One of downtown Lancaster’s founding beer brands makes its triumphant return, bringing traditional German brews along with it
Back in the middle of the 19th century, Lancaster’s rich brewing tradition and sizable German population led to the town being dubbed the “Munich of America.”
Compelling arguments were made that this city was the brewing capital of the New World. Now, one of the premier breweries of that era – Wacker Brewing Co. – has been revived after decades of dormancy.
The Wacker brand was originally created in 1853. After being closed for the past 55 years, the re-introduction of the traditional Wacker beers has rekindled interest in Lancaster’s history as an epicenter of American brewing.
Originally owned by the Sprenger family, Wacker Brewing Co. was known as Eagle Brewing until Joseph Wacker purchased the brewery from Jacob Sprenger in 1870. Providing for a predominantly German drinking crowd, Wacker brewed two beers at a time – one dark beer (similar to a porter) and one light beer (similar to a bock). Keeping up with the two-beer tradition, brewmaster Michael Spychalski reintroduced Lancaster to Wacker’s Little Dutch dunkel and Wacker’s German Pale Ale.
“Neither beer is the original Wacker recipe,” says Spychalski. “If I could find the recipes, I would brew them.”
Wacker Brewing Co. shares a home base with Thistle Finch Distillery, with its brewing operation located in the basement just a room away from Thistle Finch’s pot still. Since opening last year, Wacker has conducted tastings and growler fills adjacent the brewery floor. During that time, the building was also home to coffee roasting equipment for Square One Coffee. Square One has since relocated its operations, however, offering Wacker the opportunity to also relocate and expand its tasting room upstairs to a space adjacent Thistle Finch’s tasting bar. The Little Dutch Taproom officially debuted on May 2.
While the new locale offers a much larger space for hosting guests and serving its brews, Spychalski isn’t likely to ramp up production on expanding into new beer styles quite so fast.
“Keeping the history current is very important, and both beers are a nod to brewing tradition,” Spychalski says. “And how many beers can you make really well? I don’t want to offer 12 different beers and have only eight of them be really good.”
That being said, Spychalski likes to create one-off seasonal beers that you may find on tap. While we were chatting, I tried a Biere de Garde he recently brewed. It was absolutely incredible, but don’t expect to find the same beer when you visit.
Though Spychalski is not directly connected to the Wacker legacy, he feels it’s important to bring back the history of the brand rather than start from scratch.
“It encourages people to do research on the history of Lancaster and really know where they’re from,” says Spychalski. When I ask him about the brewery’s old slogan – “The beer you always loved” – he laughs a little.
“It fits with bringing back the brand,” Spychalski says. “Wacker was so popular in Lancaster that you didn’t have a beer belly – you had a Wacker belly.”
It’s hard to find anyone today who actually remembers drinking Wacker 55 years ago. Most people say that their dad used to drink Wacker, or they remember the Little Dutch Café where Rachel’s Creperie is now located at the corner of West Walnut and Water streets. Even if they did, it’s not likely that the flavor profiles of the beer would be as uniform as they are today, thanks to new technology like climate control and jacketed tanks.
“In the past, when it tasted good, you pulled it and it was ready,” says Spychalski.
So, how are those flagship beers? The Little Dutch dunkel is a lighter bodied dark beer with a nutty, powerfully organic taste. Spychalski has been making this beer for about eight years. The Little Dutch dunkel resembles what the original Wacker may have had as its porter – more so than what a porter is today.
The Wacker German Pale Ale is brewed like a traditional Kölsch. This pale ale is smooth, crisp and clean. It drinks like a lager, but also evokes a Bohemian pilsner. This crowd favorite is a simple, sessionable working class-style beer.
Due to legal issues, breweries and taprooms need to offer food in order to serve their product. That’s why food trucks are often invited to park outside the brewing and distilling operations. As the Little Dutch Taproom evolves, Wacker will offer bar snacks like Bavarian pretzels.
“We make beer here; we don’t make sandwiches,” Spychalski says. “I myself go through a lot of Utz Party Mix throughout the week.”
My favorite question to ask every Lancaster brewer is, “What has the craft beer revolution done in regards to the renaissance of Lancaster?” Spychalski, originally from Philadelphia, gracefully answers.
“Craft beer mirrors history,” he says. “Towns with more variety and better quality beers and spirits tend to be the towns with more creative output in the community.”
The future of Wacker Brewing Co. is promising because of the heritage in the brand and Spychalski’s breadth of brewing knowledge.
“I want Wacker to be the Lager of Lancaster,” Spychalski says. “Because of the styles of beer we make, we have a chance to become as familiar as Yuengling.”
• 417 West Grant Street, Lancaster
• (717) 617-2711
• Wednesday and Thursday, 6-10 p.m.; Friday, 6-11 p.m.; and Saturday, 2-11 p.m.