From coffee stouts to IPAs, the new Columbia Kettle Works is the talk of the river town.
So a guy walks into a bar … and is greeted by polished, shiny vats that stand proudly for all to see. Columbia Kettle Works – one of Lancaster County’s newest breweries – is easily accessed from the Columbia/Marietta exit off Route 30.
If you happen to visit on a Saturday afternoon, you are likely to find brewmaster and co-owner Rod Smith behind the bar, brewing handcrafted ales in plain sight. For anyone interested in seeing how it’s done, this is a not-to-miss educational opportunity. It’s not every day that you get to see a magician revealing his tricks.
Smith has been honing his skills over the last six years, creating and sharing his unique homebrews with friends and family. He is so dedicated to his craft, he even has hops growing up the front of his garage.
Smith and co-owner Bill Collister are beer connoisseurs who loved to visit local microbreweries together. Their love of craft beer blossomed into an obsession. One evening at the Bulls Head Tavern in Lititz, Collister decided to invest in a microbrewery – as long as Smith did all the work. Smith jokes that he’s also the “eye candy” of the operation.
At first taste, it’s obvious that this place is serious about its beer – and also why Columbia Kettle Works has earned such high acclaim in the local beer circuit so quickly. The word is spreading, too. The brewery has already had repeat customers from Baltimore, which is not surprising considering that Smith has won multiple awards in brew contests.
Beers he once brewed at home in small batches are now brewed in a large kettle. The homebrew recipes needed to be tweaked for the larger vats, but the recipes have lost nothing in translation – perhaps they’ve gotten better. Altering the recipe gives Smith some room to play and create something new and truly original.
Columbia Kettle Works’ Blonde Ale is a little more hoppy and malty than you might expect. It’s an easy drinking beer, but as Smith says, “It’s something you can chew on a little bit.” The 1st Batch IPA is Smith’s first attempt at an IPA. He used Columbus, Cascade and Willamette hops to design a beer that is hoppy, but not over-the-top. The second batch of IPA, which Smith calls IPA 2.0, really shines. Smith improved upon the original design, and the addition of Centennial hops gives the beer more depth and the hoppy flavor profile of an IPA.
The Coffee Stout is made with fresh ground coffee from Vintage Coffee Works – a company that roasts small batches on a beautifully restored Royal No. 5 roaster in downtown Columbia. The coffee is added during the second fermentation, which means you taste the fresh beans in your brew.
The most popular Columbia Kettle Works’ beer, however, is the Bald Guy Ale – an earthy rye beer, which customers are purchasing by the growler. (Growlers can be purchased and filled for $12 at the bar. Pints are $4, and four-draft sampler is available for $7.)
Collister insists that the Kettle Works is a brewery first, with food playing a secondary role; but that doesn’t mean patrons will be left high-and-dry for a light bite. “A lot of places get away with having just a hot dog machine, and we elected not to do that,” Collister says. Columbia Kettle Works features a handful of different Dynamite Dill pickles, which are made in Lancaster.
There are also a variety of flavored popcorns, including salt-n-vinegar and white cheddar. You can even order several meats and cheeses, including black pepper lonza, sweet soppressata, sharp cheddar and jumpin’ jack jalapeño. The menu also includes four kinds of panini sandwiches: ham, turkey, salami and four-cheese. It’s a lot better than a hot dog machine.
Smith and Collister started their business with one goal in mind: fun. And they’ve had a lot of local help. “We got a lot of help from St. Boniface brewery in Ephrata, as well as from Liquid Hero Brewery in York,” Smith says. “St. Boniface had an open book attitude about their business, and they were instrumental in helping us create Columbia Kettle Works.”
Smith even brewed his first big batch of beer at St. Boniface. They started this business in hopes of meeting people and sharing the love of the craft – two qualities that make Columbia Kettle Works sure to impress.
• 40 North Third Street, Columbia; 342-2374
• Thursday and Friday, 5-9 p.m. and Saturday, 12-9 p.m.