Monday, April 6, 2009

Sometimes the area you grew up in doesn't reveal all its secrets until after you've matured, moved away and come back. Bringing along a new perspective and appreciation for things you may have missed the first time passing through. Sometimes you even achieve focus and the proverbial Aha! moment.

This happened to S and I this weekend on our trip to Danville, Pa for our first visit to Old Forge Brewing Company.

I didn't grow up in Danville but my HS team played them in sports. And I never really gave their name: the Danville Ironmen, much thought. I just thought it was another metaphorical sports team name meant to evoke the image of tough as steel ballplayers. Wait a minute. Am I that out of touch?

But once we went inside the narrow storefront of the Old Forge Brewing Company, it all clicked. And it became clear that there was something really historic and special about this town, relating to iron, manufacturing, and railroads. And now, again, about something else: great food and beer.

I'm a student of bar design and never pass on the opportunity to check out a neat bar. Let me tell you, Old Forge Brewing Company has a very cool bar. As you enter, to the left are some brewing tanks--a mash/lauter tun perhaps and behind that a floor to ceiling brick wall running perpendicular to the street. Original brick perhaps? Straight-ahead is a long flight of stairs leading to the second floor taproom and seating area. As you advance into the room to the left is thee bar, constructed of what appears to be maple. The bar top is a one inch thin maple laminated ell about 18' by 6' with an approximately ten inch overhang at the front supported by black wrought iron brackets. The bar's base cabinet is a horizontally-paneled maple piece with the corners adorned by black angle iron with diamond rivet detailing. Rimming the edge of the bar at the belt line is a distinctive thin, red rubber bumper. But the foot rest is the pièce de résistance. A clever yet totally functional foot rest the likes of which I've never seen before. It's an ell-shaped iron rail, a T-Rail, enabler of the Industrial Revolution, originally developed and manufactured in Danville, originally painted red but now on the friction surface, rubbed away to reveal its silver essence not unlike the rail you see on a well-used railroad. Closing the ell at the far end of the bar is the eight or ten tap system, the tap handles a homage to iron in the form of the tools that built Danville and this great country.

Maybe 12 light wooden-seated ladder back stools at the bar, almost all taken at 3 on a Saturday afternoon, face the bar. Along the right wall are three or four bi-seating pub tables with two mirrors on the wall over the tables. Beyond the bar at the back is another area of low tables.

Given that the room is narrow, to conserve space another neat feature was implemented behind the bar to store glassware: single-pint-depth shelves running what appears to be the length of the bar and perhaps three or four rows high, maybe more. And at a bit over bar-top height above the shelves, a regiment of mugs hanging in silent attention for that moment when they're asked to perform their duty--a most honorable duty, to bring the cool, fresh beer to the mouths of eager mug club members. Alas the mug club is full and the waiting list is over 128 names deep!

We settled into a couple of stools to peruse the beer menu. I wanted to try something a bit different and chose the Slack Tub Stout (on Nitro). S decided she needed an adventure and picked the Irish Draught Ale, also on nitrogen. My Slack Tub Stout arrived a deep dark color with some nice foam, and not at all tasting like it had been fermenting in a blacksmith shop all week. This was an excellent stout of the highest order and not overwhelming in roast, chocolate or coffee flavors as others are want to sometimes. It had just a bit of molasses flavor, contributing just that little bit of sweetness. I had a sip of S's red Irish Draught Ale and this was a real surprise to me. One, there is something wholly unique in this recipe that I could not put my finger on that gave it a superior enticing attitude that murmured drink-me. Sort of like that surprise when you first taste Prima Pils. I can't explain it as I only had a sip, but WOW! (If anyone can tell me this mystery ingredient I speak of, please do. If not: I'm going back to find out asap.) And two, it didn't have an alcohol finish like some other beers in this style. Very good and very tasty.

S always checks out the food menu and this time was no different. Her conclusion: everything on it's interesting, and begging to be ordered! But we didn't want to eat a big meal so instead opted for something from the appetizer menu: an order of two sausage skewers which arrived in no time flat accompanied by sides of grainy mustard and ale-infused cheese annointments. The red and green peppers and onions were sublime in their freshness and doneness. The sausage: grilled to perfection and soft in texture--not hard--that had me singing Na Zadrowie in no time. (This happens sometimes when I get my hands on good sausage.)

With our food, I ordered a T-Rail Pale Ale which was the perfect complement to the sausage and spicy mustard. This beer is not a hop-bomb, but a very easy drinking, bright and crisp American Pale Ale that I would think would be a great introduction to Pale Ales for new craft beer drinkers, but with just enough of an attitude for anyone. Really. It was so good in fact that I had to get a growler of it to bring home, which I did and which I'm enjoying at this very minute!

This is a fantastic place to experience the joy of well-made craft-beer. They have a very nice selection--maybe five or six or eight, so there's something for everyone, running the gamut from Pilsner to Stout. Bring a bit of an appetite as their food menu is inventive and tantalizing. Everyone was friendly and all the patrons were enjoying themselves. The barmaids: attentive. The beer: bright, fresh, crisp, excellent. I'll be going back soon.


John P. said...

That really sounds great Tazio. I can't wait to give it a try myself.

Bobo Monk. said...

I live about 30 mins. from Danville, and have made Old Forge my watering hole whenever I'm drving through. Next time, make sure you check out the upstairs - there are some true ambiance delights, and I hear that in the spring/summer they will offer outdoor seating. Beer Wise you can't go wrong here: try the Endless Summer Ale, Underbite IPA or T-Rail Pale.

tazio said...

I definitely will check out the upstairs! Thanks for the tips.

Anonymous said...

I am a true hand crafted beer lover at heart from Brooklyn, NY. I write reviews for a local weekly and decided to make the trek to Danville to Old Forge...let me tell you, it was well worth the drive. In fact, I would have drove from
Peru just to wet my lips with some sweet Endless Summer Ale, (or any beer on tap for that matter). Old Forge blows away any NYC brewpub in quality of craftsmanship. Compliments to the brewmaster and his staff. Five stars out of five. Advice for the owners: Expand! Expand! Expand! You have the product, you just need to find partners you can trust, a little capital, a lot of marketing(your product does most of the talking)and the right situation and you have a gold mine born in an old steel forging town in Pennsylvania. Old Forge Brewing Company-the best thing to come out of Pennsylvania since "The Office" and the '93 and '08 Phillies. Best of Luck

tazio said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it! Come back soon--there's a real love for great beer going on here.