Hello, my name is Sara and I love beer.
It’s true, I really (really, really) like beer. But I’m not just talking about any beer. I like good beer. Beer from craft breweries all over the country. Beer worth traveling for, you know? In fact, whenever I start planning a new trip, I always research the local breweries and build as many of them into my travel plans as I can. Since I’ve spent a good chunk of the past five-six years or so drinking my way around the states, I thought it would be fun to start an ongoing series of posts about some of the best breweries (and bars and beer stores) I’ve visited.
Today, we’re going to start close to home. Specifically, my home and three of my favorite breweries in (and just beyond) Chester County, Pennsylvania. So open up a bottle of something good (I’m currently working on an agave IPA from Victory), put on some good tunes (I went with Van Morrison’s Moondance album, on vinyl), and let’s do this!
Victory Brewing Company (Downingtown, PA)
You know what’s awesome? Living and working less than ten minutes from one of the best craft breweries in the country. With Victory Brewing Company practically in my backyard, I find myself there rather frequently. It’s one of our go-to spots for after work libations, which is saying something because Victory does not have any happy hours specials. (Edited to add: Victory DOES have happy hour specials now! Even more reason to visit, y’all!)
The basics: The original flagship location in Downingtown opened in 1996 and has expanded over the years to the the current 300-seat brewpub it is now. Victory also recently expanded into Parkesburg and Kennett Square with two new brewpubs. The Parkesburg facility houses a huge, state-of-the-art brewing system, which you can view on a self-guided tour. The Kennett Square location is a smaller operation, where they produce more unique beers that are only available on-site. (Victory is also the first brewery to open in Kennett Square since prohibition.) There’s also a Victory Beer Hall in the Xfinity Live complex in South Philly, which is the best place to drink if you find yourself there before or after a game or concert.
If you want to take a guided tour of Victory, you have to visit the Downingtown location. Tours are offered on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and are free of charge. To join a tour, you just need to sign up for one in the retail shop. Visit this link for more information.
You should drink: If you’re lucky enough to be there when it’s available (usually around November), try the Victory Village which is a special draft-only (and delicious) collaboration with local coffee roaster One Village Coffee. Otherwise, go for something hoppy – Victory does hops so well and they always have a bunch of different IPAs on tap. (If you want to try a signature Victory brew with a twist, get the HopDevil IPA on nitro!)
You should eat: Victory’s menu features a solid selection of food. They have a great variety of appetizers (I’ve been told the wings are crazy good) and sandwiches, and their pizzas are awesome. Always check the daily specials though, because they can get pretty creative in the kitchen (I had a “deconstructed” pierogi pizza the last time I was there and my friend had a banh mi sandwich). They also put together a mighty fine cheese board. If you’ve left room for dessert, try one of the ice creams made with their own beers. (The Hopped-Up Devil is my favorite!)
You should know: Monday night is Taco Night at the Downingtown brewpub. What’s better than tacos and beer? The answer is nothing. And at $2.50 each, these tacos are a total steal (and damn tasty). And always remember your growler! (Growler fills are Victory are some of the most reasonably priced I’ve found.)
Sly Fox Brewing Company (Phoenixville & Pottstown, PA)
The basics: Sly Fox opened its first location, the original “Brewhouse & Eatery” in Phoenixville, in 1995 and is one of the oldest brewpubs in the area. In 2012, they opened a much larger brewing facility in Pottstown, which includes a tasting room. Their beers are currently distributed in PA, NJ, NY, MD, VA and Washington D.C. You can take free guided tours of the brewery in Pottstown at 2:00pm and 4:00pm on Saturdays and at 3:00pm on Sundays – just call the brewery for reservations! (I did the tour once and it was great – very detailed and informative and you can tell that the guys working there are really into what they do.)
You should drink: If you’re a Guinness lover, you need to try Sly Fox’s O’Reilly’s Stout. It’s so good that a local restaurant switched their tap from Guinness to O’Reilly’s after a blind taste test ended with Sly Fox’s take on a dry nitrogen-brewed Irish stout beating out the legendary Dublin brew. I still think there are few things better than a perfectly poured Guinness (if I’m taking a break from my usually hop-heavy habits), but Sly Fox really gets it right with this one.
You should eat: In Phoenixville, try the Greek Turkey Burger and the Jersey Shore Sweet Potato Fries. In Pottstown, the menu is smaller and the best things on it are the pizzas. Remember to bring your growler with you on Wednesdays for $6 growler fills. (And in Pottstown, you can get a growler fill, a pizza, and a slider platter for just $20.)
You should know: Sly Fox was one of the first breweries to really embrace the whole canned beer trend and they can all of their regular, year-round beers. They also are very involved in the area and do a lot to get people outside to enjoy (and help!) the local environment, in addition to hosting a bunch of other fun events throughout the year. This past April, they celebrated SRT Spreekend, which featured three days devoted to trail clean-up and outdoor activities along the Schuylkill River Trail in honor of the release of their SRT Ale. Last year, I joined a group of my friends at the Fox Trot 5K (go Team Punky BREWsters!) and we had a blast. And every May, there is the annual Sly Fox Bock Fest & Goat Race…which is basically exactly what it sounds like.
Tröegs Independent Brewing (Hershey, PA)
The basics: Tröegs is located in Hershey, less than 10 minutes from Hershey Lodge. Why is this important? Because Hershey Lodge is Pennsylvania’s largest convention resort and if you ever find yourself there for a convention or a conference, you need to make the short drive to Tröegs. (At least, that’s what we do every time the PMEA Conference is held at Hershey Lodge.)
The overall look and feel of the Tröegs tasting room is awesome – it’s huge and open and full of long tables that encourage the sort of happy co-mingling with strangers that usually happens when cool people who like good beer are drinking said good beer in close proximity to other cool people who like good beer. (There’s also a good amount of outdoor seating too, if you get there in time to claim a table.) For tours, you can either take a self-guided tour or you can pay $5.00 for a guided 45-minute tour that includes beer samples and a souvenir tasting glass. Tours are offered every day of the week – click here to schedule one (and pay when you arrive at the brewery).
You should drink: If you’re there during the holiday season, treat yourself to a Mad Elf on tap. If you’re there between January and March, you cannot leave without at least trying a sample of Nugget Nectar. But aside from those two heavy hitters, definitely spend some time exploring and sampling whatever scratch beers they have on tap while you’re there. (Tröegs’ scratch beers are brewed in small batches and are given numbers instead of names, because they are constantly experimenting with them and brewing new ones. They are up to #238!)
You should eat: There’s a snack bar in the tasting room that offers a menu of seasonal, farm-to-table dishes. Their fries are some of the best damn fries I’ve ever had and the root cellar vegetable chips with walnut salt and smoked cream cheese are amazing. There’s also the most magical three words you may ever see on a menu – MAD ELF FONDUE. Seriously, everything I’ve had there is delicious and I really don’t think you can go wrong with anything on the menu.
You should know: The atmosphere at Tröegs is totally chill and the openness of the space really does encourage everyone to relax with each other. Seating is “first come, first-served” (no reservations are taken) and you have to go up to the snack bar to order and pay for your food. (You take a buzzer with you after you pay, which lets you know when your food is ready.) Based on the few times I’ve been there, it fills up quick so try to get there soon after work.
These are just my favorite three breweries in the area, but there are seriously so many others. (Just take a look at this list to get an idea of how many breweries there are in Pennsylvania.) I have others I’ve visited to write about in my next post (Yard’s and Dock Street in Philly and Lancaster Brewing, Appalachian Brewing, and Stoudt’s out here in the ‘burbs) and others that I keep hearing about and still need to visit (Levante Brewing in West Chester, Stickman Brews in Royersford, Tired Hands in Ardmore, and Spring House in Lancaster).
But now, it’s your turn!
What are your favorite breweries in Pennsylvania (or near your own home)? What breweries should I visit when I’m in southern California this summer? (I’ve already got quite the list going…) And are you on Untappd? If so, let’s be friends! (I’m “little_dynamite”.)