Pennsylvania once again has produced more craft beer than any other state in the country.
Last year, the state’s 354 breweries produced 3,719,475 barrels of beer, enough to give every adult age 21 and over 11.7 gallons each, according to statistics from the Brewers Association.
Three of the top 50 craft beer producers in the country call Pennsylvania home. The nation’s top producer is the Pottsville-based D.G. Yuengling & Son. Artisanal Brewing Ventures of Downingtown, created from a merger of Victory Brewing and the New York-based Southern Tier brewing, ranks 11th with Hershey’s Troegs Brewery ranking 27th.
What makes Pennsylvania so conducive to craft beer?
Alison Feeney, author of “For the Love of Beer: Pennsylvania’s Breweries” and professor at Shippensburg University, said our history is one factor.
Before Prohibition, the state alone produced almost double the amount of beer produced by the rest of the nation, and its beers were shipped globally. Prohibition wiped out breweries in the state, and homebrewing was only made legal at the federal level in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter.
“That’s when you start getting people who were probably doing it secretly in their houses actually come out in public,” Feeney said.
Federal legalization gave each state the right to make homebrewing legal, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s when brewpubs started to pop up in Pennsylvania. The last decade or two is when the craft brewing industry has really started to take off.
“We’ve had more open last year than in the previous three years combined,” Feeney said.
At the same time brewing was made legal, the post-industrial revolution resulted in a lot of vacant buildings in the state. This combined with the state’s strong Germanic heritage created the perfect recipe for the rise in brewpubs.
“It’s really an ideal setup with what’s available for renovation and that historic past,” Feeney said.
The biggest concentration of breweries is in Phoenixville, a town that has put money into its rail trail, cleaned up a canal lock so people could kayak along the river and built arts facilities. In a one-mile stretch, there are five breweries, Feeney said
“Once one brewery goes in, a bunch of other businesses spark up around it, too. So, they’re really kind of a catalyst for a lot of development,” Feeney said.
Take Rusty Rails in Mifflinburg, for example. Feeney said it is in a town of about 3,000 people, 17% of whom live below the poverty line. The brewery’s housed in a number of old, renovated buildings located along a rail trail. It features a restaurant, outdoor seating and a safari room.
“It’s a place in town where you really wouldn’t expect a business like that to be. People come in from all over, and travel there,” she said.
Collusion, located on a back alley in York, moved into an old Studebaker factory that had been vacant for 40 years, Feeney said. Three other food-related businesses followed. The buildings were cleaned up, the parking lot paved and murals were painted.
“York itself is growing as a hub so they’re not the only brewery, but they certainly cleaned up that back alleyway,” Feeney said.