Taste: Spirits: Beer Here

Pennsylvania small-batch craft brews are the next big thing

NO SURPRISE: BEER IS AMERICA’S FAVORITE adult beverage, capturing more than 50 cents of each dollar spent on alcohol. Pale lagers make up the vast majority of those sales, with national brands dominating the field. But the big macro-brews, like Bud, Miller and Coors, are showing signs of slipping, while American “craft beer” has become the fastest growing segment of the alcohol market, outpacing even wine and spirits, despite prices far higher than commercial mainstream brands.

Produced in smaller, independent breweries, craft beers are made primarily from all-barley malt. Pennsylvania is on the short list of top craft brewing states, along with California, Colorado and Vermont. Those curious to see why need look no further than the city’s beer-centric bars: Standard Tap in Northern Liberties, Monk’s in Center City, and the Grey Lodge Pub in the Northeast.

Downingtown’s Victory is at the head of this class and has become a magnet for national attention. Its lager headliner is Prima Pils, a pungently herbal affront to the bland macro-lager rule. Victory follows a premium lager trail first blazed 20 years ago by Stoudt’s of Lancaster County, which is still going strong with offerings like this spring’s Blonde Double Mai Bock — pale, yet fairly oozing with sweet, malty goodness. Phoenixville’s Sly Fox, which recently expanded from its brewpub roots and opened a second pub in Royersford, also draws on the region’s German heritage. Its brisk, coffee-scented Dunkel Lager is now in cans, a retro-innovation that preserves draft-like freshness.

Among ale-centric craft brews, Yards is Philly’s hometown hero. Originally known for darkly malty Extra Special Ale, the Kensington craft brewery has scored another runaway hit with Philadelphia Pale Ale, a sharply bracing alternative to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Other Pennsylvania ale specialists include Legacy, whose Midnight Wit wheat beer is the toast of Reading, and Easton’s Weyerbacher, a specialist in strong ales like the potent Blithering Idiot Barley-Wine Style Ale. Tröegs, in Harrisburg, is known for the complexity of its amber ales, like Nugget Nectar, while Lancaster’s eponymous brewery whips up a mean Milk Stout. On April 1st, “The Brewer’s Plate” event, in Reading Terminal, will team up world-class local brewers with area restaurants to support the White Dog Cafe Foundation, a terrific opportunity to taste what’s hopping in our state.