After an overland journey through the lesser traveled parts of NY state and Pennsylvania we arrived at North Country Brewing, a smallish local pub in the downtown area of Slippery Rock. We sat down at the bar early enough to meet a few regulars and bartenders, who immediately proved to be familial and fun. The vibe of the entire place was country, but with less of a Cracker Barrel interior and more authentically interesting history and décor.
The building started life as the county morgue and the staff swear you can see and hear the spirits late at night, particularly in the restrooms that used to house the bodies for preparation. A certificate of haunting lends further credence to the claims, though I’m not completely sold on a group that certifies hauntings. The brewery itself is visible through a plate glass partition in the main entrance hallway, and is of a significant size for the pub. However, in fairness, there are a large number of tables in the restaurant compared to the bar area, and the restaurant was a fixture of the downtown area.
In a small downtown with little to nothing happening while school was out of session, we fit right in at the bar full of folks searching for good beer. I started slowly enough with Northern Lite, a golden beer with light body and flavor that was recommended for folks who aren’t tremendously adventurous with their beer selection. While it might not have been up my alley, the wisdom behind brewing this kind of ale in an isolated pub like this one is undeniable. If people want to drink something that is light and crisp and you don’t have this type of beer on tap they’ll go across the street where they can find a cheap macro. The right thing to do is brew this type of light beer with proper quality and hope to sway them toward the solid local beers available.
I want to digress for a minute to rant about why small pubs like this need to invest in their atmosphere and why it matters to me. As a proponent of craft beer in almost every situation I think it helps me make a good case for craft beer when the presentation in a place is spot on. Here at North Country it was obvious that the pub had ceased to be the local spot to drink and had become the go-to for entertainment in this small college town. By offering live music and a solid menu it grew beyond the confines of a local brewery and embodied the town’s spirit. The outside area hosted college age kids who wanted to relax in the sun, and the indoor tables were filled with families celebrating birthdays and a night on the town. The bar held regulars clamoring for specialty brews, and the front door led you directly into the path of the evening’s musical entertainment. This is good for craft beer. This is good for communities. This is good for the business. This is good for people like me who want to prove that craft beer is an awesome influence around North America. /end rant
Back to the beers – I moved down the list with a fair amount of haste and landed on their Firehouse Red. A malty treat after the light beer before it mellowed nicely as it warmed and had just enough balance from hop to dry out the sweet malts. Solidly tasty and gone before I could think about my next drink I asked for a bit of advice. Which beer would they recommend if I wanted to keep it malty? The Breakfast Blend Mild was on offer and hit the spot nicely, another balanced beer with a low enough ABV that it didn’t put me on my ass. The brew poured very light brown, almost the color of light malt syrup, and had that faint waft of candy sweetness that I admire in malty beer. (My milds tend to come out a bit heavy, probably because I let them ferment too long) While my favorite might still be the Ruby Mild from Magnolia on cask this was a tremendous beer to find as I love good milds. I took a few sips of my Co-Pilots pints as well, all tasty but not what I was after at the moment.
Satisfied with my tasting and ready for a quick nap after a 2 hour drive and only McDonald’s available for lunch we headed over to the local parking lot for a quick snooze. It wouldn’t be long before I would be back on the road again and headed into our next stop… But that’s a story for another day. Good drinking until then.