The Lehigh Valley’s first craft beverage artisans arguably came in the form of beer brewers in the mid-1990s, highlighted by the Fegley’s Brew Works locations first in downtown Bethlehem and then Allentown and the Weyerbacher Brewing Company’s formation in Easton.
Gradually, locals and visitors alike loved the idea of being able to try a beer that was different than what they were used to, more difficult to find than a typical light beer, or were simply intrigued because it was brewed with that perceived extra effort and care that comes from craft breweries.
In recent years, more and more of these breweries have popped up in the Lehigh Valley area including Funk Brewing Company in Emmaus, Two Rivers Brewing Company in Easton, and HiJinx Brewing Company in Allentown.
Fortunately, some intrepid individuals thought, “Why simply stop at beer?”
Now, the Lehigh Valley is home to Colony Meadery, as well as the Social Still and County Seat distilleries, with Christmas City Distillery slated to open in Bethlehem by summer of 2016.
One could literally stock their next New Year’s Eve party with purely Lehigh Valley made beers and spirits. (And we haven’t even touched on the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail, but that’s another story all together.)
A majority of this brewing and distilling excitement is now headquartered at one unique location in Allentown that has combined locally produced beer, mead, and spirits in a former Mack Trucks plant.
The Bridgeworks Beverage Alliance, located at 905 Harrison Street in Allentown’s south side, is a tasty, beautiful, and booming partnership between The Colony Meadery, County Seat Distillery, and Hijinx Brewing Company.
The renovated Mack Truck factory makes for not only a convenient spot to try three different types of beverages, but can also open an visitor’s mind to thinking more about shopping locally.
The Bridgeworks is part of the Allentown Economic and Development Corporation’s manufacturing incubator program, with a focus on growing the Allentown economy by producing delicious intoxicating drinks.
Yes, you can help the local economy by doing a few tastings. Which we did on a recent Saturday afternoon.
The entrance to the Bridgeworks may be a bit innocuous and maybe even somewhat hard to find down the narrow Harrison Street. However, once you head inside, you’ll quickly be turning to the lucky soul you brought with you to say, “How did we not know about this place sooner?”
We started by first visiting The Colony Meadery, which brews one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in history: mead. The fermented honey concoction has been drank by Vikings, Egyptians, and now, luckily, you.
The Colony Meadery is fresh off another gold medal winning performance at The Mazer Cup, an international mead competition, in Colorado. In only a few years, the meadery has won 19 medals throughout the country at the time of this article’s printing.
The meadery opened at the Bridgeworks in 2013, released the first of its meads to the public in January 2014, and opened its second tasting room inside The Moravian Book Shop, the nation’s oldest, in Bethlehem in August 2015.
We took the tour, which gave us an even more extensive knowledge on the history of mead and just exactly how Colony Meadery produces so many delicious batches of it. We were then brought back into the main room where we sampled a flight (or two) of various meads.
You have to understand that while mead is made of fermented honey, it’s almost closer to a craft beer in the sense that mead makers can infuse many different flavors within it, many more than wine.
Think coffee and hops and fruits.
Some of our favorite Colony Meadery meads include: the classic “Straight, No Chaser,” a 13% ABV traditional, semi-sweet mead without any flavorings; Pikwant Field, a 9.5% light mead flavored with pounds of strawberries and kiwis; and Woofiedog, a 9% mead filled with hops. Yep, the same hops found in your favorite craft beers.
We recommend trying your own flight to get an idea of what you enjoy. Bottles are for sale (as are growlers) as is some fun Colony Meadery swag, as well.
A short walk away inside the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center (and by short walk I literally mean about 13 steps) from The Colony Meadery is Hijinx Brewing Company, one of the more fun craft brew spaces you’ll find yourself in.
Hijinx’ founder, Curt Keck, was, like many around the Lehigh Valley, brewing his own beer in his garage back in 2007 when he came up with the idea for his own brewing company, which he named after all of the “hijinks” that took place in his garage.
In 2014, HiJinx moved into Bridgeworks and set up their 4,000 square foot facility with a 10-barrel brewing system.
We saddled up to Hijinx bar and tried some of their flagship beers that you can find throughout the Lehigh Valley at various bars, restaurants, distributors, and six pack shops.
(Be sure to check their website for more information: http://hijinxbrewing.com/)
We sampled the Steal Your Face Stout, which is brewed with seven different malts, has flavors of dark chocolate, coffee, dried fruit, and sweet alcohol that combine to form possibly one of the best tasting beers I have had in recent memory. Steal Your Face is the perfect beer to sip while speaking with other customers who were coming into and out of Hijinx’ facility. We made sure to tell them to try it as well.
We also sampled the Dolle Streken, a 10.5% ABV Belgian ale that has whiffs of dried fruit and caramel. It’s generous alcohol percentage left us warm, happy, and ready to check out our last stop at the Bridgeworks Beverage Alliance.
Now, while the Lehigh Valley is accustomed to craft breweries and meaderies, distilleries are a bit of a new idea for some. The concept of heading in for a flight of beer is an easy one to wrap your head around.
But what does one do, exactly, when they head into the third spirited stop at Bridgeworks: County Seat Spirits?
My guests and I quickly ruled out doing shots, even though it sounded like a good idea at a time. Thankfully, the owners of County Seat put together cocktail specials each weekend that highlight the taste of their spirits while giving customers a reason to enjoy them beyond a quick gulp.
County Seat was founded by John Rowe and Anthony Brichta in 2014 as the Lehigh Valley’s first state licensed and federally permitted distillery since the prohibition era. Allentown is Lehigh County’s County Seat, thus, the name of the company. But, it’s more than that. Brichta said that the distillery’s goal is transform what a “County Seat” means to its citizens.
“Our vision of a county seat is a place where people live, relax, work and most importantly, to make things that the community around them can be immensely proud of,” he said.
County Seat Spirits can be found in various liquor stores throughout the Valley, and purchased online (if you’re out of state, silly Pennsylvania LCB). However, there isn’t anything quite like coming in on a weekend and having the chance to speak to someone who literally hand crafted the spirits that are in your cocktail.
County Seat currently produces a Sand Island White Rum, Class 8 Vodka, and Lock Keeper Gin. All of these spirits’ names are nods to Lehigh Valley history.
During our visit, we were lucky enough to have Popeye Punch as the cocktail of the day. The punch featured County’s Sand Island Rum, mango nectar, and ginger beer. To say that the cocktail was the perfect way to cap off our visit to the Bridgeworks would be the biggest understatement of the weekend.
The Colony Meadery is wonderful for learning more about an ancient beverage and tasting something that will be, to some, entirely new.
Hijinx Brewing Company provides some well-thought out beers with a fun atmosphere that made us want to stay throughout the day.
County Seat Spirits provided an opportunity to sip some refined spirits made just feet away from where we stood, and the chance to take some bottles home to try our own mixing prowess for later.
In all, The Bridgeworks Beverage Alliance is not only an interesting place to visit for those looking to learn more about craft brewing, but it’s also a great place for parties and large groups.
Before we left, we had already made plans to come back.
More information can be found at http://www.bridgebev.com/
The Bridgeworks Beverage Alliance is open
Friday evenings 4-8pm
Please refer to each individual business for hours or special events.