Why a Beer Tour Through Amish Country Is Surprisingly Great

Explore the exciting beer scene and European brewpubs dappled throughout Central Pennsylvania.

Central Pennsylvania’s stunning landscape ranges from rolling hills dotted with farms to mountains with burbling streams and crashing waterfalls. Water isn’t the only thing flowing through PA. This bucolic backdrop is home to a bustling beer scene brimming with taprooms and breweries dappled throughout parts of Amish countryside.

“Central PA is a trove of unique natural areas, small towns and micro-cultures,” says Tim Yarrington, professor at Penn College in Williamsport and co-founder of and head of brewery operations at Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks in Millheim. His advice: Take the long way through the middle of the state. “Get off the highways, skip the strip malls and seek the independently owned businesses on the smaller roads that are so vital to their communities.”

Amish countryside
Amish countryside | hutch photography/Shutterstock

While states like Colorado and Vermont might be better known for outstanding beer, Pennsylvania has a strong brewing history. It’s home to the country’s oldest brewery, Yuengling in Pottsville, which was founded in 1829.

Although there’s a rich history of beer here, it wasn’t until the ’90s and early aughts that Pennsylvania’s brewing scene boomed again, says Yarrington. “I wasn’t too shocked to learn about early up-starts like The Bullfrog and Otto’s.” The former debuted its micro-brewpub in 1996 and Otto’s followed suit in 2002. “Elk Creek was certainly an unlikely start-up in the one-traffic-light town of Millheim in 2007,” Yarrington says of the cafe he helped start. “It was audacious.”

A lot has changed for the area since then. You can almost drive half-an-hour in any direction, from any point, and end up in a town with at least a small brewpub. There’s plenty to see and do and tons of excellent breweries to hit along the way.

Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks
Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks

Enjoy Mennonite bakeries and hazy IPAs in Williamsport

Start your day with Diamond Square Market, a Mennonite bakery located in the Newbury neighborhood. Fuel up with a breakfast sandwich on pretzel bread or a breakfast log, which is a pretzel stuffed with sausage or bacon and egg and cheese. On Saturday mornings, Downtown Williamsport’s Growers Market has Amish goods such as maple syrup, honey, raw milk, cheese, and meat products. There’s also tons of organic and specialty farms in the area. Check out Marshalek’s Fruit Farm, Green Bee Farm, and Longlane Flower Farm.

When you’re finally ready for a pint—or if you’d like to wash down breakfast with some beer—head to this historic-mansion-turned-brewpub John Ryan Brewery. Andrea and John Roskiwski founded the brewery and tavern in 2021. The husband and wife duo have been running pop-up dinners and brunches on the weekends. (They’re planning on officially opening the restaurant come May.)

Here, inside the renovated space that oozes charm and a contemporary-Victorian vibe, find a fusion of Japanese and Italian cuisines paired with craft cocktails and “beer that tastes like beer,” as Andrea puts it. John Ryan’s tap list rotates, but the Pear Beer pairs perfectly with the more Asian-influenced parts of the menu, while the Rye Pale Ale stands up to the heartier, traditionally Mid-Atlantic cuisine.

As for beer that tastes award winning, give New Trail Brewing a visit. Indeed, no beer run to Williamsport would be complete without a stop at this spacious renovated brick warehouse. New Trail’s offerings range from lagers (its Lazy River Pils won gold at Great American Beer Festival in 2019) and hazy IPAs that hold their own against the coastal breweries that dominate the style. For sustenance, catch a food truck serving Mexican food every evening.

Don’t sleep on other noteworthy breweries in the Williamsport area. There’s Bullfrog Brewery—where the funkier, Belgian-influenced beers are not to be missed—plus newcomers Riepstine’s Pub, Boom City, and Therapy Brewing, where you might want to bring your own chair due to very limited seating. But open space abounds, and sipping your pint outdoors is encouraged.

Bald Birds Brewing Company
Bald Birds Brewing Company

Actually drink good beer in a college town

State College is, you guessed it, the home of Penn State University. Voodoo Brewing (best known for hoppy beers, such as Hoodoo IPA) and the region’s old standby, Otto’s Pub, make it worth visiting this college town.

Soak up the collegiate atmosphere downtown and hit Champs, a sports bar with a well-curated tap list and a roster of impressively beer-savvy bartenders and servers. Current highlights include beers from Aslin, Maine Beer Co., and some always fruity sours from Prairie Brewing.

About eight miles from State College is Axemann Brewery, another huge manufacturing facility remodeled into a sprawling brewery. Peep views of the Logan Branch of Spring Creek whilst you tip back a glass of Czech-style pilsner or Axemann’s flagship kolsch-style brew, Blue Stripe, which is a perfect sipper for the expansive patio.

Further east, you’ll hit the Jersey Shore—no not that one—where Bald Birds Brewing provides endless entertainment. The brewery, located inside a converted Woolrich Clothing distribution warehouse, has activities galore: indoor cornhole, golf simulators, an arcade, and the first brick-and-mortar of longtime carnival vendor Gunzy’s Hot Sausage. Bald Bird sells a lot of its flagship lager, Champion Style, but also brews some excellent hazy-hoppy beer, such as Moma Bear, a double IPA brewed with Callista, Cashmere and Simcoe hops.

This little corner of Central Pennsylvania is also home to a good number of wineries, distilleries, and other breweries. Some highlights include the stunning Mount Nittany Vineyard, Happy Valley Brew Co, and Big Spring Spirits.

Voodoo Brewing Co.
Voodoo Brewing Co.

Look out for buggies and sip on brown ales in Ridge and Valley

South of Jersey Shore, hiking trails and roadside waterfalls abound in the Ridge and Valley region. You’ll soon spy black-and-yellow roadway signs that warn drivers to watch out for horse-drawn buggies. Yup, you’re sharing pavement with 19th-century transportation methods. A small town with a large Amish community, Loganton’s Amish-run shops, such as Kauffman’s Hardware and Scenic Ridge Foods, use little to no electricity—think gas lamps for indoor light and pneumatic powered fans for cooling.

Make a pitstop for handmade goods before driving about a half hour to Millheim, where Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks awaits. Started in 2007, Elk Creek makes straightforward beer that leans toward tradition that is executed perfectly (no surprise here, as Tim Yarrington is a Davis educated brewer with decades of experience). The Poe Daddy Porter is rich and velvety without going into stout territory, the Brookie Brown Ale is balanced and sessionable, and the Mills Pills is light and crisp with enough bready character to balance the spicy old-world hops.

Down the valley rests Rusty Rail Brewing Company, another massive manufacturing facility that’s been turned into a brewery. This one stands out for its on-site hotel with suites boasting views of Pennsylvania’s rolling mountain. Then there’s Jackass Brewing Company’s superb sour beers and Pineknotter, which is known for its live music.

If you’re in the mood for more beer in a basement, head to Selin’s Grove Brewing. Started in 1996, this brewpub is nestled in the subterranean space of a 1816 colonial mansion built for former Pennsylvania governor Simon Snyder. Selin’s serves traditional pub fare alongside excellent beer you can only find at the brewery.

Strike up a conversation with your neighbors or cozy next to the fireplace. Selin’s atmosphere is a good reminder that great beer awaits in the unlikeliest of places—in historic mansions, in converted warehouses, in Amish country with buggy-riding denizens.

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Robert Alan Wendeborn is a poet, brewer, winemaker, and distiller living in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.