By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Craft brewpubs have been springing up like hops in the past couple of years, the result of a reduction in state licensing fees and an even greater increase in the public’s thirst for flavorful beer made in small batches.
Brewpubs are a new breed of bar, specializing in beer made on site and sold fresh out of the barrel. There are now eight such establishments in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, and most were started by local beer lovers who got started as home brewers. The Vindicator recently visited each of these grass-roots operations, which tend to reflect their owners, if not their communities.
The growth of brewpubs in this area is part of a bigger trend. The state of Ohio now boasts more than 140 craft brewpubs — double the amount of just three years ago — and ranks fourth nationwide in overall production, brewing 1.274 million barrels last year.
The story is the same across the nation. Craft brewers claimed 11 percent of the overall domestic beer market last year, the first time it cracked double digits, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents small and independent American brewers.
RUST BELT TAP HOUSE
112 W. Commerce St., Youngstown
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight; Saturday, noon to midnight
This is the area’s original craft brewpub. Rust Belt Brewing Co. was launched by Ken Blair in 2008. The Tap House opened in 2013, and has become part of the downtown nightlife scene, offering a low-key destination for conversation.
The cozy and well-appointed room is in the Erie Terminal building, which once housed a railroad station on its ground floor, and still retains its historic charm. The brewpub features a main room and a spacious balcony, as well as a larger room for party rentals.
The menu includes sandwiches (including a build your own grilled cheese) and appetizers.
Rust Belt has undergone some changes recently, moving its production out of the nearby B&O Station building (another former railroad station), and consolidating all brewing on site at the Tap House. It has switched to much smaller 10-gallon brew kettles in order to make smaller batches with faster turnover.
Blair says the switch allows him to focus more on the craft, offer more variety, and also allows brewing to be done on-premises. “We consolidated everything into one location and morphed into a nano-brewer,” said Blair.
Rust Belt also offers ingredients for home brewers upon request.
The party room holds up to 40 people and is frequently used for meetings, weddings and other events.
In addition to its own brews (usually on tap are some of thits four flagship beers: Old Man Hopper’s IPA, Coke Oven Stout, an Irish Red Ale and a lighter blonde ale, as well as specialty brews, including a jalapeno-flavored product), Rust Belt also sells craft beers from other makers, a few domestics, and a selection of craft-made whiskeys.
6520 Mahoning Ave., Austintown
Hours: Wednesday through Friday, 4-10 p.m.; Saturdays, 2-10 p.m.
Paladin, located along the side of a building that fronts on Mahoning Avenue, is an open room with the stainless-steel brewing equipment on one end, and a rustic tavern on the other. Owner John Chandler opened Paladin last summer, after having been a home brewer since 2008. Paladin’s slogan is “crafted for heroic beer drinkers” and the brewpub features some of the area’s boldest beers. Flagship brews include Sir Kenneth, an American blonde ale; Hunter’s pale ale; Revelation IPA; CraveMore Scottish ale; and several others.
The interior bar decor calls to mind a pub in old England. Outdoors, Paladin boasts a large grassy backyard, enclosed with a wooden fence, with charcoal grills that guests can use to grill food. There is no kitchen, but food trucks routinely pull up in the parking lot for patrons. Guests can also bring their own food or wine.
Paladin often schedules live musical entertainment on Saturdays.
BIRDFISH BREWING CO.
16 S. Main St., Columbiana
Hours: Fridays, 4-10 p.m.; Saturdays, 2-10 p.m.
Located in a tidy but narrow storefront building just off the town circle, Birdfish gets a lot more interesting inside. It has a colorful, funky and eclectic decor, with the brewing kettles nestled right in.
Birdfish was opened in November by a trio of cousins: Greg Snyder, Josh Dunn and Jared Channell, all natives of the area who were into home brewing. It’s a fun and hip hangout for conversation without the distraction of a television.
Birdfish prides itself on variety. Brewing in 35-gallon batches, it always has five of its own beers on tap. The beer list is always changing; since opening less than a year ago, the cousins have brewed 45 different beers.
Guests should expect to find some of these unique brews when they visit: County Line pale ale (because the city is near the Columbiana-Mahoning county line); Cactus Pear pale ale (with notes of watermelon and bubble gum); Blueberry Donut dark ale (brewed with blueberry donuts from Hogans Baking of Columbiana); The Peel (a wheat ale brewed with lemon, grapefruit and orange peel and zest that can be mixed with lemonade for a shandy); Generations Cold Brew stout (made with help from Generations Coffee in Columbiana); and The Ganesh (mango peppercorn IPA).
Birdfish recently added a 600 square foot outdoor patio. It does not have a kitchen, but the brewpub partners with local restaurants and food trucks, including Smoke Worx Street Cuisine, which offers smoked barbecue meats and sandwiches.
LIL PAWS WINERY
17574 Mahoning Ave., Lake Milton
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. (open Fridays and Saturdays only in January and February)
Owners Ed and Nan Johnson and Dale and Mary Mills of Alliance opened Lil Paws Winery three years ago, and started brewing craft beer in October — so now it’s a brewpub, too. The idea took root after the owners noticed that some couples would stop in for wine, but the men in the group would drift off to a local bar for a beer.
Located along the lake, Lil Paws is a convenient stop for boat owners. It’s across the street from the pedestrian pier that is on the west side of the Mahoning Avenue bridge.
The interior is spacious, but with a Spartan decor, and sprawls over a split-level building with a large room at the rear and a small bar at the front. Televisions are mounted on the walls. Lil Paws also boasts a gift shop and a cigar shop. Outside, a newly expanded patio is spacious enough for live music.
The Lil Paws name alllows an almost endless lexicon of canine names for its beer and wines (but you won’t find a dog on the premises!). These include Retriever honey brown ale, Collie pilsner, Shepherd IPA, and a Bull Dog whiskey barrel stout.
Lil Paws does not have a kitchen but guests are welcome to bring food, or order something from the pizza shop next door.
127 N. Beaver St., Lisbon
Hours: Wednesday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m.; Friday, 3-midnight; Saturday, noon-midnight;.
Numbers is tucked away in the middle of a block just up the hill from the county courthouse and downtown Lisbon. With a small L-shaped bar, a wide beverage selection (there’s even Bud Light), and television sets on the walls, It’s more like a cozy neighborhood tavern than a brewpub, but it definitely has some unique beer.
Numbers opened about two years ago, offering its own brews, plus a whole lot of others. There is no kitchen but there is a popcorn machine (with a lot of flavors to dust it with), and there’s usually a food truck parked outside.
The name derives from co-owner Jeramy DeBord’s days as a student at Bethany College in West Virginia. His fraternity had a numbering system with each member given a number to denote seniority. Older students had lower numbers and had privileges such as sitting as the front seat passenger of the car.
“It was a silly thing we did back then,” he said in an earlier interview with The Vindicator, adding that everyone has numbers that have significance to them.
2516 Benjamin Franklin Highway (U.S. route 422), Edinburg, Pa. (a few minles west of New Castle, Pa.)
Hours: Wednesday-Thursday, 3-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 4-11 p.m.
Crooked Tongue opened a year and a half ago on a stretch of highway between the state line and New Castle, about a mile west of the I-376 interchange. It sells only its own beers and has a kitchen that turns out flatbread pizzas, Bavarian pretzels, hummus and cheese plates.
The tap room isn’t real fancy, but it’s colorful and jovial with a family-fun atmosphere (no televisions) with plenty of tables away from the bar. It had eight or nine beers on tap during a recent visit, and introduces a new beer about every other week.
The centerpiece might soon become the manicured outdoor biergarten behind the building, which has a fire pit and picnic tables.
It will also soon boast the area’s first Stones course. Stones is a relatively new yard game, that owner Cody Greene describes as something like bocce in the woods. The inventors of the game visited Crooked Tongue to lend some advice on its layout.
Greene is an engineer who likes making things. An avid home brewer, he had 14 beers on tap at his home at one point before he decided to open Crooked Tongue. He calls beer making a mix of engineering and art.
Crooked Tongue offers live music on Saturdays. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the Commonwealth restaurant of New Castle offers its food there.
STONE CHURCH BREWPUB
600 S. Hermitage Road, Hermitage, Pa.
Hours: Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight; and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.
As its name implies, Stone Church opened in December in what was a small house of worship — St. John’s Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church. The owners are Jack Laeng, Mark Hudson and Ted Bloom.
A dozen of their beers are on tap, brewed, as they say, with three guidelines: European tradition, American boldness and Divine intervention.
Stone Church also specializes in Neapolitan-style pizza made in a prominent wood-fired oven, and guests can watch their order being baked. It offers a casual dining experience in a unique setting. A large stained glass window dominates the interior, reflecting its past. Customers may sit at the large bar or at tables.
BREWTUS BREWING CO.
23 Chestnut St., Sharon, Pa.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight
Brewtus opened last spring, becoming the latest incarnation of this downtown space that was previously a bar-restaurant, and it’s known as much for its food as its beer. The spacious room looks like an old New York City tavern, with hardwood floors, a decorative tin plate ceiling, and a giant wooden bar back that calls to mind an altar. Brewtus sells only its own beers, and had nine on tap during a recent visit. The brews touch on all types: milk stout, lager, wheat beer, maibock. The kitchen turns out fine burgers, specialty sandwiches and pizzas. Brewtus has live music on Fridays and Saturdays, and also has a room on the second floor that is used for rentals and occasionally, live music.