania Breweries 4th Edition, and wife Cathy Bryson toasting with Mahleur Biere Brut

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