On The Trail Of Quality Ale
If you find yourself stumbling across the state on a tour of craft brewpubs, you can catch a respite at the 1777 Americana Inn Bed and Breakfast and walk out back to the Black Forest Brewery in Ephrata.
Just two miles from the intersection of routes 222 and 322 and just beyond the heart of downtown, you can find a “room with a brew, not a room with a view,” according to Denise Harter, co-owner of the establishment and a former teacher at Governor Mifflin High School. The B&B/brewery combination may well be the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.
Denise’s husband, Bob, is the other owner and a veteran brewer for more than 10 years. He started out like many other brewmasters – in the basement of his house in Berks County with a starter beer kit.
Bob says he never really made a completely undrinkable batch. The five flagship beers on tap at Black Forest are recipes from his homebrew days. He’s a traditionalist brewer. There isn’t much need for more than five or six taps here. Harter’s philosophy is to find his niche and perfect it.
“You’ll never have a peanut butter and jelly stout here,” Bob says. “There are no additives, and the flavor comes from the malt and hops.”
Family owned and family friendly, the brewery takes its name from the Black Forest Trail – a 42.1-mile endeavor running along Pine Creek in Lycoming County. The name serves as a memento of several weekends Bob spent backpacking the trail with his three sons – Ryan, Ross and Reece.
The brewery was built specifically to house the three-barrel, gas-fired brewing system, along with a no-frills, one-room public house. The walls are hung with rough-cut white pine barn boards, infusing that new-brewery smell with the woodsy aromas of an upstate family cabin. The skylights and the high ceilings add space and dimension to the otherwise cozy room.
The bar and tables were handmade by Bob with help from his sons. The interior design was done by Denise and consists primarily of local antiques and roadside finds. Every piece has a story.
Black Forest has been open since mid-December and consistently fills the seats thanks to word of mouth and social media promotions. They already have a string of established regulars, and the locals love it.
“They love to see small businesses come in and do well,” Bob says.
Black Forest features five traditionally brewed flagship beers, including the 5 o’clock Heffy, which was unfortunately kicked just as I arrived. The Shreck Tavern Stout, which is both Denise and Ross’ favorite beer, is named after the notorious Shreck Tavern speakeasy, which operated at The Green Dragon market during Prohibition. Shreck Tavern Stout is a light bodied, highly drinkable stout with notes of coffee and mocha.
The Whistle Stop Amber Ale has a great copper color and an easy combination of malt and hops, creating a medium-body ale that is slightly bitter with a velvety finish. The Americana Pale Ale is mellow but bitter – an appropriate step between the Whistle Stop and the 42nd Mile IPA, which is Bob’s favorite beer. The 42nd Mile IPA is triple-infused with hops with a dry hop addition after fermentation to give it extra aroma. This IPA has a smooth citrus taste that isn’t burnt out by being overly hopped.
The sixth tap on the wall – the competitor’s tap – is a unique concept. Every few months, a beer from another local brewer will be featured. The idea is that a local homebrewer can come in and submit three 12-ounce bottles to be judged by Bob and other craft beer aficionados. The winner will be able to brew a batch of their own for a day with the Black Forest brewmaster and feature their beer at the brewery. This opportunity would be an honor for any start-up basement brewer.
The food menu is written on mirrors and flat glass fixtures around the taproom. It features a few simple snacks like trail mix, locally made pretzels and a meat and cheese plate, along with a few panini options. I enjoyed the chicken fajita panini with baja remoulade, which went well with my flight and was filling.
The menu is designed by Denise and reflects the family’s traditional happy hour favorites, along with some staple trail foods to go along with the Black Forest motif. The brewery also features local wine from The Vineyard at Grandview, located in Mount Joy.
Black Forest Brewery is worth a stop if you’re traveling through Northern Lancaster County. The atmosphere is warm and inviting. The staff is knowledgeable, the food hits the spot and the beer is nonthreatening enough for a new craft brew explorer, but bold enough to satisfy a veteran.
• 301 West Main Street, Ephrata
• Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 12-9 p.m.; and Sunday, 12-5 p.m.